The Rotary Club of Newport News had the pleasure of hosting Bill Street, the President and CEO of the James River Association (JRA). He gave an enlightening talk about the non-profit’s inspiring work protecting and restoring the longest river entirely within Virginia’s borders.

Established in 1976, the JRA plays a critical role in ensuring the health of the James River. With a team of over 50 dedicated staff and a network of more than 10,000 members, they’ve made remarkable strides in improving the river’s condition.

Under Street’s leadership, the JRA concentrates on several key areas. Habitat restoration is at the forefront of their work. This involves planting trees, removing invasive species, and creating wetlands to support fish and wildlife. The association has also spearheaded projects such as living shorelines, restoring over 320 acres, and planting over 100,000 trees in the last five years alone.

Beyond practical initiatives, research forms a cornerstone of the JRA’s approach. Comprehensive studies help the team understand the river’s ecology, its threats, and formulate effective conservation strategies. Advocacy for clean water standards and collaboration with governmental and industrial bodies to reduce pollution also forms a key part of their mission. Over two decades, this work has resulted in the allocation of over $2.7 billion to clean water programs.

Education is another integral part of the JRA’s work. They’ve developed an environmental education program that has reached nearly 50,000 students over the last five years. This focus on education extends to their “Game Changer” campaign, which aims to strengthen existing programs, initiate restoration projects, and establish new educational facilities.

The result of these efforts? The James River now boasts healthier wildlife populations, improved water quality, and is steadily transforming into a vibrant resource for future generations. Street emphasized that through collaboration and persistence, major river ecosystems can recover, offering a shining beacon of hope for environmental conservation efforts worldwide.

His inspiring talk underscored the JRA’s mission: to serve as guardians of the James River, fostering thriving communities around a healthy river ecosystem. Their story is a testament to the power of stewardship, collaboration, innovation, and education in creating a sustainable future.