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. 


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

We are currently working on three more Town Halls that will be announced soon.  Stay tuned!

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. “

Upcoming Town Hall Meetings:

Wednesday, September 5th @ 6pm
Orange Park Town Hall, 2042 Park Ave, Orange Park, FL 32073
(6pm Meet & Mingle; 6:30pm Town Hall)

Thursday, September 20 @ 6pm
St. Johns County Town Hall 
Fellowship Hall, Riverdale Methodist Church
CR 13 S, Riverdale, FL 32092
(6pm Meet & Mingle; 6:30pm Town Hall)

Learn more about the impacts of the dredging project and
Sign Our Online Petition demanding mitigation for a more reslient St. Johns River!

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
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Florida Waterkeepers Unite to Protect Florida’s Waters
Florida Waterkeepers Unite to Protect Florida’s Waters
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

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