The James River Association is the voice of the James River; collectively, they are passionate advocates, scientists, engineers, educators and citizens. The organization’s two strategic goals are:
- keeping Virginia moving forward to fully implement the cleanup plans for the James River under the Chesapeake Bay Cleanup effort.
- helping communities realize the benefits from a healthy James River and support protecting it.
The James River begins in the Appalachian Mountains and flows 348 miles to Chesapeake Bay. It is one of the longest rivers in America that begins and ends in the same state, with 3 million Virginians living in the 10,000 square mile James River watershed. The first English Colony was built along its banks, at Jamestown, and the river became a highway for the colonists who spread out through Virginia, as tobacco crops were taking hold. That was only the beginning of its role in American and more specifically, Virginian history.
But the James River made headlines for a far different reason in 1975. A harmful chemical known as Kepone was found in the James River near Hopewell. It had been illegally dumped by workers at a Hopewell chemical plant since 1966. When the plant changed ownership, and the workers exhibited neurological damage, production of Ketone was halted and the state ordered the factory shut down. But the damage was already done and the James River became known as one of the most polluted American Rivers of its time.
The very next year, 1976, the James River Association came into being. In 40 years of persistent and determined work, the JRA has brought the James River from most-polluted status to most improved. In October 2019, the Association was recognized as the 2019 Thiess International River prize winner at the International Riversymposium in Brisbane, Australia. In the world of river stewardship, this is a high honor.
Because Kepone breaks down slowly in the environment, the consequences of the spill included a 13-year ban on commercial fishing, This devastated the industry and the community, economically and environmentally, but things are improving. The Daily Press reported in 2017 that a study found that Kepone levels in fish samples had dropped “exponentially” in at least a third of the fish population. The conclusion was the pesticide could be undetectable, or nearly so, in all samples by 2020 or 2025. Ketone remains in the river bed, however.
And so the work continues.
In April 2021, the James River Association joined with the Capital Region Land Conservancy (CRLC), in partnership with The Conservation Fund, and the City of Richmond, to enter a contract to buy 5.207 acres of property along Dock Street, riverfront property.
As the press release stated, “This exciting land acquisition will create one contiguous publicly accessible riverfront space and allow for the completion of the Virginia Capital Trail. It will also expand city-owned parkland in Richmond’s East End and enable the establishment of new river access and environmental education programs.”
Together with $1.1 million grant for tree planting program with the James River Buffer Program, and partnering with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in December 2020, a November 2020 release of thousands of freshwater mussels to clean the river’s waters and restore the ecosystem, and continued educational programs through webinars in 2020 and so much more, the James River Association has spoken well for its river and brought it back for Virginians to enjoy.
Written by Michele Gielis