Lafayette River Restoration

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Since 2009, CBF and partners have greatly stepped up efforts to resuscitate the Lafayette River in Norfolk, Virginia. It is among the earliest settled, most urbanized rivers in the Bay watershed and suffers from many typical problems: too much runoff, too many algal blooms, too much bacteria, and too little oxygen, all of which can stress or kill oysters and other Bay creatures.

Fortunately, the Lafayette is beginning to turn around thanks to restoration work. It is all starting to add up.

  • Targeted local restoration projects include planting rain gardens, fixing leaky sewer lines, reducing runoff from homes, and picking up pet waste.
  • Nearly 80 acres of oyster reefs have been revitalized. These reefs are amazing habitat for crabs and other critters and are becoming great fishing spots as they attract game fish such as striped bass and speckled trout.
  • Regular biological surveys on the Lafayette River now find a rich diversity of aquatic life, including dolphins, sea horses, blue crabs, and black sea bass.
  • As bacteria levels drop, the river is also becoming a safer for swimming and paddling. In 2016 Virginia's Department of Environmental Quality removed the Lafayette from the state's list of waterways where high bacteria levels threaten recreation. 

This progress is thanks to generous grant funding and a collaborative effort among CBF and the Elizabeth River Project (ERP), the City of Norfolk, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Restore America's Estuaries, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Lafayette Oysters Make a Comeback

The Lafayette could soon be the first river in Virginia to meet oyster restoration goals set for ten tributaries across the Bay. In 2017 the river neared 75 acres of functioning oyster reef, just shy of it's 80-acre target. Thanks to a new NFWF grant, CBF and the Elizabeth River Project will build 5.5 acres of new oyster reef in the Lafayette. This investment keeps the Lafayette on track to meeting its goals. It is all part of a remarkable comeback for this urban river.

CBF has planted about 40 million spat-on-shell oysters on these reefs since oyster restoration efforts began in 2009. ERP and other partners have constructed the bases for these new reefs using shell and alternative materials including crushed concrete.

Local restaurants and volunteers play a crucial role by providing empty oyster shells through CBF's oyster shell recycling program. Waterfront homeowners have also made a real difference by growing oysters off docks through CBF's oyster gardening program. Many of the oysters grown by volunteers are planted on sanctuary reefs in the Lafayette.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation also placed 600 oyster reef balls into the Lafayette River in 2017, making nearly 1,500 added to the river since 2010. These large hollow concrete domes build up three-dimensional structure quickly, jump-starting a whole new ecosystem. They are dotted with big holes, creating hiding places for aquatic life and plenty of area for oysters to latch on to. A recent CBF survey found more than 2,000 oysters on average growing on a single 18-inch-diameter reef ball.

This progress in revitalizing Norfolk's Lafayette River shows just what can be done when everyone pitches in.

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