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The USGS Water Science School

The effects of urbanization on water quality:
Population growth

If you live in a major city you see the effects of population growth every day. When more people move into an area a whole slew of support facilities must be built: housing developments, roads, shopping areas, and commercial and industrial facilities. Not only is land disturbed when development occurs, but the stress on the water resources of the region is increased to supply everyone with water.

The Atlanta, Ga. area is a good example of a booming urban center as it is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the United States. Much of the growth and construction is occurring north of the city, which is where much of the water supply for Atlanta comes from. The population of the metro area has more than tripled from the 1 million residents in 1950 to over 3 million today, with no slowdown in sight. Ironically, development in the late 1980s was restricted because water-supply systems were not in place to handle the exploding growth in northern Atlanta. And for much of 1997, the city faced daily fines for releasing wastewater that had higher bacteria levels than were permitted.

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