Temporary Moratorium of Sewage Sludge Land Application

Temporary Moratorium of Sewage Sludge Land Application Biosolids dumping in headwaters - photo credit: Barbara Buhr

On July 10, 2018, St. Johns Riverkeeper and its Headwaters Advisory Council sent an Urgent Request for an Immediate Moratorium of Sewage Sludge Application within the Upper Basin of the St. Johns. This request follows months of information sharing among experts and regulators about spiking pollution, particularly phosphorus, within the Upper Basin of the St. Johns River. Click here to see the full letter.

On July 13, they issued a 180-day moratorium at Pressley Ranch adjacent to our headwaters at Blue Cypress Lake. While this is a small win and step in the right direction, we still have concerns ... 

  • Other locations where sewage sludge is still going
  • The sludge slated for Pressley Ranch now has to go somewhere else
  • The State's commitment to long-term policy changes.

Here are excerpts of what we have been tracking and the action that is needed right now to protect the St. Johns from sewage sludge, pollution, and its impacts:

  • FDEP confirmed that more than 70,000 tons of sewage sludge was permitted in 2016 to be disposed within the Upper Basin of the St. Johns River. This is more than 73% of Class B biosolids permitted that year.
  • A sample from a bloom tested Wednesday in Blue Cypress Lake contained the toxin microcystin at a level of 4,700 parts per billion. The World Health Organization considers microcystin levels higher than 2,000 parts per billion to be "very highly hazardous" in recreational contact. See the full story. This is much more than an environmental crisis. It is a human health crisis.
  • An important consideration for the restoration of the Middle St. Johns River Basin is that the majority of the loading to the impaired waterbodies comes from sources outside the watershed. Approximately 96.4% of the total nitrogen (TN) loading and 95% of the total phosphorus (TP) loading enters the impaired waterbodies from the Upper St. Johns River, Econlockhatchee River, and Lake Jesup Basins. Therefore, implementing projects in the watershed alone will not achieve the goals; reductions from the upstream sources must occur before water quality standards can be met.

Right now Blue Cypress Lake, once one of the most pristine lakes in the state, is impacted by green algae making it dangerous for human use and threatening to wildlife.  Based on the visible, measured and unprecedented pollution impacting Blue Cypress Lake, time is of the essence and we strongly request an immediate moratorium of sewage sludge application within the Upper Basin of the St. Johns until a full technical report can be completed that identifies how to best manage sewage sludge disposal in the State of Florida in order to protect Florida’s waters, public investment and human health. 


Legal Victory for Conservation Lands

Legal Victory for Conservation Lands

On June 15, 2018, Florida Circuit Judge Charles Dodson ruled in favor of environmental organizations that the land conservation constitutional amendment overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2014 requires funding to be used for land acquisition, restoration and management, not for other purposes.

Earthjustice, Joe Litte of Florida Defenders of the Environment and the plaintiff organizations - Florida Wildlife Federation, Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, Sierra Club, and St. Johns RIVERKEEPER - filed suit because the state legislature was violating the Water and Land Conservation Amendment by spending funds on unauthorized budget expenses, instead of land acquisition and restoration.   The amendment was overwhelmingly passed in 2014 by over 75% of Florida voters. 

Below are statements from plaintiffs in the lawsuit reacting to the ruling:

Manley Fuller, Plaintiff and President of Florida Wildlife Federation:
“Judge Dodson ruled today that the amendment funds are to be used for new land acquisition management and restoration from the Everglades to the Florida Panhandle! This is what the voters of Florida intended in 2014. The sun was shining in Florida today.”

Lisa Rinaman, St. Johns Riverkeeper:
“Protection of Florida’s lands is critical to protecting Florida’s waters. Today’s ruling is a stunning victory for our state’s wild places, rivers, springs, residents and future generations.”

Alisa Coe, Earthjustice attorney:
“Today’s decision is a big victory for the millions of Florida voters who demanded that the legislature reinstate land buying programs for parks, wild lands and the Everglades. Four million Floridians approved a constitutional amendment to devote almost a billion dollars a year to purchasing conservation lands. The legislature and agencies thumbed their noses at the voters by spending the money on other things. This ruling will help protect some of Florida's most beautiful and environmentally important areas for generations to come.

In 2014, an overwhelming three out of four Florida voters approved the Land and Water Acquisition Amendment to the state constitution—it was the most popular item on the entire statewide ballot that year. Today’s ruling means that the state must honor the voters’ will to preserve our precious natural resources through conservation.”

