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Have Your Say on the Future of the James River Park

Are you a James River Park user? Mountain biker? Dog walker? Birdwatcher? Trail runner? Next week you’ll have a chance to help shape the future of the park. From the Friends of the James River Park:

When we began planning for the next decade of the James River Park System, we partnered with the City of Richmond to develop a Master Plan. Our Draft Master Plan is the result of a thorough public comment period with guidance pulled directly from over 2,000 surveys and 10 public meetings held at every voting district in the City of Richmond which began in January. Your input helped to create the Draft of our Ten-Year Master Plan.

On the evening of Wednesday, July 17th, city residents and all in the region who love the James River Park system are invited to attend a meeting to review the Master Plan Draft and provide feedback. Staff from Parks, Recreation, and Community Facilities, members of the James River Park System Steering and Technical Committees, and VHB Engineering and Hargreaves will provide an overview of the proposed Master Plan. 

And we once again need your input.

Among the plans discussed for our 600-acre Park are improvements to existing infrastructure like headquarters and the Pony Pasture Bathhouse, preserving wild and green spaces, increasing multi-modal transportation to and from the park to improve access, and beginning to connect other green spaces throughout the Richmond region to the James River Park.

The development of a Master Plan for the James River Park System is an initiative of the Friends of the James River Park in partnership with the City of Richmond. The plan will incorporate aspects of existing plans and build on what has been done before. The project was funded by Friends of the James River Park, the Beirne Carter Foundation, Dominion Energy Charitable Foundation, CoStar, NewMarket Foundation, Venture Richmond, The Community Foundation, the Virginia Health Foundation, and others who love the Park.

More information about the master plan process, can be found here and at jamesriverpark.org/masterplan. Comments and questions about this master plan can be submitted to Nathan.Burrell@richmondgov.com.

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2018 Record Rainfall Hampers Water Quality, Not Trend of Improving James River Health

The latest Chesapeake Bay Report Card was released yesterday, showing that scores for the James River shifted from a B- (63%) in 2017 to a C (48%) in 2018. Scores across the Bay declined last year but maintained an overall C. The annual report card is produced by the University of Maryland’s Integration and Application Network and provides a comprehensive analysis of Chesapeake Bay health by scoring indicators such as dissolved oxygen, underwater grasses and water clarity. 

“In 2018 communities across the Chesapeake Bay Watershed experienced record precipitation and increased runoff pollution, but we’re also seeing signs that the river is resilient and improving over the long term,” said Jamie Brunkow, James Riverkeeper and Senior Advocacy Manager at the James River Association. 

Water clarity scores across the Chesapeake Bay suffered due to heavy precipitation and polluted runoff, and this was the only indicator given an F (3%) for the James River. Despite a drop in nearly all of the Report Card’s Bay health indicators, the report highlights an improving long term trend for the Bay and for the James River. 

Brunkow added, “Water clarity is essential for a healthy James River that supports underwater grass beds and fisheries. Virginia is making progress towards restoring the health of the James River, but the results of the Report Card show that we need to do more to tackle polluted runoff. That means strengthening our programs that help farmers and local governments prevent erosion and build more resilient cities.”

Recently, Virginia released its draft plan for meeting Chesapeake Bay Cleanup goals by 2025.  This plan, the Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan, will outline the federal, state, and local actions needed between now and 2025 to ensure that all necessary practices are in place to achieve Virginia’s pollution reduction targets and restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

“The Watershed Implementation Plan provides a road map for getting the James River to a grade of A. It’s critical that we have a strong plan which is funded and implemented by 2025, but we need communities to stand up and support more investment and action for the river,” said Brunkow.
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is accepting public comments on the draft Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan through June 7th. 

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James River Watch 2019: Revamped and Ready for a New Year

Do you plan to hop in a boat or take a jump in the James this summer? Then you need to know about James River Watch.

JRW is designed to inform river users about recreation conditions in a timely fashion and to provide the public with an additional tool to get outside and enjoy our waterways safely. While the James River’s health continues to improve, it’s important to remember that rivers are dynamic, changing systems, and it pays to know before you go.

Our work received more attention than usual last year – due to a combination of record rainfall and the tremendous work of our volunteers.
Some of you may have noticed the James River Watch data viewer gathering dust over the last few months, but don’t worry! Over the winter, we’ve been investing some serious time and effort into creating a sleek new product that’s easy-on-the-eyes and easier for volunteers. Stay tuned for the rollout of this new website (and other significant effor) in April.

