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2018 By the Numbers

2018 By the Numbers

We are sincerely grateful for your commitment and membership support. Because of you, our St. Johns River has a strong voice and a dedicated team of passionate professional advocates working tirelessly every day for its protection.

With your help, we are making progress for the St. Johns and its watershed:

- Earlier this year, a judge ruled in favor of St. Johns Riverkeeper and our co-plaintiffs, finding that the constitutional amendment overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2014 requires funding to be used FOR land conservation and NOT other purposes.

- We helped stop a dangerous state rule that would have allowed increased levels of toxic chemicals in Florida’s surface waters.

- St. Johns Riverkeeper led a coalition of organizations and individuals that successfully protected Julington-Durbin Preserve from a developer planning to build 1400 homes in the middle of the preserve.

- We launched a series of community town hall meetings to raise awareness about the impacts of dredging and rising waters. More than 700 people attended eight town halls and over 900 postcards were mailed to local leaders urging action.

- Our efforts led to a moratorium on the use of sewage sludge at one of the biggest polluting farms, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection formed a Biosolids Technical Advisory Committee to address this serious problem.

- In 2018, we have provided educational boat trips for over 3,000 5th grade students and programs for over 8,200 students throughout the St. Johns River watershed. And we awarded a $25,000 National Geographic education grant to enable us to reach even more students in 2019!

- From Jacksonville to DeLand, we activated over 500 volunteers who helped our education, outreach and advocacy initiatives, cleanups and more. 

- Thanks to our Rising Tides young professionals and our cleanup volunteers, we removed over 350 bags of trash from McCoy Creek and our river's waterways! 

These are just some examples of the successful work we are doing on behalf of you, your family, and our beloved river. However, there is much left to do in 2019 and beyond! 

Please help us as we defend, advocate and activate others to protect the St. Johns.

Groups Urge Action to Stop JEA Pollution

Groups Urge Action to Stop JEA Pollution Image credit: JEA

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

December 12, 2018

JEA DISCHARGING POLLUTION INTO GROUNDWATER AND ST. JOHNS

Groups Urge Immediate Action to Stop Pollution and Revise Permit

Jacksonville, FL -- Sierra Club and St. Johns RIVERKEEPER today submitted technical comments to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) regarding the pending renewal of JEA’s pollution discharge permit for the Northside Generating Station (NGS). 

The technical comments are available upon request to Lisa@stjohnsriverkeeper.org. 

The groups are urging FDEP to revise the Industrial Wastewater/National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit, which expired on May 8, 2017, to protect the Lower St. Johns River, vulnerable wildlife and the public’s right to live, fish, and swim in a healthy and safe environment. 

The JEA Northside Generating Station (NGS) is located in an environmentally sensitive area surrounded by the Lower St. Johns River, San Carlos Creek and the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, “one of the last unspoiled coastal wetlands on the Atlantic Coast.” 

“The Northside Generating Station operations are causing serious harm to the St. Johns River ecosystem,” said Janet Stanko, local Group Chair for the Sierra Club Northeast Florida Group. “Contaminants dumped directly into groundwater and leaching from JEA waste facilities are making their way into the river, its tributaries, and surrounding wetlands. Operations at NGS harm endangered sea turtles and kill billions of aquatic organisms each year.”

“Our vibrant river ecology is being threatened by the fact that this facility continues to operate under an expired permit which is in dire need of revision. Sierra Club and the St. Johns RIVERKEEPER have submitted comments to Florida DEP and JEA to sound the alarm that action should be taken immediately to help protect one of Florida’s most precious resources,” said Lisa Rinaman, St. Johns Riverkeeper.

Documented evidence indicates that toxic metals are being dumped directly into the groundwater and leaching from NGS waste facilities. These contaminants are migrating into the St. Johns River, its tributaries, and surrounding wetlands. 

In addition, NGS’s outdated cooling system is killing up to 109 billion organisms annually through entrainment (sucking aquatic organisms through intake screens to face lethal temperatures and pressures) and at least 190,000 more each year through impingement (trapping organisms on screens, causing death, injury, or weakness), including three species of endangered and threatened sea turtles. This process also involves the discharge of heated, chemically-treated water back into the river that can be harmful to wildlife. 