Frank Jackalone, Sierra Club Florida Chapter Director:
“Judge Dodson’s ruling today is a landmark decision making it clear that amendments to Florida’s constitution are orders by the people; they aren’t suggestions which the Legislature can decide to ignore. After four years of blatant misappropriation of taxpayers’ money, the Legislature has been forced by the Florida Courts to obey the voters mandate that it use a dedicated source of state funds to preserve and protect Florida’s natural lands.” 

River Rising Town Hall Series

River Rising Town Hall Series photo credit: Florida Times-Union

Join St. Johns RIVERKEEPER at the upcoming River Rising: Town Hall Series to learn about rising waters in the St. Johns, how decades of dredging has increased water levels and storm surge, and what Jacksonville and coastal communities need to do to become more resilient.  

The town hall meetings are open and free to the public. Experts will speak and answer questions from the audience. 

As demonstrated by Hurricane Irma and the historic flooding that occurred, Jacksonville is more at risk than ever before and important action steps must be taken to better prepare for a future of rising waters in the St. Johns River.

“Sea level rise and a deeper channel have no doubt resulted in higher water levels and storm surge in the river, increasing the risk of flooding and sewage spills in the St. Johns,” states Lisa Rinaman, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, “The current plan to dredge the St. Johns an additional 7 feet deeper will only make these problem worse.”

According to the Army Corps of Engineers, even smaller, “high frequency” storms could increase storm surge and the maximum water levels in the St. Johns River by an additional 12% due to the current dredging project.

“Where I live, inches matter”, said Dot Matthias of the Northside Civic Association. “It was only a matter of inches that saved some folks from thousands of dollars in damage while causing others to flood. If we can better protect our community from severe financial, emotional and physical harm in the future, why wouldn’t we?”

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 which presented potential health risks to the public.

“It is critical that have a community conversation about these issues and act now,” states Rinaman. “Otherwise, we will become even more vulnerable as waters continue to rise, flooding becomes more frequent, public infrastructure fails, and our river is further degraded by more sewage and pollution. “

Learn more about the impacts of the dredging project.

Read more about St. Johns RIVERKEEPER's concerns that the current dredging project will increase water levels, storm surge and the likelihood of flooding.

Read, As the Ocean Creeps In, a special report by the Florida Times-Union about how decades of dredging projects to deepen the St. Johns River have brought the ocean to Jacksonville's doorstep.   

You did it! Julington-Durbin Preserve Has Been Saved!

You did it! Julington-Durbin Preserve Has Been Saved!


You did it! On June 28, Eastland announced that they will no longer pursue plans to build 1400 homes within the Julington-Durbin Preserve, in exchange for property on Black Hammock Island.

In addition, the developer is now working with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to potentially sell the Black Hammock Island property to the state for conservation.

Just hours before the announcement, St. Johns RIVERKEEPER and numerous partner organizations submitted a letter to Governor Rick Scott expressing our opposition to the proposed land swap and development of the Preserve. Also, our petition was signed by nearly 6,500 concerned citizens.

We are grateful to all of our partner organizations who worked so hard and all you who voiced your concerns to save Julington-Durbin.

While the Preserve appears to be safe for now, we cannot rest on our laurels. With the rapid growth that is occurring across the state and our watershed, there will only be more pressure in the future to develop our conservation lands.

Let's celebrate for now, but remain vigilant in our efforts to safeguard our precious conservation lands, like Julington-Durbin. I hope to see you at the Celebration Rally on July 14!

You can read more about this fantastic news from WJCT.

Attend the Rally to CELEBRATE our victory and Julington-Durbin Preserve!

July 14 @ 9 am
Julington-Durbin Preserve Entrance - 13130 Bartram Park Blvd., Jacksonville, FL 32223
Facebook Event Page

Dredging Increases Salinity and Storm Surge

Dredging Increases Salinity and Storm Surge Credit: Florida Times-Union

For decades, the St. Johns River has been deepened, straightened and manipulated to allow bigger and bigger ships to access Jacksonville's port.

The Florida Times-Union recently released a special report, As the Ocean Creeps In, that takes a look at the impact these alterations to the river have had on saltwater intrusion, tide levels, and storm surge.

According to the report, “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, one of the nation’s oldest federal agencies and the overseer of these changes to the St. Johns River, has never studied how more than a century of work [dredging] might make the city more vulnerable to storm surge and flooding."

We urge you to read this outstanding special report in its entirety, but here are some of the highlights:

Saltwater Creeps In

"The river is now a superhighway for Atlantic Ocean water, which in the event of a major storm could present greater risk to downtown and the neighborhoods around it even though they are miles away from the river's mouth."

"In chasing its dreams of a deepwater port, the city has brought the Atlantic Ocean to its doorstep."

