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"River Star" volunteers help restore shoreline at Portsmouth, VA, spring 1999
"River Star" volunteers help to restore the shoreline at BASF, Inc. Portsmouth, Virginia, during a wildlife habitat planting day, spring 1999 Photo: Jacqueline Murphy-Miller

Elizabeth River Project

Four citizens in 1991 dreamed of a cleaner Elizabeth River in southeastern Virginia, one of the most industrialized waterways on the East Coast, and founded the Elizabeth River Project.

By late 1999, water quality indicators, such as nutrients and dissolved oxygen, for the river were greatly improved. Progress for a cleaner river can be credited with the work done by agencies, organizations, and individuals across the East Coast, which responded to the project founders' belief that the dirtiest river on the Chesapeake Bay could improve if all players, from industry to environmentalists, from regulators to residents and scientists, worked together.

This unlikely partnership began in 1996, after the Elizabeth River Project unveiled an 18-point Watershed Action Plan. The following year, the Elizabeth River Project launched a "river stars" program to encourage voluntary pollution prevention and wildlife habitat enhancement. The community achieved more than $5 million in voluntary actions still underway, from wetland restoration to river star business projects to federal-city-state partnerships. Sixty organizations, including some of the region's largest corporations, are participating. By year 2000, efforts were focused on improving the toxic sediment quality, which is still the worst in the bay and responsible for cancerous fish in the river bottom.

The Elizabeth River Project secured a cost-sharing agreement in 1998 among the federal government, the state, and the cities of Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Virginia Beach, for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin a $2.4 feasibility study to clean up the river's bottom. The corps report will include design and cost estimates. Studies are also ongoing on how to restore up to fourteen wetlands.

Project documentation includes a seven-page report; newspaper clippings; the report, State of the River 2000, prepared by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and other scientists; a video; and ten slides.

Originally submitted by: Norman Sisisky, Representative (4th District).



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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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