Basin gets new $96K study

Published 8:51 am Saturday, March 14, 2009

FRANKLIN—Legislation signed by President Barack Obama this week includes funding for a new study of the Chowan River Basin.

The Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009 will spend $96,000 on the project, a reconnaissance study by the Army Corps of Engineers that will evaluate how to protect and restore wetlands and forest buffers damaged by flooding and erosion, reduce flood damages and improve navigation in the basin.

The reconnaissance study will also determine federal interest in conducting a more detailed study, which would also be performed by the Corps and is estimated to cost about $500,000.

“Better roadways, waterways and public transportation are essential to attract new businesses and spur economic development in the Hampton Roads area,” U.S. Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) said Wednesday. Webb was instrumental in getting the new study funded.

The Blackwater, Nottoway and Meherrin rivers are all part of the Chowan River Basin, which is about 130 miles long and drains an area of 5,000 square miles in southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina.

Local elected officials, especially U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, have been pushing Congress to fund a more comprehensive study of the watershed, which since 1998 has had record flooding six times.

Hurricane Floyd was the flood of record in 1999, followed by the flood in October 2006. Hurricane Isabel in 2003 was ranked fifth-highest.

In October, the Corps began a $90,000 project in the basin, installing six stream gauges at locations along the Meherrin, the Nottoway and the Blackwater. Future plans call for the installation of additional stream gauges as well as rainfall and water-quality gauges.

Southampton, Greensville, Sussex, Surry and Isle of Wight counties and the cities of Franklin and Emporia, together provided $45,000 toward the Corps’ project study in October. The federal government paid for the other half.

Some possible explanations for the floods include consecutive weather events, fallen trees, encroachment from development, the accumulation of silt in tributaries and reservoirs or a combination of these.