Urban development is an important agent of environmental change in the United States. The urban footprint on the American landscape has expanded during a century and a half of almost continuous development. Eighty percent of Americans now live in metropolitan areas, and the advantages and challenges of living in these developed areas—convenience, congestion, employment, pollution—are part of the day-to-day realities of most Americans. Nowhere are the environmental changes associated with urban development more evident than in urban streams. Contaminants, habitat destruction, and increasing streamflow flashiness resulting from urban development have been associated with the disruption of biological communities, particularly the loss of sensitive aquatic species. Every stream is connected downstream to larger water bodies, including rivers, reservoirs, and ultimately coastal waters. Inputs of chemical contaminants or sediments at any point along the stream can cause degradation downstream with adverse effects on biological communities and on economically valuable resources, such as fisheries and tourism. In response to general concerns about the degradation of urban streams, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) conducted a national-scale, scientific investigation of the effects of urban development on stream ecosystems. Nine metropolitan study areas of the United States were selected—Portland, Oregon; Salt Lake City, Utah; Birmingham, Alabama; Atlanta, Georgia; Raleigh, North Carolina; Boston, Massachusetts; Denver, Colorado; Dallas, Texas; and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The studies were conducted in Salt Lake City, Birmingham, and Boston in 1999–2000; in Atlanta, Raleigh, and Denver in 2002–2003; and in Portland, Dallas, and Milwaukee in 2003–2004. The comprehensive investigation of all nine studies focused on three broad questions of interest to decision makers: 1. What are the primary effects of urban development on stream ecosystems? 2. How do the effects of urban development on stream ecosystems vary regionally across the country? 3. Which urban-related stressors are most closely linked to biological community degradation, and how can multiple stressors be managed to protect stream health as a watershed becomes increasingly urbanized? (emphasis added).
Related ResourcesUSGS Circular: Strategies for Managing the Effects of Urban Development on Streams (2012, No.1378).
USGS Fact Sheet: Urban development results in stressors that degrade stream ecosystems (2012-3071).