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2018 Record Rainfall Hampers Water Quality, Not Trend of Improving James River Health

May 22, 2019 10:03am

The latest Chesapeake Bay Report Card was released yesterday, showing that scores for the James River shifted from a B- (63%) in 2017 to a C (48%) in 2018. Scores across the Bay declined last year but maintained an overall C. The annual report card is produced by the University of Maryland’s Integration and Application Network and provides a comprehensive analysis of Chesapeake Bay health by scoring indicators such as dissolved oxygen, underwater grasses and water clarity. 

“In 2018 communities across the Chesapeake Bay Watershed experienced record precipitation and increased runoff pollution, but we’re also seeing signs that the river is resilient and improving over the long term,” said Jamie Brunkow, James Riverkeeper and Senior Advocacy Manager at the James River Association. 

Record rainfall led to many high-water events like the one pictured above. Credit: JRA

Water clarity scores across the Chesapeake Bay suffered due to heavy precipitation and polluted runoff, and this was the only indicator given an F (3%) for the James River. Despite a drop in nearly all of the Report Card’s Bay health indicators, the report highlights an improving long term trend for the Bay and for the James River. 

Brunkow added, “Water clarity is essential for a healthy James River that supports underwater grass beds and fisheries. Virginia is making progress towards restoring the health of the James River, but the results of the Report Card show that we need to do more to tackle polluted runoff. That means strengthening our programs that help farmers and local governments prevent erosion and build more resilient cities.”

Recently, Virginia released its draft plan for meeting Chesapeake Bay Cleanup goals by 2025.  This plan, the Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan, will outline the federal, state, and local actions needed between now and 2025 to ensure that all necessary practices are in place to achieve Virginia’s pollution reduction targets and restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

“The Watershed Implementation Plan provides a road map for getting the James River to a grade of A. It’s critical that we have a strong plan which is funded and implemented by 2025, but we need communities to stand up and support more investment and action for the river,” said Brunkow.
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is accepting public comments on the draft Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan through June 7th. 

About Christina Bonini

As a Richmond native, I have close ties to the James River. I grew up in a family that spent our time camping, hiking and enjoying weekends on the Chesapeake Bay. My interest in turning over rocks eventually led me to VCU for a Masters in Environmental Studies. As Communications Coordinator, I have had the privilege of combining my writing skills with my love of science and enthusiasm for the outdoors. I work hard to increase the public’s awareness of the James River Association and our mission to protect and restore the James River. I am truly optimistic that achieving a cleaner James is possible and want to help others believe in our mission as well.