Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Water War

This past weekend, the Orlando Sentinel had a front page article about the water withdrawal issue. In the article, the question is raised, "Whose thirst comes first?".

Unfortunately, the Sentinel did not ask a much more important question - "Why are we experiencing water shortages in the first place?"

We can get bogged down in a debate over who has a right to the water in the St. Johns and Ocklawaha and what the science says about the potential impacts, but we need to first address the reasons that we are in this predicament. As a result of poor planning, unsustainable growth and development, and the extremely inefficient use of our water resources, Central Florida is now desparately turning to the St. Johns River to solve their water supply problems.

However, before we condemn Central Florida for its actions, we must first look at how North Florida is growing and managing its resources. Unfortunately, North Florida is chugging along the same path forged by Central and South Florida and is guilty of the same unsustainable and misguided policies and practices.

Let's use this issue as an opportunity to begin the self-examination process and a meaningful dialogue about Florida's future.

To read the Orlando Sentinel article, go to:

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Momentum is Mounting

On Tuesday, the Jacksonville City Council passed a resolution in opposition of the water withdrawal proposals in Central Florida. The vote was unanimous. This comes on the heals of similar resolutions that were passed by Neptune Beach City Council and the Jacksonville Beach CC. Today, we received copy of a letter that Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton recently sent to the St. Johns River Water Management District expressing serious concerns about the proposed withdrawals and urging them to look at other water supply alternatives and conservation measures first.

The St. Johns Board of County Commissioners is currently considering a resolution, as well.

As public opposition continues to grow, our elected officials are finally beginning to step up, voice their concerns, and demonstrate the leadership that will be necessary if we are to stop these ill-conceived and shortsighted withdrawal plans. Hopefully, the Governor is listening and will take action, as well.

If you haven't already done so, please contact the Governor and let him know that you are opposed to the withdrawals and support an expansion of wastewater reuse, more sustainable planning and building practices, and agressive water conservation programs.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Education is the Key

As I have mentioned before, we are excited to have Danielle Dolan on board with us. Danielle is our new Education and Outreach Coordinator. She will be developing lesson plans, educational activities, and programs and leading educational boat trips. As I am writing this, Danielle is getting ready to embark on the latest Family River Ride boat trip with over 50 kids and adults.

I will go ahead and state the obvious. Education is critical to the future of our river. If people don't understand, appreciate, and have a connection to the river, they will not be as inclined to take responsibility for protecting it. Through the boat trips, we are trying to give people the opportunity to get to know their river. The St. Johns is a unique, fascinating, and beautiful body of water with a rich history and biodiversity, and many people just don't know that much about it.

If you can't take one of our boat trips, I encourage you to get out there and explore the St. Johns River on your own. Visit a park that is located on the river, attend a naturalist program, go for a paddle, or just take a stroll along the riverwalk. Read a book about the St. Johns (I highly recommend "River of Lakes"),and learn more about this remarkable river. On our website, we have a lot of information about the ecology and history of the river. We also have a page about the inspiration that the river has provided for artists and a section about how to access the St. Johns - where to eat, hike, boat, camp, rent a kayak, etc. Our new Education page has links to numerous education websites related to the river.

For more information about upcoming Family River Ride boat trips:

St. Johns Riverkeeper Education and Outreach website page:

Monday, November 12, 2007

Oil Spill Update

As we reported last week, a large fuel oil spill occurred on the St. Johns River on November 3rd. We now know that Sun State Towing was involved in the spill, although the Coast Guard is apparently still trying to determine who will be held responsible.

Last week, cleanup crews were busy at Jacksonville University cleaning off boats, docks, and rocks along the shoreline. Unfortunately, not much more can be done to clean the oil off of the shoreline vegetation.

