James River Water Levels

Westham Gauge
Gauge Height: 11.52'
Flow: 38600 cfps

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High Tide: 7:06am
Low Tide: 2:24pm

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James River Association Celebrates 40 Years of Improvements to Our Watery Playground

Phil Riggan

October 29, 2016 11:15pm

If you do anything in your day that includes water, you should appreciate how important it is for it to be clean and free of pollution.

“A fully healthy James River will help our community thrive,” said Bill Street, the CEO of the James River Association. “It can be our greatest asset or our greatest liability.”

James River Association 40th Anniversary Celebration at The Boathouse, Oct. 27, 2016

James River Association 40th Anniversary Celebration at The Boathouse, Oct. 27, 2016

Street was speaking in Richmond Thursday evening during the celebration of the James River Association’s 40th Anniversary, which included an oyster roast, great food and cocktails at The Boathouse restaurant at Rocketts Landing. The meeting was the final of three annual meetings held throughout the watershed. The first two were held in Williamsburg and Lynchburg and included updates on the nonprofit’s progress as well as a look to the future.

He and other speakers on the evening spoke about nature deficit disorder and our need as a society to spend more time connecting with Mother Nature. “Studies have shown us that if people have a personal experience outdoors, they are twice as likely to care and say that they are willing to do their share and invest in protecting the environment,” he said.

What better way than a visit to your favorite sport on the river?

According to the 2015 State of the James River Report, the overall health of the river was graded as a B-minus. Street said that 40 years ago when the James River Association was formed, the river was graded as a D-minus.

“Now it is one of the most improved rivers in the country” and one of the healthiest tributaries to the Chesapeake Bay, he said. “Where the Boathouse is [now] was once one of the most polluted in the country.”

Street told a few touching stories about how nasty the river had become. Hard to believe we would tolerate that kind of abuse, especially since it is the primary source of drinking water for the Richmond region.

“We had really just reached the low point,” he said. The river had been shut down to fishing. Pollution made the river unsafe for recreational use. “The James was looked at as dispose all, a dumping ground…raw sewage was released into the river,” he said. “Truly we had reached the depths.”

If you’ve never read about Newton Ancarrow, you may not know about how unhealthy and polluted the James River was in by the 1970s. It is safe to say that people like Ancarrow were the inspiration for people like Ralph White (retired James River Park manager) that made Richmond take notice of this beautiful asset – which is now a watery playground for so many after decades of neglect.

Now we have the highest concentration of bald eagles on the East Coast and one of the most robust populations of Atlantic Sturgeon as well.

Street said that the JRA was challenged to look ahead to 10 years from now and how they should celebrate at their 50th anniversary. He mentioned several developments and initiatives that will help in the next decade:

  • This past year, the Virginia General Assembly dedicated $140 million to clean water, including a record investment of $60 million to help farmers with runoff and point source pollution
  • More protections against coal ash pollution
  • More work with cities like Lynchburg, Charlottesville, Richmond and Petersburg to limit stormwater runoff
  • Continued improvements in volunteer water monitoring

Street said the James River Association helped open 20 new access points along the James River in the past year. Also, they have continued to push for improvements to the Richmond Riverfront and have continued to help plan for more recreational options on rivers that feed the Chesapeake Bay by participating in the Regional Rivers Plan.

At the event, the JRA recognized this year’s River Hero Award winners: Alyson Sappington from the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District and Julie Coleman, an educator who is currently at Monacan High School in Chesterfield County.

About Phil Riggan

He's been a part of Richmond's outdoors since moving to Richmond in 1988. Earned a master’s degree in Urban Planning at VCU in 2015 with a focus on the environment, parks, transportation and nonprofits — largely due to his dedication to becoming part of the solution to advocate for outdoor initiatives, the James River and Richmond’s great parks and recreational amenities. Now works as a transportation planner with the Richmond Regional Transportation Planning Organization, focusing primarily on bike/ped planning.