James River Watch allows river users to ‘know before you go’

River-lovers can learn about river conditions before heading to the water thanks volunteers

A group of 90 volunteers test the water and post the results online every Thursday

RICHMOND, Va. – Volunteers gather together to give you helpful information straight from the river so you can “know before you go.”

Every summer since 2013, the James River Association has prepared for river season by recruiting volunteers to monitor water quality across the watershed area and release real-time results to the public once a week.

By doing so, river-goers can stay informed about river conditions before they consider swimming, paddling, or boating on the James River.

The program, called James River Watch, has expanded over the past 11 years since it first began. They currently report 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.

Volunteers take water samples every Thursday to track measurements of water temperature, air temperature, turbidity (or cloudiness of the water), conductivity (or saltiness of the water), and bacteria levels.

High levels of fecal coliform bacteria in the water can indicate the presence of pathogens harmful to human health, which can negatively impact river user safety.

Each measurement is 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.

”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 safe while out on the river,” Erin Reilly, JRA’s Senior Staff Scientist, said. “James River Watch conveniently pulls that information together in one place.”

During last year’s river season, James River Watch revealed an 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.

JRA staff are working with the Hampton Roads Sanitation District, the City of Williamsburg, and James City County to figure out why these two areas have such high rates of failure.

Additional testing has made human sewage or leaky pipes an unlikely cause, which points to a more likely source as an upstream beaver dam or dog waste.

River users can sign up to receive an e-mail each week after results are posted on the James River Watch website.

About the Author:

Kortney joined the 10 News team as a Lynchburg Bureau Reporter in May 2021.