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The James River Association’s James River Watch Program Keeps River Users Informed

 James River Watch releases real-time river results to the public on a weekly basis thanks to volunteers and partners across the watershed.




Every Memorial Day since 2013, the James River Association has kicked off their annual water quality monitoring program to help keep swimmers, paddlers, and boaters informed about river conditions before they get on the river.

This program, better known as James River Watch, releases real-time river results to the public on a weekly basis thanks to volunteers and partners across the watershed.

“For over a decade the James River Watch Program has been helping to inform community members about river conditions before they go out to enjoy the river,” said Tom Dunlap, James Riverkeeper for JRA.

Approximately 100 volunteers will monitor water quality at 38 sites across the watershed from Memorial Day through Labor Day this year. In addition to these crucial volunteers, JRA also relies on essential partnerships with Rivanna Conservation Alliance, American Water, Virginia State University, Virginia Master Naturalist-Peninsula Chapter, Appomattox River Company and Twin River Outfitters to carry out the program.

James River Watch volunteers take water samples every Thursday to track measurements of water temperature, air temperature, turbidity (or cloudiness), conductivity and bacteria. High levels of fecal coliform bacteria can indicate presence of pathogens harmful to human health, which can affect river user safety.

These measurements are updated and displayed every Friday via the program’s online platform. Additionally, the platform displays stage and flow readings, as well as predictions compiled in real time from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and United States Geological Survey stream gauges.

Thanks to the careful design of the interactive map, James River Watch acts as a quick and easy reference for river users to determine recent river conditions all in one place. River lovers can be the first to know when results are posted every Friday by signing up for a weekly newsletter, typically sent on Friday afternoons or evenings throughout James River Watch season.

During the 2023 river season, James River Watch revealed a 82% bacteria pass rate with 12 sites passing 100% of the time. These sites include Riveredge Park in Lynchburg, the James River at the boat launch in the town of Scottsville, Robious Landing Park, Pony Pasture and Hugeont Flatwater in Richmond, Deep Bottom Park, and the James River at Riverside Beach in Newport News.

“James River Watch is designed to be the go-to tool for James River users in the summer months, providing weekly updates on river conditions to help ensure a safe and enjoyable time on the water,” said Tom Dunlap, James Riverkeeper for JRA.


JRA strives to protect and connect people with the river, objectives that James River Watch certainly accomplishes. JRA also provides opportunities for river lovers to help reduce the amount of bacteria flowing to our waterways. Community members can sign up to join River Hero Homes by pledging to adopt easy, river-friendly behaviors at home. JRA’s Action Network provides a platform for river advocates to help secure clean water funding, and river rats can become an official RiverRat, JRA’s first line of defense for patrolling potential pollution sources.

The James River Watch program is partially funded by the Department of Environmental Quality Citizen Water Quality Monitoring Grant Program and the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund.

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Richard Hayes is the co-founder of RVAHub. When he isn't rounding up neighborhood news, he's likely watching soccer or chasing down the latest and greatest board game.