Nav: Home

How anti-sprawl policies may be harming water quality

January 16, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Urban growth boundaries are created by governments in an effort to concentrate urban development -- buildings, roads and the utilities that support them -- within a defined area. These boundaries are intended to decrease negative impacts on people and the environment. However, according to a Penn State researcher, policies that aim to reduce urban sprawl may be increasing water pollution.

"What we were interested in was whether the combination of sprawl -- or lack of sprawl -- along with simultaneous agriculture development in suburban and rural areas could lead to increased water-quality damages," said Douglas Wrenn, a co-funded faculty member in the Institutes of Energy and the Environment.

These water quality damages were due to pollution from nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment, three ingredients that in high quantities can cause numerous environmental problems in streams, rivers and bays. As a part of the EPA's Clean Water Act (CWA), total maximum daily loads (TMDL) govern how much of these pollutants are allowed in a body of water while still meeting water-quality standards.

According to Wrenn, an associate professor in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, one of the reasons anti-sprawl policies can lead to more water pollution is because higher-density development has more impervious surfaces, such as concrete. These surfaces don't absorb water but cause runoff. The water then flows into bodies of water, bringing sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus with it.

Secondly, agriculture creates considerably more water pollution than low-density residential areas. And when development outside of the boundaries that could replace agriculture is prevented, the amount of pollution that could be reduced is lost.

"If you concentrate development inside an urban growth boundary and allow agriculture to continue business as usual," Wrenn said, "then you could actually end with anti-sprawl policies that lead to an increase in overall water quality damages."

Wrenn said it is important for land-use planners in urban areas and especially in urbanizing and urban-fringe counties to understand this.

The EPA's water quality regulation is divided between point source and nonpoint source polluters. Point source polluters include wastewater treatment facilities, big factories, consolidated animal feeding operations and stormwater management systems. Nonpoint sources are essentially everything else. And the CWA does not regulate nonpoint sources, which includes agriculture.

"When it comes to meeting TMDL regulations, point source polluters will always end up being responsible," he said. "They are legally bound to basically do it all."

Wrenn said point source polluters are very interested in getting nonpoint source polluters, specifically agriculture, involved in reducing pollution because their cost of reduction is usually far less expensive and often times more achievable.

"What our research has shown is that land-use regulation where land-use planners have some ability to manage where and when land-use development takes place, this gives some indication that land-use policy can be a helper or a hinderance to meeting these TMDL regulations," Wrenn said.

This research was published in the November 2019 issue of Resource and Energy Economics. In addition to Wrenn, the project included H. Allen Klaiber of The Ohio State University and David Newburn of the University of Maryland.
-end-


Penn State

Related Pollution Articles:

Pollution linked to antibiotic resistance
Antibiotic resistance is an increasing health problem, but new research suggests it is not only caused by the overuse of antibiotics.
A world drowning in plastic pollution
Almost one billion tonnes of plastic will be dumped on land and in the oceans over the period from 2016 to 2040 unless the world acts, say a team of 17 global experts who have developed a computer model to track the stocks and flows of plastic around the world.
Exploring the neurological impact of air pollution
Air pollution has become a fact of modern life, with a majority of the global population facing chronic exposure.
Plastic pollution reaching the Antarctic
Food wrapping, fishing gear and plastic waste continue to reach the Antarctic.
Health impacts of pollution upon indigenous peoples
A new study from the University of Helsinki presents the current state of knowledge on the exposure and vulnerability of Indigenous Peoples to environmental pollution, reviewing the innumerable impacts that pollution poses on Indigenous communities from all over the world.
Spotting air pollution with satellites, better than ever before
Researchers from Duke University have devised a method for estimating the air quality over a small patch of land using nothing but satellite imagery and weather conditions.
A friendlier way to deal with nitrate pollution
Learning from nature, scientists from the Center for Sustainable Resource Science in Japan and the Korean Basic Science Institute (KBSI) have found a catalyst that efficiently transforms nitrate into nitrite -- an environmentally important reaction -- without requiring high temperature or acidity, and now have identified the mechanism that makes this efficiency possible.
Airborne pollution associated with more severe rhinitis symptoms
A team of scientists from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), a research institute supported by 'la Caixa,' has discovered that the nasal symptoms of rhinitis are more severe in people exposed to higher levels of outdoor air pollution.
Air pollution in childhood linked to schizophrenia
Children who grow up in areas with heavy air pollution have a higher risk of developing schizophrenia.
Air pollution can worsen bone health
A new study by the CHAI Project with over 3,700 people in India associates air pollution with a higher risk to develop osteoporosis.
More Pollution News and Pollution Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: IRL Online
Original broadcast date: March 20, 2020. Our online lives are now entirely interwoven with our real lives. But the laws that govern real life don't apply online. This hour, TED speakers explore rules to navigate this vast virtual space.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#574 State of the Heart
This week we focus on heart disease, heart failure, what blood pressure is and why it's bad when it's high. Host Rachelle Saunders talks with physician, clinical researcher, and writer Haider Warraich about his book "State of the Heart: Exploring the History, Science, and Future of Cardiac Disease" and the ails of our hearts.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Falling
There are so many ways to fall–in love, asleep, even flat on your face. This hour, Radiolab dives into stories of great falls.  We jump into a black hole, take a trip over Niagara Falls, upend some myths about falling cats, and plunge into our favorite songs about falling. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.