Thursday, June 17, 2021

Erin Hillert
Marketing and Communications Manager
James River Association | 608.239.2644

Water Monitoring Program to keep James River Swimmers & Boaters Safe

James River Watch Launches for the 2021 River Season

As the first day of summer approaches this Sunday, June 20th, more and more people are drawn to enjoy the cooling waters of the James by swimming, paddling, and boating in the river. Thanks to the James River Association (JRA), river lovers all over the watershed can stay informed with James River Watch, an online resource reporting real-time river conditions based on water quality monitoring data.

The James River Watch program has provided a hub to share water quality data from popular recreational points along the James River and its tributaries since 2013. The official launch to the 2021 river season began May 27, in partnership with Rivanna Conservation Alliance, American Water, Virginia State University, Virginia Master Naturalist-Peninsula Chapter, Appomattox River Company and Twin River Outfitters. More than 81 trained volunteers began a weekly process of collecting water samples at 31 high volume sites for boating and swimming across the watershed. For the 2021 season, JRA has added monitoring stations on the James River in Buchanan, the Appomattox River in Petersburg, and two new locations along College Creek in Williamsburg, Va. The program runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

During the 2020 river season, 57 volunteers spent 560 hours collecting 462 bacteria samples at 28 sites across 10,000-square-miles of the watershed. 82.3% of samples showed passing bacteria levels, with 8 stations having 100% passing rates. 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.

Map of James River Watch 2020 season stations and  passing rates

Water samples test temperature, turbidity (or water cloudiness), and fecal coliform bacteria each week during the summer months. High levels of fecal coliform bacteria can indicate presence of pathogens harmful to human health. After the samples are analyzed, results are verified for quality assurance and then uploaded each Friday to the James River Association’s James River Watch website – an online resource reporting real-time river conditions, created by Chesapeake Commons.

James River Watch has been carefully designed as a quick and easy reference for river users to determine the latest boating and swimming conditions by assimilating multiple data sources all in one place.

Now in its ninth year, James River Watch has undergone several improvements to make it more user-friendly and informative, including river stage forecasts that let you see current and future river levels.

“Water quality data demonstrates that the river is safe for recreation most of the time, but it’s important to understand that conditions can change quickly after rainstorms,” said Jamie Brunkow, James Riverkeeper and Senior Advocacy Manager for the James River Association. “James River Watch is an essential tool for summer months, providing a weekly update on swimming and boating conditions to help ensure a safe, fun time on the water.”

JRA constantly strives to protect and connect people to the river. Along with water quality monitoring, JRA provides additional opportunities for community members to be James Changers and help reduce the amount of bacteria that enters the river. River lovers can take the pledge to be a River Hero Home and commit to making a difference in their own backyard, join JRA’s Action Network to raise their voices for clean water funding, or Record an Action to inspire others to get involved. Together, these efforts translate to a healthier and safer James River for all to enjoy.


 To learn more, visit, or contact Erin Reilly, JRA Staff Scientist, at


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. The James River Association believes that “when you change the James, the James changes you.” With offices in Lynchburg, Scottsville, Richmond, and Williamsburg, the James River Association is committed to protecting the James River and connecting people to it.