Clean water is the lifeblood of the St. Johns River and its tributaries. Our wetlands, forests, riparian zones adjacent to waterways, and aquatic plants provide the habitat and food sources that sustain healthy plant, fish, and wildlife populations. Unfortunately, the ecological health and integrity of the St. Johns River system is threatened due to years of neglect and the cumulative impacts of a growing population.
St. Johns Riverkeeper is dedicated to the restoration of the St. Johns River by addressing and resolving the following issues that are impacting its health.
- Water Withdrawals
- Habitat Loss and Degradation
- Wetland Impacts
- Loss of Riparian Zones
- Public Access
- Proposed Dredging
Nutrient overload, or eutrophication, is one of the most serious water quality problems facing the river and its tributaries. Nitrogen and phosphorus are necessary elements for all ecosystems. However, too much of these nutrients in natural systems are harmful. The St. Johns River has exceeded its assimilative capacity for nitrogen and phosphorus. In other words, the river contains more nutrients than it can "dilute." Excessive nutrients feed uncontrolled algal blooms that deplete oxygen in the water needed by fish, reduce light that is essential to submerged vegetation, and threaten the health of both humans and aquatic life. The river suffers from an excess of nutrients from wastewater treatment plants, industrial discharges, failing septic tanks, storm water runoff, and fertilizers that regularly wash into the river.
Fecal coliform bacteria are microorganisms associated with the intestinal tract of warm-blooded animals. The tributaries to the river often contain dangerous levels of fecal coliform from failing septic tanks, wastewater treatment plants, broken sewer lines, and animal waste. In the Lower Basin (Welaka to Jacksonville), 62 streams are listed as "impaired" due to elevated levels of fecal coliform bacteria, with most of those located in Duval County.
Central Florida is already reaching the sustainable limits of its predominant source of water, the Floridan Aquifer. As a result, the three water management districts in this five county area - the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD), South Florida Water Management District and Southwest Florida Water Management District - created the Central Florida Water Initiative (CFWI) to identify alternative sources of water to meet demand.
In 2015, the CFWI released water supply plans that include projects that could remove up to 160 mgd of surface water from the St. Johns River at a cost of up to $1.79 billion. Removing millions of gallons a day from the flow of the St. Johns will worsen existing pollution problems, increase salinity levels, and adversely impact the fisheries, wildlife, and submerged vegetation in and along the river. We are committed to preventing withdrawals and advocating for more sensible solutions, such as water conservation and the reuse of reclaimed water. Click here to learn more.
Sedimentation, or construction-site runoff, is one of the most significant problem facing waterways throughout the St. Johns watershed. Particulate matter, like soil, that washes off construction sites leads to sedimentation, or the accumulation of particles in waterways. Soil leaving construction sites is burying aquatic life, disrupting the food chain, degrading water quality, and adversely impacting our recreational opportunities. There are also financial costs associated with sediment runoff. Waterways clogged with sediment can reduce property values and property taxes by limiting access for boating. In addition, dredging and tributary restoration projects to fix sedimentation problems can cost millions of dollars to complete.
Habitat Loss and Degradation
Pressures from growth and development result in the significant degradation and loss of important aquatic and terrestrial habitat. This degradation or loss of habitat results in the reduction of the biological productivity of the river and can ultimately lead to a river with little fish and other life forms.
For decades, our wetlands were thought of as worthless swamps and wastelands that must be drained and reclaimed in the name of economic progress. In the early 1900s, a network of canals, ditches, and levees were built in an effort to drain the wetlands that formed the headwaters of the St. Johns River. More than 70 percent of the marsh was converted into agricultural lands and urban development. Since Florida's inception as a state, we have drained and filled approximately half of our wetlands.
Nearly a century later, we now recognize the value and importance of wetlands to water quality, fish and wildlife, and to us as humans. A loss of wetlands can deteriorate water quality, increase erosion, reduce natural stormwater retention, destroy critical habitat for plants and wildlife, and eliminate the release of important nutrients that are critical to the ecosystem of a creek or the river.
In 1988, President George H. W. Bush announced a pledge of "no net loss of wetlands", and President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush followed suit and echoed these same words. Unfortunately, we are still allowing our wetlands to be decimated at an alarming rate. A special investigative report, Vanishing Wetlands, released by the St. Petersburg Times found that we lost approximately 84,000 acres of wetlands in Florida between 1990 and 2005.
Loss of Riparian Zones
The land along the banks of the river and its tributaries is an important buffer that provides habitat for wildlife and helps improve the water quality.
Pollutants that are deteriorating the water quality and the health of humans and aquatic wildlife include heavy metals, such as mercury, and organic compounds, such as PCBs and dioxin. These pollutants enter our waterways from many sources, including industrial wastewater discharges and air pollution. Pollutants can be found in the sediments at the bottom of the river and often make their way into the food chain. Many fish species are unsafe for consumption because of the high level of pollutants in their tissues. Other pollutants affecting the river include pesticides and herbicides.
St. Johns Riverkeeper supports efforts to increase public access to the St. Johns River. The opportunity to experience and interact with the river and its tributaries increases our knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of the river and enhances our overall quality of life.
JAXPORT received approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge thirteen miles of the St. Johns River from west of the Dames Point Bridge in Jacksonville to the Atlantic Ocean to accommodate larger post-Panamax ships. By removing 18 million cubic yards of rock and sediment to deepen the river from 40 to 47 feet, we know salt water will move farther upstream based on the results of previous dredging projects. This increase in salinity will likely damage or destroy hundreds of acres of wetlands, submerged grasses, and trees in parts of the river and its tributaries, such as Julington Creek and Ortega River. Critical habitat for fisheries and pollution filters for our river will be lost in the process.
Unfortunately, the Army Corps of Engineers has consistently failed to provide a thorough analysis, accurately assess these environmental impacts, or require adequate mitigation to offset damage from the dredging project. Click here to learn more.
- Environmental Protection Agency - How's My Waterway? Find information about local waterways by zip code.
- State of the River Report for the Lower St. Johns River Basin
- Florida Department of Health for Fish Consumption Advisories
- Florida Department of Environmental Protection: List of Impaired Waters
- St. Johns River at a Glance - Department of Environmental Protection Water Quality Sampling Program
Latest Blog Posts
Take an interactive journey through river sights & sounds!
Learn about the ecology and rich history of the St. Johns River.
Come aboard the Water Taxi for an incredible guided tour along the St. Johns River.