These two pictures were taken at Jacksonville University by Dr. Gerry Pinto.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Fuel Spill

Today, we were contacted by a concerned citizen and fisherman who witnessed a significant fuel spill on the St. Johns River near the Lions Club Boat Ramp in Jacksonville. As a result, we called the Coast Guard to report the incident. We were told by the USCG that a barge was recently receiving fuel at a fuel dock and the person filling the tanks left the pump unattended while he went to use the bathroom. As a result, the barge tanks overflowed, spilling over 500 gallons of fuel oil into the St. Johns River. The USCG is in the process of investing the incident and will fine the company responsible for the spill.

As you can see from the photo, the aquatic vegetation at Lions Club Boat Ramp is coated with an oily residue. We are thankful that the concerned citizen contacted us and informed us about this incident. We will follow-up with the USCG to make sure that the responsible parties are held accountable for this unfortunate incident. This is a good example of how citizens can help us to indentify and resolve problems impacting the health of our river.

Eco-Heritage Boat Trips

This afternoon, we completed our most recent 3-day St. Johns River Eco-Heritage Boat Trips between Sanford and Jacksonville. We had 36 passengers on the trip from Jax to Sanford and 38 passengers on the return trip from Sanford to Jax. Despite the ominous weather predictions and the approaching Tropical Storm Noel, we were fortunate to be able to explore the St. Johns and learn about its rich history, culture and ecology without too much foul weather or discomfort. We experienced some rain, sunshine, and a passing cold front. We learned about Trout Creek from Naturalist Beverly Fleming, the steamboat Maple Leaf from Shorty Robbins, the river culture of West Volusia County from Bill Dreggors,and the history and ecology of the St. Johns from author Bill Belleville. We saw manatees, bald eagles, gators, and numerous wading birds. We were immersed in the St. Johns and experienced the rhythms and essence of one of the great rivers on this planet.

Bill Belleville talks about the importance of establishing and developing a sense of place and connnection to our natural world. These trip hopefully help to bring the passengers and the staff of Riverkeeper closer to realizing that goal and understanding the importance of protecting the health and integrity of the St. Johns River.

The picture above was taken from the balcony of Blair's Jungle Den motel in Volusia just south of Lake George. You can see that the river narrows significantly and does not look anything like the river that flows through the Jacksonville metropolitan area. Seeing the river as I did in this picture makes me realize how fragile it is and how troublesome the proposals to withdraw water from the river just south of here really are. There will be more to come about the trips and the water withdrawal proposals soon.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Better Jacksonville Plan

Today, I received a call from a concerned citizen about the Cahoon Road Drainage Improvement Project sponsored by JEA and the City of Jacksonville. I went out and visited the site to observe for myself how the contractor, Felix and Associates, was performing on this Better Jacksonville Plan project. Unfortunately, the contractor is doing a terrible job of controlling sediment at the site and the City of Jacksonville is doing a poor job of inspecting and making sure that they are in compliance with sediment-control regulations. As you can see by the pictures, the creek next to the site is filled with sediment from construction-site runoff and the sediment control devices in many places are not properly installed or have completely failed. We have called the City and are working to make sure that this site is brought into compliance.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

All Aboard!

Recently, we hired Danielle Dolan to serve as our Education and Outreach Coordinator. Danielle will be developing teacher resources, planning educational activities, and organizing boat trips. Below is a description of the Friday boat trips that we have coming up. We also have a Family River Ride Boat Trip scheduled for this Saturday, but unfortunately, it is is already filled up. We are glad to see that the there is so much demand, and more trips will be scheduled in the near future. In the meantime, you still have a change to get out on the water this Friday.


Launch your weekend off early with a relaxing lunch on the St. Johns River. Join us aboard the Water Taxi for a 45 minute cruise. Local ecology, history, and current Riverkeeper projects will be discussed.

Dates: Friday, October 19 & 26

Time: 12:00 Noon – 12:45PM
Boat will depart promptly at 12:00 noon.

Location: The Jacksonville Landing
2 Independent Drive
Jacksonville, FL 32202

What to Bring: Your own lunch & beverages; Water will be provided.

Attire: Be prepared for current weather conditions.

