Tuesday, June, 16, 2020


Jamie Brunkow
Riverkeeper and Senior Advocacy Manager
James River Association
(757) 634-4541

“Know Before You Go”: James River Association’s James River Watch is Back and Better Than Ever

Warmer 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 (JRA), 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. 56 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 reason, 68 volunteers spent 810 hours collecting 376 bacteria samples at 27 sites across 10,000-square-miles of the watershed. Over 90% of samples showed passing bacteria levels – 5 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.

Map & summary of James River Watch site-by-site historical data reported at the end of the 2019 season

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 eighth year, James River Watch has undergone several improvements to make it more user-friendly and informative. Website visitors can now view precipitation forecasts and weather watches or warnings all in one integrated web platform.

“The data demonstrates that our local waterways are safe for recreation most of the time, but extra caution is necessary after rainstorms,” said Jamie Brunkow, James Riverkeeper and Senior Advocacy Manager for the James River Association. “It is important for river goers to know local conditions before spending time on the river. James River Watch is an essential tool for summer months – helping to ensure a safe, fun time on the water.”

JRA believes a healthy James River should be enjoyed by all, and their mission is built around protecting and connecting people to the river. Along with water quality monitoring, JRA provides several opportunities for the community to do their part in contributing to a healthier river by helping to reduce the amount of bacteria that enters the river. These programs range from pledging to take steps in your own backyard as a River Hero Home, to joining JRA’s Action Network to connect with elected officials on clean water funding, to Recording an Action to inspire others to do their part. Together, these efforts can help to improve water quality, allowing more people to safely enjoy the river.

To learn more, visit, or contact Jamie Brunkow, James Riverkeeper and Senior Advocacy Manager at or 757.634.4541.

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