The Virginia Department of Health’s Shellfish Sanitation Division determines the areas where it is safe to eat oysters in the Lynnhaven River. They base these determinations on regional bacteria levels in the river, since oysters filtering in areas with high bacterial concentrations are unsafe for people to eat.
The standard for shellfish harvest is very rigorous. The standard for swimmable/fishable water is 200 fecal coliform colonies per 100 mL seawater and the standard for shellfish harvest is only 14 MPN/100 ml. Many areas of the Lynnhaven hover right around 14, some months a little over, some months a little under. Water quality measurements are taken monthly at 35 different locations in the Lynnhaven Inlet, Eastern and Western Branches, and in Broad and Linkhorn Bays. The 30 month average of these water quality tests is what determines which areas are open and evaluations are updated annually.
To see this level of improvement in the bacterial levels in the river over the past eighteen years is truly a testament to the efforts of the City of Virginia Beach to improve our storm water and sanitary sewer systems and to eliminate septic tanks. But this alone cannot explain the level of improvement we have seen. The compliance of boaters to the No Discharge Zone in the Lynnhaven has also positively contributed to these improvements. And so have each of you. If you are picking up after your dog and not feeding wildlife, you are also helping. If you have installed a waterway or street buffer garden or put in rain barrels to reduce your storm water runoff, you are helping.
To maintain this progress will require everyone’s help. Thanks for doing your part and I hope you have had the opportunity to enjoy some tasty Lynnhaven oysters this past year!
Click here and click on Shellfish Condemnation Zones Provided by VDH to see conditionally open areas in green and closed areas in red.