Resource Protection Areas

Prince William County is located within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. All of the creeks and streams in the County feed into the Potomac River and eventually the Chesapeake Bay. As part of its commitment to protecting the Bay, Prince William County adopted the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act into its local ordinance in 1990. The Bay Act offers guidelines and requirements to protect and improve the water that flows into the Chesapeake Bay. 

Vegetated areas along water bodies, such as lakes, streams, rivers, marshes or shoreline, are known as riparian buffers. Most of these buffers are included as Resource Protection Areas (RPAs) under the Bay Act. RPAs include the land area within 100 feet of a perennial stream bank or edge of wetlands adjacent to the perennial stream. RPA areas are protected under state law and local ordinances. In general, no development, land disturbance, or vegetation removal is allowed in an RPA. RPAs were designated along all perennial streams in the County. The County contacted all property owners with RPAs on their property to help them meet local requirements and play a role in protecting these important resources. 

RPAs are described as the 'last line of defense' for the protection of water quality. These buffers stabilize shorelines and stream banks, filter pollutants, reduce volume of stormwater runoff and provide critical habitat for aquatic species and wildlife. Trees and shrubs in riparian buffers offer benefits to property owners as well by increasing property value, reducing erosion, reducing noise, improving air quality, increasing shoreline stability and providing shade in the summer and windbreaks in the winter.

Please view our RPA Brochure for more details.

With approval by the Department of Public Works, property owners may selectively remove vegetation within the 100 foot buffer for the following reasons:

  • For water dependent uses, such as docks, piers and outfalls.
  • To create a water access path (boardwalk trail) as long as it does not cause erosion.
  • To provide for shoreline erosion control provided that the buffer is replanted with native woody vegetation.
  • To remove dead, dying or diseased trees and shrubs and to remove noxious weeds or invasive exotic plants.
  • For utilities, public roads and driveways.
  • To provide limited water views, but removed vegetation must be replaced with other lower growing vegetation to provide equivalent water quality protection.

Please Note: You must call Public Works prior to any cutting or clearing!

Property owners cannot:

  • Develop if there is sufficient buildable area outside the 100 foot buffer area or if the property was subdivided after Prince William County adopted the Chesapeake Bay Act in 1990.
  • Locate accessory structures, such as sheds, gazebos, pools or detached garages, within the 100 foot buffer.
  • Clear cut vegetation.
  • Fill or grade the land within the buffer.

To learn more about exceptions for encroachment into the RPA, visit the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Area Review Board page or call 703-792-7070 (TTY: 711) for more details. 

The Bay Act also designates Resource Management Areas (RMAs). RMAs include floodplains highly erodible soils (including steep slopes) highly permeable soils non-tidal wetlands not included in RPAs and any other sensitive lands that the County feels are necessary to help protect the quality of water resources. Development is permitted within RMAs but must adhere to the criteria established in the County's Comprehensive Plan. 

For further information on RPAs or areas that might be protected on your property, contact the Watershed Management Branch at 703-792-7070 (TTY: 711).