October 26, 2016
12:00 AM

Christina Bonini
Communications Coordinator
(804) 788-8811, ext. 211

James River Health Improves 10 Points in 10 Years
Investments in water quality help River earn a grade of “B-“in James River Association’s 2017 State of the James report

The James River Association’s biennial State of the James report, a comprehensive assessment of the health of the river, shows the overall health of the James at a grade of “B-“in 2017. The overall score for the river rose to 62%, which represents an increase of 10 points since the report was first published in 2007 and 3 points over the past two years.

“Increasing 10 points in 10 years shows that our collective commitment and investments in water quality are really paying off,” said Bill Street, CEO for the James River Association. “Improvements can be seen not only in the health of the river, but also in the benefits that the river provides to the surrounding communities in terms of drinking water, quality of life and economic opportunities.”

The State of the James report is designed to examine the status and trends of indicators in four categories – Fish and Wildlife, Habitat, Pollution Reductions, and Protection and Restoration Actions – that are interconnected and build on one another to achieve a healthy James River. Fish and wildlife populations depend on habitat to provide their critical needs for life. The greatest factor affecting the quality of habitat and wildlife in the James River basin is the amount of pollution that enters our waterways, ultimately flowing into the James. Finally, the report assesses progress on the restoration and protection actions needed to reduce damaging pollution and return the James to a healthy, diverse ecosystem. For each indicator, the James River Association has identified and compiled a key measure of river health with quantitative benchmarks that reflect what is needed to achieve a fully healthy river.

Of the nineteen indicators included in the report, fourteen showed improvement over the last two years, three remained the same and two declined.  Strong improvements were made in smallmouth bass and oysters, as well as tidal water quality.  Each of the restoration and protection actions increased, which contributed to improved tidal water quality.   The report shows marked improvement in areas where Virginia has made significant investments – particularly with regard to wastewater pollution controls, which have achieved 118% of Virginia’s goal.

One particular area of concern is a significant one-year decline in underwater grasses after two decades of steady expansion.  The cause of this decline is being investigated given that tidal water quality improved and underwater grasses across the Chesapeake Bay reached record levels last year.  Also, American shad continue to struggle in the James River despite decades of re-stocking efforts.  Finally, while overall pollution reductions increased to keep us on track with meeting the Chesapeake Bay Cleanup goals for the James River, we continue to see a lack of long-term improvement in sediment pollution reductions. Bacteria pollution reductions were also included for the first time in the 2017 report to reflect swimming and recreation conditions and are not showing improvement.

New for 2017, the State of the James report features indicators that show how a healthy James River supports surrounding communities. These indicators include vital necessities to everyday life, such as drinking water, information on outdoor recreation, a key driver for tourism and economic development, as well as the total economic value of the benefits provided by the James River.

“As Virginia’s largest source of drinking water, the James River is a part of all us. We all have a stake in its future,” Street said.  “We all must do our part and Virginia must continue to make the necessary investments to fulfill its responsibilities for clean water and to achieve a fully healthy James River.”

Please note: due to refinements in the report, scores for past years are back-calculated using the same methodology and therefore do not necessarily correspond to the scores in past reports.

“The Virginia Environmental Endowment is pleased to support the James River Association’s 2017 State of the James Report,” said Joseph Maroon, Virginia Environmental Endowment Executive Director. “It is their most comprehensive assessment of the health of the James River to date. Achieving a “B-“ grade 40 years after the Kepone toxic chemical disaster shut down a portion of the River to fishing demonstrates remarkable progress, due in no small part to the tireless efforts of the Association.”

“The Commonwealth is grateful to the James River Association for their tireless advocacy for clean water. All of Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay watershed reap the benefits of their hard work and success,” said Molly Ward, Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources.

“The James River is a major driver for businesses and the economy across the state,” said Dennis Treacy, Chairman of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. “The improvements reflected in the 2017 State of the James report are encouraging because a healthy local environment is important to a healthy local economy. The James River not only supports transportation, commerce and industry, but also enhances our quality of life that draws tourism, attracts skilled workers and spurs new businesses.”

“The 2017 State of the James report captures the overall improvements in river health that the VCU Rice Rivers Center has also seen in its research,” said Dr. Greg Garman, Director, VCU Rice Rivers Center. “From water quality to bald eagles to Atlantic sturgeon, we have seen noticeable improvements in the James River both over the short term and the long term. The report also points to areas of concern and underscores the importance of continuing restoration efforts.”

To learn more about the 2017 State of the James Report, visit or contact Christina Bonini, Communications Coordinator for the James River Association, at (804) 788-8811 or


ABOUT THE JAMES RIVER ASSOCIATION:The James River Association is a member-supported nonprofit organization founded in 1976 to serve as a guardian and voice for the James River. Throughout the James River’s 10,000-square mile watershed, the James River Association works toward its vision of a fully healthy James River supporting thriving communities.  With offices in Lynchburg, Richmond and Williamsburg, the James River Association is committed to protecting the James River and connecting people to it. For more information visit