So often, we make decisions without considering the big picture. Just look at the proposals to dredge the river significantly deeper, put a massive cattle operation next to Silver Springs, and withdraw millions of gallons of water a day from the St. Johns. Each could have major impacts on the St. Johns River system. Together, they could send the health of our river into a tailspin. Throw in future growth and the addition of more pollution, sewage, manure, fertilizers, chemicals, trash, and loss of important wetlands, and you have a recipe for disaster.

We can’t afford to continue making these critical decisions in isolation. Now is the time to utilize a more holistic approach that takes into consideration the entire watershed, both water quality and quantity, and the cumulative impacts of our actions.  We must also begin to address the root causes of our problems and stop ignoring what should be obvious.

Fact: We are using water faster than our aquifer can be recharged. It is clear that we must reign in new water permits and allocate our water resources more judiciously. However, the water management district recently gave a new permit to California-based Niagara Bottling for nearly a million gallons of water a day and is likely to say yes to Adena Springs Ranch, the sprawling, water-guzzling project next to Silver Springs.

Fact: We have a water use problem, not a supply problem. Instead of prioritizing conservation, our water managers are focused on new sources, such as risky withdrawals from an already suffering St. Johns.

Fact: Dredging will increase the likelihood of saltwater intrusion. Withdrawals will slow the river’s flow. This double whammy will mean that pollutants will likely remain in our river longer and in greater concentrations. As the salinity moves farther upstream, we will lose important wetlands, grasses, and trees.

Fact: The St. Johns is polluted. Dredging the river, withdrawing surface water, and allowing more development in sensitive areas will only make the nutrient pollution problems worse, potentially increasing the frequency of toxic algae blooms.

Fact: The economics don’t justify the harm. These projects provide speculative, if not limited, economic benefits for the public. Taxpayers will be forced to pick up the tab for costly cleanup and restoration efforts, and in the case of dredging and withdrawals, expensive infrastructure and construction costs, too. Unfortunately, these projects also do nothing to offset the damage that is likely to occur.

The bottom line is that protecting our river often requires us to step back, take a look at the big picture, consider the facts, and ask ourselves – do the ends justify the means? In the case of these projects, I think the answers are quite obvious – No.

– Lisa Rinaman, St. Johns Riverkeeper