A new culprit has been named in the drought that has plagued more than a third of the U.S. this summer: urban sprawl. A report released yesterday by American Rivers, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Smart Growth America found that the rapid expansion of pavement and developed land in metropolitan areas amounts to a one-two punch for the environment. The concrete eliminates fields and grasslands, which would have absorbed water and replenished underground aquifers; instead, water rushes off roads, roofs, driveways, and parking lots, picking up pollutants before flushing into rivers and streams. In Atlanta, Ga., just one of the 18 metropolitan areas studied in the report, the amount of water lost because of urban sprawl could have supported the average annual household needs of between 1.5 and 3.6 million people.
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