Major projects like these have helped us restore miles of polluted river bottom, shoreline, and wildlife habitat. But we’ve still got miles to go. Do Something Beautiful. Join the Elizabeth River Project.
Oysters were once so abundant on the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River that their discarded shells served as the foundation for “Shell Road” – or what we now know as today’s Indian River Road. But by the early 2000s, the Eastern Branch had become a shell of itself, plagued by decades of high bacteria, discarded waste and contaminated stormwater runoff. Stretching 9 miles through residential Virginia Beach and Chesapeake, past the shipyards near the Campostella Bridge and out to Downtown Norfolk’s Harbor Park, the tributary is called the river’s “Lost” branch for the way it flows largely out of the public’s view. And that was exactly the problem. With little public access and just an occasional glimpse from I-264 or a light rail train, the Eastern Branch was all-too easily ignored. By 2014, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the Elizabeth River Project, and a dozen area scientists gave the Eastern Branch a “D” grade.
Alarmed by the neglected state of the Eastern Branch, the Elizabeth River Project and its partners developed the Eastern Branch Environmental Restoration Strategy in 2014. The plan charted ways to control lawn fertilizers, boat and pet waste, repair aging sewer systems and septic tanks, and address the abandoned vessels, old landfills and toxic PCBs located throughout the Eastern Branch. New wildlife habitat was established, and efforts were made to increase public access to the river. Meanwhile, the Elizabeth River Project, Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission combined to build 24 acres of new pollution-filtering oyster reefs.
Read the Full Eastern Branch Restoration Plan:
In 2020, the Eastern Branch became the 2nd Chesapeake Bay tributary in Virginia (after the Lafayette) to reach oyster restoration goals established by Bay scientists. While the state’s original 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement targeted five Virginia tributaries for oyster restoration, Bay fisheries leaders saw such promise in the efforts along the Eastern Branch, state leaders declared it the sixth Virginia tributary targeted for oyster restoration 2020. Today, more than 1,300 Eastern Branch homeowners are enrolled in the Elizabeth River Project’s River Star Homes program – all pledging to take steps to stop the flow of nutrients, bacteria and pollution into the river and heal the Eastern Branch for generations to come.
The “Lost Branch” still needs you. Your support allows us to address remaining challenges, especially in Broad Creek and Indian River – narrow fingers of the river where pollution accumulates. With your help, we’ll keep working with many great partners such as Friends of Indian River and area cities to reduce sources of pollution and restore healthy shores. Join us.