The Eastern Shore of Virginia’s history, culture has always been tied to the surrounding tidal waters and our ability to safely navigate them, whether for work or for pleasure. The waters of the shore are both federally and state controlled, however budget constraints indicate that federal funding for dredging shallow draft navigation projects will continue to decline, and funding for maintenance of these non-federal waterways has been almost non-existent. As tourism and aquaculture continue to grow, the threat of a reduction in safely-navigable waterways, both federal and state is a concern.
The A-NPDC has completed an assessment of Eastern Shore and found that about 37% of the waterways assessed have at least some portion of the waterway with three feet or less water depth at mean low water. Of the 32 federal channels, 22 do not meet their respective authorized depths, and 12 have at least some portion of the channel with three feet or less water depth.
The A-NPDC reports that 21 of the 59 total assessed waterways are in need of immediate maintenance attention to ensure the continued safe navigation. While commercial watermen generally operate skiffs and other shallow-draft vessels, some with a draft less than one foot, other vessels that are designed for off-shore boating, typically require deeper, wider channels for safe navigation.
The A-NPDC recommends that the Eastern Shore Regional Navigable Waterways Committee (ESRNWC) consider this report when selecting and prioritizing future dredging projects and that a database with the waterways included in this assessment should be created and continuously updated as new information about the condition of waterways be available. A complete update to the data should occur annually, with special attention following large storm events.
The A-NPDC recommends a comprehensive strategic plan for dredging of the Eastern Shore of Virginia waterways which would lead to a Shallow Draft Navigation and Sediment Management Plan. This plan would encompass changing the potential scope of work, on a project by project basis, from the federal project dimensions to smaller scale maintenance projects that still meet the navigation needs of that particular waterway, but that are affordable and can be implemented locally.
The A-NPDC report supports the increase state funding of waterway maintenance projects, as well as recommending that the Eastern Shore attempt to synthesize regional priorities with other Virginia regions, such as the Middle Peninsula, to maximize the USACE dredging schedules. This would allow for efficient use of the dredge once it enters the Chesapeake Bay.