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Watershed Studies

HRPDC is involved with watershed studies through steering committees, studies, and planning activities in Hampton Roads.  This page provides references to basic watershed information and describes recent watershed studies in Hampton Roads.  


A watershed is an area of any size where all surface water drains to a single outlet point. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) describes a “watershed” as follows:

A watershed is an area of land that drains all the streams and rainfall to a common outlet such as the outflow of a reservoir, mouth of a bay, or any point along a stream channel. The word watershed is sometimes used interchangeably with drainage basin or catchment. Ridges and hills that separate two watersheds are called the drainage divide. The watershed consists of surface water--lakes, streams, reservoirs, and wetlands--and all the underlying ground water. Larger watersheds contain many smaller watersheds. It all depends on the outflow point; all of the land that drains water to the outflow point is the watershed for that outflow location. Watersheds are important because the streamflow and the water quality of a river are affected by things, human-induced or not, happening in the land area "above" the river-outflow point.

General watershed educational information is available on the USGS Science in Your Watershed website. Streamflow and water quality data is available on the USGS Virginia Water Science Center website. 


Often the term “watershed” is used to refer to a drainage area that is better described as a hydrologic unit. Hydrologic units are delineated within a hierarchical classification system based on the size of the unit area. Hydrologic units may receive drainage from points outside the unit and portions of the unit may drain to different outlet points. In general, regulatory and planning activities refer to hydrologic units by their “order” to help indicate the scale and specificity of the area of reference. In July 2006, the National Watershed Boundary Dataset (NWBD)is official hydrologic unit system of Virginia. Information on the development of Virginia’s hydrologic unit boundaries is available from the Department of Conservation and Recreation

A map of the hydrologic unit boundaries in Hampton Roads is shown below. 

Map adapted from the Hampton Roads Regional Water Supply Plan (2011)

Elizabeth River Restoration Study and TMDL

The Elizabeth River Steering Committee was established to provide local and state guidance to the Elizabeth River Restoration Study conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE). The Committee was later expanded to function as the stakeholder and technical advisory committee for Total Maximum Daily Load water quality studies for the River. Localities with lands within the Elizabeth River Basin are the Cities of Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Virginia Beach. Steering Committee membership includes locality representatives from planning, public works, public utilities, economic development, and parks and recreation, and representatives from COE, The Elizabeth River Project, academia, HRSD, HRPDC and several state and federal agencies. The Steering Committee meets the first Friday of every month to discuss ongoing restoration projects and other water quality projects or issues within the Elizabeth River Watershed.

Lynnhaven River Restoration Study

The Lynnhaven River Steering Committee ischarged with providing state and local oversight of the Lynnhaven River Restoration Study conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE). Membership includesrepresentatives of several City of Virginia Beach departments, the COE, VirginiaInstitute of Marine Science, and HRPDC. At the request of the primary study participants, HRPDC chairs the Steering Committee and provides logistical support to the studyprocess. The Steering Committee began meeting in February 2002 to guide theReconnaissance Study, which was completed in early 2003. The feasibility study was initiated in September 2004, and is currently undergoing review and approval by the COE.

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