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Some fishing along James River unaware of 'unprecedented' sewage spill

Fisher on sewage spill: 'That’ll probably keep me from keeping anything that I’m catching'
Posted at 7:18 PM, Jul 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-31 19:21:46-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Three days after health officials began warning people to avoid swimming, wading and tubing on the James River, some are just learning about the "unprecedented" sewage spill earlier in the week that promoted the alert.

Daniel Reed was one of the several people out fishing on the river from along the shores of Rocketts Landing Saturday.

“It’s just fun to get out and be out of the house and get fresh air and sun," Reed explained.

Reed said that he had not heard that the fish he was trying to catch were swimming potentially contaminated water.

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) on Friday extended an advisory for swimmers or those looking to enjoy recreational activities along a 12-mile stretch of the James River after 300,000 gallons of raw sewage was leaked into Tuckahoe Creek on Tuesday.

A 40-inch pipe ruptured at the Goochland County Department of Public Utilities, leaking the raw, undiluted sewage into a ditch near River Road that leads to Tuckahoe Creek, according to the state agency. Officials called the spillage “unprecedented” since similar events tend to happen during precipitation events that disrupt the sewer systems.

"I didn’t know about this sewage leak, but that’ll probably keep me from keeping anything that I’m catching for a little while before they say everything clear," Reed said.

RELATED: People, pets urged to stay out of James River after 'unprecedented' sewage spill

Map of waterways affected by sewage leak

“We do know we are picking up high levels of bacteria in Tuckahoe Creek itself so we know there's a potential for it to move into the James River,” VDH’s Waterborne Hazards Program Coordinator Margaret Smigo said. “It’s difficult for us to fully understand how much of that sewage is making its way into the James, and that results in our need to be conservative with respect to the advisory.”

Health officials urged everyone to refrain from swimming, tubing, wading and whitewater kayaking in the river, until bacterial levels are completely gone.

That is something Reed said he does not plan on doing.

“We have a couple of pools at the apartment, so if I want to go swim, I’ll go over there," Reed said.

VDH officials said it is OK to fish or boat along the river. However, it is still unclear if it is safe to eat the fish that you catch. Most fishers said they were not going to take any chances.

"Hopefully it doesn’t get on your hands when you’re taking the fish off," Reed said.

James River
James River

According to VDH, swallowing contaminated water can cause gastrointestinal illnesses, with vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain or fever.

Contact with the contaminated water also can cause infections of the ears, nose, throat and skin.

To prevent recreational water illnesses due to exposure to sewage release events, VDH said people should:

  • Avoid contact with the waterbodies noted above and observe advisory signage posted at waterbody access points.
  • Avoid any area of the waterbody where there is water with a foul odor, dead or dying fish, or discolored water.
  • Promptly wash skin with soap and water if you cannot avoid contact with water in the vicinity.
  • Seek medical care and notify your practitioner of the waterbody exposure if you experience adverse health effects after contact with the waterbody.

VDH officials said the advisory will be lifted once bacteria levels in these waters are safe for contact again.