Rivanna River

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The Rivanna River flows through Albemarle and Fluvanna counties as well as the City of Charlottesville. Named for Queen Anne of England, the river begins about six miles northeast of Charlottesville where the North and South forks of the river are joined, and flows about 42 miles to Columbia where it joins the James River. It also serves as a common border between Albemarle County and Charlottesville.

Long designated as the North Branch of the James, the North Branch takes its name from "River Anne", to honor Queen Anne (1665-1714), then monarch of England, and so of the Virginia Colony as well. [1]

A ten-mile stretch of the river from the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir to the Woolen Mills area was designated by the General Assembly as part of Virginia's Scenic Rivers System. [2]

rivanna river flowing south near Riverside Park


Various Monacan settlements such as their capital of Rassawek and the chief's village of Monasukapanough were located along the river in the pre-colonial era. Many of these settlements were documented by Captain John Smith in his 1612 Map of Virginia.

The first European visitors to what would become Albemarle County likely traveled to the area via the Rivanna, which was originally known as the River Anna. [3] [4] Thomas Jefferson ordered a study of the Rivanna River in 1763.[4] Jefferson helped pass an Act of Assembly that cleared of rocks and debris from the river, and constructed a sluice at Milton Falls. [5] This made the river navigable for canoes and bateaux as far up as Milton[4]. This caused the Rivanna River to become an important transportation route during the Revolutionary War.[4] In the 1820s, the town of Charlottesville renamed the ports along the river "Pireus" after the port city of Athens.[4]

Flooding events

  • October 1, 1959 – A hurricane the day before leads to flooding conditions on the Rivanna River completely inundating the Bagby Show Grounds off of East High Street with five feet of water at a time a carnival was setting up. Several carnival employees were presented with emergency housing. [6]

Planning efforts

Because of the common border, the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission was tasked in 2017 with overseeing a plan to inform land uses on both sides of the Rivanna. One aspect of the plan involved reviewing existing conditions in order to help inform a joint vision. This work began in part after being identified in the TJPDC's One Community initiative in the early 2010's. Albemarle and Charlottesville in July 2014 opted to prioritize river planning at a joint strategic planning session, followed by approval of a three-plase planning initiative in 2016. [7]

Existing conditions

The phase 1 report covered the area between the dam at the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir to the Milton Road bridge near Shadwell. However, the study concluded that more information is needed, such as data on environmental quality, land use and view sheds. There were several recurring themes that came out of the committees:

  • There is a need to strike a balance between economic development and environmental presentation
  • There is a need for additional safe public access points to the river
  • There are gaps in the trails and park network
  • There is a need to acknowledge the cultural history of the river, especially its use by the Monacan Indian Tribe [7]

A second phase is set to kick-off in June 2019 with the meeting of a technical committee. [8]

Phase 2

Work is underway on a second phase that focuses on land uses in the urban area. It has not yet been adopted by the Charlottesville City Council or the Albemarle Board of Supervisors. [9]

There is also to be a Rural Rivanna Plan.


The Rivanna River watershed's advocates include the Rivanna River Basin Commission and the Rivanna Conservation Alliance.

Rivanna River Vortex

The University of Virginia School of Architecture conducted a one-week project on the future of the Rivanna River called the Rivanna River Vortex. [3]. At an introductory panel session on January 14, 2013, professor Daniel Bluestone argued that the river has largely become invisible and recommended teams anchor their projects to the history that has been forgotten.


The river is an impediment to east-west travel, crossed in limited places. From north to south, these are:

In July 2020, VHB submitted a memoranda outlining two concepts for a pedestrian/bike crossing. (Memoranda)

The river as economic engine

Former Planning Commissioner Bill Emory has called for the Rivanna to play a significant role in the future of the city. Others such as Mayor Satyendra Huja have agreed.[10]

In August 2012 Albemarle and Charlottesville officials called for a joint planning session that would focus on economic development in the Woolen Mills neighborhood and river area. Officials have suggested that pedestrian access and use of the area would be among the session's primary focuses, as would expanding the commercial uses. The joint planning commission meeting is scheduled for Sept. 18, 2012.[11]

The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission was directed by Charlottesville City Council and the Albemarle Board of Supervisors in 2014 to study how the river could become an asset for the community. Their plan was endorsed by the city and county planning commissions in January 2017. [12]


The water quality and health of the Rivanna River is the subject of ongoing scientific review. As part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, efforts are underway to reduce the number of pollutants that make their way to the Rivanna. This process is governed by a process known as a TMDL, which stands for the "Total Maximum Daily Load" of pollutants that can be allowed into the waterway. Specific steps taken by localities, property owners, farmers and others are called "Best Management Practices", or BMPs. For instance, the Moores Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant underwent a renovation in the early 2010's that improved its ability to reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous that is released in the effluent that is released into the watershed. [citation needed]

North Fork Rivanna River study

In October 2018, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality began a technical study of the North Fork Rivanna River watershed. Rainfall from Orange, Greene, Louisa and Albemarle counties drain into the watershed of the North Fork. [13]


  1. Web. pdf. Rivanna River History, Lindsay Nolting and J. Stephen Pence, Rivanna Conservation Society, retrieved 12 Jun 2009.
  2. Web. Rivanna Scenic River; expands to include length of waterway from South Fork Rivanna River reservoir. (SB957), Richmond Sunlight, retrieved January 26, 2019.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Web. [1], Tim Shea, Charlottesville Tomorrow, January 15, 2013, retrieved January 26, 2019.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Web. Rivanna Greenbelt Trail, City of Charlottesville, retrieved 30 July 2012.
  5. Web. Canal society celebrates Jefferson the businessman, Tim Shea, Charlottesville Tomorrow, April 28, 2013, retrieved January 26, 2019.
  6. Web. Rivanna River Flood Routs Show Employees from Beds, Daily Progress Digitized Microfilm, Lindsay family, October 1, 1959, retrieved October 1, 2022. Print. October 1, 1959 page 25.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Web. Final Draft Plan - Rivanna River - Phase 1 - Existing Conditions, Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, Report, Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, retrieved December 14, 2018.
  8. Web. June 2019 Executive Director's Report, Chip Boyles, Report, Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, retrieved June 2, 2019.
  9. Web. August 17, 2021: COVID update from Blue Ridge Health District; Charlottesville planning group reviews Rivanna corridor plan, Sean Tubbs, Charlottesville Community Engagement, Town Crier Productions, August 17, 2021, retrieved August 28, 2021.
  10. Web. Can Charlottesville become a city by the river?, Chiara Canzi, C-VILLE Weekly, Portico Publications, January 10, 2012, retrieved January 26, 2019. Print. January 10, 2012 , 24.02, .
  11. Web. Albemarle officials call for joint planning along Rivanna River border with Charlottesville, Sean Tubbs, August 2, 2012, retrieved August 6, 2011.
  12. Web. Rivanna River planning projects endorsed by city, county commissions, Josh Mandell, News Article, Charlottesville Tomorrow, January 24, 2017, retrieved December 26, 2017.
  13. Web. Sediment, phosphorus causing impairments, Terry Beigie, News Article, Greene County Record, January 24, 2019, retrieved January 26, 2019.

External links