Wednesday, December 6, 2023

James River Watch Allows River Users to ‘Know Before You Go’

Powhatan Creek. (James River Association)

RICHMOND — The James River Association (JRA) reminds river-goers it has recruited volunteers across the watershed to monitor water quality and release real-time results to the public to consider before swimming, paddling, or boating on the James since 2013.

The program, called James River Watch, allows JRA to report results from 35 locations along the river with the help of its volunteers and partners on a weekly basis.

JRA reports approximately 90 volunteers have signed up to monitor water quality during the 2022 season, which runs from Memorial Day through Labor Day, in partnership with Rivanna Conservation Alliance, American Water, Virginia State University, Virginia Master Naturalist-Peninsula Chapter, Appomattox River Company and Twin River Outfitters.

James River Watch volunteers take water samples every Thursday to track measurements of water temperature, air temperature, turbidity (or cloudiness), conductivity (or saltiness) and bacteria, JRA said in a news release. High levels of fecal coliform bacteria can indicate presence of pathogens harmful to human health, which can affect river user safety.

Each of these measurements are displayed and updated on Friday through the program’s online platform, along with additional stage and flow readings and predictions compiled from NOAA and USGS stream gauges.

(James River Association)

The James River Watch website is designed to act as a quick and easy reference for river users to determine the latest river conditions by assimilating multiple data sources all in one place, JRA said. Additionally, new for 2022, river users can sign up to receive an email each week after results are posted.

“Paddling, fishing, and swimming are common summer pastimes for the folks in the James River Watershed, but it’s important to be informed about river conditions to make sure you are being safe while out on the river,” said Erin Reilly, JRA’s Senior Staff Scientist. “James River Watch conveniently pulls that information together in one place. I personally use it all the time to plan my time at the river.”

During the 2021 river season, James River Watch reported an 83% pass rate, with nine sites passing 100% of the time. These sites included the Scottsville Boat Ramp, Tucker Park at Maidens Crossing, Robious Landing, Pony Pasture, Hopewell at Route 10, Jamestown Beach, College Creek Beach, Riverside Beach, and Hampton Marina.

Two sites, College Landing Park and Powhatan Creek, raised concern for JRA staff in 2021 due to high rates of failure, it said. JRA staff is currently working with the Hampton Roads Sanitation District, the City of Williamsburg and James City County.

Accoding to JRA, additional testing has revealed human sewage or leaky pipes is an unlikely cause. A more likely source is an upstream beaver dam or dog waste.

The James River Association is a member-supported nonprofit organization founded in 1976 to serve as a guardian and voice for the James River. James River Watch is a reflection of its mission, which includes protecting the river and connecting people to the river.

Along with water quality monitoring, JRA provides additional opportunities for community members to help keep the river healthy and reduce the amount of bacteria flowing into waterways. River lovers can become a River Hero Home by pledging to adopt river-friendly behaviors at home, join JRA’s Action Network to raise their voices for clean water funding, or receive training to be a RiverRat, JRA’s first line of defense for patrolling potential pollution sources and other important river activity.
To sign up for the James River Watch weekly results email and learn more, visit or email Erin Reilly, JRA Senior Staff Scientist.

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