Credit: The Florida Times-Union, 2011 rally to protest Georgia-Pacific’s proposed pipeline into the St. Johns River

October 14, 2015: Based on the results of monitoring, significant biological changes have occurred in the St. Johns River since Georgia-Pacific started discharging its effluent directly into the river in 2012.   St. Johns Riverkeeper is calling for a continuation of the monitoring to determine the cause or source of the problem. 

In 2012, the Georgia-Pacific (GP) paper mill in Palatka received a controversial permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to relocate its wastewater discharge from Rice Creek into the middle of the St. Johns River.  

As a condition of its permit, GP had to conduct an extensive biological survey to analyze the effect of the relocation of its effluent into the river. GP contracted with Dr. Tim Gross and Environmental Resource Consultants to complete the survey.

A report released by Gross and his team indicates that a significant decline in biodiversity of macroinvertebrates (very small organisms like worms and crustraceans) has occurred since the discharge was relocated into the river.  More subtle shifts in the diversity and abundance of other types of organisms were also reported, as well.  While the report does not single out GP as the cause, Dr. Gross says that the “discharge relocation cannot be ruled out as a source of variance.”

Georgia-Pacific's permit includes a benchmark for assessing adverse impacts that requires more monitoring if a 25% or greater decrease in the biological integrity for macroinvertebrate communities occurred post-pipeline.  

St. Johns Riverkeeper has been working with a team of scientists to thoroughly evaluate the survey results and determine if GP is in violation of this permit condition.  Based on the team's evaluation, the permit threshold has clearly been surpassed, GP is out of compliance, and more monitoring is therefore required.  

Currently, St. Johns Riverkeeper is working to ensure that the monitoring continues and DEP follows through with its responsibility to get to the bottom of the significant biological changes that have taken place since the pipeline was installed.

Dr. Gross also asserts that GP put pressure on him to remove any recommendations in his report calling for more monitoring.

After Dr. Gross expressed concerns, GP brought in Frydenborg EcoLogic (Frydenborg Report) to complete a second report summarizing the results of the study. Frydenborg concluded that the biological changes that occurred were not caused by GP and additional monitoring was not necessary, contrary to the assessement by Dr. Gross. 

According to Dr. Gross, the Frydenborg Report “utilizes an incomplete dataset to apply biases and inappropriate analyses to enable predetermined outcomes and conclusions” and give the appearance that GP is “trying to hide something.”

Read this Folio Weekly article for more information about the controversy surrounding the biological survey and its results. 

The dredging and water withdrawal proposals only stand to make matters worse. The dredging will increase water flow to the south as more saltwater enters the river, increasing the residency time of GP's effluent near Palatka. Surface water withdrawals will further increase exposure concentrations. Both will increase the risk to biological communities that are exposed to the paper mill's discharge. 

Contact FDEP and tell them to require GP to continue the monitoring immediately.

Paula Cobb
FDEP Deputy Secretary for Regulatory Programs

Drew Bartlett
FDEP Deputy Secretary of Ecosystem Restoration

Jon Steverson
Secretary of FDEP

Additional monitoring is the only way to get to the bottom of what is responsible for the decline in biodiversity that has occurred in the St. Johns since the relocation of GP's wastewater.