Suburban strip malls, office buildings and other paved areas make droughts worse by blocking billions of gallons of rainwater from seeping through the soil to replenish ground water. Atlanta, which is the most rapidly sprawling metropolitan area, loses enough water to supply the average household needs of up to 3.6 million people a year. Boston is next, with between 44 billion and 103 billion gallons of water lost. After that is Philadelphia, with 25 billion to 59 billion gallons of water unable to return to the soil.
"Sprawl development is literally sending billions of gallons of badly needed water down the drain each year?the storm drain," says Betsy Otto, of American Rivers. "Sprawl hasn't caused this year's drought, but sprawl is making water supply problems worse in many cities." Half of the U.S. is currently experiencing drought. The West Coast, Rocky Mountains, Plains states and portions of the mid-Atlantic region have been hit the hardest. Washington and Baltimore have had the worst drought in more than a century.
40% of Americans get their water directly from underground sources. Ground water also supplies half of the water in the rivers and lakes that serve everyone else. Government figures show that 365 acres of forest, farmland and other open space is destroyed by suburban sprawl every hour. Environmental groups want cities to follow ?smart growth? policies. For example, suburban growth should be in areas where people already live and work, which would limit the number of roads and other new paved areas. New development should mix retail, commercial and housing to take up less space, and parking lots should have more vegetation so rain water drains into the ground.
"As overdevelopment washes more rain water away instead of replenishing the water table, drought conditions get worse," says Deron Lovaas, of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Sprawl is hanging us out to dry."
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