The holiday weekend is here, and the James River is calling!  A jump in the James is a great way to beat the summer swelter, and the best way to get outside and enjoy your local waterways is to know before you go by checking river conditions on James River Watch before your swimming, boating, or other river-based adventures.

Since 2013 the James River Association has monitored water quality at popular river locations on the James River and its tributaries. Each weekend from Memorial Day to Labor Day, trained volunteers collect water samples at sites frequented by the public for boating and swimming. Results are verified for quality assurance and then uploaded to the James River Association’s James River Watch website – an online resource reporting real-time river conditions for boaters, paddlers, and swimmers. The newly redesigned website, created by Chesapeake Commons, contains data from the James River and its major tributaries.

Historical bacteria results from James River Watch monitoring sites

Weekly water samples test temperature, turbidity (or water cloudiness), and E. coli bacteria. In high concentrations, E. coli can be harmful to human health. Out of the approximately 2,000 bacteria samples collected over the past six years, 85% revealed that the water in the James and its tributaries was safe for recreation. The other 15% of samples showing high levels of bacteria were primarily found after rain events, which can transport bacteria from urban stormwater, agricultural runoff, and other sources.

Everyone can help improve the health of the river by joining the River Hero Home Program and taking simple steps to minimize stormwater pollution at home. Rain gardens, trees and native plants can help soak up stormwater and prevent pollution from entering storm drains and harming local streams and the James River. Individuals can also help the James River Association advance solutions for clean water with elected officials by joining the organization’s Action Network.This year, Action Network volunteers helped the James River Association secure almost $90 million to install conservation practices on Virginia farms and $10 million for Stormwater Local Assistance Fund projects that protect local water quality in communities all across the state. These local and state investments are paying off and over the past 10 years the health of the James River has improved.

Our monitoring efforts would not be possible without our amazing volunteers, who have already spent hundreds of hours this summer monitoring the health of the James River and its tributaries. Some of these folks are just getting their feet wet, and some are contributing to James River Watch for their 2nd, 3rd, or 4th season – or more!  These James Changers help us generate the information we need to help you enjoy the James safely – a huge thank you to them for their efforts.

So get outside and enjoy the James this holiday weekend! And whether you plan to spend your time in, on, or beside the river, remember to know before you go!