Putting the James River First: Priorities at the General Assembly

The James River Association’s Anna Killius has a useful guide to the JRA’s list of priorities at this year’s General Assembly session, which is almost a week old now.

2019 was “a great year for clean water at the Capital,” she writes. “With your support, the James River Association-backed legislation to clean up contaminated coal ash and secured a budget with unprecedented funding for agricultural conservation practices.”

Their goals for 2020 appear just as ambitious. From Killius’ post:

1. Secure at least $400 million in funding for clean water and land conservation programs. Governor Northam’s budget proposal includes record-breaking funding for protecting our natural resources and would put us on the path to a healthy James River and restored Chesapeake Bay by 2025. We’ll be working with our partners to get this proposal across the finish line with the following initiatives: $180 million for the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund to tackle polluted runoff and localized flooding in urban communities; $120 million for wastewater treatment upgrades so that all waterways receive the same standard of protection; At least $90 million for the Virginia Agricultural Cost-Share Program to help farmers install conservation practices and restore their local streams; $40 million for Virginia’s Land Conservation Foundation to protect farms, forests, parks, and other natural areas for future generations.

2. Reduce bacteria pollution by fencing livestock out of all streams by 2025. Farmland covers almost 12% of the James River watershed and is one of the largest sources of polluted runoff. Virginia farmers have made substantial progress installing conservation practices like cattle fencing, which keeps livestock — and their waste — out of our waterways. But to meet our Chesapeake Bay goals and reach a grade-A James River, we need to pick up the pace and encourage all farmers to keep cows out of their streams by 2025.

3. Protect our waterways from hazardous chemicals stored in above-ground tanks. Throughout Virginia, thousands of manufacturers and other businesses store potentially hazardous chemicals in above-ground storage tanks, but we lack comprehensive safety regulations for these tanks. Spills could pose a substantial risk of harm to public health and natural resources, including sources of drinking water like the James River. We need a strong regulatory program for above-ground tanks storing hazardous chemicals that requires registration, reporting, safety specifications, and spill prevention and response planning.

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RichmondOutside.com to Live on at Riverside Outfitters

As of today, RichmondOutside.com, RVA’s only outdoor recreation news source, will paddle its content down the James to RiversideOutfitters.com. This change has been in the works for months now as fellow RichmondOutside founder, Ryan Abrahamsen, and myself moved into an ownership role at Riverside Outfitters.

All that changes today is where you find us online. Richmond Outside will still be out there searching for great outdoor rec stories and reporting the news of the outdoor world in Central Va. Now you’ll just go to RiversideOutfitters.com to find us — and our related projects, like the View from Treehouse Podcast and the RVA Osprey Cam. Our social media — Facebook and Instagram — will remain under the Richmond Outside name.

As usual, we’d love to hear from you, Richmond lovers of the outdoors. What should we be reporting and shining a light on? We think RVA has an incredible outdoor scene, and we want to cover every angle of it. So, shoot me an email at andy@richmondoutside.com and let me know what you think.

Here’s to new homes and new beginnings!

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Riverside Outfitters: Tubing Season is Here!

Colleen Curran has all the info in Richmond.com this morning. But the short of it is that our friends at Riverside Outfitters are getting back into the tubing business.

RO has always sold tubes from their shop next to the Stratford Hills Shopping Center, but this summer they’re also offering a shuttle service for tubers who don’t want to deal with the hassle of parking cars in two different places and schlepping back and forth. Now, if you don’t own a tube, it’s as simple as you and your group showing up at the Reedy Creek entrance to the James River Park at the allotted time, getting on the bus, and getting dropped off at Pony Pasture. Or, if you already own a tube, you can just show up at Reedy Creek and hop on the bus with it.

Read Curran’s piece at Richmond.com for more or click here to go to the Riverside Outfitters Tubing page. Summer has begun!

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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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Incredible Action at the RVA Osprey Cam!

If you were up early watching the RVA Osprey Cam, you would have seen something truly amazing. Our adult ospreys, Maggie and Walker, back for a third year of nesting and chick rearing, were busy doing what they do: taking turns sitting on the three eggs Maggie recently laid.