Suggested Donation: $10 per person

Reservations: Email name & contact information with number of participants to Education & Outreach Coordinator (Danielle.Dolan@gmail.com)

For more information, visit the Riverkeeper website at www.stjohnsriverkeeper.org.

Monday, October 8, 2007

RiverTown Won't Control Its Dirt

Once again, the massive RiverTown development project in St. Johns County has muddied the creeks as a result of poorly managed construction-site runoff. Last week, the regulatory agencies announced that the previous water quality violations at the site were significant enough to warrant a fine or penalty that is yet to be determined. Scroll down to see pictures of the first violations.

Apparently, they didn't get the message. Ben Williams sent us these photos that he took on Sunday morning of two of the creeks that run through the RiverTown property. This demonstrates why it is so important that citizens keep their eyes open and help us to monitor these construction sites for potential water quality violations. If you see muddy water, please contact us at 904-256-7591.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

This Sucks

It's not too late! Pick up your copy of the latest Folio Weekly magazine and read the excellent article by Owen Holmes about the proposal in Central Florida to withdrawal water from the St. Johns River. You can also learn more about this issue by visiting the Riverkeeper website and reading the fact sheet that is available on the homepage.

We are gearing up to address this issue by creating a public awareness campaign and a water conservation program. Riverkeeper is also researching Florida water law to better understand our legal options, and we are assembling a team of scientists to review the St. Johns River Water Management District studies that are being used to justify the withdrawal. We also hope to put together a coalition of concerned citizens, businesses, and orginizations. We'll keep you posted about how you can get involved and join the effort to promote Conservation First.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Conservation First

The following is a guest column by Cynthia Barnett that was in the High Springs Herald. She is a writer for Florida Trend magazine and the author of a new book, Mirage: Florida and the Vanishing Water of the Eastern U.S. We highly recommend this book for anyone who is concerned about Florida's environment and St. Johns River.

Cynthia Barnett Guest Column: Florida should learn to conserve water first

During the notorious Tampa Bay water wars that raged from the early 1970s through the mid-1990s, residents of rural Pasco and Hillsborough counties who lived near the well-fields of urban communities to the south and west watched lake beds turn to weeds, sinkholes open up and backyard wells run dry.

Water managers assured them, over and over again, that it was all just part of the natural hydrological cycle. The groundwater pumping had nothing to do with it.

Now, everyone knows better.

In addition to lowering our freshwater aquifers, groundwater pumping is responsible for 80 percent of all land subsidence in the United States, according to a U.S. Geological Survey report.

These days, water managers across Florida say that groundwater has been so over-tapped, many parts of the state don’t have enough to sustain population growth past the year 2013.

(Notice you rarely hear water officials say. “We’ve over-permitted the groundwater,” although that’s a more-accurate description of what’s happened.)

Now, as The High Springs Herald’s Rachael Anne Ryals reported earlier this month, water managers are turning to Florida’s rivers and lakes to supplant the tapped-out groundwater. Citizen outcry, from the northeast coast in Jacksonville to the central-west coast in Citrus County, is considerable.

But it should come as no surprise. If you want to know why Floridians are worried about the way the government will manage the state’s surface-water supply, just look at the way it has managed our groundwater supply. Or the way it has managed our wetlands.

In Jacksonville’s Florida Times-Union, water managers called concerns about over-tapping the St. Johns River alarmist. Florida’s rivers, they said, cannot be compared to the Colorado and others in arid west that are so over-allocated there isn’t enough water for all permitted users, much less fish and wildlife, during times of drought.

But taking lessons from western water history, as well as our own, is exactly what we should be doing. As Winston Churchill said, “The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.”

America’s top water scientists in the 19th Century thought that Florida and the entire eastern half of the United States were so wet, they would never even need irrigation. Those in the 20th Century thought the Floridan Aquifer would give us an endless supply of groundwater.

