Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Great Return of The Great Return

In 2012, Eric McKay and Patrick Murtaugh, co-owners of Hardywood Park Craft Brewery took their inaugural trip on the James with us to check out our James River Ecology School. We spent an afternoon touring the James River and discussing several projects we had focused on, including a third Atlantic sturgeon spawning reef. On this journey, we shared why the James was as important to our history as it was to our future. And during the trip we found out more about these pioneering entrepreneurs and how this founding river  was a key factor in their decision to build a business from scratch in Richmond.

Little did we know that a few months later we would be celebrating Richmond’s victory as Outside magazine’s “Best River Town in America” with the rest of the city over a few celebratory craft beers at Hardywood. The relationship between clean water and clean beer solidified in both of our minds.

Shortly after Eric and Patrick came to our office with a presentation and a sweet surprise. They had created a west coast IPA inspired by our efforts to increase the number of sturgeon in the James.  “The Great Return “was released in October 2013. Described as bold, resinous and bursting with bright grapefruit aroma, this IPA is a tribute to the decades of hard work by conservationists to restore the James River as a bounty of vibrant aquatic life, eco-friendly recreational activity, and fresh brewing water.

In their commitment to river conservation, Hardywood contributes money from the sale of this amazing beer to The James River Association, to support our mission to be the guardian of the James River. The Great Return has proved to be so popular that Hardywood is now brewing and distributing it in several states year round, not just as a seasonal offering as originally intended.

In Eric and Patrick’s opinion the success of The Great Return is directly paralleled to the success of our river.

“Working closely with the James River Association has really been an eye opening experience for us. It has given us an inside look at how far the river has come in the past several years, how far it has yet to improve and what we can do to help. The James River is not only a major source of recreational activity in this city but the primary source of drinking water and, in our case, brewing water. Raising funds and awareness through sales of The Great Return is one small way we can do our part and help the James River Association’s efforts in protecting America's Founding River.

So next time you are in search of a beer that not only tastes great but also strives to preserve and protect America’s Founding River, head to Hardywood for “The Great Return".

Cheers to clean water! 

Friday, July 24, 2015

A Turning Point for the James

Today marks the 40th anniversary of a turning point in the health of the James River.  On July 24th, 1975 Life Sciences Products in Hopewell, Virginia was closed by the Commonwealth of Virginia due to the health impacts of its product, Kepone, a toxic insecticide.

What made the pesticide so effective also caused harm to the workers and the river. In 1975, Kepone made national headlines as workers fell ill from exposure to the neurotoxin and production was halted by the state. A few months later, the state also shut down the James River to fishing for the same reason – the river ecology was also impacted.

Because Kepone slowly breaks down in the environment, the commercial fishing ban lasted for 13 years, devastating the river’s fishing industry and contributing to the James River being identified as one of the most polluted rivers in America at the time.  Today, Kepone still rests in the sediment bed of the James, slowly being covered up year after year and reducing the risk to aquatic life, but it was still found in fish tissue until testing stopped in 2009. 

Photo Credit: Richmond Times Dispatch
In the year following the Kepone shutdown, the James River Association was formed to be a voice for the river and the people who care about it.  Over our history, we have seen tremendous improvements in the river’s health.  As a result, the James is now consistently graded as one of the healthier major tributaries to the Chesapeake Bay, and the river is a major recreation and tourist draw for the communities along it. 

With a healthier river, Richmond was named the Best River Town Ever by Outside Magazine and its award winning James River Park System is the largest tourist attraction in town.  In Hopewell, the city is now working with neighboring localities and partners to build riverfront trails, access points and amenities so that people can enjoy the very waters that were closed forty years ago. Because the river today enhances our quality of life and local tourism, in addition to supplying our drinking water and supporting commercial interests, it means that we have even more at stake in protecting it. 

But recent events remind us that toxic spills can still happen on our rivers if we are not vigilant. The Dan River coal ash spill, the Charleston, West Virginia chemical spill, and the Lynchburg oil train spill again made headlines across the country. Furthermore, in the past year we have also seen spills in Hopewell that caused fish kills and that shut down the City’s drinking water forcing businesses and schools to close.  These events clearly demonstrate that while we have made much progress, our river is still at risk.

Today, there are more than 1,100 chemical storage sites in the James River basin that hold over 80% of Virginia’s registered toxic chemicals. Billions of gallons of coal ash sit on the banks of the river in unlined storage ponds. Millions of gallons of highly volatile crude oil travel the railroads along the banks of the river every week.   

