Officials explain James River warnings and rules

If the water level reaches 9 feet, only professionals are allowed out on the water.
Published: May. 31, 2022 at 8:01 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - If the river hits five feet, everyone on the water needs to wear a life vest. If the water level reaches nine feet, only professionals are allowed out on the water.

“People need to realize that the water is dangerous, especially at 9-foot,” said Mark Irwin, who is part of the Richmond Fire Department Water Rescue team.

There is no clear guidance on how river level regulations are enforced for tubers or swimmers, only recommendations.

The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, Henrico Fire, and Richmond Police Department either patrol the land along the water or have officers on the water but say they can’t write tickets or stop people from going in the water for tubing or swimming.

The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources confirmed that they do not have any state regulations for people on the water for recreational tubing. People are expected to follow the rules on their own merit and not go in the water if levels are too high.

The water level is typically lower in the summer and higher during the cooler months.

“We’re not getting big spring rains and big soaking winter storms, so the level drops...but at the moment, it’s early in the season, and the river is really high,” explained Andrew Freiden.

High water levels usually happen several days after a big rainfall.

“We can have beautiful, hot, dry weather and then the river level can be rising because basically where we are, we see the water a few days after it rains in the blue ridge out into the mountains,” said Freiden.

The parts of the James River where there are class 4 rapids intensify when the water is high.

“When the river is as high as it is that churn, that undertow is very hard to escape,” Freiden stated.

Usually, if the water is brown and muddy, levels are too high. You can always find river levels on the National Weather Service website at

Copyright 2022 WWBT. All rights reserved.

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