• Our Mission

    To be a regional leader in driving collaboration and strategy within our communities on issues that are critical to the economic growth, quality of life and sustainability of this region.

  • Planning

    The Regional Commission helps local governments address regionally significant issues with planning designed to enhance our region’s infrastructure, promote our region’s economic growth, and improve and sustain our region’s quality of life. 

  • Transportation

    The Regional Commission provides long-range transportation planning for the Roanoke Valley and rural localities within our region. Regionally coordinated approaches to planning and developing our region’s transportation infrastructure is central to the mobility of our citizens and supporting businesses that rely on logistics and supply chain management.

Serving its member governments for 50 years

Public Comment Sought on an Amendment to the Fiscal Year 2021-2024 Transportation Improvement Program

May 09, 2022

The Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization (RVTPO) is accepting comments on  the proposed Amendment #2 to its Fiscal Year 2021-2024 Transportation Improvement Program. The amendment seeks to add a new project of $288,000 in federal funds for Roanoke County to operate its CORTRAN service for seniors and people with disabilities next year.

Comments will be accepted until May 19, 2022 and a hearing will be held at 1:00 p.m. on May 26, 2022 at the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission offices at 313 Luck Avenue, SW, Roanoke, VA.

We have developed a short survey to gather public input on the proposed amendment. The survey can be taken here.

For more information on the draft amendment, contact Bryan Hill at (540) 343-4417 or by E-mail at bhill@rvarc.org.

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Live Staking – An Innovative Way to Improve Water Quality

Apr 06, 2022

In March, staff had the opportunity to volunteer with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation installing live stakes along a section of Kerrs Creek in Rockbridge County. Live staking, as it’s referred to, is a cost-effective conservation technique used to stabilize streambanks and reduce erosion during rain events. The process involves cutting limbs from a live tree or shrub, and then replanting the limbs, or stakes, in areas with little vegetation.

So, wait. Does planting these things really work? They don’t even have roots!

Well plants are pretty incredible organisms! These stakes have the ability to sprout roots to establish a new tree. This article from Penn State Extension does a great job of explaining how the whole process works.

Live stakes are dipped in water to help prevent stakes from drying out.

It was a really great event to be involved in. Staff worked with students from Washington and Lee who were looking to give back to the community and take knowledge gained in the classroom and apply it to real-life projects. It was great to get to know some of them and talk about their experiences as students looking to get into the environmental field after graduation. In total, the group planted over 300 (!) live stakes in just under four hours.

The planting is a small part of a larger effort being done to improve riparian forest cover in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Riparian areas serve as the interface between a waterway and the adjacent land. These areas play a critical role of ensuring that aquatic and terrestrial systems are connected.

A healthy, undisturbed riparian zone will be forested and at least 50 feet wide. These zones are able to ‘buffer’ impacts of land use on a stream system by capturing nutrients and stormwater that may runoff during a rain event. Riparian zones can also stabilize streambanks, help control stream temperatures, and provide food for aquatic organisms. They provide habitat for birds and waterfowl and can serve as wildlife corridors that allow for animals to safely move from place to place and limit habitat fragmentation.

Stabilize streambanks: Tree and plant roots are great at holding soil in place. This is especially important along streambanks that allow water to rip into loose sediment and unprotected soils. By having root structure in place, soil is prevented from washing downstream after rain events.

Stakes were planted along this cut bank to help with stabilization. Tree plantings in the background will help establish a wide buffer.

Control stream temperature: Tree canopy provides shade over a stream to help cool it during hot, summer days. This is especially important if the stream is home to cold water species, like Eastern Brook Trout, that are sensitive to warmer temperatures. Cooler water holds more dissolved oxygen, which is vital for maintaining a diverse community of organisms.

Food for aquatic organisms: Not only will fish be treated to spiders and other bugs that happen to fall off a tree limb, but the tree parts themselves will serve has food for aquatic macroinvertebrate species, or aquatic insects. Some of these species are referred to as ‘shredders’, meaning they consume coarse particulate organic matter like leaves. Shredders also help provide food for insects who are called ‘collector-filterers’. These species collect the bits and pieces of organic matter, like the shredded leaf material that got away, that are caught up in streamflow. These insects are the main food source for many fish species.

Habitat and wildlife corridors: Many bird and waterfowl species find sanctuary in forested areas next to waterbodies, and it’s not just your common sparrow. Bald Eagles prefer to live along waterways so they can have easy access to their favorite meal – fish. Riparian zones allow eagles to build nest in trees located in close proximity to waterbodies. Wildlife also use waterways to navigate between landscapes. The natural ‘roadway’ allows for animals to travel from different areas to access food, escape predators, or reach breeding grounds. Even some aquatic insect species, specifically case-making caddisflies, will use twigs and leaves from riparian trees to make cases for protection and molting.

There are many benefits to having these areas forested and undisturbed. Much of them have been cleared for agricultural purposes or development, but there is an ongoing effort to restore riparian zones and their functions.