We are heartened by the recent steps taken to address these concerns, and now Governor McAuliffe and his administration have the opportunity to secure a healthier future for the James River.

Crude Oil Transport by Rail – On the anniversary of the Lynchburg oil spill, three major advances were announced:  the Governor’s Rail Safety and Security Task Force recommendations including increased rail inspections, Senators Warner and Kaine legislation to accelerate the use of safer rail cars and USDOT regulations for crude oil transport. The Governor must now ensure that his task force recommendations are fully implemented.

Coal Ash Storage – The US Environmental Protection Agency issued their first ever coal ash storage requirements while utilities in South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee committed to storing coal ash in fully lined and monitored facilities.  Governor McAuliffe has the opportunity to ensure that Virginia’s rivers have the same protection as rivers in our neighbors to the south.

Toxic Chemical Storage – This year, the Virginia General Assembly called for a study ensuring that chemical storage in the Commonwealth is conducted in a manner that protects human health and the environment. However, a James River watershed risk assessment, completed by Environmental Stewardship Concepts, found that there are substantial gaps in the information needed to accurately understand the risks facing our waters. Governor McAuliffe can make sure that we have the necessary data and adequate safeguards for the many chemicals stored along the river and discharged into it.

On this 40th anniversary of the bold action taken to address one of the worst toxic contamination events in Virginia, we urge Governor McAuliffe to continue Virginia’s leadership and commitment to the health of its waters and its citizens.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Restoring Historic Riverfront in Powhatan

Some of the many volunteers who gave their time to this project
Through a Virginia Department of Forestry grant, the James River Association (JRA) partnered with the Chesapeake Conservancy and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament to enhance and restore the riverfront along the James River at St. Francis/St. Emma, also known as Historic Belmead, in Powhatan, VA. 

Belmead was originally built as a plantation home along the banks of the James River. In the late 1800s, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament transformed the property into two private schools for African American and Native American students. Unfortunately, financial setbacks caused the schools to close in the 1970s and most of the historic buildings to be demolished. In 2011, this historic 2,265-acre property was listed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

Doug Audley from the Department of Forestry
 shows volunteers how to properly plant a tree seedling 
JRA and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation both hold a conservation easement on 1,000 acres of land along the riverbank and throughout the years have worked closely with the Sisters to protect and enhance this historic property’s riverfront.

Over the course of five workdays this spring, 89 volunteers spent 342 hours of their time planting 1,500 native Virginia trees along a half-mile of James River-front. Plantings along the banks of waterways (riparian buffers) are important for three major reasons. First, they filter runoff that could include sediment and excess nutrients that flow off the land. Second, they provide wildlife habitat along the river corridor. And lastly, they reduce erosion by holding the soil along the banks in place. Even if your home does not border a waterway, trees are an important feature for any property because they reduce stormwater runoff and provide aesthetic value. Tree canopies capture and store rainfall and reduce soil erosion. They take up a large amount of water from the soil and provide important habitat for wildlife.
Planting 1,500 trees

Native Virginia trees planted at Belmead include:

River Birch (Betula nigra)
Black Walnut (Juglans nigra)
Yellow Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)
Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)
Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)
Pin Oak (Quercus palustris)
Willow Oak (Quercus phellos)
Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)

Many thanks go out to the volunteers who gave their time to this project. We couldn’t have done it without you!

If you are interested in projects like this, visit JRA’s Volunteer Center to become a volunteer today!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Grapevine Bridge Access Site is a Finalist for Better Housing Coalition Golden Hammer Award

The Grapevine Bridge river access site is a finalist for a Better Housing Coalition Golden Hammer Award! 

The Golden Hammer Awards celebrate thoughtful revitalization of Greater Richmond’s neighborhoods and recognizes the best residential, adaptive reuse, new construction, and community placemaking projects in Greater Richmond. The Grapevine Bridge river access site is a finalist in the "Placemaking" project category. Awards will be presented May 21st, 2015 during TransformRVA at the Omni Hotel. 

Vote for your favorite projects here!

The Grapevine Bridge river access site opened to the public in November 2014 and provides low-impact fishing, canoe, and kayak access on the Chickahominy River in eastern Henrico County. 

 The effort to enhance the site began in early 2014 when a concept plan for the site was developed by James River Association staff and numerous volunteer events were held to beautify and improve the site for public enjoyment. Improvements include a trail and boardwalk, canoe launch, benches, and interpretive signage for the Chickahominy Water Trail, a segment of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. 

