The James River provides us with a unique experience here in Virginia, from casual walkers to whitewater paddlers. With frequent changes in water levels, temperature, sediment, and bacteria levels, the James River Association wants all river users to make safe and informed decisions before enjoying the river. Through the James River Watch, a group of 90 trained volunteer citizen scientists provide real-time data on safety conditions at 28 access points throughout the watershed from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

In order for river users (YOU!) to be as informed as possible before recreating in the river, we collect data each Thursday and have the information live on Friday afternoon, just in time for the weekend. This week kicks off the first of 15 sampling weeks during peak river season. Visit to see the status of river locations up and down the James, stretching from far west Buchanan all the way down to Norfolk.

The past week we saw an exceptional amount of rain (it’s already Richmond’s rainiest May on record!) so the river is still running high. In the Richmond area, the river peaked at 15 feet! The river is considered flood stage at 12 feet and anything over 9 feet in Richmond is considered high water, but this point varies all over the watershed. Average water level during mid-summer is around 4-5 feet, so as you can imagine the past week or so has been abnormal.

James River Watch will show most sites as having unsafe conditions for this holiday weekend because of the high water levels. There may also be higher bacteria counts. When the city sewer systems are overwhelmed by rain and flood water, they release their overflow into the river and drive up bacteria levels.

High water levels mean faster and stronger currents. It is strongly advised to avoid swimming or boating when the water is high, unless you are with professionals, or you yourself are a professional. It is also important to note that when you see other boaters on the river, especially whitewater kayakers and rafters, they have gone through extensive training to be safe in swift moving water and have prepared themselves for the associated dangers.

To safely recreate this holiday weekend, use James River Watch to learn about river conditions, plan ahead, and know your surroundings, upstream and downstream, on the river. Here are some more tips and resources for staying safe on the James.

Interested in river conditions? Want to know more? Stay tuned for an in-depth blog post and analysis to be released next week!