Getting good grades gets you noticed.
The James River has been named the 2019 Thiess International Riverprize winner, an award given by the International River Foundation that recognizes watershed conservation efforts within rivers, river basins and the communities around them. The James River beat out two other finalists — the Chicago River in Illinois and the Whangawehi Stream in New Zealand — to take this year’s top spot. It’s the first Chesapeake region river to win the award, now in its 20th year.
The James River Association, the nonprofit river advocacy organization established in 1976, submitted the award application, and officials say it was all about timing.
The organization creates a biennial State of the James report that outlines the health of the 10,000-square-mile watershed. Once one of the most polluted rivers in the country, efforts over the past four decades, in particular, have successfully created a healthy, vibrant tributary.
In short, with lots of homework, those committed to the James River’s future turned a near failing grade from decades ago into a B-, its current grade.
Winning the award “is a tremendous tribute to the progress that we have made together with the Commonwealth of Virginia and many public and private partners,” said William H. Street, James River Association chief executive officer, in a written release. “Receiving this award strengthens our resolve to continue this comeback story, and we hope it will inspire everyone who lives, works and plays around the James River to jump in and help out so the James remains a vital asset for our communities and for future generations.”
The award includes a financial prize of $200,000 Australian dollars, or roughly $136,000 U.S. dollars, plus networking opportunities with other river stewards around the world. Previous Riverprize winners include England’s Thames, Kenya’s Mara, the Willamette in Oregon, Israel’s Alexander and the San Antonio in Texas.