Report: James River Earns Clean Bill of Health with ‘B’ Grade

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A map across from Hog Island, photographed Set. 21, 2015, indicates where Englishmen first saw shore in 1607. (Kirsten Petersen/ WYDaily)
The James River, photographed Sept. 21, 2015. (Kirsten Petersen/ WYDaily)

Wastewater pollution controls are credited with boosting the James River’s health this year.

According to the James River Association’s biennial State of the James report card, the overall health of the river has improved from a “C+” or 57 percent in 2013 to a “B-“ or 61 percent in 2015.

This is the first report to recognize the river with a “B” grade, according to a news release from the James River Association.

“A lot of these improvements are hard fought and take years of working at it,” said Jamie Brunkow, the Lower James Riverkeeper. “We want to highlight our successes and turn our focus to the additional improvements we need to make.”

The report looks at four indicators that contribute to the health of the river when determining the score: fish and wildlife, habitat, pollution reductions and protection and restoration actions.

Brunkow said the state’s investment in wastewater pollution controls have paid off: improved technology has enabled wastewater facilities to better remove nutrient pollution before it enters the James. He said the federal Clean Water Act pressured states to care for their waterways, but the Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan, which was first implemented in 2010, accelerated those efforts.

The James River has been at the center of the disputes over where Dominion Virginia Power should place power lines when the Yorktown Power Station closes in 2016. While the overall health of the river may not be affected by the power lines, Brunkow said they could deter visitors from enjoying the water that river activists have worked to restore.

“From our perspective, the primary way to grow the citizenry of people who really care about a clean river is get them on the river and enjoy it recreationally,” Brunkow said. “This sort of development across the James is really contrary to the preservation work we’re trying to accomplish.”

Looking ahead, Brunkow said activists will look to the General Assembly for funding that can assist with stormwater and agricultural run-off solutions.