Development and deforestation have led to a degradation of the Potomac River's water quality, which already was poor, according to the Potomac Conservancy. Population in the river's basin in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia has increased by 5% in five years, and development has decreased forest land, with paved areas producing more runoff than forested areas of the same size. "By not allowing the water to interact with the land we are reducing the ability of the natural environment to filter these contaminants," said Todd Lookingbill, assistant professor of geography and the environment at the University of Richmond.

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