Check E.coli levels of James River swim spots

Posted at 12:48 PM, May 31, 2012
and last updated 2012-05-31 12:52:55-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) Here comes summer, and many will flock to the riverfront to seek relief—but how good is water quality at your favorite river spot?

Not everyone has access to a cool, chlorinated, Escherichia-coli-free swimming pool, but that’s why city residents dive into popular spots along the 348-mile-long James River that flows through the city.

Right now the river is high due a lot of recent rain. E.coli levels are likely higher at swim spots after heavy rainfall.

If you want to know how the water quality of your favorite swimming hole checks out before making a splash, you can check with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

They maintain a webpage of bacteria results at popular swimming spots such as Pony Pasture, 42nd Street, Texas Avenue Beach, Hollywood Rapids at Belle Isle and Tredegar Iron Works.

Measurements were taken most recently on May 21, 2012. It appears that all river spots tested were good, below the acceptable levels.

In an interview last year, Mark Alling, the water-monitoring manager at the Piedmont Regional Office of DEQ, said they test for E. coli since it is the easiest, least expensive and most accurate indicator.

The presence of E. coli can indicate that there are other harmful strains of viruses and bacteria.

The results are measured and listed as “colonies per 100 milliliters of water.”

What you really need to know is that the state standard for safe water is 235–which is noted in the photographs above by the red line.

Of the five popular spots, Pony Pasture has the best track record. The E. coli levels increase further east of this spot, in part because there are more urban runoff streams coming into the James that carry wildlife manure and pet manure, said Alling.

Also, the city of Richmond has an older sewer system. When it rains heavily, the rainwater overflow goes into the same line as the city’s sewer line. This results in an overflow that pushes a combination of storm water and sewage into the river.

Only two other cities in Virginia have this combined sewer overflow (CSO) system: Lynchburg and Alexandria.

“There are over 30 combined sewer overflow systems that go into streams and the James River,” Alling said. “Further downstream, you hit more of this: sewer and runoff.”

There is a CSO located just upstream of Texas Beach at Hampton Street.

Then when you head downriver near Hollywood Rapids and Tredegar Iron Works there are a lot of wildlife in the area that contribute E.coli bacteria to the river, said Alling.

Alling recommended that swimmers “Consider whether they want to swim a couple or three days after a rain event.”

Alling did emphasize that all spots along the river, “…are all very good and excellent for swimming, fishing and recreation.”

Swimmers can check the latest results at DEQ.