April 24, 2024

The Ripple Effect: Understanding Watersheds and the City's Drainage System

There are four primary watersheds in Virginia Beach – the Elizabeth River, Lynnhaven River, Atlantic Ocean and the Southern Rivers.

Chesapeake Bay

Watersheds, often referred to as drainage basins or catchment areas, are geographic land areas that drain into a specific body of water, such as a river, bay or ocean. Essentially, they act as natural boundaries collecting and channeling rainfall and runoff towards a common outlet. Picture a funnel collecting water from various sources and directing it towards a central point.

In Virginia Beach, this concept is exemplified by the way in which the city drains into four primary watersheds: Elizabeth River, Lynnhaven River, Atlantic Ocean, and the Southern Rivers of Back Bay, North Landing River and West Neck Creek. 

Map of Virginia Beach Watersheds

Diverse Land Uses and Flood Risks 

Virginia Beach encompasses a mix of urban and rural landscapes, high and low-density development, and various types of flooding, making its watersheds a microcosm of environmental diversity. Each watershed presents unique flood risks shaped by its geographical features, land use patterns and proximity to water bodies.

For instance, the Lynnhaven River Watershed, with its extensive development and military installations, faces different flood challenges compared to the rural expanses of the Southern Rivers Watershed. 

Adopting a watershed-level perspective allows communities to tailor flood adaptation strategies to their specific needs and vulnerabilities. This localized approach is evident in the City's Watershed Strategy and Flood Protection Program, which analyze flood drivers and risks unique to each watershed.  

Environmental Stewardship and Long-Term Sustainability

In addition to their unique flood risks, watersheds play a crucial role in maintaining ecosystem health, supporting biodiversity and ensuring water quality. Protecting and preserving these natural assets is essential for long-term sustainability and resilience.

By embracing a holistic approach to watershed management, and balancing human needs with environmental conservation, communities can safeguard their water resources for future generations. 

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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