Richmonders love the James River. It’s a source for attracting tourism, promoting recreational activities and programs and minor economic benefits for the city and residents, as well as VCU. But Richmond isn’t allowed to promote itself as the “River City” if it lets its sole river run to ruin.
The James River Association, a non-profit conservation organization, recently released a 20-page biennial report on the condition of the James River, giving the river a “C” for its current condition. There has been a two percent increase in the ranking, from 51 to 53 percent, over the last two years.
From my own trips down to river and Belle Isle, it’s obvious to see how simple litter (often in the form of PBR cans) from pedestrians affects the environment, both from a visual and ecological perspective. It collects on banks or drains and snags onto plants, affecting the aquatic wildlife that both the city and state have worked to improve over the past few years. It’s not enough to just tell people not to litter — we must also encourage them to clean up after others, whether in an organized, collective manner or during their own ventures throughout the area.
It’s less obvious, however, how the health of the James is affected by various forms of pollution. Of paramount concern for the JRA and wider Richmond community are the issues of excessive sediment runoff and poor water quality. With multiple levels of government contributing millions of dollars to maintenance and improvements, the James is an investment of and for our community. It would be a great benefit if the quality of the water became acceptable enough for people to be comfortable eating fish from there, both for the local community and the larger water feature that the James feeds into, the Chesapeake Bay.
When considering the health of our closest waterway, it’s important to remember that the James is over 300 miles long, stretching through a wide sloth of the state. The health of the James is a consideration and job for every town and city reliant on it, but especially Richmond.
It’s awkward to have the James be a functional tagline in every advertisement, picture or mention of the City of Richmond, while simultaneously tolerating such a low quality and ranking for it. The capitalist-consumer love we currently show toward the James — exploiting its beauty for profit and doing little to reconstitute it — is not out of the ordinary for how we care for common spaces, but it is uncouth and inappropriate.
Although a number of local and student organizations routinely do clean-ups at Belle Isle and on the banks of the James, the city needs to take a greater role in establishing the James as exemplative of the Richmond area: thriving, healthy and progressing.
The onus for succeeding in this task might seem minor and nearly inconsequential; it’s doubtful that anyone will ever attack the mayor or the city government for allowing their much acclaimed love to float on a “C,” but it is nevertheless imperative for citizens and their government to act as stewards of the environment, safeguarding and maintaining its health.
If it doesn’t help to think of it as a civic duty or responsibility, think of it as an economic investment. Whatever philosophical underpinning to aid in what should be an obvious task doesn’t matter; what does matter is that we get our “A.”