What is a Watershed?



Watershed wa-ter-shed | noun
Also known as a drainage basin, it is an area of land where all water drains to a central point like a particular lake, river, or stream. When rain flows over a surface, it will eventually make its way to that central point.


Virginia Beach has a very complex system of watersheds. Each has its own history and beauty and for the network of our waterways that shape our land and our lives. In Virginia Beach there are nine secondary watersheds that make up three primary watersheds, the Chesapeake Bay, Atlantic Ocean and Albemarle-Pamlico Sounds.

In Virginia Beach, the northern and more urbanized portions, 31% of the city, drain into the Chesapeake Bay. The central, southern and more rural areas which make up 66% of the city drain to the Albemarle-Pamlico Sounds (Southern Rivers) primary watershed. The remaining 3% portion of the city located along the coast drains to the Atlantic Ocean primary watershed.

Primary Watersheds 

Primary Watershed  Approximate Acreage Percent of City
Chesapeake Bay  61,000 31%

Albemarle-Pamlico Sounds (Southern Rivers)

130,000 66%
Atlantic Ocean 5,500 3%
Total Area 196,500 100%

Source: City of Virginia Beach Department of Planning and Community Development 

What Primary & Secondary Watersheds do you live in? 

Use your mouse or keypad to hover over Virginia Beach’s watersheds on the map below. Click on the highlighted area to learn more about each individual watershed!

Virginia Beach Watersheds

Virginia Beach Watersheds
Elizabeth River (Eastern Branch) Little Creek Back Bay Owl's Creek-Rudee inlet Lynnhaven River North Landing River Northwest River Ocean Coastal Bay Coastal

Elizabeth River (Eastern Branch)

The Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River flows from Norfolk into the Kempsville area of Virginia Beach. This is a highly developed area of our city with mostly suburban style development but some aging infrastructure. The section of the Eastern Branch is far from the mouth of the Elizabeth River which means that the salinity levels and tidal influences are lower than in the Lynnhaven and Rudee/Owl Creek systems.


Little Creek

The Little Creek waterways were historically part of the Lynnhaven River system. Over time, some were cut off from the river to provide a source of fresh water. Today, Lake Smith and Lake Lawson are beautiful recreation and fishing areas.

Back Bay

The Back Bay watershed contains suburban development in the northern areas and farmland and protected areas to the south. Bay Back flows into Currituck Sound and is part of the Albemarle-Pamlico system. Over its history, Back Bay has fluctuated from fresh to brackish and back to fresh. It is part of the important east coast flyway and home to many migrating waterfowl in the winter months. Back Bay is renowned for its bass fishing and duck hunting.

Owl's Creek-Rudee inlet

Owl's Creek runs behind the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center and joins the Rudee Inlet to flow into the Atlantic Ocean. Rudee and Owl Creek are salty like the ocean and the home to many ocean going boats. The watershed contains several neighborhoods and forms the southern part of the resort area.

Lynnhaven River

The three branches of the Lynnhaven River system, the Western Branch, the Eastern Branch, and Linkhorn and Broad Bays, and all of the coves and creeks that feed them, wind throughout the northern part of Virginia Beach. The Lynnhaven watershed is the second largest watershed in Virginia Beach and home to more than half of the city’s population. This watershed contains most of the city’s strategic growth areas and is densely developed with both urban and suburban areas. The Lynnhaven is a salt water estuary renowned for its delicious oysters.

North Landing River

The North Landing River watershed is the largest in the city and the North Landing is Virginia Beach’s only State Scenic River. This watershed contains suburban development in the northern parts, farmland, and large areas of protected forests. With its dense poccosins and many acres of protected forests, the North Landing watershed has an amazing diversity of floura and fauna and is mostly undiscovered by the residents of Virginia Beach. Like Back Bay, the North Landing flows into the Albemarle-Pamlico system in North Carolina.





Northwest River

One small area in the southwest corner of Virginia Beach is in the Northwest River Watershed. Most of the Northwest River is in Chesapeake and like the Back Bay and North Landing River, are part of the Albemarle-Pamlico watershed.

Ocean Coastal

Atlantic Ocean

The areas of our city that drain directly into the Atlantic Ocean are small but important. The resort area hotels and destinations are a critical part of our local economy.

Bay Coastal

 The interactive watershed address finder map developed by the Department of Conservation & Recreation (DCR) is a great tool to use to find your watershed. Once you type in the address, look at the map and you’ll see a red dot locating your address.  Zoom in on the map and then click on the area within the brown boundary where your location is.  A box will pop up with the State’s name of the watershed. *Please note: Southern Rivers Watershed is also referred to as the Albemarle-Pamlico Sounds Watershed. 


PEARL HOMES are places where people care about our environment and want to do what they can to help protect our resources.

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Lynnhaven River NOW recognizes schools providing outstanding environmental education as a Pearl School.

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PEARL BUSINESSES are essential to truly move towards a more sustainable Virginia Beach and cleaner waters.

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We all want to do our part to restore the health of all of our sacred waterways and protect them for future generations to enjoy.

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SUSTAINABLE YARDS PROGRAM: Let us help you “green” your Lynnhaven watershed home. This unique program provides specific stormwater management practices to your yard at a significantly reduced cost to you.

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