CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - The James River Association says the river is maintaining its relatively clean quality.

The State of the James report out Thursday, October 3, gives the river a "B-" in 2019. That's holding steady over the last couple years, despite the record rains we had last year. Typically, that causes increases in polluted runoff, but the consistent grade is a testament to the river's resiliency.

The association says the findings demonstrate continued improvement of the James River to support aquatic life and water recreation.


10/03/2019 Release from the James River Association:

The James River Association’s biennial State of the James report, a comprehensive assessment of the health of the river, shows the overall health of the James at a grade of “B-“in 2019. The overall score remained steady at 60% despite the record rains of 2018, a positive sign for the resilience of the James River but a departure from the steady improvement seen from 2007 to 2017.

“The healthier the James River is, the more it helps surrounding communities thrive,” said Bill Street, CEO for the James River Association. “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.”

The increased polluted runoff associated with heavier than normal downpours in 2018 caused setbacks for a number of indicators, including sediment reductions, bacteria pollution, tidal water quality, and oysters. While bald eagles and smallmouth bass remained strong, American shad were the lowest scoring indicator, dropping to just 1%. Notably, stream health improved even with increased polluted runoff in 2018. The score for nitrogen reductions also increased thanks to recent upgrades to wastewater treatment plants.

"Record rainfall in 2018 tested the resiliency of the James River ecosystem, but the 2019 State of the James report demonstrates steady, long-term improvement in river health that continues today," said Dr. Greg Garman, Director, VCU Rice Rivers Center. "Research conducted at the Center provides the scientific foundation for critical conservation actions that support recovery of Bald Eagle, Virginia Oyster, and Atlantic Sturgeon, as well as the wetland and riverine habitats on which these and other species depend. The 2019 State of the James report documents positive, overall trends in several areas but also shows where we need to redouble our restoration efforts."

“We continue to see progress in areas where Virginia has made significant investments, particularly wastewater pollution controls. 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,” said Jamie Brunkow, James Riverkeeper and Sr. Advocacy Manager for the James River Association. “We urge the General Assembly to provide the necessary funding to fully implement these programs.”

“The 2019 State of the James report shows the improvements Virginia has made in restoring the health of the James River, but also highlights the challenges we face in continuing that progress, particularly accounting for population growth and climate change,” said Matthew J. Strickler, Virginia’s Secretary of Natural Resources. “Virginia’s Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan released recently sets the course for further improvements and Governor Northam is committed to ensuring it is fully implemented.”

The State of the James report tracks the status and trends of eighteen indicators for which the James River Association has identified and compiled data with quantitative benchmarks that reflect what is needed to achieve a fully healthy river. The indicators comprise two categories, River Health and River Restoration Progress, which are averaged to produce an overall score for the state of the river. Of the eighteen indicators included in the 2019 State of the James report, seven showed improvement over the last two years, five remained the same, and six declined.

“The Virginia Environmental Endowment is pleased to support the James River Association’s 2019 State of the James Report,” said Joseph Maroon, Virginia Environmental Endowment Executive Director. “The Report offers the public a clear and comprehensive assessment of the health of the James River. The River's health has dramatically improved in the four decades since the Kepone toxic chemical disaster shut down a portion of the River to fishing for many years. Still, there is a great need for continued progress and the Report will serve as a valuable tool in generating increased citizen and landowner actions and increased commitments by policymakers."

Over the past fifteen years, the tidal James River consistently has been rated as the healthiest major tributary to the Chesapeake Bay by the University of Maryland in their annual Chesapeake Bay Report Card. In recognition of accomplishments in integrated river basin management, the James River has been selected as a finalist for the 2019 Thiess International Riverprize, considered the most prestigious award for river and watershed restoration.

To learn more about the State of the James Report, visit www.stateofthejames.org.