Need for a Living River

Life along the river bottom represents the foundation of the food chain for the Elizabeth River. Sixteen percent of all life occurs along the bottom of waterways. Striped bass, spot, and blue crabs are examples of commercial and recreational fisheries depending on a healthy river bottom. The Living River Trust replaces lost habitat for these and other species of this critical link in a healthy ecosystem for Hampton Roads.

Sediment Mitigation

The Living River Trust is the first in-lieu fee mitigation tool of its kind in the United States to be approved by the federal government for compensation of impacts to the bottom of a waterway.


The Living River Trust meets developers’ needs to offset environmental impacts to the Elizabeth River watershed — particularly impacts to life along the river bottom (benthic impacts).


Funds are used to offset unavoidable impacts when permittees conduct new dredging or filling projects for which government agencies require mitigation. Currently, funds are expended on projects to improve impaired and polluted river bottom in other areas of the river.


Use of the Trust for regulatory sanctioned “mitigation,” or offsetting of impacts, should be considered only after every reasonable option has been pursued to avoid or reduce environmental harm.

Operating Agreement

The Elizabeth River Project; the Commonwealth of Virginia, Department of Environmental Quality; and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Norfolk District, created the Living River Trust through a July 2003 Memorandum of Understanding. A separate Operating Agreement between these agencies outlines the rules and regulations that govern the Living River Trust. Under these terms, the Trust is one option to provide appropriate mitigation for impacts to aquatic resources authorized by permits issued by the Norfolk District or by the State Water Control Board through the DEQ. The Trust strives to maximize the mitigation benefit to the aquatic environment of the Elizabeth River and the public interest. The full operating agreement can be found here: Operating Agreement

Available Mitigation Credits for River Bottom Impacts

The US Army Corps of Engineers and Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) through a permit process require mitigation to compensate for impacts.

The Living River Trust offers advanced mitigation credits for a fee as a mitigation option for permittees. Contact the Living River Trust Administrator, John Harbin, at 757-399-7487 for more information.

Land Conservation


The Living River Trust considers sites for long-term conservation on a case by case basis.

To date we have protected more than 600 acres of high value undeveloped land through our conservation program.

We consider both conservation easements and donation of land. Sites must be located in the Elizabeth River watershed. 

Land Conservation Brochure

To help us protect additional land in the Elizabeth River watershed: Donate here.

Read the April 1, 2017 article in The Virginian-Pilot: Endangered land: Less than 10 percent of the Elizabeth River watershed is undeveloped


Special thanks to Virginia Environmental Endowment for 2016-17 grant support to strengthen our land conservation efforts!