- The Washington Times - Monday, June 11, 2007

The James River is only half as healthy as it could be, according to a report released yesterday by a nonprofit environmental group.

The James River Association gave the 340-mile-long estuary a 52 percent rating, with an average grade of C among the categories of wildlife, habitat, pollution, and restoration and protective actions.

However, the river is a leader in pollution reduction in comparison with other Chesapeake Bay tributaries, including the Potomac, York and Rappahannock rivers, said Bill Street, executive director of the James River Association.

“If we don’t continue to run forward with very strong actions, then America’s founding river will once again fall into decline,” Mr. Street said. “After every major rainstorm, we see the river turn brown with pollution-laden runoff.”

Efforts to restore the river received the lowest score in the association’s report.

“[The report] appears to be accurate. It does a good job of balancing the progress that’s been made and the areas that we still need progress,” said Bill Hayden, spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Quality.

The 45 counties and cities assessed within the James River’s 10,000-square-mile watershed received average grades of C for their use of low-impact development policies, such as clustering homes, protecting streams and building parking lots that reduce runoff.

Mr. Street said the key is to show developers that eco-friendly techniques can save money. For example, better grouping of residential areas can cut storm-water costs.

“Low-impact development is up to a local government. We certainly encourage it,” Mr. Hayden said. “The approach we’ve always taken is make as much progress as you can through voluntary effort.”

According to the report, three-quarters of developers in the watershed practice land-clearing and construction that do not comply with the state’s erosion- and sediment-control requirements.

Moreover, farms that allow cattle waste and excess fertilizer to run into the river add to the pollution.

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