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. 

Our river needs you now. Comments from the public will be considered to determine whether to issue, modify, condition, or deny this permit. Comments are also used to determine the need for a public hearing and to determine the overall public interest.

Submit your concerns and your request for a public hearing today. The deadline for comments is November 22.

  • Request all accountable agencies fully assess the growing concerns of this project
  • Request adequate time to vet all agency findings
  • Request public hearing to ensure critical review 

Comments and QUESTIONS concerning this application should be directed to the project manager, Shannon White, in writing at the Jacksonville Permits Section, P.O. Box 4970, Jacksonville, FL 32232; by electronic mail at shannon.c.white@usace.army.mil; or, by telephone at (904) 232-1681.

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.  

Vote for the River: Candidate Survey Responses

Vote for the River: Candidate Survey Responses Blue Cypress Lake, headwaters of the St. Johns, impacted by pollution in June 2018. Statewide, Florida is suffering from years of reduced monitoring and enforcement of known pollution sources.

Florida primaries are on August 28, and the November 2018 General Election is right around the corner. It is important to elect candidates who support efforts to protect and restore the St. Johns River. More importantly, we need leaders who will make the river a priority, leading the charge to address and resolve the problems that impact the health of the St. Johns.

As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, St. Johns RIVERKEEPER does not endorse candidates. However, we believe having an educated and informed electorate is critical to taking action to best protect our river. We have asked every candidate running for US Senate, Florida Governor, Florida Senate and House within the watershed for a response to a survey about the most critical issues facing the St. Johns River and its tributaries.

Below are the survey responses we have received from the candidates, so far. We will update this page, as we receive more responses. The General Election is November 6, 2018.  

CLICK HERE to find your districts and current Florida elected officials. 

October 9, 2018 is the LAST day to register to vote in Florida. Register to vote online today!

US Senate

Bill Nelson (D) - Did not repond

Rick Scott (R) - Did not respond

Florida Governor

Andrew Gillum (D) - Did not respond

Ron DeSantis (R) - Did not respond

Florida Senate

District 4: Aaron Bean (R) - Did not respond

District 4: Billie Bussard (D)

District 4: Joanna Tavares (L) - Did not respond

District 8: Kayser Enneking (D)

District 8: Keith Perry (R) - Did not respond

District 12: Dennis Baxley (R) - Did not respond

District 12: Gary McKechnie (D) - Did not respond

District 14: Melissa Martin (D)

Florida House 

District 11: Cord Byrd (R)

District 11: Nathcelly Rohrbaugh (D) - Did not respond

District 12: Timothy Yost (D)

District 12: Clay Yarborough (R) - Did not respond

District 14: Kimberly Daniels (D) - Did not respond

District 15: Wyman Duggan (R) - Did not respond

District 15: Tracye Polson (D)

District 16: Ken Organes (D)

District 16: Jason Fischer (R) - Did not respond

District 17: Jaime Perkins (NPA)

District 17: Cyndi Stevenson (D)

District 19: Bobby Payne (R) - Did not respond

District 19: Paul Still (D)

District 21: Jason Haeseler (D) - Did not respond

District 22: Bernard Parker (D)

District 22: Charlie Stone (R) - Did not respond

District 23: Carl Griffin (D)

District 23: Stan McClain (R) - Did not respond

District 25: Joseph Hannoush (L)

District 25: Kathleen Tripp (D)

District 25: Tom Leek (R) - Did not respond

District 26: Katherine Fetterhoff (R) - Did not respond

District 26: Patrick Henry (D) - Did not respond

District 27: Carol Lawrence (D)

District 27: David Santiago (R) - Did not respond

District 28: Lee Mangold (D) - Did not respond

District 28: David Smith (R) - Did not respond

District 29: Tracey Kagan (D) - Did not respond

District 29: Scott Plakon (R) - Did not respond

District 30: Bob Cortes (R) - Did not respond

District 30: Joy Goff-Marcil (D) - Did not respond

District 31: Debra Kaplan (D) - Did not respond

District 31: Jennifer Sullivan (R) - Did not respond

District 32: Cynthia Brown (D)

District 32: Anthony Sabatini (R) - Did not respond

District 44: Robert Olszewski (R) - Did not respond

District 44: Geraldine Thompson (D) - Did not respond

District 46: Bruce Atone (D) - Did not respond

District 47: Anna Eskamani (D)

