The potential sale of JEA has significant implications for the future health of the St. Johns River and our ability as a community and region to effectively respond to the environmental challenges of the decades to come.
Over the past two decades, St. Johns Riverkeeper has certainly been at odds with JEA on more than one occasion. Yet, we readily acknowledge the many benefits JEA has provided to our community and our river, and we believe that a locally-owned municipal utility will continue to be more responsive to the needs of the St. Johns and our community.
Since taking over responsibility for the city’s sewer and water in 1997, JEA has invested over $2 billion in infrastructure, resulting in significant overall improvements to those systems, reduced algae-feeding nitrogen discharges by 58%, and contributed $40 million to purchase 5,000 acres of conservation land.
Following major storms, JEA developed an aggressive resiliency plan to identify infrastructure vulnerable to sea level rise and storm surge and to make the investments necessary to reduce our exposure to risk and ensure our sewage and water systems don’t fail.
Would a for-profit utility be so responsive and willing to invest to make us less vulnerable in the future? If not, our river’s health and that of the public would suffer as a result.
In addition, as a municipal utility, JEA is eligible for funding from FEMA’s Public Assistance Grant Program for recovery efforts following a storm. Investor-owned utilities do not qualify; making it more likely those costs will be passed on to the ratepayers.
To date, JEA has not looked to our river to meet future demand for water. A for-profit owner beholden to its investors may be more inclined to pursue harmful surface water withdrawals.
JEA’s water conservation efforts over the years have resulted in less per capita use of water. As a result, JEA is currently withdrawing far less water from our aquifer than its permit allows. A for-profit company would have more incentive to commoditize and distribute “excess” water in its permit, putting even more stress on our aquifer and limited water supply.
Many of the infrastructure investments and contributions to public projects that benefit our river and City have been above and beyond what was required. JEA expressed it best on its own website, “As a public utility, JEA has invested in infrastructure for the sake of improving service and environmental sustainability, rather than to maximize profits.”
A locally-owned utility is also accountable to the people instead of its shareholders and investors. Former JEA CEO Paul McElroy said, “the very best reason to celebrate JEA and public power is this: Local ownership means local control.”
With the massive growth that is occurring throughout our region and the pressure facing our water resources, we must maintain control and accountability if we are to protect our river and water supply. We must have a utility that will work closely with our local government and citizens; one that is focused on service and sustainability, instead of profits and shareholder returns.
Water is the lifeblood of our state and our well-being. We need a utility that recognizes water as an essential need of its citizens and not as a commodity to be bought and sold. We need a utility that sees the St. Johns River as essential to our community’s identity, economy and quality of life, not as a source for waste disposal or the withdraw of surface water to fuel future growth.
As a result, we believe JEA should remain a locally owned public utility. (As seen in our Letter to the Editor in The Florida Times-Union)
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
John Trainer, Chair
Stephanie Freeman, Vice Chair
Vince Lamb, Treasurer
Kelly Shefelbine, Secretary
Saundra Gray, Director
Marty Jones, Director
Kenyon Merritt, Director
Ron Littlepage, Director
Seth Pajcic, Director
Jim Schwarz, Director
Kevin Kennedy, Director
Hank Coxe, Director
2019 WATER POLICY GROUP
Chair: Stephanie Freeman
Dr. Ashley Johnson
Dr. Gerry Pinto
Dr. Lucy Sonnenburg
Dr. Quinton White