JRA’s Biennial Report Gives James River a B-

October 26, 2017 · 4 minute read
The James River Association released their biennial “State of the James Report” today, giving America’s Founding River a grade of B-. The report is a comprehensive assessment of the health of the river, and the overall score for the river rose to 62 percent, representing an increase of 10 points since the report was first published in 2007 and 3 points over the past two years. (Note: Don’t think of percentages as corresponding to grades you might have received in middle school.)

As the ‘State of the James’ will tell you, it’s best to tube (and swim) in the James a few days after heavy rain events.

“Increasing 10 points in 10 years shows that our collective commitment and investments in water quality are really paying off,” said Bill Street, CEO for the James River Association. “Improvements can be seen not only in the health of the river, but also in the benefits that the river provides to the surrounding communities in terms of drinking water, quality of life and economic opportunities.” 

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, ultimately flowing into the James. Finally, the report assesses progress on the restoration and protection actions needed to reduce damaging pollution and return the James to a healthy, diverse ecosystem. For each indicator, the James River Association has identified and compiled a key measure of river health with quantitative benchmarks that reflect what is needed to achieve a fully healthy river. 
All of this can be found and explored at State of the James.
Of the nineteen indicators included in the report, fourteen showed improvement over the past two years, three remained the same and two declined. Strong improvements were made in smallmouth bass and oysters, as well as tidal water quality. Each of the restoration and protection actions increased, which contributed to improved tidal water quality. The report shows marked improvement in areas where Virginia has made significant investments – particularly with regard to wastewater pollution controls, which have achieved 118 percent of Virginia’s goal.  

Ever been to Balcony Falls on the upper James? Absolutely gorgeous. Credit: JRA

One particular area of concern is a significant one-year decline in underwater grasses after two decades of steady expansion. The cause of this decline is being investigated given that tidal water quality improved and underwater grasses across the Chesapeake Bay reached record levels last year. Also, American shad continue to struggle in the James River despite decades of re-stocking efforts.  Finally, while overall pollution reductions increased to keep us on track with meeting the Chesapeake Bay Cleanup goals for the James River, we continue to see a lack of long-term improvement in sediment pollution reductions. Bacteria pollution reductions were also included for the first time in the 2017 report to reflect swimming and recreation conditions and are not showing improvement. 

New for 2017, the State of the James report features indicators that show how a healthy James River supports surrounding communities. These indicators include vital necessities to everyday life, such as drinking water, information on outdoor recreation, a key driver for tourism and economic development, as well as the total economic value of the benefits provided by the James River.
Street also noted that due to refinements in the report, scores for past years are back-calculated using the same methodology and therefore do not necessarily correspond to the scores in past reports.
“The Commonwealth is grateful to the James River Association for their tireless advocacy for clean water. All of Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay watershed reap the benefits of their hard work and success,” said Molly Ward, Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources.
“The James River is a major driver for businesses and the economy across the state,” said Dennis Treacy, Chairman of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. “The improvements reflected in the 2017 State of the James report are encouraging because a healthy local environment is important to a healthy local economy. The James River not only supports transportation, commerce and industry, but also enhances our quality of life that draws tourism, attracts skilled workers and spurs new businesses.”
“The 2017 State of the James report captures the overall improvements in river health that the VCU Rice Rivers Center has also seen in its research,” said Dr. Greg Garman, Director, VCU Rice Rivers Center. “From water quality to bald eagles to Atlantic sturgeon, we have seen noticeable improvements in the James River both over the short term and the long term. The report also points to areas of concern and underscores the importance of continuing restoration efforts.”