June 26, 2024

The Ripple Effect: Exploring the Southern Rivers Watershed

Innovative flood mitigation strategies in this watershed will protect the community and enhance the region’s overall environmental health and economic value.

Public Works working near West Neck Creek Bridge

The Southern Rivers Watershed is one of the four primary watersheds in Virginia Beach. It is a vast and vital region, offering unique environmental and economic benefits. Here are seven insights into this remarkable watershed: 

  1. A Vast and Expansive Region
    Covering over 205 square miles, the Southern Rivers Watershed occupies 67% of Virginia Beach’s city limits. This extensive area encompasses rural communities, agricultural land, major waterbodies such as Back Bay and the North Landing River, navigable canals, and protected wildlife areas, state parks, and national parks. Map of VB Watersheds - Southern Rivers (green), Oceanfront (tan), Lynnhaven River (blue), Elizabeth River (red)
  2. Significant Environmental Value
    This watershed is home to a diverse array of habitats, supporting numerous plant and animal species. The vast stretches of wetlands and forests play a crucial role in maintaining ecological balance and biodiversity in the region. 
  3. Economic Importance 
    The Southern Rivers Watershed holds significant economic value, especially in terms of agriculture and tourism. The rural communities within the watershed depend on its resources for farming and outdoor recreational activities, contributing to the local economy. 
  4. Drainage Challenges 
    More than 90% of Virginia Beach's land area with elevations below 3 feet is in the Southern Rivers Watershed, creating unique drainage challenges. This low-lying region is particularly susceptible to recurrent flooding, especially when the wind blows from the south for several days, causing wind tide floods. 
  5. Ongoing Flood Protection Projects 
    Several projects are planned and underway to address the flooding challenges in the Southern Rivers Watershed. Notable initiatives include improvements along Pungo Ferry Road, the Sandbridge/New Bridge Intersection and the West Neck Creek Bridge. These projects focus on road elevation, improving drainage and constructing in-water gates with a gatehouse and pump station. 
  6. Innovative Strategies for Flood Mitigation 
    The Southern Rivers Watershed is also the site of the first application of marsh terrace construction along the East Coast. These terraces are designed to reduce wind-tidal flooding in Back Bay, showcasing Virginia Beach's commitment to innovative and sustainable flood mitigation strategies. 
  7. Community and Environmental Impact 
    The efforts to improve drainage and reduce flooding in the Southern Rivers Watershed not only protect the local communities but also enhance the overall environmental health of the region. These projects ensure that the watershed remains a viable and thriving part of Virginia Beach for generations to come. 

Learn how the Southern Rivers watershed compares with that of the Oceanfront Watershed. 

The Virginia Beach Flood Protection Program — The Ripple Effect — is a comprehensive 10-year plan to address recurrent flooding in Virginia Beach. In November 2021, Virginia Beach voters overwhelmingly supported a resiliency package for several key flood protection initiatives to include drainage improvements, tide gates, pump stations and flood barriers throughout the city. The projects are led by Public Works with support from a community oversight board for transparency and accountability. Learn more at virginiabeach.gov/RippleEffect.

Contact Information

Public Works Stormwater Engineering Center

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