Recommendations to address these continuing threats to public and environmental health include the following:

  • Cease JEA’s discharge of highly polluted wastewater directly into groundwater and indirectly into San Carlos Creek, surrounding tidal marshes, and the St. Johns River;
  • Require immediate corrective action to halt and clean up the ongoing toxic contamination of ground and surface waters from NGS’s waste facilities;
  • Revoke DEP’s unlawful beneficial use exemption that allows JEA to sell “hazardous combustion residuals” from NGS to the public;
  • Ensure that sufficient monitoring and reporting requirements are in place to adequately evaluate ground and surface water pollution trends, encompassing all contaminants of concern;
  • Require installation of a closed-cycle cooling system as soon as possible, to reduce NGS’s massive entrainment and illegal impingement of protected species and to comply with federal law; and
  • Mandate the implementation of interim, protective requirements at NGS’s cooling water intake system to reduce the velocity of intake water to reduce impingement (entrapment of organisms) and continuous screen operation to reduce entrainment (pass through of organisms) until closed-cycle cooling is operational.

Sierra Club, founded in 1892, is the nation’s oldest and largest grassroots nonprofit environmental organization, with more than 37,000 members in Florida. Sierra Club’s purposes are to explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the Earth; to practice and promote the responsible use of the Earth’s ecosystems and resources; to educate and enlist humanity in the protection and restoration of the quality of the natural and human environment; and to use all lawful means to carry out these objectives.

Founded in 1999, the St. Johns Riverkeeper is a non-profit, membership organization with a mission to be an independent voice that defends, advocates, and activates others to protect and restore the St. Johns River. We are a privately-funded, independent and trusted voice for the St. Johns River and the public to whom it belongs.
 

River UPRising!

River UPRising!

5 WAYS TO TAKE ACTION 

1. Watch our River UPRising webinar!

2. Write a letter to COJ City Council President Aaron Bowman, U.S. Congressman Al Lawson, and U.S. Congressman John Rutherford. Click the names to see draft letters already created for you to modify and email or print and mail. 

3. Sign our petition.

4. Share your River Rising story: tag us and use #RiverUPRising so we can share. 

5. Can we talk to your group? River UPrising is a custom presentation based on the outcome of our River Rising Town Hall Series that stretched over the 2018 Hurricane Season, and actions needed. The presentation can be modified for your group for 15-minute, 30, or 45-minute time slots. It includes a powerpoint presentation, action plan, and actions we ask of the audience to ensure that we are adequately preparing before the 2019 Hurricane season. Email shannon@stjohnsriverkeeper.org to schedule a presentation for your group today. 

BACKGROUND
The St. Johns River resembles the Atlantic Ocean more than at any other time in its past: The currents are faster, the water is saltier and the tidal range can be more extreme. Hurricane Irma demonstrated that a Category 1 storm can cause a shocking 150-year flood, sending salty seawater gushing into our streets and neighborhoods due to decisions made in the past and the failure to invest in resiliency and mitigation strategies today. The combined impacts from decades of dredging, sea level rise, and outdated infrastructure demand that we take action immediately to protect our river, our homes and businesses, our families and our community. 

As the Ocean Creeps In is a Special Report written by reporters Nate Monroe and Christopher Hong of the Florida Times-Union in May 2018. This investigative report underscored how historic straightening, channelizing and dredging has impacted the St. Johns River. Based on these findings and ongoing concerns, St. Johns RIVERKEEPER enacted a series of River Rising Town Halls in 2018. These events were designed as a way to inform local citizens about rising waters and continue a dialogue about the flooding that threatens our economy, the river, our homes, businesses, recreation, and health.

Here are just some of the findings the Special Report highlighted:

• The tidal range — the difference between high tide and low tide — has increased over many decades, based on dredging, straightening and channelizing. The final 26-mile stretch of the River, beginning near downtown Jacksonville, is influenced by ocean tides and has been heavily engineered, giving it greater average depth — about 30 feet.
• When a river is dredged to a uniform depth, the natural features that can suck energy out of an incoming wave — underwater sand dunes, rocks, grass beds — are eliminated. That makes it a little more like a smooth asphalt road, and easier for storm surges to impact inland faster and further.
• Greater depth can also explain why saltwater moves farther inland. In a deep river, heavier saltwater on the bottom mixes less with the fresh top layer, meaning there is less resistance to bottom-layer saltwater as it moves inland.
• The latest 7-foot dredging project could increase water levels in a 100-year storm surge by 3 to 6 inches in the main stem of the river, and by 8 inches in areas closer to the ocean.

