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E. coli happens: Check James River bacteria levels before swimming

RICHMOND, Va. –  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 heavy rainfall.  The data collected by the James River Association shows that even upstream the E. coli levels are higher than the state standard for safe water, which is 235 cfu/100ML (colony forming units).

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

If you want to know how the water quality of your favorite swimming hole checks out before making a splash, check out the James River Watch page. The nonprofit organization collects data from 28 points, from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

The bacteria results are gathered at popular swimming spots such as Huguenot Flatwater, Pony Pasture, 42nd Street, Reedy Creek, Hollywood Rapids at Belle Isle and Tredegar Iron Works, 14th Street boat landing, and Rockett’s Landing.

The E. coli levels increase further east of Pony Pasture, in part because there are more urban runoff streams coming into the James that carry wildlife manure and pet manure, according to the Piedmont Regional Office of DEQ.

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, according to the DEQ. Further downstream, there is more sewer and runoff.

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

Swimming with an open cut when baceteria levels are high can be very dangerous.