On a cold and crisp Saturday fall morning, a group of sleepy college students and Garret set out to pull tires out of the James River. As odd as this task may sound to many people who might reasonably wonder “How many tires could there be in the river, and why even pull them out?”, the James River Association actually organizes this event annually, which suggests that more and more tires regularly find their way into the river. As we set out that chilly morning, I also wondered about whether or not we would find any tires, because why would someone dump their tires in the river of all places? In a few short hours I would discover just how many tires can be found in just a four mile stretch of the river, and why those tires find themselves there.
The James River looked actually quite pristine in the stretch that we paddled between Howardsville and Scottsville. The shores we lined with healthy looking riparian zones, albeit thinner than one hundred feet on one of the shores. I even saw some river grasses on the bed of the river that was mostly very shallow. The banks we only minorly eroded in some places, and a fair amount of woody debris lay in the water near the banks. However, the first tire that my partner, a freshman named Michael, and myself found was caught in this woody debris. Many of the tires found further down the river were likewise lying along the back or caught in woody debris. As water rushes over the tires, the chemicals are eroded and washed into the river where they are digested by fish and other aquatic creatures. Other than blocking the flow of water or disturbing the river bed, this is the primary reason that tires are harmful to river.
When I wondered aloud why someone would chose to role their tires into the river, especially some of the larger ones we found, I was told that it actually costs to recycle tires and dispose of them responsibly. This piece of information finally explained the presence of the tires in the river. If someone can dump a tire in the river at no cost to themselves, and they might not even be aware of the adverse effects of tires in the river, it becomes a little more understandable why they would choose the river over a costly recycling center for their tire disposal needs. Therefore, it is up to us and/or local governments to provide incentives to not dump tires in the river, or help people to dispose of their tires responsibly by paying for their recycling costs or even picking up their used tires for them.
By catching the tires before they even make it to the river, we can keep the James healthier and cleaner, and also not find so many tires when we do clean up the river that we cannot even fit all of them on the Batteau that accompanied us down the James.