"The saltwater transition zone — where Atlantic Ocean saltwater and river freshwater begin to mix — has moved further upstream through the decades. That zone is thought to have been near the Acosta Bridge in downtown in the 1950s....Today the salinity zone shifts between the Buckman Bridge near Orange Park and the Shands Bridge near Green Cove Springs, depending on rainfall levels, meaning it has moved between about 10 and 25 miles south of downtown — about 50 miles from the ocean — over the past six decades."

"'I remember that I used to regularly see grass beds around Sadler Point north of NAS JAX on regular… surveys during 1994-2000,” said Gerard Pinto, a Jacksonville University scientist who helps compile annual checkups on the state of the St. Johns. 'Those areas are now typically bare of vegetation.'"

"Scientists are certain dredging is one of among several man-made reasons behind salinity intrusion in the St. Johns River."

Increased Storm Surge

“The Army Corps acknowledges in its own analysis that 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. But the agency — which has nearly unchecked latitude in making such determinations — has, for reasons that are unclear, deemed those potential increases insignificant."

Stefan Talke and Ramin Familkhalili are Portland State University professors who are "studying the cumulative effect that years of deepening projects can have on tides and storm surge intensity within estuaries." Their research of the Cape Fear River in North Caroline discovered that the tidal range — the difference between high tide and low tide — has increased due to decades of dredging.

“The results of the study, the two wrote, ‘suggest a simple but profound lesson: locations in which tide waves have been amplified are also vulnerable to increases in storm surge and flood risk …’”

"The increased tidal changes Talke and Familkhalili tracked are less pronounced along coastal areas and more pronounced further inland, suggesting, they argue, that the cause of those changes lies within man-made alterations to the river rather than driven by large-scale ocean changes like sea-level rise, itself the result of human activity warming the climate. That also means any increase in storm surge intensity would be felt in those more inland areas, too."

"An 1879 annual report from the chief of engineers makes reference to the tide range in downtown Jacksonville measuring about one foot. Today, the range is about 1.8 feet — nearly double. Like Cape Fear, the increased tide range near the coast is much smaller than that, suggesting that man-made activities like dredging are the source of the change."

Flood Waters Rising

"The St. Johns Riverkeeper — a well-known local environmental watchdog — late last year amended an existing federal lawsuit seeking to stop the 7-foot dredge to include an argument that the Army Corps failed to properly study storm surge intensity and its flooding impact."

“A major point of disagreement between the Riverkeeper and the corps is whether the agency’s storm surge study — which acknowledges that the 7-foot dredge could increase storm surge height by as much as 8 or 9 inches in parts of the river close to the dredging project — downplays the potential risks. The Army Corps’ concluded that the potential increases in storm surge are insignificant. It’s not clear in the report, however, why the Army Corps came to that conclusion."

"A 2016 storm surge study for the Charleston project found potential storm surge water level increases in the harbor ranging between about 1.2 inches to a maximum of about 3.6 inches — the lower end of what the Army Corps expects could happen in Jacksonville. In Jacksonville, the Army Corps dismissed the potential increases in water levels without indicating the need for a more refined study."

"After Irma, the agency doubled down on its position. It said the flooding issues 'do not constitute significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns bearing on the project or its impacts.'"

A City Unprepared

"The city sends mixed signals about how urgently it views sea-level rise and resiliency issues. It’s not clear what Curry’s views are on climate change, and his office did not respond to a request for an interview."

"Last year, the city began working on a state-mandated change to its 2030 master plan that acknowledges in writing the need to prepare for sea-level rise and establishes a working group to start studying the issue within the year. That change faced skepticism from the city Planning Commission — which recommended the City Council not pass it based on fears it would be onerous to business owners."

"At minimum, Hurricane Irma was a wake-up call, but it’s not clear the public or government are galvanized to tackle Jacksonville’s flooding problems."

"'The lesson that is taught by all of this, communities need to be far more engaged and far more informed,' said Davis, the Tulane professor." 

Read comments submitted to the Army Corps of Engineers by Lisa Rinaman, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, on December 29, 2017, regarding the Corps' failure to fully assess potential flooding impacts from the propsed dredging of the St. Johns River.

Click here to learn more about the latest dredging proposal and the potential impacts to the St. Johns.  

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Temporary Moratorium of Sewage Sludge Land Application
Temporary Moratorium of Sewage Sludge Land Application
Legal Victory for Conservation Lands
Legal Victory for Conservation Lands
River Rising Town Hall Series
River Rising Town Hall Series
You did it! Julington-Durbin Preserve Has Been Saved!
You did it! Julington-Durbin Preserve Has Been Saved!

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