Roger Linville, Shannon Blankinship, Lisa Rinaman, Jimmy Orth, Carol Bailey, Jennie Busey
In 2013, St. Johns Riverkeeper had another successful year elevating community awareness and involvement, addressing the issues impacting our river’s health, challenging bad policy decisions, educating youth about the river, and serving as a persuasive and effective voice of reason for the St. Johns. In addition, we continued to develop relationships and partnerships with organizations throughout the watershed and the state. By building coalitions and strengthening our alliances, we were able to leverage our limited resources to more effectively achieve our common goals and objectives.
Highlights and Accomplishments in 2013
- Provided presentations to 95 organizations and groups.
- Provided 65 school programs, reaching 2,424 students.
- Led 20 boat trips for 1,212 adult and youth passengers.
- Helped organize and participate in 24 river cleanups, including a significant expansion of the annual St. Johns River Celebration & Cleanup.
- Received over 2900 hours of volunteer service from nearly 100 committed volunteers.
- Received press coverage over 245 times.
- Organized or participated in 80 community events.
- Received over 40,000 visits to our website.
- Have over 6,500 people following us on Facebook and over 2,700 on Twitter.
- Attended and participated in over 63 critical water policy and rulemaking meetings and workshops
- Continued our fight to set limits for the nitrogen and phosphorous that is poisoning the St. Johns and waters throughout the state, causing fish kills, algal blooms, and red tide events.
- Helped organize Speak Up Wekiva, an event attended by over 1,200 people to raise awareness about the need to restore the impaired Wekiva River, the troubled springs that feed it, and all of Florida’s treasured waterways.
- Worked with other organizations throughout the state to successfully force the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to postpone proposed policy changes that would have allowed more toxins in our waters.
- Successfully challenged proposed changes to proposed water permit rules that would have facilitated the use of surface water from the St. Johns for use as irrigation.
- Took samples of green algae and had it tested for toxins, raising awareness about a serious health risk from exposure to algal blooms in the St. Johns River and prompting more testing from state agencies.
- Collaborated with groups throughout the state to oppose the sale of publicly-owned conservation lands, resulting in numerous important parcels being removed from consideration by the state.
- Organized a team of highly-qualified experts to review and comment on the proposal to dredge the river from 40 to 47 feet, successfully raising awareness throughout the community and exposing the flaws and shortcomings of the analysis being conducted.
- Worked with other groups throughout the state to oppose a permit from Adena Springs Ranch that would potentially further reduce the flow and exacerbate existing pollution problems in Silver Springs. As a result of our collective efforts, the permit deadline has repeatedly been extended and the amount of water that is being requested has been significantly reduced.
- Participated as a member of a City of Jacksonville grant team that successfully received funding for an initiative to clean up and restore Hogan’s Creek.
- Launched the Floridians' Clean Water Declaration along with clean water advocates from across the state to inspire people to work together to find solutions to Florida's water quality and quantity problems and to demand clean water from our state's water managers and elected officials.
- Updated and expanded our successful River Friendly Awareness and Outreach Campaign by offering a rain barrel sale, River Friendly Yard workshops, and numerous outreach events. This included partnerships with The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, Riverside Arts Market, and numerous local garden centers throughout Northeast Florida.
- Hosted public forums with expert panelists to raise awareness about the proposed dredging of the St. Johns River and the threats to Silver Springs. Both were attended by over 200 people.
- Developed numerous partnerships with other organizations and businesses, helping to expand our exposure in the community, raise awareness and funds, and engage more people in our advocacy work for the St. Johns.
- Revitalized and expanded the River Patrol, our volunteer “watchdog” group of volunteer boaters and concerned citizens, with 264 logged patrols and over 876 hours of time on the water.
- Engaged thousands of people throughout the watershed through numerous signature events like River Ruckus, Save the St. Johns River Ferry Bike Ride, Eco-Heritage Boat Trips, Low Country Boil, Oyster Roast, and annual Holiday Membership Mingle.
- Developed a new St. Johns River activity booklet and River Friendly Pledge for kids.
- Launched our River Exploration Backpack and Video Project designed to provide tools and resources for educators and students to learn about the St. Johns River through water quality testing activities and experiential learning opportunities.
