State of the James River Report Released - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

State of the James River Report Released

Posted: Updated: Fri, October 25th 2013 12:36 pm

Many people depend on the James River, but its health is being called into question. A new report ranks it right in the middle of the pack, with lots of room for improvement.

The State of the James report is released by the James River Water Authority every two years. This year's report shows almost no change in pollution reduction from the last report, earning the river a "C" grade.

Out of 20 categories the river was graded on, it exceeded expectations only twice. The bald eagle population on the river is marked satisfactory, and the wastewater treatment is up 22 percent.

The report says the biggest problem facing the James River right now is sediment pollution reduction, which is currently at just 4 percent of the target goal, which is down 2 percent from 2011.

"Much of the sediment that is still coming in has not been mitigated appropriately and, in fact, we've seen little to no improvement in the past 20 years," said Pat Calvert, upper James River keeper. 

Calvert says the upside is that most Virginia rivers actually score lower on this study - scoring D's or F's.

If the river can make positive moves towards soil reduction, the grade will go up.

James River Association Press Release

River earns grade of "C" in James River Association's "State of the James" report card

Richmond, Va., Oct. 22, 2013 – A comprehensive, biennial assessment of the health of the James River finds virtually no progress in reducing sediment pollution over the past 20 years, a factor that is overshadowing headway in other areas of the river's ecosystem and water quality – areas where the Commonwealth of Virginia has made significant investments over the past few years.

Of the more than 20 separate indicators whose composite scores are averaged for the final rating, only two – the watershed's bald eagle population and wastewater treatment pollution reduction – meet or exceed benchmark goals. The report gave sediment pollution reduction the lowest score at just 4 percent. The biggest-falling indicator was for American shad, which was down 21 percent over 2011 levels, and the biggest improvement was in wastewater treatment pollution reduction, which has received substantial state investment and, as a result, climbed 22 percent in the past two years.

Overall, the 2013 "State of the James" report gives "America's founding river" a grade of "C" and a 53 percent rating, up two points from two years ago.

"For such an outstanding river, we cannot be satisfied with an average grade of C," said Bill Street, CEO of the James River Association. "The James River has nurtured Virginia for more than 400 years, and as water becomes the most critical resource in the 21st century, it will be even more important to our children. We cannot deprive them of their birthright to a healthy and well-managed James River."

Despite disappointments in progress toward reducing sediment pollution, the report did show some positive news in bringing down levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, which the report attributes to Virginia's significant investment over the past few years in wastewater treatment upgrades at sewage treatment plants and industrial facilities.

"The James River is an excellent demonstration that we can achieve improved environmental health and water quality if we make the necessary commitments and investments, but also that we must strengthen our efforts in order to fully safeguard our most precious natural resource, water, for current and future generations," said the report, which has been issued every other year by the James River Association since 2007.

The "State of the James" report examines metrics in four critical areas of the 10,000-square-mile river basin set against a series of quantitative benchmarks that largely have been set by the Commonwealth or other authority. Scores for each category are calculated by averaging the indicators. The final report card grade represents the average score of the four categories.

The following are the category-by-category findings for 2013, with comparisons to 2011 levels in parentheses:

Wildlife – Score 50% (down 4% from 2011)

The report cited mixed results in the area of wildlife, noting on the positive side the continued reemergence of bald eagles along the river. Other populations showed less promise: oysters remain at historically low levels and, after showing improvement within the 2011 report, American shad levels have declined in the past two years by more than one-fifth.

· Bald Eagle – Score 100% (no change)

· Rockfish – Score 67% (down 9%)

· Oysters – Score 14% (up 3%)

· American Shad – Score 21% (down 21%)

· Smallmouth Bass – Score 53% (up 4%)

· Brook Trout – Score 45% (no change)


Habitat – Score 60% (down 1% from 2011)

Within the habitat category, the report emphasized the need to improve tidal water quality, which is vital if important underwater grasses – essential habitats for juvenile fish, crabs and waterfowl – are to continue to expand. Declines in water quality run the risk of erasing recent improvements in the habitat and wildlife categories. The decrease in stream health also portends problems downstream.

· Underwater Grasses – Score 55% (up 6%)

· Riparian Forests – Score 80% (no change)

· Stream Condition – Score 53% (down 7%)

· Tidal Water Quality – Score 51% (down 3%)

Pollution – Score 41% (up 3% from 2011)

The report singled out pollution, especially in the form of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment, as "the greatest threat to the James River" and the culprit behind other problems, such as the declining health and habitat of aquatic organisms, risks to the safety of human drinking supplies and the potential fading aesthetics of the river and people's opportunity to enjoy and prosper from it. Progress was seen in reducing phosphorus and nitrogen pollution, but sediment pollution reduction remains at the alarmingly low score of 4%. Specific indicators scored as follows:

· Sediment Pollution Reduction – Score 4% (down 2%)

· Nitrogen Pollution Reduction – Score 43% (up 8%)

· Phosphorus Pollution Reduction – Score 75% (up 2%)

Protection and Restoration Actions – Score 59% (up 9% from 2011)

The report summarizes the actions detailed in Virginia's Watershed Implementation Plan for the James River in each of the major sources of pollution – wastewater, agriculture and urban runoff – as part of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort. The results show that Virginia's approach to wastewater has achieved significant improvements and exceeded the pollution reduction goals. Implementation of agriculture and urban runoff practices – the most critical to address sediment pollution -- showed marginal improvement since 2011, and remain at only about one-third complete. Natural area conservation that is critical to protect healthy streams and the river's natural filters, was up just 3% and just past the halfway point.

· Wastewater Treatment – Score 112% (up 22%)

· Agriculture – Score 34% (up 6%)

· Urban runoff – Score 35% (up 5%)

· Natural Area Conservation – Score 56% (up 3%)

The State of the James concludes with simple actions that citizens and businesses can do on their own to help achieve a fully healthy James River.

"The level of commitment and investment Virginia has made toward wastewater must now be directed to agriculture and urban runoff in order to achieve a fully healthy James River and to keep Virginia on track toward its cleanup goals," said Street. "Water is integral to the lives of each and every one of us. We all need to do our part to protect our waters for our own future and so that our children can thrive and prosper."


For each indicator, JRA identified and compiled a key measure of health. Quantitative benchmarks have been set for what is needed to achieve a healthy James River. Current progress is compared to this benchmark to calculate a score which is averaged across the indicators in each category to determine the grade for that category. (Please note: due to refinements in the scoring, the changes do not necessarily correspond to the scores contained in the 2011 State of the James River report. If changes were made, the same methodology was applied to the data of the previous two years.)


About the James River/JRA

The 340-mile James River runs from its headwaters in the Appalachians into the Chesapeake Bay, making it one of the longest rivers totally contained within one state. Called "America's Founding River" for the role it played in helping provide for the Jamestown settlers, the James River has a rich history, sustains a vibrant and diverse ecosystem and is a source of life and recreation for millions of Virginians.

The James River Association is a nonprofit conservation organization that serves as the primary "voice" of the James River, helping to ensure its health and vitality for the past 37 years.

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