JAMES RIVER — How safe is it to go swimming in the James River? Thanks to the James River Association (JRA), now river lovers can stay informed with James River Watch, an online resource reporting real-time river conditions based on water quality monitoring data.
Since 2013, the James River Watch program has provided a hub to share water quality data from popular recreational points along the James River and its tributaries.
According to a June 17 news release from the James River Association, the official launch of the 2021 river season began May 27, in partnership with Rivanna Conservation Alliance, American Water, Virginia State University, Virginia Master Naturalist-Peninsula Chapter, Appomattox River Company and Twin River Outfitters.
More than 81 trained volunteers began a weekly process of collecting water samples at 31 high volume sites for boating and swimming across the watershed.
For the 2021 season, JRA has added monitoring stations on the James River in Buchanan, the Appomattox River in Petersburg, and two new locations along College Creek right in Williamsburg. The program runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
During last year’s river season, 57 volunteers spent 560 hours collecting 462 bacteria samples at 28 sites across 10,000-square-miles of the watershed. 82.3% of samples showed passing bacteria levels, with 8 stations having 100% passing rates, according to the release.
Samples that showed high levels of bacteria were primarily found after significant rain events, which wash bacteria pollution into the river from surrounding land or from sewage systems.
Although bacteria levels vary based on weather conditions, testing sites in or immediately downstream of urban areas tend to be bacteria hotspots, as well as sites in rural areas where farm animals have access to streams and rivers.
Water samples test temperature, turbidity (or water cloudiness), and fecal coliform bacteria each week during the summer months. High levels of fecal coliform bacteria can indicate presence of pathogens harmful to human health.
After the samples are analyzed, results are verified for quality assurance and then uploaded each Friday to the James River Association’s James River Watch website – an online resource reporting real-time river conditions, created by Chesapeake Commons.
James River Watch has been carefully designed as a quick and easy reference for river users to determine the latest boating and swimming conditions by assimilating multiple data sources all in one place.
Now in its ninth year, James River Watch has undergone several improvements to make it more user-friendly and informative, including river stage forecasts that let you see current and future river levels.
“Water quality data demonstrates that the river is safe for recreation most of the time, but it’s important to understand that conditions can change quickly after rainstorms,” Jamie Brunkow, James Riverkeeper and Senior Advocacy Manager for the James River Association said. “James River Watch is an essential tool for summer months, providing a weekly update on swimming and boating conditions to help ensure a safe, fun time on the water.”
Along with water quality monitoring, JRA provides additional opportunities for community members to be James Changers and help reduce the amount of bacteria that enters the river.
River lovers can take the pledge to be a River Hero Home and commit to making a difference in their own backyard, join JRA’s Action Network to raise their voices for clean water funding, or Record an Action to inspire others to get involved.
For more information on the James River Association, visit their website here.