After decades of effort, the voluntary, collaborative approach to restoring the health and vitality of the Chesapeake Bay— the largest estuary in the United States—has not worked and, in fact, is failing. A diverse group of 57 senior scientists and policymakers have joined forces to save the Bay. This is our plan.

There is no content to display.

Category Archives: Growth

Land Use Threatens Chesapeake Bay and Quality of Life

Land Use Threatens Chesapeake Bay and Quality of Life

The facades inside Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium are emblazoned with the names of major battles including Iwo Jima, Coral Sea, Guadalcanal, Midway, and Normandy.

Our county and city office buildings also could be covered with  epic battles, of course not of military bravery and sacrifice, but over land use: Crystal Spring, Parkside Preserve, Rocky Gorge, Lofts at Eastport Landing, Monticello 2, The Enclave (Crofton), and the land that is now Quiet Waters Park and Beverly-Triton Nature Park.

Other than the increased intensity of agriculture, especially the huge growth in large chicken operations, nothing threatens the Chesapeake Bay, our air, and quality of life more than population growth and the accompanying sprawling development. In 1900, there were 4 million people in the watershed. From 1950 through 2019, the Bay watershed’s population more than doubled from 8 million to nearly 19 million, an increase of almost 6 million since the first Bay Agreement was signed in 1983.

Even if all new folks settled in developed urban areas, which they do not, the sheer numbers would increase pollutant loads from more sewerage, electrical consumption, auto, fertilizer, and chemical use, and pet waste. From 1990 to 2000, impervious surfaces increased at five times the rate of population growth, an astounding 41% increase to accommodate an 8% population increase.

This trend has continued as people leave urban areas like Baltimore City and settle in suburban and rural areas so that more land and homes are developed per capita.

Polluted stormwater nitrogen runoff from developed lands has increased since the Bay states were required by EPA to significantly reduce this pollutant. The cumulative impact of centuries of population growth and the replacement of forests and wetlands with farms and developed impervious surfaces has taken its toll. Nearly every environmental problem has at its roots population growth and its huge footprint on our natural areas critical for water and air quality and wildlife.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed was once 95% forested, now reduced by 40%. Two-thirds of the wetlands have been converted to farmland or development. These forests and wetlands are crucial for water and air quality. The extremists are not those who fight to protect these natural areas but rather those who would develop them.

Smart Growth is not working.

After 50 years of environmental advocacy, I can state unequivocally that the most abused power in the U.S. is the authority over land use given local authorities. Through the centuries, too many local officials have been blinded by greed including campaign contributions, and in rarer cases, bribes, as well as by seeking development at any cost as a goal.

States have abetted this abuse of land by delegating most land-use decisions to local government and exacerbating the problem by setting up a system of welfare for these same local jurisdictions to pay much of the governmental costs linked to development.

Much of the cost for governmental services and infrastructure to pay for local land-use decisions comes from federal and state sources: new schools and the costs of running them; construction of and operating local libraries, construction and operation of highways, courthouses, jails, community colleges, and purchase of new parkland and recreational facilities and their operations; cost of police and fire services, public hospitals, drug abuse services, arts centers, and now, billions of dollars because of budget shortfalls related to the coronavirus.

This system means that local officials can make land use decisions with impunity that welcome more people, more development, more sprawl, and more destruction of natural systems like forests knowing the tab will be paid by others.

Nearly all state and federal officials will compete with one another at the public trough and brag how much money they secured for local infrastructure and services. This is the reverse of the way it should be—those making decisions causing the need for more services and taxes should pay for them.

Evidence of criminal abuse by those with land use levers at their command who have gone to prison during my adulthood: former Baltimore County Executive and Vice President of the U.S. Spiro Agnew; the first Anne Arundel County Executive, Joe Alton; and former Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson and his wife. One can see why citizens and true Smart Growth advocates are so frustrated.

I should note that this is a broad brush and there are many exceptions to the rule with some dedicated local elected officials and planning and zoning staff, including those I have worked with over the years.

But efforts to reform this system have been thwarted over the last 100 years as local governments jealously guard their local land use authority. The system needs to change or all Bay restoration efforts and efforts to protect our natural world will be reversed.

Gerald Winegrad

Gerald Winegrad represented the greater Annapolis area in the Legislature for 16 years, where he championed efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay. He served on the tri-State Chesapeake Bay Commission and taught graduate courses in bay restoration and wildlife management he authored. Contact him at


The 2012 Draft Comprehensive Plan for Charles County: What You Get When the Developers Write Your Plan

…some counties have revolted against the State’s threat to their autonomy and decided to test the State’s resolve to use the “stick.” Charles County seems poised to join the ranks of Frederick, Cecil and others who don’t have a problem with new development costs being born by the taxpayers and the water being too dirty for their children to play in. Continue Reading

‘We Must Preserve an Economic Asset’

(This ninth installment in our series, What’s It Going to Take?, looks at how the environmental community can regain the initiative and build the political will necessary to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.)

In this exclusive interview with the Bay Action Plan, Chesapeake Bay Program Director Nick DiPasquale says that the costs of cleaning the Chesapeake Bay are significant, but manageable.

“No time is a good time when you’re talking about trying to implement very costly pollution control measures,” DiPasquale said. “But when you spread that cost over the life of a project… you find that the cost to individual households is a few dollars a month. Compare it to cellphone or cable costs, it puts things into perspective.”

Continue Reading

Sprawl Poisons the Bay

(Posted by Gerald Winegrad).

The recent deluges leading to massive stormwater runoff into the Chesapeake Bay may cause great damage to an already seriously impaired system. We previously have discussed in this spot the huge flows of Bay-choking nutrients and sediment from farms each time it rains. Now, we will devote discussions to the pollution flowing from developed lands including huge amounts of nutrients, sediment, and toxic chemicals.

The Chesapeake’s watershed before 1607 was 95 percent forested with huge acreage of intact wetlands. These forests and wetlands absorbed and held nutrients and sediment. The flow of these Bay-killing pollutants was greatly accelerated due to enormous changes in land use when we converted forests and wetlands to agriculture and then, more recently, to development. The Bay region has since lost about 50 percent of its forest cover and 72 percent of its wetlands. No change has been more devastating for the Bay.Continue Reading

A Riverkeeper Reflects

(Posted by Jeanne McCann.)
Local photographer David Joyner interviews Riverkeeper Fred Tutman about his rural roots, growing up on a farm, how he came to be the Patuxent Riverkeeper and the specific pollution issues facing the Patuxent River and the Chesapeake Bay, and his life as an environmental activist.

Fred Tutman, Riverkeeper from david joyner on Vimeo.

Continue Reading

“Death by a Thousand Cuts”: Chesapeake Bay’s Disappearing Shoreline

(This is the first in a series of reviews of notable films that we feel should be part of any card-carrying environmental activist’s toolkit. We’ve chosen films that we think have made an important contribution to understanding the challenges facing restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. We kick off with a look back at Michael English’s 2008 gem, “Weary Shoreline.” -Eds.)

(Posted by John D. Wickham.)

Weary ShorelineCoastal Maryland, encompassing the state’s capital, Annapolis, the counties of Anne Arundel, Talbot, and Dorchester, and still other areas, is one of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the United States, whose rivers and tributaries feed into the nation’s largest estuary, the Chesapeake Bay. Though picturesque, this border area where land and sea meet has been under relentless pressure from human population growth and real estate development in the last three decades. Estimates put Southern Maryland’s loss of forest cover at more than 160,000 acres in the last fifteen years.
Continue Reading