2003: Mapping the History and Planning the Future of the Powhatan Creek Watershed

Justin Hellier (Geography) University of Washington

Rapid development has transformed James City County into a diverse landscape where large tracts of forest grow next to new strip malls, golf courses spread out near pristine streams, and residential housing developments are juxtaposed with old agricultural fields. The development patterns here have mirrored those of many contemporary suburban and rural areas, and they have also come with many of the same environmental problems: habitat fragmentation, loss of agricultural lands, and most importantly for this research, the impairment of local water resources.

The Powhatan Creek, which discharges into the James River behind the historic Jamestown Island, has a drainage basin characterized by regions of high biodiversity adjacent to land dominated by increasing amounts of development. The creek's watershed flows almost in its entirety within the Primary Service Area (PSA), a growth boundary drawn by the County. With zoning and other regulatory restrictions, the County has attempted to encourage infill development inside the PSA and discourage development in the rural lands outside the PSA. By virtue of its geography, the pressure to develop the Powhatan Creek watershed is intense. The watershed is nearing an impervious coverage of ten percent, which research has shown to be a threshold at which many sensitive aquatic species disappear and ecosystem functions are dramatically impaired.

A group of concerned citizens incorporated in 1999 as the Friends of the Powhatan Creek Watershed to "[w]ork with planning, regulatory, and development programs of local, regional, state, and federal agencies to encourage policies and practices" that lead to stronger protections for the watershed, according to the bylaws of the group. My research profiles the group's experiences working with the County to draft and implement a Powhatan Creek Watershed Management Plan, that they hope will lead to more stringent and ecologically sensitive development policies in the watershed and eventually in the County as a whole.

For additional documentation Justin Hellier provided a PowerPoint Presentation entitled "Mapping the History and Planning the Future of the Powhatan Creek Watershed" provided here in PDF form.