The project is a collaboration between the James River Association, Virginia Department of Transportation, Henrico County, and National Park Service. In addition to being the guardian of the James River, the James River Association works to connect communities to the James River and its tributaries for quality of life and economic benefits. To learn more about the James River Association's public access work visit www.jrava.org.

Friday, April 24, 2015

2015 Poster Contest

The results are in from the fifth annual “What a Healthy River Means to Me” poster contest.  Middle school students in the City of Richmond, City of Lynchburg, City of James City County, Henrico County and Chesterfield County that are situated within five miles of the James River  were invited to illustrate “What a Healthy River Means to Me”.  

This year we had nearly 400 students submit entries that depicted what a healthy river means to them

1st Place:
Gabrielle Schofield
Teacher: Donald Mugford
Tomahawk Creek Middle School, Chesterfield County

  2nd Place:
Conner True
Teacher: Naomi Swyers
Elizabeth Davis Middle School, Chesterfield County

 3rd Place:
Chloe Adams
Teacher: David Marshall
Tuckahoe Middle School, Henrico County

4th Place
Amanda Krepps
Teacher: Theresa Caraher
Robious Middle School, Chesterfield County

Honorable Mentions:

Annisa Ruff
Teacher: Mr. Bearman
Lucille M. Brown Middle School, City of Richmond

Catherine Nelli
Teacher: Whitleigh Wilhelmi
Tuckahoe Middle School, Henrico County

Jill Gomes
Teacher: Whitleigh Wilhelmi
Tuckahoe Middle School, Henrico County

Katrin Gaber
Teacher: David Marshall
Tuckahoe Middle School, Henrico County

Zoe Manring
Teacher: Whitleigh Wilhelmi
Tuckahoe Middle School, Henrico County

Jaelen Brown
Teacher: Mr. Bearman
Lucille M. Brown Middle School, City of Richmond
JRA would like to congratulate the winners and thank all the students and teachers who showed us "What a Healthy River Means to Me"!

This poster contest was made possible through a generous donation by a long-time JRA member and James River Advocate.  Thank you so much for your continued support!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

2015 James RiverFest

This Saturday the 25th, the James River Association will be hosting the Fourth Annual James RiverFest at Eco Discovery Park in James City County. This years’ festival will have many new and exciting features sure to appeal to anyone who wants to learn more about preserving “our nation’s founding river”.

Have you ever wondered how long a Great Atlantic Sturgeon can grow to be, what a water footprint is, or how to properly escape an environmental fire?  This year learn these and much more as we focus on learning about our environment and how we can protect it for generations to come. 

Along with the James River Association and Eco Discovery Park, our friends at Historic Jamestowne, the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, Chippokes Plantation State Park, the Mariner’s Museum, James City County Fire Department, Stormwater and Parks and Recreation Divisions, and many more will be providing fun and educational activities for all ages.

Participate in one of Chesapeake Experience’s free kayak paddles down Powhatan Creek or take a free pontoon boat ride with Jamestown Boat Tours.  Eco Discovery Park will also have bikes, kayaks, and stand up paddleboards available to rent throughout the day. 

See Forever Wild’s live animal demonstration and a touch tank displaying critters found right in our river. Bring the kids to complete our ‘treasure map’ of questions to which only our educational tents can provide the answers - learn something new while having fun!

A selection of incredibly talented local artisans will be showcasing their work and we can’t forget the food! In Layman Terms and The UnXpected, both local bands, will be providing live music during the event.

Take advantage of this great opportunity to enjoy our river and all that it has to offer! We hope to see you there!

Monday, April 6, 2015

The James River: A Moving Pipeline

The path of James River through Virginia carries millions of gallons of life-sustaining nourishment daily. But are you aware that it is also a winding course for exploding toxic substances?

A now renowned region of North Dakota recognized by oil prospectors to hold a geologic formation called the "Bakken play" might conjure images of the days of the Wild West. Hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" -- a controversial method of extracting fossil fuels deep beneath the earth's surface -- is creating boom towns in this region. An influx of fracking and oil production workers has transformed sleepy, rural Dakota villages into booming industrialized towns overnight. The industry's goal: Get the oil out of the ground...and make it snappy. 
But then what? There is not endless storage capability for oil, so the industry is anxious to transport it to refineries quickly. Adequate pipeline infrastructure to meet this desire does not exist in the Bakken region, though, so the oil industry has taken to placing this crude oil into 1.5-mile long trains and shipping it across the continent daily. Federal regulations allow the industry to use antiquated shipping cars that have been documented for decades as being likely to spill and rupture during a derailment.

