James River Watch allows users to ‘Know before you go’

Published 8:57 am Friday, June 24, 2022

Every summer since 2013, the James River Association (JRA) prepares for river season by recruiting volunteers all across the watershed to monitor water quality and release real-time results to the public on a weekly basis. Through these efforts, river-goers can stay informed about river conditions before they consider swimming, paddling, or boating on the James.

The program, called James River Watch, has expanded over the past eleven years since it first began, and JRA currently reports results from 35 locations along the river with the help of volunteers and partners. 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. 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. All together, the careful design of the James River Watch website acts as a quick and easy reference for river users to determine the latest river conditions by assimilating multiple data sources all in one place.

“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 revealed a 83% pass rate, with 9 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. In seeking answers for these sites’ high failure rate, JRA staff are working with the Hampton Roads Sanitation District, the City of Williamsburg and James City County. Additional testing has made human sewage or leaky pipes an unlikely cause, and points to a more likely source as an upstream beaver dam or dog waste.

James River Watch is a reflection of JRA’s 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 to our 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.

New for 2022, river users can sign up to receive an email each week after results are posted on the James River Watch website. To sign up and learn more, visit www.jamesriverwatch.org, or contact Erin Reilly, JRA Senior Staff Scientist, at ereilly@thejamesriver.org.

ABOUT JAMES RIVER ASSOCIATION

The James River Association is a member-supported nonprofit organization founded in 1976 to serve as a guardian and voice for the James River. Throughout the James River’s 10,000 square mile watershed, the James River Association works toward its vision of a fully healthy James River supporting thriving communities. The James River Association believes that “when you change the James, the James changes you”. With offices in Lynchburg, Richmond, Williamsburg, and Scottsville, the James River Association is committed to protecting the James River and connecting people to it. For more information visit www.thejamesriver.org.