Maggie was on the eggs just after 7 a.m. when she decided to get up, maybe to go fishing. Who knows? But the eggs she laid were resting on an old green sweatshirt the birds had brought in as nest material. As she rose, her talon got stuck on the sweatshirt. She appeared to hesitate, knowing the sweatshirt was attached to her. Then she flew off! Two of the eggs slid off the sweatshirt and came to rest back on the middle of the nest. But the third, caught in the sweatshirt’s hood, was deposited at the very edge of the nest on the outer most branches.

Click here to see the incredible video.

Now, hours later, Maggie and Walker have both resumed their incubation duties, but only on the two eggs in the middle of the nest. The third egg remains on the nest rails.

Y’all, who needs Animal Planet when we have this incredible natural pageant around us every day?

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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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How to Vote for the James River on Nov. 6th


Just this morning our friends at the James River Association sent out an email blast that I thought worthy of passing along. It’s completely non-partisan, but I think lays out well how we Virginians should think about issues that impact the health of the James River as we head to the polls tomorrow:

On November 6th, your vote is your voice. You can use your voice to be a champion for the James River by knowing how your ballot impacts your water.

As you reflect on the Virginians who represent us in our Nation’s Capitol, we at the James River Association invite you to consider some of the major environmental issues facing Congress in the coming year, and how these decisions will shape the future of the James.

The tidal James River near Jamestown.

We’ve reached the midpoint in the Chesapeake Bay Cleanup effort. Right now, Bay states are drafting the watershed implementation plans that will see us through to the finish line. But to put these plans in action, states and localities are going to need strong federal protections and funding.

If clean water is a priority for you this election season, think about where your Congressional candidates stand on the health of the Bay, the James, and your community. Some questions to consider:

· How will they fight for the resources Virginia needs to make an impact on our water quality here at home?

· Do they support critical clean water needs like agricultural conservation programs, water infrastructure improvements, and climate resilience planning?

· Are they ready to stand up against attempts to weaken our bedrock conservation laws like the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Endangered Species Act?

Virginia voters are also being asked to weigh the merits of a constitutional amendment on flooding. As recent storms have shown, heavy rain and flooding affect communities across the Commonwealth. It’s important that the decisions we make now consider future flood projections, cut the costs of flood damage, and set us up for success in terms of public safety and environmental protection.

A “yes” vote on this amendment would allow counties, cities, and towns to use partial tax exemptions to offset the cost of improvements on properties prone to recurrent flooding. A “no” vote opposes the use of tax exemptions. You can find more information on the amendment here and here.

Polls open tomorrow at 6am and remain open until 7pm. For more information about your polling place, your candidates, and Virginia’s photo I.D. requirements, visit the State Board of Elections at https://www.elections.virginia.gov/.

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Infant Sturgeon a Rare, Exhilarating find on the James

James Riverkeeper Jamie Brunkow told us the news last week when we were taping his appearance on our podcast — Views from the Treehouse — but he said we had to keep it under wraps for a bit. Well, now it’s official: “Last week, James River Association education staff discovered five young Atlantic sturgeon during an education program on the James River.”

That’s according to an article posted to the conservation organization’s website.

Why is this a big deal?

A sturgeon, possibly 1-2 weeks old, caught by the James River Association last week. Credit: JRA

“Juvenile sturgeon have been very scarce in the James River, but new and encouraging discoveries are continuing to happen,” according to the same article. “Last fall VCU researchers documented the first two juvenile sturgeon discovered in the James River in more than a decade. Finding young sturgeon that are too small to have migrated from a different river is incredibly important proof of successful spawning… a sign of positive momentum for the species.”

Click here to read the entire piece, including the story of how the infant sturgeon were caught. And look for our podcast episode with Brunkow next week.

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JRA Reports Another Successful James River Watch Season

Editor’s Note: With the James River still swollen from Hurricane Florence-related rains, now seemed a good time the summer wrap up of the James River Association’s James River Watch program. There are some fascinating facts and details in here about what the river is like before, during and after heavy rain events. Thanks to Ben Watson for the great write up and the JRA for organizing this crucial water-monitoring effort.

