For this month’s spotlight, we are featuring the work of the Elizabeth River Project. Both the video and the article are courtesy of Mike Smith and Cheryl Vosburg of GreenSmith PR.

The Elizabeth River Project is a non-profit that primarily works with the cities of Portsmouth, Norfolk, Chesapeake, and Virginia Beach to improve water quality. Grace Saunders is the assistant director of restoration for the Elizabeth River Project. She primarily works on helping design living shoreline projects, completing permitting processes, projects for the “lost branch” of the river, and working with homeowners to create environmental sustainability plans engagement. The ERP constantly utilizes resources to restore the environmental health of the Elizabeth River and address changing needs within the surrounding watersheds.

Video: A conversation with Grace Saunders, ERP (Click to play)

One of the goals of the project is to revitalize habitats within rivers and implement natural water restoration systems.

“The Lafayette river is the first river tributary in Virginia to achieve the bay goal of having its native oyster population fully restored.  We are trying to model that success story in the eastern branch and, thanks to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant, we’ve started on that path,” said Saunders.

As a part of the funding granted by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Elizabeth River team will be given the opportunity to work with the University of Maryland’s Environmental Finance Center. The university is going to identify three to five funding sources that could be sustainable funding sources to help their action plan be successful.

Another element to making their goals a reality is to engage the public and educate them regarding the ongoing issues contributing to polluted waterways.

“In order for people to understand stormwater is an issue in our area, we work with the cities, we work with the communities, we work with homeowners, and we work with businesses to establish this issue as one we need to work together,” said Saunders.

Casey Shaw, the Elizabeth River Project’s grassroots coordinator, conducts additional outreach within the community by attending civic league meetings and homeowner association meetings. Her strong presence in the community is meant to encourage individuals to do their part in keeping the river clean and safe for recreation.

The NFWF-awarded grant funding will help the Elizabeth River Project continue efforts to maximize the health of the river, find permanent sustainable funding, and enlighten the public of the ongoing struggles of maintaining the river’s water quality through stormwater management. For more information or to get involved see the Elizabeth River Project