This particular planting was funded by one of the many buffer restoration programs available for landowners and communities. The James River Buffer Program offers the chance for landowners to install trees in riparian areas for no cost. The program is spearheaded by three organizations: the James River Association, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and Virginia Department of Forestry. Landowners in the Middle and Upper James Watershed are eligible for the program. This area is generally defined as the section of the watershed west of the Fall Line in Richmond extending to the headwaters in Highland County. Projects on public lands are also eligible. You can find out more by visiting the website here. Be sure to connect with the program coordinator if you are interested in volunteering!

Volunteers worked in pairs to successfully plant stakes.

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Flooding – It Impacts All of Us

Mar 29, 2022

Flooding is an issue that seems to have a regular segment on local, state, and national news stations. From King Tides in Norfolk to riverine flooding in Buchanan County, Virginia is not unsusceptible to these events, and the impacts are felt by all parts of the community.

I recently came across a video that shows the sheer ferocity and spontaneity of flooding events. In Queensland, Australia, heavy rainfall devastated multiple cities and towns with water that turned shallow streams into ripping rivers. The most amazing, and terrifying, part of this whole event is the quickness in which streams swelled well beyond their banks and spilled high into the floodplain.

Time-lapse of flooding in Australia

So how does this happen?

Flooding occurs when a large amount of rain falls over a landscape and discharges lots of water in a short period of time. Natural stream systems are designed to mitigate the impacts of heavy rainfall events in a number of ways. Wetlands act as sponges that soak up stormwater and slowly release it into a stream. The sinuosity (how much a stream meanders) of a stream slows the water down and provides more channel to handle larger flows, and floodplains – areas adjacent to streams – allows for stormwater to spill over stream banks to decrease the amount of water that is flowing downstream. All of these mechanisms are important ways a stream system limits the impacts of flooding.

So, if these stream components are effective at mitigating flood events, then why does flooding seem more common and severe?

Part of the problem is attributable to climate change. Climate change will cause changes to local and regional weather patterns that will impact the frequency of high rainfall events. How much a region’s precipitation pattern will change is continuously being studied, and models help show what can be expected for a region. Models show that the Roanoke Valley region can expect to see more rainfall and more severe weather events, which means more flooding.

Climate change is not the only factor. How we manage our landscapes and watersheds – areas that drain to a certain waterbody – has huge implications on flooding size and frequency. In a forested, undisturbed watershed, the landscape is better adapted to handle a heavy rain event. Stormwater is able to infiltrate the ground easily, leading to less runoff that sends rainwater directly to the stream. In the event that flooding occurs, floodwaters are able to spill over into the floodplain to spread out and slow down.

In watersheds with lots of impervious cover, rainwater does not have the chance to infiltrate the soil. Instead, stormwater rushes off hard surfaces and into the stormwater system. This increases the volume of water being discharged into a stream during a rain event. The impact of land use change can easily be seen on a stormwater runoff hydrograph.

1. Image from the Alabama Cooperative Extension website.

The graph is simple: more hard surfaces mean more stormwater runoff, which correlates to higher stream flows during rain events. The result of this change in hydrology is what leads to “flash floods”.

2. Flooding in downtown Roanoke, August 2021.

So, this seems like a big problem, right? How could we possibly fix this?

It is nearly impossible to return to a predevelopment stage. We live in a complex society that requires us to have roadways, commercial and residential buildings, and facilities that are essential for providing community services. There are ways, however, we can manage runoff from developed areas and decrease the discharge of stormwater runoff.

Green infrastructure is a popular way to manage stormwater runoff for multiple reasons. Green infrastructure takes advantage of natural processes to capture, store, and release stormwater runoff. They are effective at reducing the amount of runoff that contributes to the rush of discharge responsible for flash flooding. By collecting water with green infrastructure, we allow for the water to slow down, infiltrate the soil, and slowly release into streams like it would in an undisturbed area. They also capture pollutants, like trash and gas, from impervious surfaces before they have a chance to degrade water quality. This is important for maintaining healthy water quality levels in waterways where people enjoy activities like swimming, floating, and fishing. Green infrastructure helps create a buffer between developed and natural landscapes that are essential for limiting our impact on local ecosystems.

3. Biopond collects stormwater runoff from a parking lot in Roanoke.

We can also encourage our local governments to adopt policies and ordinances that support land conservation. It is important that we take advantage of already developed lands and repurpose them to support the demands of our communities instead of developing natural spaces.

Virginia is working hard to improve flood resiliency. In 2020, Virginia joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI. RGGI is a cap and invest initiative that serves as a way for Mid-Atlantic states to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector. Through the effort, states are able to generate funds to support environmental programs.

Proceeds from RGGI auctions help support programs like the Community Flood Preparedness Fund (CFPF). CFPF is designed to support regional and local efforts to reduce the impacts of flooding. Auctions are held quarterly, and the first auction of 2022 generated $72.4 million (!) for Virginia. The most recent round of grant awards was announced in December 2021. The list of funded projects can be found here; see if you can find a project in your community.

The next time it rains, follow the stormwater running off your driveway and funneling down the storm drain. Think about how it impacts the waterway closest to your community and what you can do to help. It could be as simple as installing a rain barrel on a downspout or planting a tree. The efforts we make as individuals and together as a community can improve the health and livability of our region.

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