Earlier this month the Virginia Senate Finance Committee was presented with a report that estimated it would cost the state $15 billion to clean up pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. This week, Prince George’s County, Maryland found that complying with the so-called “pollution diet” set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for jurisdictions within the Bay’s watershed would run the county about $800 million. In 2007, the EPA put a total price tag of $28 billion for cleaning up the Bay. These are the costs of overpopulation and overdevelopment that far outweigh any short-term economic “benefits” of unsustainable growth.

The Chesapeake Bay’s watershed is over 64,000 square miles and covers parts of six states. The population within the watershed has grown from around 8 million in 1950 to over 17 million today. Recent growth has been spurred by immigration, accounting for 66 percent of population growth in the watershed between 2000 and 2009. In Virginia, immigration accounted for 58 percent of the net population increase in the watershed over this period; in Maryland, it was 98 percent. Population growth is widely acknowledged as a major cause of pollution in the Bay, yet the Governors of Virginia and Maryland will not acknowledge overpopulation as a problem. Their solution is to encourage growth, and the more the better.

Maryland has even offered itself as a sanctuary state, attracting almost 300,000 illegal aliens, the ninth highest illegal alien population in the United States. In Prince George’s County, where Councilwoman Mary Lehman admits, “we’re not clear where we’re going to get the money from” to clean up the Bay, over $300 million was spent on in 2010 to teach Limited English Proficient students in county public schools.

One would think that environmental groups would address the problem, but the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), which exists supposedly to “Save the Bay,” will not acknowledge that immigration has anything whatsoever to do with population growth, and even denies that population growth is a problem for the Bay. The CBF’s solution is “smart growth,” which turns out to be the same unsustainable development patterns camouflaged under a more agreeable appellation. Those who are genuinely committed to protecting the Bay understand that more intensive development in the region is anything but smart.

Short-term economic considerations and ideological aversions to reality are not going to save the Bay. Only a commitment to achieving population stability along with a reduction in consumption and waste production will restore the Bay to health. It is not going to be cheap to undo the damage already done to the Bay – but consider the alternative.