Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville are being proactive when it comes to population growth and its impact on the environment. Both contributed a combined total of more than $35,000 for a research study to determine how an increase in people would affect the area.
Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population, or ASAP, organized the study. They used an independent researcher from Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania to determine what would happen to the environment if the population would double or triple in the area.
The report shows that if the population continues to grow, Charlottesville and Albemarle County could lose 45 percent of its agricultural space and 37 percent of its forests. According to ASAP President Jack Marshall, that could be bad news for our water sources and air quality; "We know that as the population grows, it eats into fields and forests, our natural environment," he stated.
The population in Albemarle County is nearly 95,000. If that increased by 50 percent, the ecosystem would deteriorate in the urban areas of Charlottesville, Crozet, Rivanna and the Route 29 corridor. As the population grows to 280,000, the impact would spread to rural areas.
The report suggests planting more trees in urban neighborhoods, continuing smart growth initiatives and deciding how big is too big.
"We need to think about an optimal sustainable population size for the community and then discuss what that size should be and how we might achieve it," said Marshall.
The population in Albemarle County increases each year by about 1,000. The county can't legally set a population cap.
County supervisors are working to make sure growth happens with the least impact on natural resources.
"We're one of the first counties in the state to have urban development areas, we call them growth areas in Albemarle County, and that's 5 percent of the county in which is designated to accommodate most of the growth in the county," said Dennis Rooker, Albemarle County board of supervisors member.
The report will be presented to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors next Tuesday.
The study is just the first phase of ASAP's optimal sustainable population size project. In the coming weeks there will be more in-depth reports on population growth and its affect on groundwater and air quality.