The Potomac River at Fraser Preserve, Fairfax County, VA.
Sunrise on the River The Potomac River at Fraser Preserve, Fairfax County, VA. © Thomas Hamilton

Stories in Virginia

How We Work: Rivers and Bays

Protecting clean water from the Clinch River to the Chesapeake Bay.

Virginia’s wetlands, streams, rivers and bays feed into our Atlantic Ocean much like your blood circulates through the veins, arteries and heart of your body. Clean, abundant water is the lifeblood of our communities, our wildlife and our economy, and The Nature Conservancy fosters innovative partnerships to protect our most vital natural resource.

We're working to protect the waters of the Clinch River, monitoring populations of rare freshwater mussels, and encouraging people to enjoy this natural resource.
Clinch River We're working to protect the waters of the Clinch River, monitoring populations of rare freshwater mussels, and encouraging people to enjoy this natural resource. © Alex Novak / TNC

Working for Rivers

Our Clinch Valley Program is protecting some of the nation’s most diverse and imperiled aquatic wildlife in the Clinch and Powell rivers of southeastern Virginia and northeastern Tennessee.

With support from the USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program and other partners, we have steered nearly $7 million to farms where improvements such as livestock-exclusion fences will make the greatest difference in water quality.

To date, farmers who have qualified for the program are helping to ensure cleaner water along 80 stream miles. Working as partners with these farmers, we can help improve both their bottom lines and the health of streams that run through their farms and feed into our rivers.

The Nature Conservancy will transfer Old Castlewood landing on the Clinch River to Virginia State Parks.
Clinch River The Nature Conservancy will transfer Old Castlewood landing on the Clinch River to Virginia State Parks. © Daniel White / The Nature Conservancy

Conservation that benefits local economies and our environment is also the impetus behind our partnership with the commonwealth to acquire land for the forthcoming Clinch River State Park and water trail.

The state is on track to acquire its first anchor site for the park by year’s end, and TNC will soon be transferring river-access sites at Artrip and Old Castlewood, both of which feature new canoe/kayak launches.

Increased access for paddling, tubing and fishing is already spurring excitement and fostering entrepreneurship. River towns such as St. Paul, home to two outfitters and a new hotel catering to outdoor adventurers, see nature tourism as vital to a more diversified and sustainable regional economy.

Raising the Energy Bar

TNC facilitated a collaboration that in 2018 resulted in commitments from eight energy companies to be guided by a new report titled Improving Steep-Slope Pipeline Construction to Reduce Impacts to Natural Resources.

“The participants share a commitment to developing new energy infrastructure in ways that are safe and avoid and minimize environmental impacts,” according to the report, which outlines best practices for the pipeline industry to reduce impacts on habitat health, especially water quality.

TNC’s approach to pipelines and other energy development emphasizes the mitigation hierarchy: Avoid-Minimize-Compensate.  First, we identify ecologically sensitive areas that should be avoided altogether. Our next priority is to reduce environmental impacts as much as practicable. The last resort is to secure compensation for those impacts that cannot be avoided.

By coming together, we seek to focus on solutions and new industry standards that may lead to safer energy production and safeguards for clean water.

Young watermen are redefining the character and approach to working the Chesapeake Bay.
Sorting Oysters Young watermen are redefining the character and approach to working the Chesapeake Bay. © Jason Houston

Aquaculture by Design

One oyster can filter 50 gallons of water every day. But with oyster populations in the Chesapeake Bay hovering at roughly 1% of historical levels, the bay’s natural filtering system barely exists.

In addition to oyster restoration, we're engaged in research designed to measure benefits to water quality from oyster aquaculture. Our partners include the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and four aquaculture companies spanning from Virginia Beach to the Rappahannock River.

As part of our global Aquaculture by Design strategy we want to see if oyster aquaculture can accelerate restoration efforts—that is, can aquaculture make the bay cleaner faster?

Aquaculture by Design Can oyster aquaculture help make the Chesapeake Bay cleaner, faster?