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.
In 2005, only 1% of the Lynnhaven River met this rigorous standard. Today, 42% of the river is open to shellfish harvest, including 30% that is currently considered “open” in Broad Bay and Linkhorn Bay, and an additional 12% is “open with restrictions.” The restrictions apply after a significant rain event. Whenever we receive more than one inch of rain in a 24-hour period, that 12% of the river is closed for 10 days and reopens automatically thereafter. The restricted area is in the Inlet and Eastern and Western branches of the river. This exciting water quality improvement has created the opportunity for individuals to raise and sell oysters from the Lynnhaven, thus we now have six active commercial oyster companies working in the river.
To see this level of improvement in the bacterial levels in the river over the past ten 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 and to move this number up to 50% or 60% 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.