Source: FRONTLINE Poisoned Waters
FRONTLINE Poisoned Waters
For more resources from this report go to FRONTLINE Poisoned Waters.
More than three decades after the Clean Water Act, iconic American waterways like the Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound are in perilous condition and facing new sources of contamination. In this special collection of educational resources from FRONTLINE Poisoned Waters, correspondent Hedrick Smith investigates the growing hazards to our waterways and emerging threats to human health.
Poisoned Waters Discussion Guide (Document)
The ethic of growth is written into America’s DNA, from the westward migrations of early pioneers to the endless suburban subdivisions that have mushroomed around America’s cities. But as our population soars over 300 million, the luster of growth is losing its sheen. Even some business leaders are having second thoughts. They worry that uncontrolled growth is neither profitable nor sustainable.
They point to places like Tyson’s Corner, a commercial hub in the Washington, D.C. suburbs. Once a national model of economic success, it is now a cautionary tale of disastrous sprawl. Over 50 years, developers transformed Tyson’s from a rural crossroads with a country store to an “edge city” larger than downtown Phoenix, packed with mega-malls and office parks totaling 46 million square feet of space and 40 million square feet of parking lots – enough for 170,000 cars.
All that concrete and asphalt wreak havoc on water quality in local streams, the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay. Nearly 1,000 acres of hard surfaces translate into contaminated stormwater washing out streambeds and killing aquatic life. On land, Tyson’s began choking on armies of automobiles that were once the engine of its growth.
Tyson’s is a textbook story of American sprawl, the epitome of what has happened from Boston and New York to Los Angeles, from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Houston and Miami. Development has gobbled up nature. During the 1990s in the Chesapeake watershed, hard surfaces grew far faster (41 percent) than population (9 percent).
Sprawl recognizes no limits. When Tyson’s ran out of land, developers targeted neighboring Loudoun County, already one of America’s fastest growing counties. They funded the election of a pro-development county board that approved plans for 33,000 more homes. But they got push back from people who had moved to Loudoun to enjoy the green.
“The 33,000 homes meant an additional 300,000 car trips on the local roads. It meant higher taxes, 77,000 new people moving into Loudon County, the schools that had to be built, the roads that needed to be built,” objected housewife-activist Cheryl Hutchison. “It was suburbanizing an area that was never meant to be suburban.”
Mobilized by issues such as traffic, taxes, schools and the turmoil of growth, citizen activists turned back the tide of development. The protected their won quality of life, and in doing so, protected water quality from local streams to Chesapeake Bay.
“The public actually gets what’s going on – 85% of people in Northern Virginia will tell you that the cause of traffic congestion is indiscriminate land use,” says Chris Miller, President of the Piedmont Environmental Council. In fact, the public response was so strong that the pro-development county board ended up rejecting its own proposals for faster growth. And then, all those board members were defeated in the next election by an active and informed electorate.”
Background Essay Written by Hedrick Smith.
Poisoned Waters explores why American waterways like the Chesapeake Bay and the Puget Sound are in peril. After watching the video chapter on the costs of urban sprawl, discuss your answers to the following questions:
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