Chesapeake Bay Program

The Chesapeake Bay, along with its tributaries, is one of the most important and productive estuarine systems in the world, providing economic and social benefits to the citizens of the City of Portsmouth and the Commonwealth of Virginia. The health of the Bay is vital to maintaining the city's economy and the welfare of its citizens.

The Chesapeake Bay waters have been degraded significantly by many sources of pollution, including nonpoint source pollution from land uses and development. Existing high quality waters are worthy of protection from degradation to guard against further pollution. Certain lands that are proximate to shorelines have intrinsic water quality value due to the ecological and biological processes they perform. Other lands have severe development constraints from flooding, erosion, and soil limitations. With proper management, these lands offer significant ecological benefits by providing water quality maintenance and pollution control, as well as flood and shoreline erosion control. 

The Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act (Bay Act) was enacted by the Virginia General Assembly in 1988 to protect and improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay by requiring the implementation of effective land use management practices. The Bay Act requires local governments to adopt and implement local Bay Act programs. Portsmouth City Council has designated areas of the City as Chesapeake Bay Preservation Areas ("CBPAs"), in order to protect them from destruction and damage, to protect the quality of water in the Bay, and, consequently, to protect the quality of life in the City of Portsmouth and the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Development in the CBPAs is regulated under Chapter 9.1 of the Portsmouth City Code in accordance with the requirements of the Code of Virginia.

Click here to access the current Portsmouth Chesapeake Bay Ordinance


Resource Protection Areas

In accordance with 9VAC25-830-80, Resource Protection Areas (RPAs) shall, at a minimum, consist of lands adjacent to water bodies with perennial flow that have an intrinsic water quality value due to the ecological and biological processes they perform or are sensitive to impacts which may cause significant degradation to the quality of state waters.

The Resource Protection Area includes:
  1. Tidal wetlands; 
  2. Nontidal wetlands connected by surface flow and contiguous to tidal wetlands or water bodies with perennial flow; 
  3. Tidal shores; 
  4. Such other lands considered by the local government to meet the provisions above and to be necessary to protect the quality of state waters.
  5. A buffer area not less than 100 feet in width located adjacent to and landward of the components listed in 1 through 4  above, and along both sides of any water body with perennial flow.

Chesapeake Bay Resource Protection Area Cross Section

ChesBay rma rpa annotated

Water Quality Impact Assessment

A Water Quality Impact Assessment (WQIA) is a state-mandated requirement of the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Area Designation and Management Regulations that were adopted in 1989 by the Virginia General Assembly. 

A WQIA is required for ALL land disturbance within the Resource Protection Areas (RPAs) and for any development within Resource Management Areas (RMAs) when required by the City Engineer due to the unique characteristics of the site or intensity of development.

Water Quality Impact Assessment (WQIA) Review Application

Any land disturbing activity that equals or exceeds an area of 2,500 square feet shall also comply with the requirements of Chapter 11 Erosion and Sediment Control, Excavation and Chapter 31.2 Stormwater Management of the Portsmouth City Code.

With the submission of a WQIA, a plan or physical survey showing the existing conditions and proposed work that includes the following is required:

  • The field delineated edge of wetlands performed by a certified/qualified professional with the date of delineation performed and person/company who performed the delineation. Please note: all delineations must not be more than 5 years old per the Army Corps of Engineers standards.
  • The 100-foot Resource Protection Area (RPA) buffer including the 50-foot seaward and 50-foot landward buffer lines).
  • All existing structure(s) and other development and any newly proposed structure(s) and other development. 
  • A boundary line showing the limits of land disturbance on the submitted plan – include project area, equipment access paths as well as equipment and material laydown areas. 
  • A written description of the project, including the construction/development sequence and a description of equipment and methods to be used. 
  • Tree and woody vegetation removal associated with the project. (if applicable)
  • Proposed mitigation:
    • Planting unit(s) – A minimum of ONE PLANTING UNIT shall be proposed for every 400 square feet or fraction thereof of proposed land disturbance in the Resource Protection Area. Tree and shrub species, size, and location shall be indicated on the plan. Provide the calculation and description of the planting units and other mitigation to be used.
      • It is strongly recommended that the plant list from the DCR Riparian Buffer Manual (Appendix A) be used to satisfy the planting unit requirements. Alternative plants proposed must have the same performance characteristics as the plants on the lists and must be approved prior to planting.


Use the Virginia Runoff Reduction Method (VRRM) spreadsheet and instructions (see link below) to determine an appropriate Best Management Practice (BMP) for the project. And provide details of BMPs to be used.

Planting Unit Calculations

1 – 400 square feet of land disturbance = 1 Planting Unit
401 – 800 square feet of land disturbance = 2 Planting Units
801 – 1200 square feet of land disturbance = 3 Planting Units
1201 – 1600 square feet of land disturbance = 4 Planting Units
1601 – 2000 square feet of land disturbance = 5 Planting Units
2001 – 2400 square feet of land disturbance = 6 Planting Units

One (1) canopy tree – 1 ½ - 2 inch caliper or large evergreen – 6 feet tall minimum; AND
Two (2) understory trees – ¾ - 1 ½ inch caliper or evergreen – 4 feet tall minimum; AND
Three (3) small shrubs or woody groundcover – 15 -18 inches in height minimum

Utilize our interactive map to find out if your property is located in a Chesapeake Bay Preservation Area.

ChesBay viewer


Contact the Department of Engineering and Technical Services at 757-393-8592 for assistance with technical issues related to Chesapeake Bay Preservation Area Development such as:

  • Best Management Practices (BMPs)
  • Stormwater / BMP Calculations
  • Erosion and Sediment Control measure

Contact the Planning Department at 757-393-8836 to submit a Water Quality Impact Assessment Review Application or Chesapeake Bay Exception Application.

Download the DCR Riparian Buffer Manual Here



Click here for information about developing in wetland areas.

The Virginia Shorezone Jurisdictions shown below depict the legal authorities of the local, state, and federal agencies in regulating the RPA, wetlands, and subaqueous areas. (Click on image for full size)