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James River Watch is back, better than ever

James River AssociationWarmer days along the James River mean more opportunities to get out and enjoy swimming, paddling, and boating in the river.

To the James River Association, they also mean the start of James River Watch, an online resource reporting real-time river conditions, populated by information gathered by their volunteer-based water quality monitoring program.

JRA has monitored water quality at popular recreational points along the James River and its tributaries since 2013. The official launch to the 2020 river season began last Thursday, June 11, in partnership with Rivanna Conservation Alliance, American Water, Virginia Master Naturalist- Peninsula Chapter, and Appomattox River Company.

Fifty-six trained volunteers began a weekly process of collecting water samples at 27 high volume sites for boating and swimming across the watershed. The program normally runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day, but volunteers got a late start this year due to social distancing phasing guidelines related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

During the 2019 river season, 68 volunteers spent 810 hours collecting 376 bacteria samples at 27 sites across 10,000-square-miles of the watershed. Over 90 percent of samples showed passing bacteria levels – five points higher than JRA’s long-term average of 85%, and the highest season average observed to-date.

Samples that showed high levels of bacteria were primarily found after significant rain events, which wash bacteria pollution into the river from surrounding land or from sewage systems. Although bacteria levels vary based on weather conditions, testing sites in or immediately downstream of urban areas tend to be bacteria hotspots, as well as sites in rural areas where farm animals have access to streams and rivers.

augusta free press
augusta free press