- Partnered for the third year in a row with the Rainforest Alliance to help students in 5 Duval County Elementary schools learn how the ecology of the St. Johns River is connected to other ecosystems around the globe.
- Participated as a partner in Jacksonville University’s Marine Science Summer Camp at the Marine Science Research Institute (MSRI) and partnered with Communities in Schools and Lutheran Social Services to provide programming for their summer camps.
- Provided “A River Day” for students at SP Livingston elementary school where students, many whom previously had never spent time on the river, experienced a boat trip and day at the JU Marine Science Research center.
St. Johns Riverkeeper was also recognized by Folio Weekly readers as Best Environmental Activist for the fourth year in a row. In addition, our young professionals group, the Rising Tides, was recognized by the City of Jacksonville Environmental Protection Board as the 2013 Civic/Community Organization of the Year.
The Road Ahead
While we are certainly making progress, the St. Johns continues to face significant threats from nutrient pollution and toxic algal blooms, dredging, water withdrawals in Central Florida, stormwater runoff, fecal coliform bacteria, sedimentation, and the loss of wetlands and critical habitat. Many of the springs, such as Silver Springs, that provide a critical source of clean, fresh water to the river are also significantly impaired from nutrient pollution and reduced flow.
In addition, many of our political leaders remain committed to weakening or even eliminating important environmental protections, slashing budgets and dismantling the regulatory and enforcement capabilities of state environmental and growth management agencies. Local governments faced with significant budgetary constraints have also made deep cuts to important environmental programs and staff. In the process, environmental safeguards and regulatory oversight and accountability are being weakened and educational programs and resources are being eliminated. As a result, the vital role that St. Johns Riverkeeper plays as an educator, “watch dog,” advocate, and trusted voice for the river has become even more essential to the St. Johns River and our environment.
In 2014, we will continue to provide valuable educational resources and programs for the community and to focus on numerous critical issues impacting the St. Johns, including:
- Adena Springs Ranch Consumptive Use Permit (CUP): Tragically, the world-renowned Silver Springs have experienced a significant reduction in flow and a devastating increase in nutrient pollution over the last several decades. Now, a massive cattle operation, Adena Springs Ranch, is seeking a permit to withdraw millions of gallons of water each day from the aquifer that feeds the springs. The Ranch, located within miles of this National Natural Landmark, will use the water for a slaughterhouse and more than 15,000 head of cattle. This project will also significantly exacerbate the existing nutrient pollution problem that is plaguing the springs. We have retained legal representation and experts to assist in the evaluation of the permit and any legal challenge that may be necessary.
- JAXPORT River Dredging: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently studying JAXPORT’s proposal to dredge the St. Johns River from 40 to 47-feet to accommodate larger post-Panamax ships. St. Johns Riverkeeper has serious concerns regarding the environmental impacts of this project. We have assembled a team of experts to help us evaluate the study being conducted by the Corps, provide comments, and determine the best course of action to mitigate damage and avoid impacts to the health of the St. Johns.
Harmful Water Withdrawals from St. Johns: TThe three water management districts in a five county area of Central Florida created the Central Florida Water Initiative (CFWI) to identify alternative sources of water to meet future demand. Central Florida (Lake, Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Polk) currently consumes 800 million gallons a water a day (mgd) and is reaching the limits of the aquifer. Consumption in this region is expected to surpass 1.1 billion gallons of water per day within 20 years. The CFWI recently released a Draft Regional Water Supply Plan that that proposes withdrawing over 150 million gallons of surface water from the St. Johns and identifies the Ocklawaha for potentially millions more. In addition, the recently released St. Johns River Water Management District Regional Water Supply Plan targets more than 125 million gallons of water from the St. Johns and 85 million from the Ocklawaha River. St. Johns Riverkeeper has serious concerns that the withdrawals would only worsen existing pollution problems, increase salinity levels, and adversely impact the fisheries, wildlife and submerged vegetation in and along the St. Johns and its tributaries.
With your ongoing support, St. Johns Riverkeeper can continue to investigate pollution problems, advocate for sensible solutions, hold regulatory agencies accountable, participate in the policymaking process, raise awareness about issues impacting the health of the river, educate elected officials and the public about the St. Johns, and ensure that our environmental laws and regulations are upheld, implemented and enforced.