An Examination of the Impact of Urban Development on the Powhatan Creek Watershed in James City County, Virginia

Date of Award


Document Type

Undergraduate Capstone Project

Degree Name

Master of Environmental Policy And Management

Organizational Unit

University College, Environmental Policy and Management


Environmental Policy And Management

First Advisor

Steven Bissell


Cities and towns, Growth, City planning, Virginia, James City County, Impervious Cover, Jamestown, Powatan Creek Watershed, Environmental conditions, Urban planning, Watershed


James City County is the birthplace of English settlement in America. Since 1607, the settlers and residents of this area have been altering the land and ultimately impacting the surrounding waterways. Powhatan Creek is a 22 square mile watershed located in James City County where the mouth of the creek opens to the James River and is only 60 miles from the Chesapeake Bay and ultimately the Atlantic Ocean. This study examined the impact of development on the area of this watershed corresponding to the original areas developed by the settlers in the early 1600's. Using impervious cover analysis, it was found that prior to 1900, there was 1% or less impervious cover in the approximately 4500 initially developed. Using more accurate parcel data from 1900, impervious cover was calculated for parcels that have been developed. Impervious cover estimates for an area of 4062.76 acres studied indicate that currently parcels comprise 1.6% of the impervious cover for the area. This excludes any impervious cover due to roadways, just the development itself. Comparing this to the 0.24% of impervious cover in 1900, this is an increase of approximately 1.3%. If the remaining parcels are developed according to how they are currently zoned, an additional 9.2% of impervious cover will be added to the area. The growth pattern for this area has been, since the arrival of the settlers, sprawl. Given the estimate that the population will be over 100,000 within the next 20 years, it is clear that the County must be cautious of how the area in and around this watershed is developed. An appealing use of the available land would be to rezone the remaining parcels for mixed-use development and establish smart growth communities. This combines both residential and commercial use and tends to have a lesser overall amount of impervious cover. This also leaves available, undeveloped land that can be set aside as green-space. Concurrently, the current zoning practices should be modified to incorporate watershed based zoning to ensure that the amount of impervious cover is continuously monitored, and land use decisions can incorporate the level of impervious cover rather than population alone.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. Permanently suppressed.

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