Restoring Hampton Waterways

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The Chesapeake Bay Foundation's (CBF's) Partnership to Restore Hampton Waterways is seeking to reduce stormwater pollution in the city of Hampton, Virginia. The project is also restoring critical shoreline and jumpstarting the restoration of native oysters to this Chesapeake Bay tributary.

The Hampton River, located in the city of Hampton, is a 3.2-mile-long body of water that empties into Hampton Roads, one of the world's largest natural harbors. Hampton Roads in turn empties into the southern end of the Chesapeake Bay. In the region, residents have long relied on local waterways for food, enjoyment, economic well-being, and our nation's security. However, local waters are not what they used to be. Oysters, crabs, and fish are neither abundant nor healthy. As impervious surfaces increase in the region, the rivers are choked with litter and cloudy with runoff.


The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality's 2012 Impaired Waters Report shows that the Hampton River is impaired for aquatic life due to dissolved oxygen and lists stormwater as one of the impairment's sources. The Virginia Department of Health lists the Hampton River as having restricted access for shellfish harvesting, with the primary source of concern being fresh fecal matter, with storm runoff listed as one of the sources of this fecal contamination. The City of Hampton faces challenges to tackling water quality issues, including a dense population with approximately 138,000 residents living in a 51-square mile area and a highly developed area with limited forestland. Stormwater from impervious surfaces is one of the city's biggest water pollution issues. Unfortunately, 17 percent of Hampton residents live in poverty. Because of this level of poverty, it is critical that stormwater management techniques necessary for this urban area to meet its water quality goals are accessible, easy to install, and affordable. 

Project Activities: Community Engagement

CBF is engaging the Hampton community in a wide range of activities. 

  • In May 2016, CBF offered a stormwater workshop to educate professionals about stormwater regulations, provide localized case studies, and encourage innovative and collaborative thinking about meeting local pollution reduction goals. The workshop educated those who are planning and implementing stormwater projects and helped dispel myths that innovative practices cannot be installed in coastal plain topography. 
  • In autumn 2016, CBF hosted our Volunteers as Chesapeake Stewards, or VoiCeS, adult education class in Hampton. During the VoiCeS classes, participants were provided with a historical, environmental, and scientific basis for understanding local waterways, such as the Hampton River, and the Bay. The VoiCeS graduates must now complete a minimum of 40 hours of volunteer service on a Bay-related project to earn CBF's designation as a "Chesapeake Steward."
  • CBF has hosted a boat trip for local leaders along the Hampton River in September 2016, aboard CBF's education vessel, Jenny S. A second boat trip for local leaders will be held in spring 2017.
  • CBF is hosting a series of briefings regarding the project. We have presented to the Hampton Waterways Restoration group and Hampton City Council. If you would like CBF to speak to your community organization about this project, please contact Christy Everett at
  • To help educate local elected officials on the importance of stormwater management, the NASA Langley Research Center will host a tour of their facility in spring 2017. The facility has many innovative stormwater management projects, including tree box filter retrofits, permeable pavers, green roofs, infiltration swales, catch basin sediment filters, and riparian buffer areas.
  • CBF will work with the Hampton Roads Sanitation District to insert educational inserts in monthly utility bills for HRSD's thousands of customers in the region. The inserts will describe simple things homeowners can do to improve water quality, including better lawn maintenance practices, preventing debris from entering storm drains, and other tips. Be on the lookout for the insert in your bill next year!
  • CBF will also work to inventory and map existing green infrastructure practices in the watershed which will assist in showing decision-makers what work has taken place and what still needs to occur in the future to meet pollution reduction goals. 

Through these educational experiences and materials, CBF hopes that Hampton's leaders will take steps and make investments in managing stormwater pollution. 

Project Activities: Reducing Pollution

The City of Hampton, Virginia Cooperative Extension, and Tree Stewards are working together to create a living shoreline at Bluebird Gap Farm. In addition to preventing erosion, living shorelines also improve water quality by settling sediments and filtering pollution while providing shoreline access and shallow water habitat to wildlife. Bluebird Gap Farm's living shoreline will also create a wetland-planting terrace that will be planted by volunteers, creating 2,500 square feet of new tidal marsh. After the living shoreline is constructed, a path will be surfaced with mulch to allow foot traffic to safely reach the shoreline project. Project partners will host educational events for citizens to tour the project and learn how to construct their own living shorelines.

In October 2016, CBF and the City of Hampton worked together to install two small rain gardens at city parks—Air Power Park and Bluebird Gap Farm. Three additional rain gardens will be installed at other schools, residential areas, or other locations. If you know of a great location for a rain garden—maybe your church or community center—contact Tanner Council at

CBF will mail surveys to neighborhoods surrounding rain garden installation sites to gauge watershed residents' current behaviors, impediments to changing behaviors, and interests regarding green infrastructure issues. CBF will also interview teachers and other community leaders to gather their insights on the best ways to engage the surrounding community of adults. Using the survey and interview results, project partners will offer workshops to local residents that encourage the installation of homeowner best management practices on residential properties. The workshops will encourage residential installation of practices that will allow localities to get nutrient reduction credits.

Hampton's Department of Public Works is working to install two large-scale bioretention projects at highly visible intersections to treat polluted runoff and provide publicity about green infrastructure practices. The first project is located at the interchange of Mercury Boulevard and King Street.

Project Activities: Oyster Restoration

CBF is working with Hampton University and other partners to jumpstart oyster restoration activities in the Hampton River by conducting oyster population and recruitment surveys. This will include shoreline surveying and a shell-string survey. The shell string survey entails periodically deploying shell strings at four locations in the Hampton River, examining the retrieved shell strings for newly set oyster spat, and analyzing and graphing the data for presentation. Other surveying activities include a "spat catcher" program with local citizens, who are given a spat catcher, or cage containing oyster shells designed to attract baby oysters. Data from the program help CBF determine where oyster recruitment occurs in the river and where we should focus our restoration efforts. 

In June 2016, CBF hosted an oyster gardening workshop at the university, asking volunteers to grow oysters from docks at their homes. After one year of nurturing their oysters, gardeners return them to be planted on sanctuary reefs. We estimate that oyster gardeners will grow 100,000 adult oysters to be placed on reefs. A second workshop will be hosted in late spring 2017.

Project Funders and Partners

CBF is thankful to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for funding the Partnership to Restore Hampton Waterways project. We are also appreciative of our partners who are helping CBF meet the project deliverables, including the City of Hampton, especially the Department of Public Works; Virginia Cooperative Extension; Tree Stewards; Master Naturalists; Master Gardeners; Hampton Roads Sanitation District; Hampton University; and NASA Langley Research Center.


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