Beginning in 2007, the James River Association started compiling key health indicators for its State of the James River report. We have released an updated report every two years since. I am pleased to report that for the first time, this year’s State of the James report gives the James River’s health a grade in the “B” range with an overall score of 61 percent, up four points from two years ago. Having the grade move into the “B” range is nothing short of remarkable and a major milestone for the health of the James River.
In this 40th anniversary year of the river being shut down to fishing due to toxic contamination, this result reflects the tremendous progress that has been made since that time when the James was considered one of the most polluted rivers in the nation. This result also demonstrates the effectiveness of Virginia’s recent investments in cleaning up its waters. The benefits of these investments will ripple throughout not only the river but also the communities along it.
The primary reason for the increased score and the grade moving up to the B range is the investments that Virginia has made in pollution controls. Since 2005, Virginia has invested over $2 billion in state, local and private funding to control pollution going into the James River and other waters in the state. Over 80% of the funding has gone toward wastewater treatment upgrades, and as a result we have achieved 116% of the needed pollution reductions from wastewater for the James River.
However, as populations increase in the future, wastewater pollution is expected to rise, underscoring the need to make more progress in agriculture and stormwater pollution controls. In order to keep the health of the James River improving, Virginia must strengthen efforts to control agricultural and urban stormwater pollution with the same level of investments and commitment it has made for wastewater. Those also are areas where individuals can take actions on their own to help the James and their local streams and creeks. “America’s Founding River” has nurtured Virginia for more than 400 years and continues to provide our drinking water and to support our economy and quality of life. As water becomes the most critical resource in the 21st century, it will be even more important to our children that we protect it. The James River is our region’s most valuable natural resource. It is a part of our history and our daily lives. It is up to all of us to protect it for future generations.