What assumptions are we making today that will seem equally far-fetched 50 or 100 years from now? One assumption is that increased growth and economic prosperity must mean increased water use.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Water use in the United States stopped rising in the 1980s, yet population and gross domestic product have grown steadily ever since. While some Florida communities have managed to slash water use with serious conservation programs, overall, our per-capita consumption is edging up.

Water managers’ supply predictions are based on Florida using more and more, when we should be using far less. For example, in every other part of the country where agricultural water use is being converted to urban use, overall consumption is going down.

Why isn’t that the case in Florida?

North Florida can learn many lessons from the Tampa Bay water wars – about the benefit of regional cooperation, about the fruitlessness of lawsuits.

Two other important lessons from those wars: 1) major infrastructure projects always have unintended consequences and 2) serious conservation works.

Tampa Bay’s wars ended when the local governments decided to start working together on water supply rather than competing. One project they embarked upon, the Tampa Bay Seawater Desalination Plant, is five years late, $40 million over budget and still not working as it should.

But to me, the most interesting part of the desalination story is this: In the years that the plant has sat idle, the region managed to reduce overall groundwater pumping from 192 million to 121 million gallons a day despite population growth – and without one drop of the desalinated water officials once insisted they needed to meet that goal.

Similar stories can be found around the nation. Water use in the greater Boston area hit a 50-year low in 2004, following an aggressive conservation program begun in the late 1980s that has indefinitely postponed construction of a diversion from the Connecticut River and saved residents more than $500 million in capital expenditures alone.

Florida hasn’t done enough to gain conservation efficiency to justify the economic and ecological cost of ginormous infrastructure projects such as those proposed from the St. Johns and Ocklawaha rivers. Those potential transfers would cost taxpayers many hundreds of millions.

And yet, only one county among those receiving the transfers – Volusia – has mandatory water conservation measures in place.

Why not require efficiency first?

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Ocala Water Wars Summit

Ocala, Florida—(September 18. 2007) Marion County residents and many of their neighbors in North Central Florida are fighting mad over the St. Johns River Water Management District’s (SJRWMD) plan to pump up to 108 million gallons daily from the Ocklawaha River to 18 utilities in Central Florida.

That’s why the Smart Growth Coalition of North Central Florida (SGC) in conjunction with the Putnam County Environmental Council (PCEC) is sponsoring a ”Ocala Water Wars Summit” on Sunday, October 7, from 2:00 to 4:00 at the Marion County Commission Auditorium, McPherson Government Complex, 601 SE 25th Ave., Ocala.

Event planners fear environmental damage will occur if SJRWMD’s 136 mile, $500 million pipeline is built. They also point out that losing the Ocklawaha River to Central Florida deprives residents of Marion, Putnam and other counties of a possible local water supply for their own future needs.

In addition, they question the legality, the necessity, and the methods being used to justify the pipeline. “We’ve assembled a host of qualified people--journalists, elected officials, environmental activists and a scientist--to address these issues,” says SGC’s Susan Dunn., the summit’s moderator. ”We want to inform the public about the issue, the need for good science, the possible lawsuits and legislative attempts to stop the pipeline, and the need for the public to speak out against what’s happening.”

The key speaker at the October 7th event is Cynthia Barnett, a veteran reporter for Florida Trend magazine, and author of Mirage: Florida and the Vanishing Water of the Eastern U.S. Part investigative reporting, part environmental history, Mirage tells how the eastern half of the nation – historically so wet that early settlers predicted it would never even need irrigation – has squandered so much of its abundant fresh water that it now faces shortages and conflicts.

Barnett’s book also examines Florida’s water wars, the politics of development, and inequities in the price of water, the bottled-water industry, privatization, and new-water-supply schemes. In a glowing review, Publisher’s Weekly notes that Mirage "should become vital reading for citizens and policymakers as global concerns over water scarcity grow." Barnett will focus her expertise on the pipeline threat at the Ocala summit.