So what does oil from North Dakota have to do with the health & safety of James River, the protection of drinking water for many thousands of Virginians, and your community? And why has James River Association -- whose mission is to protect a river -- become so involved in this rail-based issue?
Please visit www.RiverAtRisk.org now to ensure solutions that benefit Virginians rather than the continuation of avoidable risks to our communities and irreplaceable water resources.

Unit trains carrying their hazardous and volatile cargo travel along a route that parallels, crosses and hovers over Virginia's James River for hundreds of miles over infrastructure that is minimally and self-inspected. Each month, as much as 15 million gallons or more of this highly toxic and explosive Bakken crude travels via rail line from West Virginia across the Commonwealth en route to Yorktown, Virginia. Bakken crude is not what you might typically visualize when you hear the term "crude oil". It is in fact a "light, sweet" crude oil that behaves much more like gasoline in its volatility, or likelihood to cause a dangerous explosion. Considering these similarities, I find it helpful to imagine the tankers to be loaded with millions of gallons of gasoline in forecasting possible derailment scenarios.

After reaching Yorktown, train tanker contents are offloaded onto tanker ships at a recently retrofitted transfer facility, and finally sent to refineries along the east coast. Lynchburg received national press last year for a derailment and alarming accounts of the April 30 derailment, James River oil spill and breathtaking explosion. Lynchburg, however, is by no means the only population center and resource along the oil-by-rail route. During its tour de Virginia, rail tankers travel through the heart of the towns of Covington and Clifton Forge -- along the James headwaters of Dunlap Creek and Jackson River. Upon the rail confluence with James River at its origin in Iron Gate, trains of Bakken crude make their winding, narrow path through Botetourt County, including the historic river towns of Eagle Rock, Buchanan, Natural Bridge Station and Glasgow. From the beautiful Allegheny Highlands, tankers of oil flow through the fabled Blue Ridge in full view of the James Face Wilderness Area and our National Forest lands -- through the most biologically diverse river gorge in the eastern United States. After straddling the Bedford-Amherst County line and passing through the Big Island industrial town and industrial facility, the trains roll into Lynchburg City to begin their snaking trek across the Piedmont of Central Virginia. Before approaching the fall line, Virginians can encounter black tankers of oil rolling through Galts Mill, Gladstone, Howardsville, Scottsville, the fabled Seven Islands, Bremo Power Plant, Goochland and Powhatan Counties, Richmond's James River Park System and Maymont Park. 

Bakken oil will cross innumerable creeks and tributaries on historic bridges, encountering countless public parklands, trails, schools, government buildings, hunting and fishing grounds and traversing hundreds of miles of private farmland, forest, neighborhoods, industries and businesses. If you look up while in Richmond City you may observe oil trains overhead from several vantage points, including Belle Isle, Texas Beach, Brown's Island, the Riverfront Canal Walk, Dock Street, the Virginia Capital Trail and Rocketts Landing. You can easily identify oil tankers by the bright red placards with the number "1267" aside each tanker.  Eastbound, loaded -- headed west, going back for more.

The February  2015 spill damaging the Kanawha River in West Virginia resulted in no fatalities and only a single injury. Thousands of citizens were evacuated and displaced, and two separate drinking water resources were threatened. One home was burnt to its foundation. Similarities between the West Virginia derailment to the Lynchburg derailment on April 30, 2014 include: Identical model of rail car (the "safer" CPC-1232), identical cargo (Bakken crude oil), identical rail carrier (CSX) and identical rail line (destined for Yorktown).

The Lynchburg events were not a fluke or a simple case of "bad luck". Derailments of these shipments have become routine occurrences in North America since 2013. Federal estimates forecast derailments to become exponentially more deadly, costly and frequent without intervention. As Virginians, we have the guaranteed right to waterways free of impairment. Your right to drinkable, swimmable and fishable water is unnecessarily jeopardized each time these unsafe trains are permitted to carry their cargo over and along our river.

If you share in our concern about Virginia's natural legacy and the river that will be left to our children, then please lend a voice to your voiceless river. Through JRA's Our River At Risk campaign, you will be provided with specific opportunities on how you can participate in securing a healthy James River for you, your family, your community and your future. Protections are possible and available but only with your involvement. 

Please visit www.RiverAtRisk.org now to ensure solutions that benefit Virginians rather than the continuation of avoidable risks to our communities and irreplaceable water resources.