An Urban Oasis Threatened

People from all walks of life flock to the James River in Richmond, Virginia, to swim in clear water, kayak and raft the rapids, and relax and recharge along its rocky banks. But sewage spills and overflows continue to threaten recreation along the James River, highlighting the need for more work and investments to ensure it's a healthy place we all can enjoy.


[YOUNG MAN #1] I've swam here, I've fished here, I've brought my family here, my kids.

[YOUNG COUPLE #1] Cool off in the water or go swimming.

[TWO WOMEN] Relax, you know, find your center before you go back out into the world.

[YOUNG WOMAN #1] It's really beautiful to spend the day here. 

[TITLE] James River in Richmond: An Urban Oasis With a Sewage Threat.

[BRYCE WILK, City of Richmond, Parks and Recreation Senior Superintendent] It is one of the few places that you can find an urban oasis amongst skyscrapers.

[YOUNG MAN #1] I come down here a lot because it's a, it's beautiful. The water's nice. It's a lovely place to swim.

[YOUNG COUPLE #2] I love watching the kayakers and the river rafters.

[YOUNG WOMAN #2] You see that people come down here a lot just to, you know, blow off some steam, calm down, enjoy the nature. The wind is really nice right now.

[BRYCE WILK] Swimming is a great thing around here and just being able to cool off on those hot summer days.

[YOUNG MAN #2] Yeah, I swim, my dog swims. Obviously she loves to play frisbee, too.

[BRYCE WILK] And at the end of 2020, January through December, we had 2.1 million visitors. That was nearly 200,000 more visits than we had the previous year of 2019.

[TEXT OVER IMAGE] In late July 2021, a major sewage spill shut down recreation on the James River.

[YOUNG MAN #2] There was a really big sewage spill actually, and so there was a few weeks where me and my dogs just kind of didn't go to the river.

[YOUNG COUPLE #1] Oh yeah, so when that happened I actually didn't come down here for about a month.

[YOUNG COUPLE #2] It wasn't necessarily smart to get in the water.

[YOUNG MAN #1] Oh that makes me sad because it's the only place I have to go.  

[BRYCE WILK] August was a low month, but up until through July it was just as popular as the previous year.

[TEXT OVER IMAGE] For years, sewage overflows have regularly polluted the James River after heavy rains. Threatening our economy, health, and environment.

[YOUNG COUPLE #1] Fortunately, I mean it was kind of always known be careful of the James growing up so.

[YOUNG WOMAN #3] It's very important to keep our area safe and clean.

[YOUNG COUPLE #2] Make sure that big events like that spill don't happen.

[YOUNG WOMAN #1] One wants to be in the water without it being polluted.

[YOUNG MAN #1] This is me. I like to swim. I like a fish. I like to be in nature--so this is all I have.

[BRYCE WILK] This beautiful resource is at the doorstep of a lot of people. We want to make sure that we're working with our partner organizations like Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the James River Association, Friends of James River, James River Outdoor Coalition to make sure that our water quality is staying high.

[TEXT OVER IMAGE] Investing in sewer and wastewater systems is leading to improvements. But more investment is urgently needed to prevent sewer overflows and reduce wastewater pollution.

Thank you to the James River Park System visitors who shared their experiences.

Video produced by Kenny Fletcher.

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