Other summit speakers include: Brad Rogers, editor, Ocala Star Banner; former Senator Nancy Argenziano, Florida’s Public Service Commission; State Representative Kurt Kelly; Marion County Commissioner Andy Kesselring; Robin Lewis, professional wetlands scientist and PCEC Lead Science Advisor; Karen Ahlers, president, Putnam County Environmental Council, Inc.; and, Guy Marwick, environmental activist, and member of the SGC, Marion Audubon Society, and other organizations.

For details call 685-2434 or 694-4461.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

RiverTown Muddies the Water

The aerial photo of the RiverTown project in St. Johns County was taken by South Wings, a non-profit group of volunteer pilots who assist groups like Riverkeeper. The muddy water was caused by construction-site runoff from the RiverTown project. This photo is courtesy of Ben Williams.

The creeks that cross this property are unique ravine streams that deserve better protection than this. Riverkeeper has alerted St. Joe Co., the regulators, and the county about our concerns. We will continue to press for better protections and accountability.

Despite the significant problems associated with construction-site runoff, these incidents happen frequently and are often able to persist because of a lack of enforcement. We need your help monitoring construction sites like Rivertown to make sure that they are in compliance. If you see a muddy creek or sediment leaving a construction site, please call us and help us to resolve these problems. Call 904-256-7591.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Gators, Crabs, Shrimp and Musings

Written by Ben Williams, former Board member of Riverkeeper

Good morning. And it is morning, shortly after 2 am as I set this down. And no I'm not still up from the night before but rather, as it so often is with us crazy fishermen, already anticipating the days excursion on our St. Johns. Actually today, more accurately only the couple of hours surrounding sunrise, will be spent chasing large lizards.

Now I know a number of you may not approve of this behavior but take from the fact that we are able to engage in it the positive. The positive is that in the not too distant past the American Alligator was listed as a endangered species, yet today, all over the Southeast, not just here in Florida, the alligator has returned. He's returned not only to the point that his important role in the environment is being fully filled but to the point that commercial and recreational hunting of alligators in a number of states is allowed.

And I might add that here in Florida the revenues generated from those hunts fund, fully I am told, the states alligator management programs, programs which would seem to be working, based on the ever increasing numbers, maybe as many as 2 million, certainly over a million. And we're talking a species that breeds almost as quickly as feral cats so they can stand a bit of harvesting.

The obvious positive being that sound environmental policy has allowed the alligator to return. A success, something we who focus on the environment so often miss, that there are successes. It seems the nature of our effort that we focus on what is wrong and seldom on what has been accomplished.

I've attached, for those of you who might be interested in such, a picture or two of the 5th gator we harvested this season. He's not all that big, 10' 5" and a bit over 400 pounds. In fact we've already harvested 2 others of similar size this season. What is different is that this one was caught as the sun came up which gave us the opportunity to take some clear pictures right after he was caught. Also you'll note that the crew on this trip consists of me, the old guy using a block and tackle to bring him over the stern, and one girl. Actually Louann, wife of 27 years and constant companion on the water and in the woods.

Enough about gators, for as with my previous postings the reason I set this stuff down is because I know so many of you, who work so diligently at protecting and improving our St. Johns, get scant opportunity to immerse yourselves in it. I'm more than fortunate in that regard and am always mindful as I recreate on and seek sustenance from our river that without those efforts...........well you know what would happen if we did not work to protect our river.

So what else has been going on of late out there that you've been missing?

In no particular order, and maybe in a somewhat confused recounting, here's some of what we're seeing of late.

Shrimp! Lots of shrimp. And you'll need a map to appreciate this if you're not VERY familiar with the river: shrimp from the south end of Crescent Lake to the south end of Lake George. Atlantic White shrimp (panaeus setiferus), the white shrimp that once they reach maturity and run out into the ocean will constitute the most important part of our commercial catch here in NE Fla.

