The Virginia General Assembly enacted the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act (Bay Act) in 1988. The Bay Act is a critical element of Virginia's multifaceted response to the Chesapeake Bay Agreement, which was originally signed in 1983 by Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, the Chesapeake Bay Commission and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, establishing a partnership to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay's ecosystem.
The Bay Act established a cooperative relationship between the Commonwealth and local governments aimed at reducing and preventing nonpoint source pollution. The beds of Virginia's streams, rivers and estuaries, and the waters above them are held and managed by the Commonwealth for the benefit of all Virginians.
The Bay Act program is designed to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries by requiring the use of effective conservation planning and pollution prevention practices when using and developing environmentally sensitive lands. The principle objective of the Bay Act is to promote land use and development in ways that minimize negative impacts on water quality.
Resource Protection Areas (RPAs)
Resource Protection Areas (RPAs). RPAs are sensitive environmental corridors that should be preserved in a natural condition. The City adopted an RPA map in 1992 based on criteria provided in the Management Regulations. New State mandates require that all City streams with perennial flow must be protected by a 100 foot Resource Protection Area buffer. Therefore, the RPA map was amended in 2004 to comply with the new State requirements. The amended RPA map and the new natural intermittent stream map were produced from information collected during Phase I of the City-wide stream classification study. Each map depicts a restrictive buffer, 100 feet for an RPA feature and 50 feet from top of stream bank for natural intermittent streams.
Resource Management Areas (RMAs). Resource Management Areas (RMAs). The remainder of the City has been designated as an RMA. RMAs do not regulate the type of development that can occur. However, all development and redevelopment must engage in land management techniques designed to minimize adverse impacts on water quality.
RPA Facts in Alexandria
- Existing regulations already protect approximately 20 miles of streams and Potomac River shoreline with buffer areas.
- The City protects an additional 1.8 miles of stream based on the results of a City-wide stream classification study.
- The City's RPA map is for guidance purposes only. An assessment must be performed prior to a land disturbing activity to determine if any perennial waterbodies are present.
- All exceptions to the Resource Protection Area requirements must go through a public hearing process.
To fulfill this policy, Article XIII was adopted to minimize potential pollution from stormwater runoff, minimize potential erosion and sedimentation, reduce the introduction of harmful nutrients and toxins into state waters, maximize rainwater infiltration while protecting groundwater, and ensure the long-term performance of the measures employed to accomplish the statutory purpose.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What is a perennial stream?
A perennial stream is a body of water that flows year-round during a year of normal precipitation. Generally, groundwater is the primary source for stream flow.
What is an RPA?
Resource Protection Areas (RPAs) are sensitive environmental corridors that should be preserved in a natural condition. The City adopted an RPA map in 1992 based on criteria provided in the Management Regulations. New State mandates require that all City streams with perennial flow must be protected by a 100-foot Resource Protection Area buffer. Therefore, the RPA map was amended in 2004 to comply with the new State requirements. The amended RPA map and new intermittent stream map depict the results of a City-wide stream classification study and the corresponding RPAs.
What am I allowed to do in the RPA area?
All land uses and structures within the RPA that exist at the time of ordinance adoption may continue as "nonconforming" uses. Property owners may also engage in passive recreational activities such as fishing, bird watching, hiking, boating, and canoeing. Except under very specific circumstances, new development in the RPA is limited to those that are considered "water dependent uses." All land disturbing activities proposed in the RPA must first be approved by the City. The property owner will need to submit a Water Quality Impact Assessment explaining the impacts of the activity and what actions will be taken to reduce these impacts.
If my home is in an RPA, can I still make an addition?
Under certain circumstances, the answer is yes. For lots that existed before March 2002, minor additions can be made to the principal structure as long as it remains intact and the modification is compatible in bulk and scale to the surrounding neighborhood. Examples are attached sunrooms, decks, garages, carports, and minor room additions. Larger additions will require an exception to the ordinance. In all cases, the City must first approve the addition.
Are decks allowed in the RPA?