Speaking of our busy spring, it’s that time of year again – time to sign up for your annual James River Watch water quality training. These lively events teach you everything you need to know to be a citizen scientist, helping us measure and improve the health of the James. April is chock-full of training
opportunities, and there’s sure to be one in your neck of the woods. If you’re interested in joining one of our teams of volunteers, be sure to sign up.

Returning volunteers need only watch a webinar – which we’ll post to our Water Quality Monitoring page later in the spring – but we ask first-timers to attend one of our in-person trainings. Times, dates, and locations are listed below. Take a look, and sign up here while there’s still space!


4/9/19 – Hopewell 6-8p | Appomattox Regional Library
4/16/19 – Lynchburg 6-8p | James River Adventures
4/17/19 – Williamsburg 6-8p | JRA Williamsburg Office
4/18/19 – Farmville 6-8p | Appomattox River Company
4/23/19 – Goochland 6-8p | Goochland County Admin Bldg.
4/23/19 – Buchanan 6-8p | Twin River Outfitters
4/24/19 – Richmond 6-8p | Triple Crossing Brewery (Fulton)
4/25/19 – Scottsville 6-8p | JRA Scottsville Office
4/25/19 – Lexington 6-8p | Boxerwood Nature Center
4/29/19 – Farmville 6-8p | Appomattox River Company

To our volunteers – we really couldn’t do it without you. Volunteers play a huge role in helping JRA achieve our mission, and each year James River Watch relies on the help of roughly 75 volunteers spread across the watershed. Last year you all managed to collect 375 bacteria samples – data that have since been viewed by DEQ, VDH, local governments, and you. So thank you for your hard work, let’s build off last year’s efforts, and together we can make sure that 2019 is just as successful!

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Free Beer! Join JRA April 2nd for ‘Clean Water Happy Hour’

In Virginia, outdoor recreation is a billion dollar business — $21.9 billion to be more precise. That’s how much Virginia’s outdoor industry generates in consumer spending each year, supporting 197,000 direct jobs and $1.7 billion in state and local tax revenue. Not only are healthy rivers essential to this industry — Virginians rely on them for clean drinking water. But last month, the Environmental Protection Agency announced troubling changes to the Clean Water Act, a bedrock environmental law that has protected the health of Americans and our water since 1972.

This about-face from EPA’s previous policy places roughly 65% of the James River’s stream miles at risk. Three out of every four Virginians rely on healthy headwaters for clean drinking water, including 2.7 million in the James watershed. Land disturbance, construction or discharge of wastewater are a few examples of activities that would normally be regulated and require careful planning and permitting to minimize impacts to water quality. If these vulnerable streams lose federal protections, it hurts our ability to prevent bad actors upstream from polluting drinking water downstream.

Join us at Triple Crossing – Fulton
April 2nd from 5:30 p.m. – 8 p.m
.
to learn more about what the EPA’s Dirty Water Rule means for the James River and clean water.

Clean water is good for business and good for Virginia. But the EPA is going in the wrong direction — to a time when unchecked pollution kept our rivers off limits. Next week, we’re raising our voices, and our glasses, for clean water, and calling on the EPA to reject the Dirty Water Rule. First 30 people in the door get a beer on us. See you there!

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Mayor’s Proposed Budget Funds Some Riverfront Projects

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney presented his proposed budget to City Council this past Wednesday afternoon, and there is a lot to like for river lovers. Mayor Stoney’s budget funds projects that will make the James River and public spaces on its banks more inclusive and accessible to everybody. Many of the projects the James River Association and other organizations are supporting are fully funded in FY 2020.

Projects funded in FY 2020 in Mayor Stoney’s proposed FY 2020 – 2024 Capital Improvement Plan are listed below:

Additionally, $927,354 is proposed for the James River Park System. This important funding supports the operations and maintenance of Richmond’s beloved 600-acre James River Park System, which was visited nearly two million times last year.

Unfortunately, no new funding for the “Missing Link” trail or Lehigh is proposed in FY 2020. Implementing both of these Richmond Riverfront Plan projects has been a priority of the James River Association in recent years. While the lack of new funding for these riverfront projects is disappointing and could delay implementation of the Riverfront Plan, the James River Association commends Mayor Stoney for funding important projects in the James River Park System and on the riverfront.

