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James River Association honors river stewards in honor of 50th anniversary of Clean Water Act

James Changer Awards are given annually to individuals and organizations who have gone above and beyond in their commitment to the James River watershed, including those who protect the James, connect people to the James, support the James, and volunteer for the James.

Trevor Dickerson

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In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, the James River Association (JRA) held its 2022 Annual Meeting this week, which took place at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery’s West Creek location. As part of the event, JRA presented five “James Changer” awards to community members that made remarkable impacts on the James River over the past year.

James Changer Awards are given annually to individuals and organizations who have gone above and beyond in their commitment to the James River watershed, including those who protect the James, connect people to the James, support the James, and volunteer for the James.

Award recipients included John and Dan Mays, the proprietors of Twin River Outfitters and Alleghany Outdoors, and longtime partners of JRA. Over the past decade, they have supported several JRA volunteer programs and played a leadership role in planning and developing the Upper James River Water Trail in collaboration with local governments and organizations.

Filmmakers and adventure partners Justin Black, Will Gemma, Stephen Kuester, Andrew Murray, and Dietrich Teschner were awarded for their dedication to the James through visionary environmental documentary, Headwaters Down, which chronicles a paddling trip from the headwaters of the James to Richmond. The film highlights several conservation issues and calls-to-action to protect the James, and has won several awards at film festivals in 2022 including the RVA Environmental Film Festival and the Richmond International Film Festival.

Robertnette Williams took home an award for his continued partnership and advocacy of JRA’s Walkable Watershed project in Petersburg, VA. As a long-established resident of the Lakemont neighborhood, Mr. Williams joined the project in 2015, and was crucial to ensuring his fellow neighbors’ voices were heard. He has participated in everything from grassroots flyering efforts to drainage studies and project implementation to tackle stormwater and flooding issues in the Lakemont community. He remains an integral part of the project’s efforts today.

Senator Emmett Hanger was awarded for his commitment to the Chesapeake Bay and Virginia’s agricultural industry. Since Senator Hanger joined the Senate Finance Committee in 2004, over $2.7 billion have been invested in clean water programs like the Water Quality Investment Fund and the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund. This past General Assembly session, with Senator Hanger’s dogged support, Virginia finally reached an elusive goal and historic milestone for the Virginia Agricultural Cost-Share Program by fully funding the state’s share of the program’s needs for the first time in its history.

Awarded for their extraordinary support, The Cabell Foundation granted JRA an incredible $2 million gift towards the organization’s $25 million James Changer Campaign. JRA has been grateful to enjoy a very long standing relationship with The Cabell Foundation, and $1 million of the gift was designated to be used as a challenge grant which provided JRA new opportunity to inspire potential donors. The Cabell Foundation’s generosity will enhance and increase JRA’s ability to serve more students across the watershed at River Centers in Lynchburg, Richmond, and Williamsburg.

In addition to presenting James Changing accolades to those who have helped to improve the health of the river, JRA is also celebrating the CWA anniversary by highlighting the impact of the river on members of the community through their Stories by the James project. A storytelling platform that features diverse voices sharing how the river has influenced their lives, Stories by the James aims to create connection and understanding by driving home the point that while we may all have different backgrounds and experiences, the river is a common current running through all our stories, and bringing us together.

“The Clean Water Act has been transformational for the health of our waterways, especially the James River,” said Bill Street, JRA’s CEO. “50 years ago, the River was one of the most polluted rivers in the nation, suffering from untreated sewage and unchecked chemical dumping. The water was too toxic for local wildlife and risky for recreation. Five decades of hard work and investment later, the James is once again a major attraction for fishing, swimming, and enjoying the river. This is in large part due to the Clean Water Act, as well as organizations like JRA and our dedicated community members and James Changers.”

River lovers can currently take action to help ensure strong state water funding in honor of the CWA by clicking here. To find out more information about how the James River Association has taken critical actions to promote conservation and responsible stewardship of the James River for more than 45 years, visit thejamesriver.org.

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Trevor Dickerson is the Editor and Co-Founder of RVAHub.