Resilience is defined as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.” In the context of climate change, resilience refers to the ability of a community or ecosystem to withstand and bounce back from a disturbance, such as a natural disaster.

One of the most effective ways to create resilient cities is with green or natural infrastructure solutions. This can include the installation of bioswales, rain gardens, natural shorelines, and trees. However, the most effective natural solutions are the natural systems that already exist. Wetlands, salt marshes, oyster reefs, forests, and submerged grasses play vital roles in reducing flooding and pollution impacts and protecting us from sea level rise and storm surge.

The health of our river and tributaries is also essential to our resilience. By protecting and restoring the St. Johns and its watershed, we can help protect our communities while ensuring our river is able to adapt and withstand shocks to the system, as well.

In 2017, Hurricane Irma demonstrated just how vulnerable Jacksonville and surrounding communities are to major storm events and the impacts of climate change. As a result, we launched our River Rising Town Hall Series to establish a much-needed community dialogue about resiliency and advocate for two key building blocks to a successful resilience strategy – a Jacksonville Chief Resilience Officer (CRO) and a Vulnerability Assessment. Due in part to the efforts of those who participated, Jacksonville now has a CRO and a nearly completed Vulnerability Assessment. Anne Coglianese, the CRO, is currently developing a strategic resilience plan that we anticipate will include some nature-based strategies like those previously mentioned.

To find out how you can help, join us for our September 13 River Rising Brewery Tour with Jacksonville’s CRO.

Just as Irma was a wakeup call for Jacksonville, it also demonstrated the need to fortify our river. Irma and other subsequent storms wiped out beds of eelgrass from Jacksonville to Lake George. Unfortunately, these critical grasses have been slow to recover due to dark, polluted runoff and saltwater intrusion. In other words, we must also focus on the resilience of the St. Johns by working watershed-wide to reduce the threats from pollution and implement natural solutions that will enhance the river’s health.

First, we must reunite the natural connection and flow of Silver Springs, the Ocklawaha River and the St. Johns – restoring more than 150 million gallons of fresh water a day to the St. Johns, improving water quality, offsetting saltwater intrusion and restoring habitat for fish and wildlife.

Few projects to restore Florida’s biological wealth hold the prospect for such far-reaching benefits. By breaching the Rodman Dam and restoring the Ocklawaha, we will restore thousands of acres of wetlands and numerous springs, expand manatee habitat and wildlife corridors, reestablish historic migratory fish pathways, benefit the regrowth of submerged grasses, and offset the saltwater that continues to move further up the St. Johns due to sea level rise and dredging activities.

The science is clear and there is overwhelming public support. An independent, scientific poll found 77% of voters in Marion and Putnam Counties in support of restoration and only 6% in opposition.

The time has come to restore the largest tributary of our St. Johns River to unleash the significant ecological and economic benefits of a free-flowing Ocklawaha.

Second, with all the growth occurring throughout the watershed, we must also work diligently to protect the natural lands and wetlands that are critical to a healthy river and ecosystem.

Third, we must end the inequitable transfer of South Florida’s sewage sludge that is undermining our river’s health at its headwaters. Evidence of severe conditions in the Upper St. Johns resulting from this dangerous practice is clear, and we demand relief now.

It is hard work fending off the threats facing our river and convincing legislators to make the investments and adopt the policies necessary to improve the health of our river. However, by standing up and working together throughout the watershed, we can succeed.

Together, we can have a more resilient river, a more resilient community and a more resilient economy for today and for future generations.