City Council has an opportunity to amend the Mayor’s budget before approving it this spring. Budget work sessions are scheduled to begin on Monday, March 11, and the James River Association will be working to secure funding for projects that will contribute to a more inclusive and accessible James River. If you would like to help us secure funding for these projects, please join our Action Network.

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Big Wins for James River at 2019 GA Session

Here’s a breakdown of the recently-finished General Assembly session from our friends at the James River Association:

On Sunday, while Hollywood was abuzz with red carpet arrivals, lawmakers in Richmond were wrapping up and heading home. Awards season and the 2019 General Assembly may be over, but the James River won’t be going home empty handed. We’ve had some major wins for clean water this year! And we couldn’t have done it alone.

So the award for Best Supporting Cast goes to…you! Our Action Network sent over 3,500 emails to elected officials calling on Virginia’s leaders to make clean water a priority. Your support makes our work possible. 

Now, let’s look back at our goals for the 2019 session and see how we performed.

Coal Ash

In a landmark achievement for the future of the James River, the General Assembly passed legislation requiring clean closure of all four coal ash sites within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Under this bipartisan agreement, more than 28 million tons of coal ash will be removed from unlined pits and either recycled or excavated and moved to a permitted landfill.

This clean closure agreement puts public health first and ensures that we will leave the James River cleaner for the next generation to enjoy. We are incredibly grateful to our legislative champions – Senators Scott Surovell and Amanda Chase and Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy – who remained steadfast in protecting their constituents and our waterways from the threat of coal ash. We also thank Governor Northam for his commitment to securing clean closure.

Clean Water and Conservation Funding

Budget negotiators in the House and Senate have proposed a compromise that is now under consideration by the Governor. The proposal includes:

The General Assembly’s proposal doesn’t quite meet the high demand for these successful programs. But it does show that our leaders see the value in these efforts and remain committed to investing in clean water and a fully restored James River. We continue to urge the Governor and the General Assembly to support these programs in the final budget deal.

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Riverfront Advocates Encourage City to Fund Projects

Great cities around the world have great public spaces. The city of Richmond has wonderful parks and public spaces but none rival the 600-acre James River Park System — truly the crown jewel of the Richmond region.

The JRPS is the most-visited attraction in the region, and the creation of new public spaces along the James River, as recommended by the Richmond Riverfront Plan, will take some pressure off of the park system.

The Richmond Riverfront Plan was adopted by City Council in November 2012 as Richmond’s roadmap to transform both banks of the James River, from Belle Isle downriver to Ancarrow’s Landing, into a cohesive system of public spaces. Following its adoption, the Plan moved into implementation with the construction of the T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge – the pedestrian bridge that spans the James River connecting Manchester to downtown. The T-Pot, as it’s affectionately known, immediately became one of the most popular public places on the riverfront, and Richmond has continued to see an increase in visitors along the riverfront as a whole.

Since being elected, Mayor Stoney has supported the Riverfront Plan. However, progress towards the implementation of the Plan depends on continued leadership from Mayor Stoney and his administration, as well as support via City’s Capital Improvement Plan. This year, a coalition of local organizations is working together to ensure riverfront projects receive the funding necessary to become public amenities. The James River Association, Sports Backers, Venture Richmond, Virginia Capital Trail Foundation, Friends of the James River Park, James River Outdoor Coalition, and Historic Falls of the James Scenic River Advisory Committee are encouraging Mayor Stoney and his administration to support projects in the FY 2020 – 2024 Capital Improvement Plan. The coalition is advocating for the following appropriations in the FY 2020 – 2024 Capital Improvement Plan.

The successful implementation of the Riverfront Plan and associated projects is vital to Richmond’s future and will increase opportunities for all Richmonders to enjoy the scenic James River. Please join the James River Association’s Action Networkto stay up to date on Riverfront Plan progress and to advocate for a healthy and accessible James River.

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Richmond’s Greatest River Champion

In Sunday’s email blast, Richmond Magazine editors reprinted a story by Harry Kollatz Jr. from 2003 about a Richmonder as little known today as his impact on the city was great. It was offered as a prelude to tonight’s “Controversy/History” forum at The Valentine called “James River: Commerce or Recreation?” Click here for more on that.

