Friday, September 22, 2023

James River Association Releases Report Card On River’s Health

(Courtesy of the James River Association)

WILLIAMSBURG — The James River Association recently released its biennial “State of The James River” report card that is part of the organizations efforts to revitalize the James River.

The first report card was released in 2007 and since then it has examined the trends involving eighteen separate indicators.

This year, the report card shows that the health of river was rated at an overall grade of “B-“, or 61%. The James River has been at a “B-” since 2015. However, the score dropped one point from 2019 and two points since the most recent high of 63%.

The James River Association states that the slight decline that has occurred since 2017 reflects the impact of abnormally high rainfall experienced across the watershed in recent years causing increased polluted runoff throughout the James River.

There are two sub scores that make up the main overall grade of 61%. Those are the “River Health” and the “River Restoration Efforts.”

The River Health is rated at a “B-“, or 64%. This score is established by examining ten indicators:

  • Stream Health: The Stream Health indicator is rated at 54% which is down by 11% since the last report card.
  • Brook Trout: The Brook Trout indicator remains at 74%, practically unchanged since the last report card.
  • Smallmouth Bass: The Smallmouth Bass indicator is at 85%, down 15% since the last report card.
  • Riparian Forests: The Riparian Forests indicator remains at 78%. After analysis of high-resolution land cover data conducted by the Chesapeake Convservancy in 2021, they concluded that 78% of riparian areas in the watershed are forested with trees and scrubs.
  • Bald Eagle: Perhaps the most successful indicator in the River Health grade has been the Bald Eagle Indicator. The State of The James Report card clames that the James River has one of the densest eagle populations in all of North America . A big factor was that the number of breeding pairs in the James River water shed rose to 352 in 2021.
  • American Shad: The American Shad indicator saw a -1% decrease to a 0% rating.
    “Given the dire situation, Virginia must develop an emergency recovery plan that clearly identifies immmediate restoration actions, but it will take a long-term and sustainable effort to bring American shad back from the brink of collapse in the James,” the report card states.
  • Juvenile Striped Bass: A very successful indicator has been the Juvenile Striped Bass that is rated at 92%, up 6% since the last report card.
  • Tidal Quality: The Tidal Water Quality indicator received a 54%, a rating up by 6% since the last report card. The factors that went into this rating were the measurements of dissolved oxygen, algae levels, and water clarity.
  • Oysters: The Oyster rating is at 74% which is up 25% since the last report card. This is actually a new record high for this indicator.
  • Underwater Grasses: The Underwater Grasses indicator is at 46% after experiencing an increase of 6% since the last report card.

However, the River Restoration Efforts has received a “C+”, or 58%. There are eight river restoration indicators that help the James River Association track progress on their efforts to revitalize the watershed.

  • Phosphorus Reductions: This indicator is rated at 55%, a rating that has fallen 9% since the last report card.
  • Agriculture Pollution Controls: Rated at 59%, an increase to the rating of about 6%. The increase in agriculture pollution control is due to the fact that this time of control are among the most impactful and cose-effective provements currently available to conservationists.
  • Land Protection: The Land Protection score received a 77%, an increase of 2%.
  • Sedminent Reductions: This indicator received a score of 33%, a decrease of 23% since the last report card. One of the impactful factors of this indicator has been the record rainfall in 2018.
  • Stormwater Pollution Controls: Received a 34% rating which is up by 2% since the last report card.
  • Wastewater Pollution Controls: This indicator neither decrease or increased. It stayed a 91% rating which is the same score since the last report.
  • Bacteria Reductions: The Bacteria Reduction indicator score 51% which is a slight increase of 1% since the last report card.
  • Nitrogen Reductions: The Nitrogen reductions received a 62% rating which is a 4% decrease since the last report card.

Individuals looking for a more in depth look can look at the a new interactive map of The State of the James report card released by the James River Association.

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