Thursday, September 17, 2015

There’s Hardly any Lawn at this River Hero Home!

Mark and Sally Wittkofski live in Henrico, Virginia with their son Nick. All three are garden enthusiasts and love Richmond’s James River Park System. Mark is semi-retired and describes himself as self-employed in Residential Garden Maintenance. Sally is a Landscape Architect/Landscape Designer. Their son Nick is currently a Fellow at the Allegheny Mountain Institute learning about organic gardening and permaculture.

The Wittkofski household is a certified River Hero Home. They decided to become a River Hero Home because they have been practicing organic gardening for a number of years, but wanted to be connected with others in the community who can provide information and resources to help them become better stewards of the James River.

Nick is interested in sustainability and permaculture. He encouraged his parents to install more river-friendly practices and eliminate most of their lawn by planting native plants in its place. There are two rain barrels at their house that collect about 70% of the rainwater from their roof. The other drain flows into a series of ditches, berms and rain water collection ponds to keep the water in the yard, rather than flowing into the sewer. Since most of their lawn is gone, the rain water is soaked up by native trees and shrubs.

The Wittkofskis want to encourage their friends and neighbors to eliminate the use of chemical herbicides and pesticides in their yards. These chemicals are dangerous to wildlife and have negative effects on the health of the James River. Instead, they encourage everyone to become a River Hero Home. Positive individual actions can result in a safer, cleaner environment for everyone. By installing river-friendly practices to prevent chemicals, bacteria from pet waste and sediment from entering local waterways, we can keep our river safe for recreation and clean for drinking water.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Education and Conservation are Key for this Lynchburg River Hero Home

David Stokes showing off vegetables from his
garden in front of a wall of climbing spinach
David Stokes lives in Lynchburg, Virginia a few miles from the James River with his wife Gail. He has certified his home as a River Hero Home and believes in helping educate the public on the importance of native plants and water conservation.

Even though David is retired, he is a very busy man! He is a certified Master Gardener and he volunteers much of his time educating the community about the importance of plants. Through the Master Gardener program, he works with DePaul Family Services to maintain a flower and vegetable garden to teach the importance of growing your own food and eating healthy. David also spends time at the Lynchburg Juvenile Detention Center where he works with teenagers planting a vegetable garden to grow produce for their meals. He is also president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 196, a member of the American Legion and on the Commanders Board at the Salem Veterans Administration.

Becoming a River Hero Home was a no brainer for David. He has seen changes, both good and bad, to the river over his lifetime and has spent many years enjoying the James. Since he has been recycling for over 45 years and his home is on well water, it seemed only natural to recycle his rain water too. The Stokes’ have rain barrels, rain cubes and a drip irrigation system installed at their home. He uses the water he collects to water his native plants and trees.

Rain cubes collect runoff from your roof when it rains.
And he sure does he have his system figured out! With a beautifully landscaped lawn full of native plants, as well as a vegetable garden, David needs quite a bit of water. With his current setup, a half an inch of rainfall allows him to collect over 900 gallons of free water!

David says it is important to practice what you preach. If you believe in conservation, then setting up a rain collection system is a great way to do your part to conserve water.  Using this water to help your native plants thrive also provides habitat for wildlife and improves water quality in the James River. 

Friday, September 4, 2015

Richmond River Condition Information – Brought to You by Dedicated Volunteers

By: Conor O’Donnell, Water Quality Intern for James River Association

The James River Association is now in its final week of water quality testing for the 2015 summer.  From the end of May to the beginning of September, the peak time for river recreation, volunteers have spent their Thursday and Friday mornings collecting and testing water at seven different sites in Richmond along the James River – Huguenot Flatwater, Pony Pasture, 42nd Street Rocks, Reedy Creek, Tredegar Flatwater, 14th Street Take-Out, and Rocket’s Landing. Volunteers tested these sites for E. coli bacteria, a standard test in determining whether a water source is safe for recreation. Sources of E. coli bacteria in the river include waste from wildlife, dogs, and livestock. Waste from Richmond's sewer system occasionally overflows into the James near downtown during heavy rains, acting as another source of E. coli. When we talk about whether the river is clean or dirty, the amount of E. coli in the water is one of our most useful indicators. 

In measuring for E. coli, our volunteers not only sought to maintain a health record of the James, but also to answer the question that is asked by many river-goers each day:  is this water safe to swim in?  The answer to that question is a resounding yes, with a big "unless...". The pattern that we’ve observed in our testing, is that the river is a very clean and safe place to swim, unless... it is raining or has rained in the past two days. E. coli levels spike during both small and large storms when rainwater washes E. coli into the river from sources such as animal waste and city sewage. Over the course of a few days, this pollution makes its way downstream and the level of E. coli bacteria in our section of the river decreases. This does mean, however, that the pollution that entered the river near us will negatively affect river-goers downstream of us, just as the waste of livestock above the Richmond area directly affects us when it rains upstream. That means that in working towards a clean and healthy James River, our actions and achievements must be the sum of many parts, not just a few - our efforts must stretch through the whole course of James, all 340 miles as well as its tributaries.

In an effort to make public all of our collected data, the James River Association developed the James River Watch, a website that details testing results not only from our seven testing sites in Richmond, but also from other testing sites all along the course of the James and even some of its tributaries. The website is updated each week with new data, and will show you a 'green light' if it is currently safe to swim, or a 'red light' if it is not. It is a great resource to check before going out to the river, whether you're swimming, boating, or fishing.

