VIRGINIA BEACH — Once upon a time the Lynnhaven oyster was not only delicious and abundant, but also world famous.
Then came poor water quality and an ecosystem in decline.
Hopefully though $10 million in federal money announced last week and earmarked for a “new start” to the Lynnhaven River Basin Ecosystem Restoration Project will assist in turning the situation around.
“Water quality and the ecosystem that supported the once world famous Lynnhaven oyster had declined significantly in the early 20th century,” said Phillip Roehrs, the Water Resources Engineer for the City of Virginia Beach. “Wetlands had been lost to development, the number of oysters fell dramatically, and nearly all submerged aquatic vegetation had been lost to poor water quality.”
Phase I of the restoration project will seek to restore the oyster reefs, wetlands, and the submerged aquatic vegetation.
“New start” federal programs have been very limited in the past decade and the Lynnhaven project is one of only two to receive funding this year.
“There have been a number of local initiatives, starting back in the 1980s,” Roehrs said. “But this is the first federal project specifically authorized and funded for this purpose.”
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He said one of the biggest local projects was the extension of sanitary sewer to all of the properties that drain into the Lynnhaven River Basin. That took decades and millions of dollars to complete.
“Restoring the health of the Lynnhaven ecosystem has been a long-term goal of the City of Virginia Beach, and this project will significantly advance that goal,” Roehrs said.
While the $10 million will fund the initial phases, the total needed to restore the Lynnhaven River Basin ecosystem is $34 million.
“Many years of work have gone into developing the Ecosystem Restoration plan for the Lynnhaven River,” said Karent Forget, executive director of Lynnhaven River NOW. “It will have a positive impact on the health of the whole estuary and will build on the work that has already been done by Lynnhaven River NOW and others with the support of the community and the city.”
She said the fish habitat, wetland restoration and efforts to restore underwater grasses to parts of the river will help all marine species that live in the river, and that Lynnhaven River NOW is looking forward to being involved in this work.
Roehrs said they will be meeting with the Army Corps of Engineers in the coming weeks to organize a schedule for the work, which will likely begin in late fall or early winter.