The CBPA Says I Have a RPA. Is That Contagious?

No, but protective clothing and muck boots are recommended!

Navigating through the volume of news, organizations and regulations involved with the Chesapeake Bay is a bit like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid gazing anxiously into the distance and wondering aloud “Who ARE those guys?” Keeping it straight can be confusing for property owners seeking answers to routine questions.

When it comes to your shoreline, there are a few basic things you need to know.

First: Every decision you make regarding your shoreline is important. Shoreline management choices made daily by homeowners have an impact on adjoining property, water quality, and habitat for native and migrating species. For example:

  • Choosing a vegetated shoreline in areas with low wave energy preserves the benefits of valuable wetlands ecosystems (benefits to humans), and protects shorelines from erosion and the effects of sea level rise.
  • Hardening that same shoreline with rock or a bulkhead disconnects the water from the shoreline and dramatically reduces the benefits of the wetland and buffer areas.
  • Wetlands areas need to be able to migrate inland away from the water. This is especially important as sea levels rise and we experience higher tides.

Second: That non-contagious RPA is an acronym for “Resource Protection Area” and was established by Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act (CBPA) passed in 1989. Simply stated, the RPA is the 100 foot area adjacent to the landward side of wetlands and shorelines. Ideally, this “buffer” area should be planted with native trees and shrubs. Buffers filter pollutants and excess nutrients out of water flowing across the land before the water reaches the streams and rivers that lead to the bay.

Important Point: RPAs are strictly regulated and there are rules about what you can and cannot do. Be sure to contact your County Land Use Office BEFORE beginning ANY work in the RPA. In general:

  • Clearing vegetation in the area is limited to what is necessary to provide reasonable views of the water, access to the water or for general forest management purposes.
  • Removal of healthy vegetation typically requires a county permit.
  • Cleared healthy vegetation must be replaced. Choosing native plants is always preferred.

What if you have an RMA instead? The RMA is a “Resource Management Area. In Virginia’s Northern Neck counties, all land outside of the RPA is typically in the RMA.

The important issues related to the RMA for this discussion are the stormwater management regulations, which were approved by the Virginia General Assembly in 2011.

In vegetated areas, rain soaks into the ground or is soaked up by plant roots. When rain falls on impervious surfaces, such as roofs and pavement it becomes stormwater run-off. During a heavy rain, stormwater flows rapidly across imperious surfaces, accumulating pollutants that flow directly into wetlands and streams. Large volumes of water also cause serious erosion which increases sediment in waterways. It is interesting to note that stream health begins to degrade when a watershed has more than 10% of impervious surfaces!

The intent of the regulations is to keep stormwater on the property by implementing a variety of best management practices that help water filter into the ground onsite. Here are the basics of what you need to know:

  • Permits for home improvement and new home construction will require compliance with the new stormwater regulations.
  • There are 14 Virginia stormwater best management practices. Some of these are vegetated buffer strips, rain gardens and rooftop disconnection, which directs rooftop downspouts across vegetated areas. Lawn or turf is considered an impervious surface!
  • Vegetated buffers and rain gardens should always be planted with native plants to ensure a high plant success rate.

Stormwater is affecting water quality across the country. New regulations are popping up constantly that will most likely affect you, wherever you live. Introducing some stormwater management planning into your garden is a great idea!

A handy guide for analyzing your property for effective stormwater designs can be found at

The Wetlands Project is a Virginia corporation and our mission is to promote wetlands preservation by creating and strengthening community-based programs that encourage wetlands conservation. We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation.

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