But if you’re unfamiliar with Newton Ancarrow, Kollatz’s piece offers a wonderful primer on the man and his impact on Richmond and the James River:

Newton Ancarrow looks at film from his movie The Raging James. Credit: Times-Dispatch

One Against the Current

By Harry Kollatz Jr.

He died in 1991 thinking himself a failure. Pioneer James River conservationist Newton Ancarrow didn’t realize the extent of his success.

“He thought he’d lost,” says his son, Hopper Ancarrow.

Newton Ancarrow, who started out as a chemical scientist, later switched careers and became a master boat builder, starting his own company, Ancarrow Marine, which sold high-speed runabouts for more than $29,000 apiece to rich jet-setters such as shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis and the Sheik of Qatar. 

Click here to read the rest at Richmond Magazine.

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History, Future of James River to be Discussed at 2 Upcoming Events

If you love the James River — and, really, if you’ve lived here for more than a few minutes, how can you not? — I’ve got a couple of events this week to put on your calendar.

Tomorrow from 6-8 p.m., The Valentine will host the next installment in its free Controversy/History series, which explores “present-day issues facing the Richmond community by pairing historic debates with modern data, encouraging important discussions that inspire action and promote progress.”

Tomorrow’s discussion will focus on the history of the James River. Valentine Director Bill Martin and Coffee With Strangers RVA’s Kelli S. Lemon will present a back-and-forth focused on the different uses of the James River throughout Richmond’s history. Then, Jamie Brunkow from the James River Association, Dustin Rinehart from the Richmond Marine Terminal (The Port of Virginia) and Nathan Burrell with Richmond VA Parks and Recreation will discuss the different uses of the James today, and the potentially competing roles of commerce and recreation. Finally, attendees will receive a list of concrete steps they can take to make a difference in their community. Dialectix Founder Matthew Freeman will facilitate group discussion.

James River floods have been a part of Richmond’s history since its founding. Credit: Wikimedia

Then on Wednesday from 6-8 p.m. at the Chesterfield Central Library (7051 Lucy Corr Blvd., Chesterfield, Va. 23832), the James River Association is hosting a town hall meeting with State Senator Rosalyn Dance about Dominion’s plans for the coal ash ponds at their Chesterfield Power Station.

From the JRA: If, like us, you have concerns about Dominion’s plan to handle the millions of tons of coal ash piling up at Chesterfield Power Station, we encourage you to join us in attending a town hall with Dominion this Wednesday.

Dominion’s preferred plan would cap the coal ash in place, burying it in an unlined basin on the banks of the James River. But groundwater flowing through the base of the pond toward nearby Dutch Gap Conservation Area is being polluted by harmful contaminants. Testing by James River Association, Southern Environmental Law Center, and Dominion show elevated levels of toxic pollutants like arsenic, cobalt, radium and molybdenum.

We need clean closure — an effective, long-term solution that stops the pollution from escaping and takes into consideration all of the people who live, work, and play near Chesterfield Power Station.

Clean closure

– Safely removes coal ash to be recycled or permanently locked away in lined landfills.
– Eliminates the risk of pollution for Dutch Gap and nearby communities.
– Protects local drinking water from potential spills caused by flooding.

According to Dominion’s most recent report, clean closure is possible for Virginia. Let’s keep the pressure up to make sure this plan becomes a reality.

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Save the Date: RVA Environmental Film Fest Coming February 4-13, 16

The 2019 RVA Environmental Film Festival will be back in 2019 starting February 4th. This year the annual event will showcase over twenty local and national films for children of all ages that raise awareness of environmental issues relevant to Richmond, the United States, and the planet. Festival planners have re-doubled their efforts this year to present a balanced program with expert speakers that both educates and helps neighbors discover small, but important, ways they can be more environmentally conscious.

Moviegoers will see the premiere of The Swamp at WCVE Studiosa stunning story of both the destruction and possible resurrection of the Everglades. The Festival will also feature films like Hometown Habitat, Stories of Bringing Nature Home which will help audiences understand how and why native plants are critical to the survival and vitality of local ecosystems. Other films include Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things, A Man Named Pearl, and The Devil We Know.

The festival is free (though attendees may need to download  tickets for some films to ensure seating) thanks to the sponsorship of these groups: the Community Idea Stations, Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, Sierra Club – Falls of the James Group, and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

More film titles, dates, and venues will be available in January.

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