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Nature's Bounty State of the James River: Habitat
Riparian Forest
Riparian Forest

The river’s important habitat indicators also reflected the ongoing challenges and some successes for the river. Both stream health and tidal water quality decreased slightly from 2 years ago. Conversely, underwater grasses, which depend on clean water to get sunlight to grow, continued their increase and for the first time in decades were found in the mainstem of the tidal James above Newport News, in addition to their strong resurgence in some of the James’ tidal tributaries.

Underwater Grasses
James River stream condition
Tidal Water Quality

Underwater Grasses - 48%
(8% 2-Year Change)

Underwater grasses are continuing to increase in parts of the tidal James River, now covering 48% of the 3,450-acre goal set for the James. The presence of these grasses, which provide essential habitat for juvenile fish, crabs and waterfowl, is a positive sign for river health. Although underwater grasses are thriving above the falls in the James, as well as in some tidal tributaries, as of 2010, there was still an absence of beds in the main stem of the James from Richmond to Newport News. However, aerial photography and ground surveys in 2011 found underwater grasses growing on the main stem tidal James for the first time in decades. In order for underwater grasses to get the sunlight they need to grow, additional pollution reductions are needed to improve water clarity.

Riparian Forests - 80%
(No 2-Year Change)

The JRA benchmark is to have 85% of the streambanks in the watershed to be forested. Available data shows that approximately 80% of that goal has been reached. Riparian forests play a crucial role in aquatic ecosystems, providing food and habitat. They are essential for streambank stabilization, erosion control and filter pollution from runoff before it can enter a water body. As development continues throughout much of the watershed, the threat to riparian forests will also increase. Greater protection and restoration efforts are needed to increase riparian forests along streams, creeks and the James River.

Stream Condition – 60%
(-1% 2-Year Change)

There are 15,000 miles of tributaries that flow into the James River. Unhealthy streams transport nutrients and sediment into the river and play an important role in the overall health of the James. In 2010, 60% of the James River’s tributaries were classified as being in good or excellent condition. While better than many other portions of the state, this is still a long way from meeting the goal of having 100% of all streams and creeks classified as being in good or excellent condition. Although many tributaries are in poor condition, recent data has shown a decrease in the number of streams that are severely stressed. Continued restoration efforts, careful land planning and management, education, and behavior changes will be necessary to return all of the James River’s tributaries to good health.

Tidal Water Quality –54%
(-2% 2-Year Change)

Dissolved oxygen, algae levels and water clarity are important factors of overall water quality. On average, the James River meets the water quality criteria for these parameters just 54% of the time. Dissolved oxygen, which is essential for the survival of fish and other aquatic organisms, is typically at a healthy level in the James 96% of the time. However, algae growth and water clarity remain problematic within much of the tidal James. Water clarity, which is essential for the growth of underwater grasses, is of significant concern, meeting the criteria less than 10% of the time. Both algae growth and poor water clarity are the result of excessive nutrient and sediment pollution in the water.


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For More Information, Contact:

Gabe Silver

James River Association

9 South 12th Street, 4th Floor

Richmond, VA 23219

Phone: 894-788-8811

[email protected]