Yes, but only if it is attached to the principal structure and approved by the City. Otherwise, the deck must be approved through the exceptions process.
Are new sheds allowed within an RPA? Sheds are considered to be accessory structures and may not be built without an exception to the ordinance. An existing shed may continue to be maintained, but may not be expanded.
Can I remove vegetation within an RPA?
In accordance with State regulations, existing vegetation may be removed only if approved by the City and only to provide for reasonable sight lines, access paths, removal of invasive plant species, general woodlot management, and best management practices to prevent erosion. The City determines what is reasonable through guidance provided by the Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance Board.
What if I want to redevelop my property?
You may redevelop your property as long as there is no additional encroachment into the RPA and no increase in pollution. The redevelopment must also be found compatible with the City's Master Plan. The ordinance contains specific provisions to handle cases where applying the RPA would mean the loss of buildable area. For lots that existed before March 2002, the ordinance allows an encroachment into the first 50 feet of the RPA only if it is found that there is no other reasonable alternative and measures are taken to mitigate the impacts on water quality. Any encroachment greater than 50 feet must go through an exceptions process.
What is the exception process?
While exceptions to the ordinance's RMA requirements are handled administratively by the City, exceptions to the RPA requirements must be heard by the Planning Commission at a public hearing. This hearing process is a new State mandate.
Are there penalties for violating RPA restrictions?
Noncompliance with the ordinance may result in civil and criminal penalties. Violators will also be required to restore RPAs in accordance with City guidelines.
What amendments were made to the Environmental Management Ordinance?
Recently, the Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance Board (CBLAB), the State oversight entity, adopted changes to the regulations. To comply with these changes, the City must approve amendments to the Environmental Management Ordinance. A key change in the State regulations is that a 100-foot RPA buffer must now be designated around all "waterbodies with perennial flow." This differs from the existing requirement that protects all "tributary streams." As a result of this definition change, the scope of the City's RPAs will also change. In addition to the minimum State requirements, the City is also proposing to protect natural intermittent streams with a 50 foot buffer area.
What is a perennial stream versus an intermittent stream?
A perennial stream is a body of water that flows year-round during a year of normal precipitation. Generally, groundwater is the primary source for stream flow. An intermittent stream is any natural or engineered channel with flowing water during certain times of the year, when groundwater provides for stream flow. During dry periods, intermittent streams may not have flowing water or may only have flowing water after a storm event.
Why did the City choose to protect natural intermittent streams?
Intermittent streams are often the most critical in terms of protecting downstream water quality and living resources. Intermittent streams with vegetated buffers assist in reducing sediments and nutrients delivered to larger streams, help prevent flooding, and provide valuable aquatic habitats. The 50 foot buffer is based on the findings of the 1998 Chesapeake Bay Riparian Handbook and is considered the "minimum" necessary to afford habitat protection benefits and nutrient and sediment load reductions.
How will the amendments affect my property?
Unless you are proposing to develop or redevelop your property, most homeowners will only be affected by the amendments if the property is located within an RPA. As a result of the new State regulations, the City has added approximately 1.8 miles of new RPAs and lost approximately 0.3 miles of existing RPAs. Please review the perennial and intermittent stream guidance maps to determine if your property is located within or near a protected buffer area.
How did the City map these streams?
The City conducted an assessment of over 13.6 stream miles during the fall of 2004, classifying each stream as perennial, intermittent, or ephemeral based on protocols acceptable to the Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance Board. Streams classified as perennial became the basis of the new RPA map.
Where can I get additional information?
Additional information can be found by calling the Storm and Sanitary Infrastructure Division at 703-746-4014.
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State Initiative: DEQ's Chesapeake Bay Preservation Areas
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Local Implementation Section (formerly Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance Division) addresses the impact of land use upon the water that drains into the Chesapeake Bay. The Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance Board participates in the multi-jurisdictional Chesapeake Bay Program and assists in the implementation of the Commonwealth of Virginia's Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act and the associated Regulations.
For more information, visit our Water Quality Regulations and Permitting webpage.
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