Tuesday, October 4, 2022

State of the James report gives mixed news about the river’s health

Historic Jamestown visitors look on after the Balsa 92 dropped anchor in the James River in October 2018. (WYDaily/ Courtesy Mary Anna Hartley)
Historic Jamestown visitors look on after the Balsa 92 dropped anchor in the James River in October 2018. (WYDaily/ Courtesy Mary Anna Hartley)

Record rains in 2018 were not enough to keep the James River from passing its annual health exam.

A 2019 report released to the Tuesday to the media by the James River Association gives the health of the James River an overall “B-” for health in 2018 — maintaining a steady overall score of 60 percent.

The score is on par with the previous year’s report but does not match the steady improvement that was seen from 2007 to 2017, the association wrote in a news release.

Heavy and increased rains are known to wash pollutants in runoff into local tributaries, and in 2018 resulted in “setbacks for a number of indicators, including sediment reductions, bacteria pollution, tidal water quality and oysters.”

Stream health and nitrogen reductions improved, despite runoff.

Bald eagles and smallmouth bass populations remained steady, but American shad declined.

“The healthier the James River is, the more it helps surrounding communities thrive,” said Bill Street, CEO for the James River Association, in a news release. “We have seen great change since the James River Association was founded in 1976, but this report shows that the James is still a river at risk.  We must stay vigilant in order to reach a fully healthy James River and all that it can provide.”

In the news release, the James River Association said the steady overall score — despite increased rains — represents efforts to improve the tributary, which is rated as the “healthiest major tributary” to the Chesapeake Bay by the University of Maryland.

“We continue to see progress in areas where Virginia has made significant investments, particularly wastewater pollution controls,” said Jamie Brunkow, James riverkeeper for the James River Association. “Virginia’s updated cleanup plan for the James River and the rest of the Chesapeake Bay provides a strong blueprint for achieving a Grade-A James River by 2025 and calls for more investment in agriculture and stormwater pollution controls. We urge the General Assembly to provide the necessary funding to fully implement these programs.”

The State of the James report uses 18 indicators to rate the river’s health. Those indicators are broken into two categories, “river health” and “river restoration progress.”

Of the 18 indicators, seven improved, five stayed the same and six declined, according to the news release.

Learn more by going to the State of the James report website.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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