WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (WRIC) — The James River Association (JRA) has released the 2023 ‘State of the James’ report detailing the overall health of the James River which has been graded with an overall grade of 66%, or a grade of “B.”

The association says this year’s grade is an improvement from years past, during which the James’ health was failing.

The JRA’s assessment examines the status and trends of 18 indicators for two categories — River Health and River Restoration Progress. Some indicators include bacteria, wastewater and stormwater pollution controls and tidal water quality.

Bacteria reduction for the James increased by 4%, for a total of 61%, meeting state standards. To continue raising the river’s reduction score, additional funding for investments in livestock fencing, sewer and stormwater infrastructure, as well as individual actions from the community is needed.

Bacteria levels tend to fluctuate quickly, but are said to be the highest before and during heavy rain, when E. coli and other fecal bacteria can pose serious health risks for swimmers. Pet waste, combined sewer overflows and unfenced livestock are major sources of bacteria in the James River.

The populations of some fish in the central region’s body of water have been overfished, according to the report. The James River is said to act as a nursery for Juvenile Stripped Bass and it is important to protect the nursery habitat with careful management to ensure the recovery of that population.

In the past few years, rising temperatures and a significant increase in recreational fishing have impacted population rates. To combat the problem, an emergency declaration has been enacted and extended into 2024 on the sizing limit of recreational fishing for striped bass.

According to the association, underwater grasses have expanded to their highest total number on record to 60%, a 14% increase, and tidal water quality has returned to its recent high of 62%, an 8% increase.

“The State of the James demonstrates a strong correlation between funding by Virginia in clean
water programs and the health of the James River. The recent historic level of investments in
wastewater and agricultural pollution controls are already paying dividends for the millions of
Virginians who rely on the James River,” said Nathan Thomson, Lead Policy Advocate for JRA.

Click here to learn more of the current state of the James River.