Every summer since 2013, the James River Association (JRA) has prepared for the river season by recruiting volunteers from across the river basin to monitor water quality and report real-time results to the public on a weekly basis. These efforts allow river visitors to remain informed of river conditions before swimming, paddling, or boating on the James.
The program, called James River Watch, has expanded over the 11 years since its inception, and JRA is currently reporting results from 35 locations along the river with the help of volunteers and partners. Approximately 90 volunteers have committed to improving water quality during the 2022 season, which runs from Memorial Day through Labor Day, in partnership with the Rivanna Conservation Alliance, American Water, Virginia State University, the Virginia Master Naturalist-Peninsula Chapter, the Appomattox River Company and Twin oversee River Outfitters.
James River Watch volunteers take water samples every Thursday to track measurements of water temperature, air temperature, turbidity (or turbidity), conductivity (or salinity), and bacteria. High levels of fecal coliform bacteria can indicate the presence of pathogens that are harmful to human health and may affect the safety of river users.
Each of these measurements will be displayed and updated Friday through the program’s online platform, along with additional step and flow readings and forecasts compiled from NOAA and USGS flowmeters. All in all, the careful design of the James River Watch website serves as a quick and easy reference for river users to determine the latest river conditions by integrating multiple data sources in one place.
“Paddling, fishing and swimming are common summer pursuits for people at the James River Watershed, but it’s important to be aware of river conditions to make sure you’re safe on the river,” said Erin Reilly, Senior Staff of JRA Scientists . “James River Watch conveniently brings this information together in one place. I personally use it all the time to plan my time on the river.”
During the 2021 river season, James River Watch demonstrated an 83% pass rate with 9 sites passing 100% of the time. These locations included the Scottsville Boat Ramp, Tucker Park at Maidens Crossing, Robious Landing, Pony Pasture, Hopewell off Route 10, Jamestown Beach, College Creek Beach, Riverside Beach, and Hampton Marina.
Two locations, College Landing Park and Powhatan Creek, worried JRA employees in 2021 due to high failure rates. JRA officials are working with the Hampton Roads Sanitation District, the City of Williamsburg and James City County to find answers to these locations’ high failure rates. Additional testing has made human sewage or leaking pipes an unlikely cause, pointing to a more likely source than an upstream beaver dam or dog droppings.
James River Watch reflects JRA’s mission, which includes protecting the river and connecting people with the river. In addition to monitoring water quality, JRA offers community members additional ways to keep the river healthy and reduce the amount of bacteria entering our waterways. River lovers can become a River Hero Home by committing to adopting river-friendly behaviors at home, joining JRA’s Network of Action to raise their voices for clean water funding, or training to become the RiverRat, JRA’s first line of defense for the patrol of potential sources of pollution and other important river activities.
New for 2022, River users can opt-in to receive an email each week after results are posted to the James River Watch website. To sign up and learn more, visit www.jamesriverwatch.org or contact Erin Reilly, JRA Senior Staff Scientist at [email protected].
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