It was only a matter of inches that saved some neighbors from thousands of dollars in damage while causing others to flood. Locally, the Northeast Florida Regional Council has recommended that we plan for rising waters of 1’ - 3’ by 2060 and 3’ - 6’ by 2110.

RIVER RISING TOWN HALLS
In addition to flooded homes and businesses, Hurricane Irma caused severe damage to public infrastructure and left in its wake a toxic soup of sewage, chemicals, debris, and litter. All of these present immediate and future health risks of interest to the town hall audience.   

Overwhelmingly, questions were focused on issues where our city leaders have been silent. With so many unanswered questions, it is clear Jacksonville is not ready to face the challenges of the 21st Century. We need strategic leadership now to understand our vulnerabilities and to plan for a more resilient future. Discussion revealed there is an insecurity about the level of risk being accepted by the project to deepen the river. Sadly, most attendees are concerned that Jacksonville is not ready to face the next big storm.  

To learn more about our River Rising Town Hall Series, click here

At each River Rising Town Hall, we asked our audience to take action. Those actions varied depending on the location of the event. Here is our action impact: 

• More than 700 people attended eight Town Hall events. 
• Over 900 postcards were mailed to City leaders asking them to take action now to protect again the next big storm.
• Over 500 petition signatures were made asking the City of Jacksonville to demand more mitigation if the St. Johns River deep dredge is to move forward.

As a followup to these town hall events, we hosted a webinar discussing more actions that can be taken to continue this conversation. 

River Rising from Gemstone Media Inc. on Vimeo.

Withdrawals Potentially Threaten Black Creek

Recently, the Jacksonville District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) issued a notice soliciting public comments regarding the St. Johns River Water Management District’s (SJRWMD) permit application to withdraw an average of 10 million gallons of water a day (MGD) from the South Fork of Black Creek. The water would be pumped a distance of about 17 miles and discharged into Alligator Creek, which flows into Lake Brooklyn.

The Black Creek Water Resource Development (WRD) Project is being sold to the public as a restoration project for the Keystone Heights Lakes. However, the SJRWMD website describes it as a  North Florida Regional Water Supply Plan project “to help meet future water supply demands…” that offers no guarantees that it will improve water levels in the lakes.  With no limits on future withdrawals, this project lacks a true water conservation component to protect our aquifer and lakes and will likely be used to justify additional groundwater pumping down the road.

Black Creek, a major tributary to the St. Johns, is one of the healthiest waterways in the Lower St. Johns River. Removing an average of 10 MGD threatens not only the health of the South Fork, but also Black Creek and the St. Johns. Unfortunately, there are many potential unintended consequences that may result in negative impacts to these important waterways.

In addition, the $41 million project is being funded through Amendment 1, the Florida Land and Conservation Initiative that was intended primarily for the purchase of conservation lands, not for water supply projects.

We are highly concerned about the following potential impacts to Black Creek and the St. Johns River.

  • Loss of Critical Habitat and Negative Impacts to Endangered Species and Local Fisheries
  • Water Quality Degradation – loss of natural water pollution filters including wetlands and submerged aquatic vegetation
  • Loss of Natural Forested Floodplain and Flood Protection

The Army Corps of Engineers underscores our concerns, concluding as part of their initial review that “the flow of South Fork of Black Creek, and, hence, downstream waters would be impacted. Therefore, our initial determination is that the proposed action might have an adverse impact on EFH (Essential Fish Habitat) or federally managed fisheries in Black Creek, the St. Johns River, and/or the Atlantic Ocean.”

In addition, transfer of black, tannin water from the South Fork to the aquifer and Keystone Heights Lakes may present water chemistry challenges that have not been fully vetted. 

Thank you to the people that submitted comments regarding this project to the Army Corps by the November 2018 deadline

To view the comment letter submitted by St. Johns Riverkeeper, click here. We are still waiting to hear from the SJRWMD if a public meeting will be held. 