Our volunteers' efforts this summer are just one example of the many ways in which active citizens have involved themselves in the collaborative effort to protect, care for, and clean up our river. We would like to extend a personal thank you to both our volunteers and to all other organizations and active citizens that have dedicated their time to help make our river the special place that it is. Thank you!

Visit James River Watch to learn more about river condition:

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Volunteering for the James

At the James River Association, we love our volunteers. People just like you give their precious time to help us create a cleaner, healthier watershed. Meet Ivy McCarron who works for Lynchburg’s YMCA. Ivy and her colleagues participated in our Self-Directed Trash Cleanup program. Here’s what she had to say about her experience:

When we were offered the chance to volunteer for community projects, I have to say that there is nothing anything else that we would rather be doing as the YMCA of Central Virginia Young Professionals Group.  As working professionals within the YMCA, we are naturally interested in wellness.  On our time off from being busy directors and coordinators, we really enjoy running and biking on the Black Water Creek Trail. 

The James River runs along the Black Water Creek Trail right through Lynchburg’s downtown near the location of our Downtown Branch.  When one of our members recommended doing a river cleanup, we jumped at the opportunity!  Our YMCA group had a total of 13 volunteers ranging from 22 to 35 years of age.  We spent about four hours cleaning the trail, resulting in five bags of trash gathered; including an old car tire. That day we also ran into a group of our YMCA Summer Camp kids who were on a nature walk.  We walked and sang camp songs with them along the way! 

Volunteering for our community is always fun and rewarding for us, but the James River cleanup was unique not only because it cleaned up somewhere we all enjoy on our time off, but we had yet another opportunity to share with the next generation the benefits of service to our community.

Are you interested in cleaning up the James? If so, register for the 16th Annual James River Regional Cleanup on Saturday 9/12. There are 14 locations throughout the watershed, so where ever you live, you can jump in and help out!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

September is for River Lovers

River Hero Homes receive a colorful garden flag 
September marks the beginnings of crisp mornings, kids going back to school and the fall planting season. At the James River Association it also means River Hero Home month. All month long, we will be sharing river-friendly tips, highlighting our partners and introducing you to River Hero Homes in our watershed.

Let’s start with the basics. What is a River Hero Home?  If you work to reduce runoff from your yard through a river-friendly practice like installing a rain barrel or planting native plants, you’re eligible to sign up for our River Hero Homes program. All you need to do is commit to a few simple, every day actions like picking up after your pet or smart lawn maintenance. Once you do that, fill out a form and send us a picture of your river-friendly practice and we’ll take care of the rest. River Hero Homes certification includes a membership card that gives you discounts at local home and garden shops, a colorful lawn flag and an invitation to our annual River Hero Home Lawn Party.

Rain barrels capture stormwater from your roof, 
which you can use to water your plants
Want to know more? Follow us on Facebook to learn about ways you can protect the James at home. Check our blog to see posts about homeowners like you who are turning their lawns into river-friendly havens for wildlife. Join us at the annual James River Regional Cleanup to show your dedication to a healthy James River - there are 14 locations throughout the watershed, so where ever you live, you can get involved.

And of course, we invite you to certify your home as a River Hero Home

Native plants filter stormwater runoff and provide habitat for wildlife

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

It Happens

by Ryan Corrigan, JRA's Director of Marketing and Membership

It happens. After all, when you take your best friend on long strolls through the park, sometimes nature calls. Sometimes, in fact, that’s why you’re taking your best friend on a long stroll. And before I go any further let me publicly state I too go on long strolls with my best friend. And nature always calls, which is why the James River Association is encouraging pet owners to “scoop the poop.”

The James River Association has installed 30 pet waste stations throughout City of Richmond parks, the James River Park System and Chesterfield County parks. Thanks to a Department of Environmental Quality grant funded by the US Environmental Protection Agency, it’s now super convenient for pet owners to clean up. This ultimately helps improve the water quality in the James River. How does cleaning up after our pets help the James? Super question.

Pet waste contains high levels of bacteria, such as E. coli, so when it rains, bacteria is washed into local waterways and storm drains making its way into the James River. Bacteria in waterways can negatively impact wildlife and be detrimental to human health. Picking up after our pets is an easy way to reduce this form of pollution.

So next time you’re out on a stroll with your furry friend, please remember to scoop the poop!

By the way, if you’re walking your cat, more power to you.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Volunteering for the James

Andrew Phillips is a 27 year old salesman and a resident of Richmond. He volunteered in July for the Richmond James River Splash & Dash to help out with this fun event and to interact with other people who also share a passion for the river. When he’s not volunteering, Andrew enjoys kayaking, fishing and trail running. When asked why he would encourage others to volunteer, Andrew says it is a great way to meet new people, swap river stories and do something to impact society in a positive way.

Here’s what Andrew had to say about his experience at the James River Splash & Dash:

Volunteering for the Richmond James River Splash & Dash started around 11:00 am for me. Unsure of where to go or who to help, I was quickly approached by another fellow volunteer who asked, “Can you help carry this water jug to the truck?” At that moment it was on. From unloading the stage for the band to helping set up advertisement signs, I felt like I had a significant impact on the preparation for the event. When asked to be the lead for the beer truck, my heart skipped a beat. I have always wondered what it was like to be on the “other side” of the table, and let me tell you, it was a treat! Explaining to fellow volunteers the procedure and system we had in place for the beer truck was empowering. As runners finished their race, my team was instrumental in rewarding them with a tasty libation to fill their gullet.

Volunteering is addicting.

Are you interested in volunteering? If so, visit our volunteer center to learn more!