Tips for Waterfront Property Owners

Rivers, streams, lakes and wetlands that flow through Stafford County are vital resources to our community. As a waterfront property owner in the County, you are uniquely positioned to help protect these resources. Your actions on the land and water can have direct impacts on the health of these water sources and everything that depends on them.

What resources are near my property?

Use the County GIS to locate your property. The interactive map displays the estimated locations of the following:

  • Watershed Boundaries
  • Rivers, Lakes and Streams
  • Wetlands
  • Resource Protection Areas (RPA)
  • Floodplains
  • Submerged Aquatic Vegetation
  • Tidal Shoreline

What are my responsibilities?

Protect the Buffer

Resource Protection Areas (RPAs) are environmentally sensitive areas that include wetlands, perennial streams and a 100-foot buffer on each side of the waterbody. The protected buffer around these waterbodies provides critical environmental functions such as reducing runoff and filtering pollutants.

Land disturbance and vegetation removal are not allowed within the RPA boundary without approval from Stafford County’s Environmental Division. This includes the removal of dead, dying or diseased trees, shrubs, noxious weeds and invasive plants. Clear cutting of vegetation within a protected area is not permitted nor is the removal of vegetation to create a lawn. A vegetation removal application shall be submitted to the County for review. In some cases, staff may approve of vegetation removal.

Non-compliance with RPA restrictions is a violation of the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance, Chapter 27B of the County Code. Violators are required to develop and obtain approval for an appropriate restoration plan and may be subject to penalties.

Any project within the RPA will require approval in accordance with the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance (CBPO), Chapter 27B of the County Code. The CBPO is administered by the Department of Development Services.

Reduce your Risk and Preserve the Floodplain

The mapped floodplain shows where flooding conditions are expected to be during large rainfall events. You may have observed that this area is typically dry, but it is important to remember that if and when there is a large storm event the mapped area may be flooded. In fact, if you have floodplain on your property, there is a 26% chance that the area within the floodplain will flood over the life of a 30-year mortgage. To reduce your risk, the County encourages property owners to keep structures and pertinent facilities out of the floodplain. Remember it is cheaper to prepare than to repair.

To learn more about Floodplains please visit the County’s Floodplain Information Page.

All development within floodplains requires a floodplain study review by the county. A floodplain study must be completed by a licensed professional with the knowledge and experience to certify the study. A floodplain study application can be found here.

The floodplain a floodplain study will be required. Contact the County’s Environmental Division to get started.

Plan and Permit Development Projects to Remain Compliant with State and Local Laws

Grading Permit:
For projects disturbing more than 2,500 square feet of land, a land disturbance permit is required, in accordance with the County’s Erosion and Sediment Control Ordinance, Chapter 11 of the County Code. Approved erosion and sediment control plans, Stormwater management plans and Chesapeake Bay Compliance plans are required to obtain a land disturbance permit. For more information please contact the Community Development Services Center at (540) 658-8650.

Chesapeake Bay Compliance Permit:
The County has approximately 46,000 acres of resource protection areas (RPA). Land disturbance within these protected areas should be avoided. If your project proposes land disturbance within the RPA, permission from the County’s Environmental Division and Chesapeake Bay Board is required in accordance with the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance, Chapter 27B of the County Code. A special exception and public hearing may be required. Visit the Environmental Division’s Boards and Commissions page to learn more.

Wetlands Permit:
The County has nearly 100 miles of shoreline. Land disturbance within these areas should be avoided. If your project proposes land disturbance within tidal or nontidal wetlands, the project will require a wetlands permit. To facilitate the review by federal, state and local agencies that have overlapping regulatory jurisdiction, a single Joint Permit Application may be prepared and submitted for review.

The following types of land-disturbing activities and construction projects will require a Joint Permit Application:

  • Any construction project on, over or adjacent to a body of water.
  • Any project in which fill material is placed in or near wetlands (includes placement of rip-rap).
  • Projects designed to protect property at the water's edge.

Link to Joint Permit Application

For tidal wetlands, the project will require a permit in accordance with the Wetlands Ordinance, Chapter 27 of the County Code. A public hearing may be required. Visit the Environmental Division’s Boards and Commissions page to learn more.


There are approximately 30 miles of tidally influenced shorelines in Stafford County. Before any construction on the shoreline or water’s edge begins, permits and approvals from the respective federal, state or local agencies are required. The number and type of necessary permits and approvals will vary depending on the type, size and location of the project. To learn more please visit the County’s Shoreline Management Page.

You can also visit the Stafford County Comprehensive Coast Resource Management Portal created by VIMS to learn more about sea-level rise, tidal resources and to find guidance on shoreline management. 

Stafford County Comprehensive Coast Resource Management Portal

Be an Environmental Steward

Know your Watershed

Stafford County has 900 miles of streams and rivers. All of the County’s waterways drain to the Chesapeake Bay. The Bay is an important inter-state resource for the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. Any impact to the waterways that drain to the Chesapeake Bay can have an impact on the tens of millions of people who depend on it. Some of these waterways are currently impaired by pollutants. Check the Environmental Protection Agency’s How’s My Waterway webpage to see if your local waterway is currently impaired and how you can help. 

How’s my waterway?,%20VA,%20USA/overview 

Landscape with Native Plants

Indigenous vegetation has many benefits. Native plants do not require fertilizers and require less pesticides and water.

Salt, Wash and Fertilize Responsibly

Excess salination, detergents and fertilizers degrade our water sources.

Pick up After Your Pets

Pet waste can be a major contaminant to our waterways. Abandoned pet waste can pollute nearby water sources with harmful bacteria.
Additional information can be found on our MS4: Pet Waste page

Don't Disturb Native Vegetation

Plants that surround our County’s waterways have many important functions. The tree canopy intercepts stormwater which promotes evapotranspiration, or the evaporation of water from leaves. The tree canopy also provides shade for water sources, which keeps water temperatures down and combats the growth of harmful algal blooms. Understory vegetation slows and absorbs runoff which prevents erosion and flooding.   

Educate Your Neighbors

We are better together, share what you have learned.

To further assist you with understanding of your responsibilities as a waterfront property owner, please visit the environmental division’s frequently asked questions page.