Home » Issues » Troubled Waters: The Documentary

Troubled Waters: Water Use and Future Threats

Clean Water = Healthy Economy

The health of the St Johns River and all of Florida’s waterways is critically important to commercial and recreational fishing industry, tourism, local businesses and our quality of life.
A new study calculates an annual economic impact of the Indian River Lagoon at $7.64 billion. 

Another analysis found that algae and red tide outbreaks caused by water pollution cost Floridians between $1.3 and $10.5 billion each year.

Looking at just four counties in the Lower St. Johns River, the University of North Florida found that wetlands result in almost $3 billion dollars in savings for flood prevention and provide an economic value for nutrient removal that exceeds $400 million/year for Nitrogen and $5.3 million /year for Phosphorous.

Riverfront properties in the four counties studied increased in value $944 million due solely to river frontage. Surrounding neighborhoods benefited, as well, with an $837 million increase in value for being located close to the river or its tributaries. Read more about the UNF study. 

Economic Value of the Services Provided by Florida Springs and Other Water Bodies, University of Florida IFAS

Economics of Fish & Wildlife Recreation in Florida, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Water Consumption

Water is critical to the economy of Florida. Over 90% of the water that is consumed by residents, tourists, and businesses comes from the Floridan Aquifer.

Based on projections by the Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research (BEBR), Florida’s population is projected to grow to approximately 33.7 million residents by 2070, 14.9 million more people than in 2010 and over three times the number of people in 1980 (Source: Florida 2070 Report)

Consequently, demand for fresh water in Florida is estimated to increase by 2030 by about 1.0 billion gallons per day (bgd) for a total of 7.4 bgd (Source: 2015 Regional Water Supply Planning Annual Report).

In 2015, the 18 counties that comprise the St. Johns River Water Management District used over 1 billion gallons of freshwater every day. Of this total, nearly 550 million gallons a day (mgd) was used by the public supply, 109 mgd by the commercial sector, and over 216 mgd by agriculture (Source: 2015 Survey of Estimated Annual Water Use SRJWMD).

As a result, we have reached or will soon reach the limits of our aquifer to sustainably provide water for future generations. When we pump water out of the aquifer faster than it can be recharged, we reduce the pressure in the aquifer, causing sinkholes, saltwater intrusion, the reduction of flow for our springs and rivers, and wells and wetlands to dry up. These impacts are already occurring. 

For instance, in 2016, a massive sinkhole opened underneath a gypsum stack at a Mosaic phosphate fertilizer plant in Polk County that resulted in at least 215 million gallons of contaminated radioactive wastewater into the Floridan Aquifer.

Despite the projected water deficits, the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) continues to issue Consumptive Use Permits (CUPs). Over the last ten years, the agency has only denied 14 Consumptive Use Permits (CUPs) out of 2800 applications received.

Water Withdrawals

In Central Florida, plans have been drawn up that rely heavily on surface water withdrawals from the St. Johns, instead of more cost-effective conservation strategies. Of the projected 250 million gallon per day deficit by 2035, only 37 mgd is estimated to come from conservation initiatives. However, the plans 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.

St. Johns Riverkeeper has serious concerns that these proposed withdrawals would worsen existing pollution problems, increase the frequency of toxic algal blooms, further reduce flow and increase salinity levels farther upstream, and adversely impact the fisheries, wildlife and submerged vegetation in and along the St. Johns and its tributaries. Learn more.

River battle: Central Florida and St. Johns Riverkeeper clash over water usage, The Florida Times-Union 9.29.15

Deseret Ranch and Sprawl

Deseret Ranch in Osceola County has plans to convert 133,000 acres from cattle, citrus, and timber into 182,600 homes for over 500,000 people by 2080. This would be the largest single development proposal ever to take place in the state’s history, and would impact the headwaters of the Econlockhatchee River and the St. Johns River. Water would be supplied by damming Wolf Creek and Penny Wash Creek, two tributaries to the St. Johns, to create reservoirs. Read More.

Unfortunately, in 2011, the Florida Legislature and Governor Rick Scott dismantled the Department of Community Affairs and repealed most of the provisions of the 1985 landmark Growth Management Act that was designed to prevent urban sprawl and require smarter growth. Since then, efforts have continued to fast-track permitting, eliminate growth management laws, and weaken environmental protections that encourage smart land-use planning practices. 

The Deep Dredge

The Jacksonville Port is seeking to dredge the St. Johns River from 40 to 47-feet to accommodate larger post-Panamax ships. The dredging will result in harmful sedimentation, erosion and shoaling and cause saltwater to move farther upstream. The 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. Critical habitat for fisheries and pollution filters for our river will be lost in the process.

Combined with the impacts of potential surface water withdrawals from the St. Johns in Central Florida could have devastating effects on the health of the river. Read more.

Sleepy Creek Lands

One of Florida's most iconic natural treasures, Silver Springs, has experienced dramatic declines in flow and increases in nitrate levels in recent years.  Unfortnately, the health of Silver Springs  (and ultimately the St. Johns River) could be made much worse by a massive cattle operation and slaughterhouse that would be located within the springshed of this National Natural Landmark. The  9,500 head of cattle planned for Phase I are expected to produce about 158 million pounds of manure and 11 millions gallons of urine per year. In addition, 700,000 pounds of nitrogen from fertilizer will be used to grow grass and crops to feed the cattle. Despite declining spring flows and the fact that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is calling for a 79% reduction in current nitrate concentrations in Silver Springs and Silver River, the St. Johns River Water Management approved the permits.  Read more

Mosaic plant sinkhole dumps 215 million gallons of reprocessed water into Floridan Aquifer, Tampa Bay Times 9.16.16

East of the Econ: The story of land development on Central Florida's final frontier, Orlando Sentinel 6.10.16

Report: Stress on Florida water growing with increased development, Palm Beach Post 11.15.16

Sprawl could gobble up another 5 million acres in Florida by 2070, Miami Herald 9.15.16

Grow smarter to protect Florida's future, Orlando Sentinel 10.3.16

 Florida 2070 Report, 1000 Friends of Florida, UF GeoPlan Center and FL Department of Agriculture

Water 2070 Report, 1000 Friends of Florida, UF GeoPlan Center and FL Department of Agriculture

Join the Riverkeeper

Latest Blog Posts

We’re Hiring!
We’re Hiring!
Waterkeepers Florida Launch Moms for Clean Water Campaign Inspired by Florida’s First Lady
Waterkeepers Florida Launch Moms for Clean Water Campaign Inspired by Florida’s First Lady
Don’t Feed the Algae!
Don’t Feed the Algae!
Your St. Johns Riverkeeper Wins 2019 Eve Award for Local Resiliency Efforts!

All blog posts

explore your river

Take an interactive journey through river sights & sounds!

Get the Guidebook

Learn about the ecology and rich history of the St. Johns River.

Boat Tours

Come aboard the Water Taxi for an incredible guided tour along the St. Johns River.