JRA: James River Health Best in Decades

October 14, 2015 · 3 minute read
Bald eagle with a gosling in its talons over the James in downtown RVA. Credit: Chris Johnson

Bald eagles continue to be resurgent along the James River. Credit: Chris Johnson

The James River Association’s biennial State of the James report card, a comprehensive assessment of the health of the river, finds the overall health of the James to have improved from a grade of “C+” in 2013 to a “B-“in 2015. This represents a 4% increase over two years, up from 57% to 61%, and the first such report to give the river’s health an overall grade in the “B” range.

“Having the grade move into the “B” range is a major milestone and reflects the tremendous progress that has been made since the James was considered one of the most polluted rivers in the nation four decades ago,” said Bill Street, the JRA’s CEO. “This result really highlights the improvements that have resulted from Virginia’s investments in cleaning up its waters, particularly in wastewater pollution controls. The benefits of these investments will ripple throughout not only the river but also the communities along it.”
The State of the James report is designed to examine the status and trends of indicators in four categories – Fish and Wildlife, Habitat, Pollution Reductions, and Protection and Restoration Actions – that are interconnected and build on one another to achieve a healthy James River. Fish and wildlife populations depend on habitat to provide their critical needs for life. The greatest factor affecting the quality of habitat and wildlife in the James River basin is the amount of pollution that enters our waterways, pollution that ultimately flows into the James. Finally, the report assesses progress on the restoration and protection actions needed to reduce pollution and return the James to a healthy, diverse ecosystem. For each indicator, the JRA has identified and compiled a key measure of river health with quantitative benchmarks set for what is needed to achieve a fully healthy river.
Even with no rookery, this is a common sight along Pipeline Park in Richmond. Credit: Nick Kotula

Even with no rookery, this is a common sight along Pipeline Park in Richmond. Credit: Nick Kotula

Positive findings from the report included a marked improvement in areas where Virginia has made significant investments – particularly with regard to wastewater pollution reductions. Additionally, a consistently healthy population of bald eagles was reported, smallmouth bass populations appear to be experiencing a resurgence in the Upper James, and underwater grasses continue to increase in the tidal tributaries of the river. An indicator that did not fare as well was American shad, with populations which were recorded at an all-time low for the James. And while overall pollution reductions increased to put us on track with meeting the Chesapeake Bay Cleanup goals for the James River, we continue to see slow improvement in sediment pollution reductions, as sediment now poses the most significant and long-standing threat to the James.

“In order to keep the health of the James River improving, Virginia must strengthen efforts to control agricultural and urban stormwater pollution to the same level of investments it has made for wastewater,” Street continued. “And those are areas where individuals can take actions on their own to help the James and their local streams and creeks.”
Smallmouth bass populations seem to be doing well in the upper reaches of the James.

Smallmouth bass populations seem to be doing well in the upper reaches of the James.

The 2015 State of the James report has a new look and feel this year. In the form of an 11’x17′ poster with a stylized representation of the watershed and color coded indicators, the report is intended to engage more people, as well as be a tool for classrooms. Additionally, the JRA will launch an interactive webpage at www.stateofthejames.org, featuring more in-depth information than was available in previous reports. The poster and the webpage also feature simple actions citizens can take to help achieve a healthy river.

Please note: due to refinements in the scoring, the changes in this year’s report do not necessarily correspond to the scores contained in the 2013 State of the James River report. If changes were made, the same methodology was applied to the data of the previous years.