District 47: Stockton Reeves (R) - Did not respond

District 49: Ben Griffin (R) - Did not respond

District 49: Carlos Smith (D) - Did not respond

District 50: Pam Dirschka (D)

District 50: Rene Plasencia (R) - Did not respond

District 51: Mike Blake (D) - Did not respond

District 51: Tyler Siriois (R) - Did not respond

District 52: Seeta Begui (D)

District 53: Randy Fine (R) - Did not respond

District 53: Phil Moore (D)

District 54: Erin Grall (R) - Did not respond

District 54: Nicole Haagenson (D) - Did not respond

Florida Waterkeepers Unite to Protect Florida’s Waters

Florida Waterkeepers Unite to Protect Florida’s Waters

On July 31, Florida Waterkeepers joined forces in Tallahassee to stand up for Florida waters. Waterkeepers united from across the state representing urban and rural communities and waterways in and around the watersheds of the Indian River Lagoon, Tampa Bay, Matanzas River, St. Johns River, St. Marys River, Suwannee River, and Apalachicola River.

At a time when waters and communities throughout Florida are plagued with harmful algal blooms and threatened by rising waters, Waterkeepers across the state met with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to express serious concern and a sense of urgency to protect and restore Florida’s rivers, coast, bays, estuaries, lakes, springs, and aquifer.

As demonstrated by Hurricane Irma, major storms deteriorate water quality, threaten human health, and undermine Florida’s economy. Absent more proactive action and investment in becoming more resilient, water quality protection, and adaptation efforts, Florida’s economy, environment, and public health will suffer.

Florida Waterkeepers submitted a joint request strongly urging FDEP to fully protect our waterways and our community by increasing Florida’s ability to withstand future storms. Recommendations include comprehensive audit of infrastructure vulnerability and storm risk to accurately price the cost of inaction, prioritization of green infrastructure, and enhanced protection of wetlands and mangroves. Read the details.

Another ongoing threat is excess nutrient pollution from sewage sludge, failing septic tanks, aging infrastructure, stormwater runoff, and agricultural runoff. This pollution fuels toxic green algae, brown slime, and red tide. Inadequate monitoring and lack of timely health advisories puts Floridians in harm’s way. Absent a comprehensive strategy to target the root causes and to stop this pollution at its source is a recipe for environmental, human health, and economic disaster.

On July 25, 2018, samples of cyanobacteria in the Cape Coral tidal canals on the Caloosahatchee River revealed an alarming high level of the toxin microcystin nearing 40,000 ug/l (parts per billion.) These levels are dramatically higher than EPA's recommended safe recreational standard, 4 ug/l, and is consistent with risks to human health and animal mortality.

Urgent action is long-overdue. Waterkeepers requested the activation of the Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force; prioritize testing the actual algal bloom and publicize health advisories of toxic outbreaks quickly, a statewide moratorium against sewage sludge disposal near waterways; septic tank phase out strategies and the development and enforcement of truly restorative Basin Management Action Plans. The entire group presented a resolution against phosphate mining. In addition, the water advocates further voiced their joint opposition to FDEP’s efforts to assume the dredge and fill permits regulated by Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.

Florida’s waterways are uniquely connected and thus should be comprehensively and collectively protected under the Clean Water Act. Florida’s Waterkeepers are united in our goals to protect Florida’s water. 

The Florida Waterkeepers share an unwavering commitment to protect the environmental integrity of Florida’s rivers, coast, bays, estuaries, lakes, springs and aquifer through science-based advocacy and a unified voice. There are currently 14 Waterkeepers in the State of Florida and each independent organization is a member of Waterkeeper Alliance, a global movement of on-the-water advocates who patrol and protect thousands of rivers, streams and coastlines in North and South America, Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa.

Part scientist, teacher, and legal advocate, Waterkeepers combine firsthand knowledge of their waterways with an unwavering commitment to the rights of their communities and to the rule of law. Whether on the water, in a classroom, or in a courtroom, Waterkeepers speak for the waters they defend – with the backing of their local community and the collective strength of Waterkeeper Alliance.


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. 


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Withdrawals Potentially Threaten Black Creek
Ban Sewage Sludge Now!
Ban Sewage Sludge Now!
Vote for the River: Candidate Survey Responses
Vote for the River: Candidate Survey Responses
Florida Waterkeepers Unite to Protect Florida’s Waters
Florida Waterkeepers Unite to Protect Florida’s Waters

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