RPAs are the corridors of environmentally sensitive lands that lie alongside or near the shorelines of streams, rivers and other waterways. In their natural condition, RPAs protect water quality, filter pollutants, reduce the amount of stormwater runoff, prevent erosion, and perform many other important biological and ecological functions.
Examples of RPAs include tidal wetlands, tidal shores, perennial streams, non-tidal wetlands (associated with perennial streams) and a 100- foot wide buffer area adjacent to and landward of these RPA features.
Why are Resource Protection Areas important?
RPA’s contain trees, shrubs and other vegetation that function to protect water quality by reducing the amount of pollution and sediment entering a stream. Vegetation slows runoff, filters sediment carrying pollution, and holds soil in place.
Disturbing RPAs results in pollutants entering Henrico’s waterways and eventually, the Chesapeake Bay. Without a protective buffer, stormwater is free to carry oil from roads, soil from construction sites, fertilizers and pesticides from farms and lawns, harmful bacteria from animal waste, and other pollutants directly into our streams.
If RPAs are left unprotected or removed and no buffer area is provided, other impacts such as stream bank and channel erosion, habitat destruction and a decrease in the stream’s biological diversity can also result. A naturally vegetated RPA buffer slows down and absorbs runoff, thereby reducing stream bank erosion. Remaining runoff is filtered reducing sediment, phosphorus and other pollutants entering the waterway. Trees in the buffer shade the waterway, cooling water temperature for fish and other aquatic organisms. Soils and decomposing debris help to biologically break down pollutants…and much more!
Henrico County drains to two major watersheds: The Chickahominy and the James River Watersheds
Every raindrop that hits the ground in Henrico County that is not absorbed into the soil, will run off the land and end up in either the Chickahominy or James River, and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.
However, the raindrops do not arrive alone. They bring along pollutants, sediments and toxins and deposit them into the river. Protecting RPAs will help to filter and remove pollutants and sediments from the raindrops and help keep Henrico’s rivers and streams clean!
Whom do I call for more information about Resource Protection Area on my property in Henrico County?
Robin Wilder, Water Quality Analyst at (804) 727-8325 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
What Water Bodies in the County are considered RPAs?
RPAs include tidal water bodies, tidal wetlands, perennially-flowing streams, and wetlands associated with perennially-flowing streams. Water bodies are assessed by the County to designate Chesapeake Bay Preservation Areas during review of Plans of development, Subdivision plans, or building permit applications. Property owners can request the County to assess streams on their lands to determine if Resource Protection Areas exist on their properties or property owners or their agents can submit their own perennial vs. intermittent determinations for County review and approval. All forms currently available for perennial vs. intermittent determinations can be utilized and submitted to the County Department of Public Works. The County will review this information, perform their own assessment and respond either approving or refuting the submitted determination. Field procedures for determining if a water body is a RPA include such observations as streamflow, channel geometry, streambed soils/materials, streambed vegetation, benthic macroinvertebrates, vertebrates, and offsite resources. Nontidal wetlands connected by surface flow and contiguous to tidal wetlands or water bodies with perennial flow are included as Resource Protection Area features. In order for these wetlands to be included as Resource Protection Area features, they must rely primarily on the tidal or perennial stream and/or waterbody to supply their main source of wetland hydrology. In making this determination, the question should be asked if this wetland would be present in this location if the tidal or perennial waterbody was removed from the landscape. If the wetland would cease to be present in this situation, it should be included as an RPA feature. For questions regarding Chesapeake Bay Preservation Area determinations, contact Robin Wilder at 804-727-8325.
What can and cannot be done in RPAs?
Development and other land-disturbing activities that may impact RPAs are limited in Henrico County through Sec. 24-106.3 of the Henrico County Zoning ordinance. Under the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance, activities and uses that are permitted and not permitted in the RPA include:
Permitted (and as approved by the Director of Public Works):
- Water-dependent facilities, such as docks, piers and public beaches
- Rebuilding existing structures
- Water wells, boardwalks, trails, pathways and public utility structures
- Selectively removing trees, for reasonable sight lines and vistas or pedestrian walkways (made with non-erodible materials)
- Removing dead or dying vegetation (as long as replaced with vegetation equally effective in retarding runoff)
- New development
- Parking lots
- Secondary structures, such as sheds and gazebos
- Clear-cutting trees
- Filling and grading activities
- Establishing new lawn areas
The ideal RPA buffer would be forested with native species of trees, shrubs, and groundcovers. A list of species of trees and shrubs native to Henrico County can be found here. These forested buffers help to prevent sediment, nitrogen, phosphorus, pesticides and other pollutants from reaching a stream. Overhanging vegetation keeps streams cool and provides valuable habitat for wildlife. Forested streamsides benefit game species such as deer, rabbit, quail and nongame species like migratory songbirds. They slow floodwaters, thereby helping to maintain stable streambanks and protect downstream property from flood damage and streambank erosion. By slowing down floodwaters and rainwater runoff, the buffer vegetation allows water to soak into the ground rather than rushing into the creek carrying sediment and pollutants to the Chesapeake Bay and likely causing the erosion of streambanks and channels.
Waivers and Exceptions
The Henrico County zoning ordinance does allow some exceptions and waivers from the requirements of the Chesapeake Bay Preservation ordinance. If someone desires to pursue development activities within Resource Protection Areas (RPAs), they must first meet with Engineering and Environmental Services staff and complete a Chesapeake Bay Exception Pre-application Questionnaire. Depending on the outcome of that meeting and answers to the questionnaire, the Director of Public Works will either allow or deny the request for an exception and/or refer the applicant to the Planning Commission to request a formal exception to the zoning ordinance.