It’s hard to believe another summer flown by, and another year of James River Watch is in the books. It was a successful season, with higher-than-normal rainfall and a good share of twists and turns.

Highlights and site-wise summaries are included below, but first, some serious thank-yous are in order. This program – designed to communicate river conditions to interested Virginians across the James River basin – is an effort that is wholly supported and sustained by the help of our volunteers. These generous, patient folks loaned us their time and effort all summer long, and we can’t thank them enough! In total, 62 water quality monitors donated 874 hours of their valuable time. Collectively, they generated over 375 bacteria measurements at 28 sites this summer. Amazing work! Go, you guys!

Before we dive into their hard-earned data, here’s our thesis statement: if there’s one takeaway, it’s that the James River and its tributaries are almost always safe places to swim. Among some circles, our river’s polluted past carries a lingering reputation, but the James’s health has vastly improved from previous generations. It’s true that bacteria levels are typically elevated immediately following a local downpour, but if there hasn’t been a recent rainfall, then grab some friends, visit your local outfitter, tell your grandma it’ll be alright, and get in the water! All clear? Then our results are as follows:

A Virginia summer isn’t complete without a little meteorological mayhem, and this summer didn’t disappoint. But despite this summer’s rain, our overall passing rate was 2% higher than average, at 87%! This comes as good news, and underscores the fact that the timing of heavy rainfall, rather than absolute long-term amounts, is the most critical factor in determining bacteria levels. So why did sites on the Rivanna, for example, have a tough year, while sites around Richmond fared generally well? To answer these questions, let’s take a closer look…

We’ll start with the big picture. Across the board, we’ve had a very wet summer, even record-setting by some measures. Rounds of heavy rain in late May washed out countless Memorial Day cookouts. Statewide, large parts of the watershed saw more than 10” of rain in May alone (pink swaths in the figure at left). June, July, and August weren’t quite as soaking – at least not across the entire state – but precipitation has still run roughly 50 to 100% above normal.

Heavy, localized downpours are where this summer stands apart. Many Mid-Atlantic cities have been struck by flash floods this year, including Charlottesville, Richmond, and Lynchburg in our watershed alone. (As a quick aside and nod to the inconvenient truths of climate change, these events are expected to become more common in the future.)

The following numbers are based on a period from May 20, the first week of our monitoring season, to August 29, the day I’m writing this (let’s assume neither location picks up more rainfall before midnight). Over this time, Richmond totaled 23.48” of rain to Charlottesville’s 23.85”. Now recall that, by necessity, our bacteria testing happens on Thursday. Crazy weather has a bigger effect on our results if it happens on a Wednesday, the day before, rather than a Friday, when streams have nearly a week to return to background conditions. Now take a glance at the graph below. Despite similar totals, Charlottesville and the Rivanna watersheed crushed the midweek rain game, while Richmond’s totals were bumped by a colossal 7” rainfall on Friday, June 22 (including 4.64” in 1 hour and 1.17” in five minutes!).

Richmond’s June 22nd rainfall was a remarkable event… but it had no impact on our data from June 21st. It’s safe to say that in Albemarle County and along the Rivanna, lower-than-average passing rates are the result of a rainy summer driven by midweek storms. In Richmond, better-than-expected passing rates are the result of a rainy summer negated by some fortunate timing. Similarly, the timing of heavy rains in parts of the Tidewater this summer has been lucky from the standpoint of testing. The Charlottesville vs. Richmond breakdown may be a specific example, but it illustrates a general and oft-repeated theme of ours that holds true statewide: the James River really is almost always safe to swim, but like a lot of things, it all comes down to timing, and it pays to know before you go.

If you have any questions about the numbers above or are curious about how these analyses look for an area near you, send me an email at bwatson@jrava.org! Chances are I’m curious too. I speak for myself when I say that these numbers are lots of fun to crunch. I speak for all of us when I say, once again, that we owe quite a bit to the hard work of our volunteers. For those of you still reading, thank you for your time, thank you for another successful year, and thank you for the good that you all do.

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