Photo: Birds abound in the vast marshes of the headwaters of the St. Johns River. (SJRWMD)

June 12, Governor DeSantis signed his $116.5 billion budget that includes $400 million for a project that as currently designed will inevitably and admittedly redirect polluted waters north from South Florida to the St. Johns River.

Plans for Grove Land will increase pollution in the already impaired Headwaters of the St. Johns. This impact is salt in the wounds of the damage that resulted from Florida’s failed sewage sludge policy, consequently allowing South Florida to dump nearly 100,000 tons of its concentrated sewage on ranchlands in our river’s headwaters annually.

According to state agencies, reasonable assurances do not exist to support Grove Land’s intent or to ensure that no harm will be caused to the Upper St. Johns and the northern Indian River Lagoon (IRL) near Sebastian.

With approval of this taxpayer subsidy, Governor DeSantis has the opportunity and the responsibility to ensure all necessary safeguards are in place to provide an environmental lift to both the IRL and the St. Johns River. One water body must not be sacrificed for another.

As currently designed, Grove Land:

  1. Will increase pollution loads to the St. Johns River.
  2. Will flood the St. Johns when the river is already high increasing
    downstream flooding and/or discharges to the IRL via the C-54 canal.

Our river deserves better. Floridians deserve better.

Outstanding Issues

The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) sent two April 2024 Requests for Additional Information (RAI) that fully articulated and consolidated concerns from SFWMD, St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) including:

  • Documentation is needed to confirm compliance with the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) requirements and nutrient loading downstream.
  • Demonstration is needed that this project will not negatively impact flooding conditions in the Middle St. Johns River Basin.
  • To support Grove Land’s assumption of performance of the project, FDEP recommends that the Dynamic Model for Stormwater Treatment Area be set up and run with the proposed Grove Land configuration.
  • A well calibrated water quality model is needed to provide a simulation of the fate and transport of nutrients and water moved across basin boundaries.
  • Additional analysis is needed to address the expected increased TP load to the Upper St. Johns from an existing 500 kg per year to 10,000 kg per year.
  • Additional analyses are needed to address potential impacts to water treatment in the existing Upper St. Johns River stormwater treatment areas and wetlands, as well as impacts to the downstream receiving waters.
  • An analysis of loads is needed to address the additional volumes of water being delivered to the SJRWMD system.
  • Additional documentation is needed to demonstrate that the chlorophyll a in the proposed discharge will not cause or contribute to exceedances of water quality criteria in the Upper St. Johns.

St. Johns RIVERKEEPER will continue to advocate for these concerns to be addressed and ensure each agency does its due diligence to protect our St. Johns River from pollution.