State Scenic River Designation, Rivanna River




Adopt resolution supporting State Scenic River designation for the South Fork of the Rivanna River and the Rivanna River from the South Fork Rivanna River reservoir dam to the site of the former Woolen Mills dam



Messrs. Tucker, Foley, Davis, Cilimberg, Benish






October 1, 2008


        ACTION:                   INFORMATION:   



       ACTION:    X              INFORMATION:   










At the request of the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County, the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) conducted an evaluation of the South Fork of the Rivanna River and the Rivanna River from the South Fork Rivanna River reservoir dam to the site of the former Woolen Mills dam, and has determined that it is eligible for Scenic River Designation (Attachment A).  The evaluation criteria for Scenic River designation include: stream corridor vegetation; streambed and stream flow modifications; human development of visual corridor; historic features; landscape; quality of fishery; rare, threatened or endangered species; water quality; parallel roads; crossings; and special features affecting aesthetics.  That segment of the river from Woolen Mills to the James River is already officially designated by the General Assembly as a state Scenic River.  Attachment B is information from DCR regarding the impacts of Scenic Stream designation.


The next step in the designation process would be for the Board of Supervisors to adopt a resolution supporting the designation.  If the resolution is adopted, the County would then request the General Assembly to adopt legislation to formally designate the river in the 2009 session.  The Board may hold a public hearing on the proposed designation, but a public hearing is not required.    The Charlottesville City Council adopted a resolution supporting this proposal for Scenic River designation on September 2, 2008 (Attachment C). 


This request began as a community effort that has included the Rivanna Conservation Society, the Southern Environmental Law Center, and local legislators. 




Goal 1:  Enhance the Quality of Life for all Albemarle County Residents. 

Goal 2:  Protect the County’s Natural Resources.

Goal 3:  Effectively Manage the County’s Growth and Development.


This proposal is also consistent with the County’s Comprehensive Plan goals and objectives including:

Goal: Preserve the County’s scenic resources as being essential to the character, economic vitality and quality of life.

Objective: Protect the scenic quality of Albemarle’s streams.

Strategy:  Pursue Virginia Scenic River designations for rivers meeting state criteria.

Pantops Master Plan Guiding Principle: Residents of Pantops value the exceptional natural and historical scenic qualities of this neighborhood – views to Monticello, surrounding mountains, RIvanna River, and west to the City.  It is important to protect these scenic vistas and sense of open space as the neighborhood continues to grow.

Pantops Master Plan Recommendation:  Preserve the Rivanna River.  It is shown as green space on the Parks and Green Systems Map and will create a linear park within the Pantops Neighborhood



The designation of a river as “scenic” by the General Assembly is governed by the “State Scenic Rivers Act” (Virginia Code Section 10.1-400).  The only applicable limitation contained in the enabling legislation is as follows:

      After designation of any river or section of river as a scenic river by the General Assembly, no dam or other structure impeding the natural flow thereof shall be constructed, operated or maintained in such river or    section of the river unless specifically authorized by an act of the General Assembly.

DCR staff have clarified that bridges are typically not considered a structure that would “impede the natural flow,” with the possible exception of unique “bridge” structures such as a low level/water level bridge or a constructed ford. DCR staff advised that while the Scenic River status would not prevent a road or pedestrian crossing from being constructed, if Federal or State funds were used for the construction of such a project, there would be an emphasis placed on the aesthetic design of the crossing to be in harmony with the scenic status of the river.  Projects might be expected to use design features such as see-through guardrail and other features that provide easy visual access to the river.


The following summarizes the impact of the designation:


·         The designation does not impose any restrictions on private property.

·         The only legislative prohibition of Scenic River designation is that no dam or other structure “impeding the natural flow” shall be constructed without General Assembly authorization.

·         It does NOT give the public any right to use privately owned land. 

·         In general, designation is intended to recognize the scenic, natural and historic values of the river and to encourage present and future owners to continue to exercise good stewardship of the land and resources along the river.  It also informs County officials about the special attributes of the river, so that they can work with landowners to protect those attributes.


Since the designation does not establish any new restrictions on private properties except restrictions on the construction of dams or other structures impeding the flow of the river, staff does not believe a public hearing is necessary to support this designation.  The intent of the designation is consistent with the County’s Comprehensive Plan goals to protect natural, cultural and historic resources and to designate eligible streams for Scenic River designation.   A resolution recommending Scenic River designation for the Rivanna/South Fork of the Rivanna River is attached (Attachment D).  Should the Board decide to hold a public hearing, the hearing should be held in November to allow sufficient time to meet required submittal deadlines for federal action in this year.




There is no direct budget impact from establishing the Scenic River designation.  The designation would provide opportunities for grants related to enhancing and protecting this section of the river.  




Staff recommends the Board adopt the attached resolution supporting State Scenic River designation for the South Fork of the Rivanna River and the Rivanna River from the South Fork Rivanna River reservoir dam to the site of the former Woolen Mills dam. 




A – DCR, Scenic River Designation Qualification Letter

B – DCR, Information on Scenic River Designation

C – Charlottesville City Council adopted Resolution

D – Resolution of Support
Return to consent agenda
Return to regular agenda