Historical Water Quality Issues

The estuarine system starts near Richmond, where the fall line is located, and extends approximately 100 miles from the mouth of the river. The historical water quality concerns in the estuarine system have been dissolved oxygen and increased nutrient loads. DO is affected by the carbon and nitrogen components of the wastewater effluents. It is also influenced indirectly by the phosphorus content of these sources insofar as the latter stimulates phytoplankton growth.

In 1947, the 14-mile stretch of the James River east of Richmond was described as "dead." In 1963, conditions had not improved despite growing public concern. The Richmond News Leader described the river as a sewer. After a powerboat tour of the river, the editor described the river as green with algae, septic, and laden with dead and dying fish. Even the hardy catfish, which normally tolerates severely polluted waters, was observed gasping for its last breath. The only birds in sight were circling turkey vultures, attracted by the floating offal. At that time, the sewage collection system for Richmond was only partially operational, and only 58 percent of the design flow of the city's sewage treatment plant was being used. Raw sewage was being discharged into the James through Gillies Creek, and it seemed doubtful that the river would ever meet the minimum standard of 4.0 mg/L of dissolved oxygen required to permit recreational river uses (Richmond News Leader, 1963).

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