Solutions Series

River Rising Solutions Series |
A conversation with experts


Join St. Johns Riverkeeper Executive Director, Jimmy Orth, and Advocacy Director, Shannon Blankinship, as they  discuss solutions to flooding and increasing water levels in the St. Johns.

New updates every other Wednesday @ 4pm.

REGISTER! Upcoming River Rising Episodes

August 12 @ 4pm
Episode 6 – Climate Solutions Require Climate Justice

Guest: Salome Garcia, The CLEO Institute, Policy and Campaigns Manager
Read before listening

August 26 @ 4pm
Episode 7 – Cities are Solving Climate Change

Guest: Chris Castro, Director, Office of Sustainability & Resilience, City of Orlando
Read before listening and this and this

September 9 @ 4pm
Episode 8 – Resiliency through the Tree Canopy

Guest: Karen Firehock, Executive Director, Green Infrastructure Center
Read before listening

River Rising Episode 1 | Nate Monroe: As the Ocean Creeps In

Nate Monroe has covered city hall as a reporter and metro columnist at The Florida Times-Union since 2013. He previously worked at newspapers in the Florida Panhandle and South Louisiana. He graduated from Louisiana State University in 2010 and grew up outside New Orleans.

What was the impetus for writing As the ocean creeps in, with co-author Christopher Hong? What sparked your interest?

Like everyone, we were taken off guard by the historic flooding during Hurricane Irma. I was in downtown, Riverside and San Marco that day and saw floodwaters gushing into neighborhoods. It was shocking. This raised what seemed like a natural question to us: Does this have anything to do with the considerable changes we have made to the river the past 100 years?

What data did you find that most alarmed you, that you were the most surprised to find out?

I was surprised to see just how strong a correlation there is between dredging and increased storm surge. This is something the U.S. Army Corps acknowledges in its own environmental impact statement on the 47-foot dredging project – including that some portions of the river could see as much as 8 inches of increased storm surge. That is not an insignificant amount.

Can you describe the Superhighway to the Sea concept?

One of the experts we spoke to for this article helped us craft a useful way of thinking about this: Imagine riding a bike on a winding, bumpy trail through the woods. And now imagine riding a bike on a straight, freshly asphalted road. The road is easier, right? Something similar happens within waterways when we dredge them: We eliminate grass beds, rocks and underwater sand dunes – making the river smoother. And – in the case of the St. Johns River – we also straightened it. All of those changes provide less resistance to storm surge waves as they move upriver. A lot of really does boil down to simple friction.

Broken promises?

Jacksonville has spent much of the past 50 years spending money in a top-down way. There is an eagerness to subsidize corporate expansions with taxpayer money but a real reluctance to aggressively invest in simple neighborhood projects. The shipping companies ought to be the ones financing at least some of the dredging project because they are the ones who will benefit from this. Read more about the failure to spend money where it was promised

Read what the Florida Times-Union Editorial Board has to say about the River’s Needs.

River Rising Episode 2 | Erik Olsen: Can a Wall Protect Us?

Erik Olsen received his academic training from the University of Florida. As the Principal Engineer for Olsen Associates, Inc., Mr. Olsen performs engineering, permitting and project management functions related to hydraulics, coastal processes, environmental impact assessment, shore stabilization, water and energy resources, and coastal management.

Can you describe who benefits from a wall, and who loses?

It is important to visualize the massive and continuous structure being proposed seaward of private and public properties. On the St Johns River, there are few areas where a protective sea wall is fiscally or physically warranted, none the less politically acceptable.

If one examines the so called sea wall projects conceptually envisioned for Charleston and Miami, it becomes clear that the massive structures being proposed are intended to protect certain urban areas threatened by existing and future storm related wave impacts under increased sea level scenarios. Neither project however, can well  address the effects of flooding or the lack of drainage when the uplands are lower in elevation relative to the various water bodies due to the effects of SLR. Along the banks of the St Johns River private waterfront home owners would lose their view, their docks and basically the entire reason to live where they do. 

What are the benefits of a seawall when it comes to drainage issues, and regular flooding concerns?

The type of sea walls being proposed will not serve to alleviate existing and expected drainage issues throughout most of the City core, the historical neighborhoods of San Marco, Riverside and other developed sections of the City bordering the St. Johns. They could actually impede the drainage infrastructure that currently exists from properly functioning. 

Cost estimates for building a wall to protect Jacksonville, based on linear miles, are approximately $3.5 billion, or $3,990 per resident. Is that a fair estimate?

