DEQ study targets contaminated water in James

By Andy Jenks - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Environmental experts have a warning about what's in the James River.

For years, the Department of Environmental Quality has investigated E-Coli bacteria in the James, particularly in one spot down river that continues to grow in popularity.

Kelvis Tucker fishes the James River near Rocketts Landing. He finds it relaxing, even though he knows all about the risks in the water.

"I'm aware of what's going on as far as the water, all of the whatever contamination that's going on," Tucker said.

The spot is just steps away from the confluence of the James and Gillies Creek, a notorious tributary that pumps bacteria filled runoff into a part of the James that is seeing development.

It was revealed today that 95% of the water flowing from the creek fails to meet current water quality standards for recreational use. The DEQ has spent several years educating the public on the dangers.

"People shouldn't really be swimming in it or doing too much recreation because of that possibility of having bacterial contamination," said Bill Hayden of the DEQ.

The main issue is that Gillies Creek carries not only storm water, but sewage from time to time because of the way Richmond's wastewater systems are connected.

"So when you have a lot of rainfall, it overwhelms the storm water system, it can run into the sewer system, and then basically have an overflow of sewage into the river," Hayden said.

The DEQ is forming a plan to reduce the bacteria. Estimates put the cost of complete safety between $230 and $300 million. The process will likely take years. But until it's over, Kelvis will still cast his line, right here.

"Until they put signs up that say you can't fish out here at all," Tucker said.

Not all sections of the river are so bad. The DEQ says the water appears to be improving upstream in the Huguenot Bridge area. The DEQ is accepting public comments on plans for the James until August 2nd.

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