Water Quality

As a major municipality and chemical industry center Hopewell has a critical interest in preserving and improving the water quality and the living resources of the James River.  Hopewell Water Renewal was designed to remove pollutants from domestic and industrial wastewater.  The treated water, called effluent, is then released into the James River.

Scientists at Hopewell Water Renewal have performed leading-edge environmental studies to help us understand and protect this important natural resource.  Between 1998 and 2013, Hopewell Water Renewal monitored water quality in the Hopewell estuary region, studied the controls on the health of the river, and worked with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) to restore underwater grasses to the James River.

Water Quality is Good near Hopewell, particularly with regard to dissolved oxygen, a measure of good water quality and a necessity for aquatic life.  In fact, the James River has the best oxygen conditions of all of Virginia’s major tributaries to the Chesapeake Bay.

Near Hopewell, the river has relatively high concentrations of nutrients which can cause algae blooms and low dissolved oxygen.  Although algae concentrations are high in the spring and summer, they generally do not form nuisance blooms or deplete oxygen in the James River.  Water clarity in the James River near Hopewell is very low, which is characteristic of the entire tidal portion of the river.  The high turbidity is caused by both runoff of sediment from the land and suspension of river sediments and algae by waves and tidal currents.  The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality began a study in 2011 to evaluate the abundance of algae in the James River and to develop a water quality model that would help determine the controls necessary to improve the overall water quality of the river.  This study and model are slated for completion in 2017.

Water quality has improved greatly over the last 30+ years because of the operation of treatment plants such as Hopewell Water Renewal, and other pollution reduction efforts such as non-point source and urban storm water controls.  In fact, dissolved oxygen concentrations have increased 10-15 percent since the mid-1980s and nutrient concentrations have decreased as much as 50 percent.  Because of the improvement in water quality, the tidal freshwater James River, as well as Bailey’s Creek, supports a very healthy fish population.

Hopewell Water Renewal continues to review water quality conditions and data so that the benefits of new treatment technologies may be assessed.  In 2017, new nitrogen removal equipment will be installed at the facility at a cost of $74 million.  This treatment technology is expected to further improve water quality in the tidal freshwater James River.  Future monitoring and modeling of the river will aid Hopewell in predicting how the river water quality will benefit from further reduction of pollutants in the plant’s effluent.