Any cost estimate made for the large scale application of a seawall in Jacksonville along the St. Johns are totally without merit, and pragmatically not worthy of any form of serious consideration. Most underestimate the actual cost of building a wall that considers the unique depth of the St. Johns in our downtown, more than 40 feet deep. Conversely, small scale isolated projects may be feasible ,but not capable of being hypothetically evaluated with respect to cost of application.

What actions would you like to see Jacksonville make that have a smaller price tag?

Beside holding forums and committees intended to educate the public and develop political agendas, the City needs to immediately adopt new resilient development standards for waterfront construction that are based upon realistic design storm parameters or guidelines and which provide for future sea level rise. Current standards in the City of Jacksonville (COJ) based upon FEMA Flood predictions are grossly inadequate and lead to the endangerment of new waterfront development. The most relevant prototype measures for consideration by the COJ are the design features being incorporated into the development of the FIS office building in Riverside. This action alone costs the COJ nothing but can save tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars in avoided damage to new development, subsidized by the taxpayers of Duval County.

River Rising Episode 3 | Karl Schrass: Can Parks Save Us?

Karl Schrass, Director of Conservation at the National Recreation and Parks Association has over seven years’ experience in the field of climate resilience. For the past five years he been leading nature-based climate resilience strategies in communities across the United States.  Karl holds a MSc in Geography from the University of Bonn (Germany) and BA in Geography from the University of Delaware.

The National Recreation and Park Association brings a national focus to the far-reaching impact of successful local parks. Highlight a local park you’ve helped create.

We were the first investor in the Kathryn Johnston Memorial Park project in Atlanta. This project took an underutilized park space in West Atlanta that contained over 7,000 tons of polluted soil and was a source of sewage contaminated flooding and transformed it into an incredible neighborhood park and community asset that can capture 3.5 million gallons of stormwater while providing rich recreation amenities with a new playground, fitness equipment, and field that sits atop the detention basin. 

Tell us about parks that are designed to hold flood waters.

The key to building a floodable park is two-fold. First, you want a natural area that reconnects the river to its floodplain. That means instead of constructing features that hold the water back, you restore the land-water connection and the critical near shore habitat that has been lost along so many of our waterways. Second, you want to be smart about what amenities you put in the new park and ensure that everything you install can either be easily removed and moved to higher ground during flooding events or can withstand the floodwaters and recover quickly. This is why many cities who have embraced floodable parks use them as greenways and trail systems.

 How can parks reduce the flash flooding during regular storms that impact local neighborhoods?

This is where green stormwater infrastructure excels. By creating bioswales, rain gardens, and green roofs, as well as increasing tree canopy, you can help parks function like sponges – trapping the rain where it falls and slowly releasing it into the groundwater or the stormwater system. This helps to minimize and stretch out peak flow, which is when those flash flood events occur.

What can you tell us about waterfront parks, and how our shorelines serve as either green or grey infrastructure?

Protecting and restoring natural shorelines can actually help improve their resiliency to storms. Natural shorelines or restored, living shorelines allow that land-water connection to take place, which is beneficial both to the ecosystem and anyone who believes that people should have access to water in their community. When the shoreline is replaced with riprap or bulkheads, that connection is disrupted, and even though many people think that the shoreline is more protected, there is science from up and down the Atlantic coast that shows that natural shorelines are more resilient to storms and are able to naturally recover from extreme events.

In looking to the future, what trends are you seeing in communities looking at parks to serve as critical resilient infrastructure?

We’re seeing an increased recognition of parks and parks and recreation professionals as critical infrastructure and essential workers. A quality park provides a variety of health, environmental, social, and economic benefits to the surrounding community. As the stewards of over 11 million acres of “nearby nature” park and recreation professionals are crucial players when it comes to helping our communities embrace green infrastructure and nature-based approaches to resilience.

River Rising Episode 4 | Cory Rayburn: Is Nature the Next Big Thing in Green INfrastructure?

Cory Rayburn is the Watershed Manager for the City of Atlanta. He’s experienced in creating and implementing innovative programs that protect natural resources and promote sustainable development. Consensus builder with technical background in stormwater management, erosion and sedimentation control, land development, and civil engineering. Cory is the lead role in adopting and implementing Atlanta’s new Green Infrastructure standards for stormwater management. 

River Rising Episode 5 | Angela demonbreun: the state of solar in fl

Angela DeMonbreun oversees Solar United Neighbors field programs in Florida, Texas, Arizona, and Colorado, and she serves as State Director for the Florida program. Angela is a fourth generation Floridian. She is passionate about community outreach and believes that informed and engaged voters are key to building an accountable democratic society. Her experience includes project development, grassroots organizing, community engagement and policy advocacy focusing on capacity building.