Comments and Questions regarding this project? Please contact your St. Johns Riverkeeper, Lisa Rinaman, at lisa@stjohnsriverkeeper.org.
 

Ban Sewage Sludge Now!

Ban Sewage Sludge Now! Algae in Blue Cypress Lake, an Outstanding Florida Waterway

On October 15, 2018, our Headwaters Advisory Committee delivered an editorial to local papers highlighting the MANY concerns that remain regarding the application on Sewage Sludge to property in our headwaters, and the Technical Advisory Committee that has been formed to study the issue. Read our concerns below, and help us stay engaged. What happens in our headwaters impacts the entire basin. 

"Florida waters are suffering from a growing pollution threat - sewage sludge. Also known as biosolids, this sludge is a byproduct of the process to clean our wastewater. In an effort to dispose of this waste inexpensively, utilities often contract with third party haulers to transport and spread excess sludge on to agricultural lands. This unsustainable disposal practice exposes adjacent waters to those agricultural areas to high levels of pollution from runoff.

In 2007, the Florida Legislature essentially banned the land disposal of sewage sludge in the Lake Okeechobee watershed. This legislation was enacted in response to the serious nutrient pollution problem that was severely degrading the lake’s water quality. As a result, the state began permitting the redistribution of South Florida’s sewage sludge to areas with fewer restrictions north of the lake.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) confirmed that on average more than 70,000 tons of sewage sludge has since been annually permitted to be disposed within the Upper Basin of the St. Johns River, which includes Brevard, Indian River and Osceola Counties. In 2016, this represented more than 73% of the Class B biosolids permitted for land application in the entire state.

This state-sanctioned spreading of sewage sludge is now degrading the St. Johns River’s water quality and threatening human health.

Did they believe that they could simply relocate sewage sludge to a different watershed without a similar degradation of water quality and increased threats to human health?

In addition, biosolids are undermining the significant investments made by downstream local governments to remove nutrient pollution from the St. Johns and its lakes and tributaries. The state-required Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) for the middle section of the St. Johns River determined that over 96% of the total nitrogen loading and 95% of the total phosphorous loading in the Middle Basin of the river comes from upstream sources. The addition of biosolids-related nutrient pollution will only make it much more expensive and difficult for Central Florida communities and businesses to reduce nutrients by close to 38%, as required by the state.

In response to the public outcry, the FDEP recently formed a Biosolids Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) to further evaluate this issue. We are pleased to see the state finally taking some action, but this committee is simply evaluating the same technical issues and research that were previously determined to warrant legislative restrictions on this harmful practice in South Florida. While good for the Lake Okeechobee watershed, this unfortunately left the remainder of the state exposed to the water quality impacts of sewage sludge. It should come as no surprise that the application of over 70% of the state’s biosolids to agricultural lands within the St. Johns watershed would have the same devastating results.

To add insult to injury, four of the seven members of the Biosolids TAC benefit financially from this practice and the status quo. Not one representative from the local governments or citizens being adversely impacted downstream of the permitted pollution sites was selected to serve on the committee. This is unacceptable.

The St. Johns River and all of the local governments, businesses, area residents and the millions of annual visitors deserve to have their voices heard and to have real relief now.

With the future of the St. Johns River and so many other waterways at stake, immediate action to end this unacceptable harm is needed.

We urgently request a moratorium on sewage sludge applications within the St. Johns River watershed until a protective alternative disposal method or new technology is implemented that will protect Florida’s waters, economy, public investment and human health.

The St. Johns Riverkeeper Headwaters Advisory Council
Vince Lamb - Merritt Island, Brevard County
Bill Zoby - Melbourne, Brevard County
Doug Sphar – St. Johns River Property Owner, Brevard County
Richard Baker PhD – Sebastian, Indian River County
Scott Green – St. Johns River Property Owner, Osteen, Volusia County
R.T. “Bo” Platt – Melbourne, Brevard County
Al Vazquez-Cuervo - Satellite Beach, Brevard County
Lisa Rinaman – St. Johns Riverkeeper"

See the story as published in the TC Palm, October 16, 2018.  

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2018 By the Numbers
2018 By the Numbers
Groups Urge Action to Stop JEA Pollution
Groups Urge Action to Stop JEA Pollution
River UPRising!
River UPRising!
Withdrawals Potentially Threaten Black Creek

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