We're having so far, and will continue to have so long as some ugly tropical event does not drop enough water on us to flush them from the river, a banner year here in our river. In the last few weeks we've been on the river at all hours. Seen a number of sunsets and sunrises, and moon rises and moon sets while chasing gators, and sweltered through more than a afternoon or two chasing the elusive black bass. I say elusive only because our performance in tournaments of late has been less than stellar. Those risings and settings, and that sweltering, has occurred from Julington Creek to the southern ends of George and Crescent.

During the night, at all hours, we've noted docks with nets being tossed off of them onto the shrimp. And during the day, this past Friday and Saturday included, we've passed hundreds of folks tossing nets along the river channel, and at the edges of drops, and in the ends of deep sloughs. And this shrimp fleet, a recreational fleet is what it is, for there is no commercial harvest allowed south of downtown Jax., is a real cross-section of our community.........at least based on the variety of boats, and souls, engaged in it. From pontoon boats to old kicker boats to fancy bass boats to 25+ foot cruisers and sportfishermen, to ski boats ( Here I might add a fisherman's prejudicial remark.....that finally those ski boats are engaged in something unannoying. Now if only we can find such for the PWCs. )............you get the picture.

And the people tossing the nets. They look and sound like America. From the expected southern English of the boys in the bass boats to the Spanish and Korean and Chinese and Tagalog and .......well you get the picture again.

And it's not just the faces and accents that are different but also, if you know what you are seeing, the different ways the nets are tossed. Take a walk along the Old Shands in Green Cove at night and pay close attention. Watch how the nets are folded and readied for throwing. Different methods form different places.

And it's not just the shrimp, and the shrimpers, that are doing well here in the our river. Those who catch crabs for a living are having a good year also. The crabs have been relatively thick, relatively large, and relatively evenly distributed throughout the area. The run has been so good, with so many large males in the mix, that it's actually worked against some of the crabbers, those who peeler fish specifically.

Peelers, crabs that will soon molt and thereby become the most valuable blue crab of all, the soft shell, are specifically sought by some. The standard catch method is to bait a trap with a large live male crab. This baited trap is pulled just as would be a trap baited with fish except in this instance the expected catch is not large mature crabs destined for the steamer but rather juvenile female crabs.

You see, it works like this. The large male crab, sitting in the bait well of that trap, is constantly emitting pheromones. Those pheromones draw the juvenile females to him. Crabs, females at least, generally mate only once in their life at what is referred to as their pubertal molt. This is the molt where the triangular apron on the bottom of the juvenile females shell becomes rounded........and no I'm not going to draw any tacky analogies.......and she becomes sexually mature. It is only immediately after molting, while she is still soft, that she can mate. The male will cradle her, both protecting her while she is in a most vulnerable state and passing along his genetic contribution at the same time.

===== Here I must pause for it's now 4 am and time for the boat to go in the water, more later. ===============

10:05 am, back from the river. Been down south of Palatka looking for gators. Only luck this morning was bad.

Now that's not actually true. We, Scott Campbell, his son Scottie and I, were on the water well before the east started to lighten. We were treated to a spectacular sunrise, over the trees not over the condos. We did see a few gators, actually managed to foul up a good opportunity to harvest one.

Getting back to the crabs:

When the crabber pulls these "peeler pots" as they are called, he dumps out the soon to molt females and feeds the male in the bait well before returning the full but frustrated male and the trap to the water. The females, at least the ones that are far enough along towards the molt, are carried to a shedding house where they are placed in holding tanks. These tanks, protected from the sun and with constantly flowing water, will be their home until they shed, which may be anywhere from a few hours to a few days.

Once a crab sheds it is allowed to firm up a bit and then is removed from the water, carefully placed on a tray and covered with wet newspaper or wet straw. They are then refrigerated.

Once out of the water their shell will not harden. On the other hand should a crab be allowed to stay in the tank for to long after shedding its shell will firm up to much and it will be of no value as a soft crab. This fact makes shedding crabs a 24 hour a day occupation. Generally the tanks must be checked every two hours. As many, if not most, of the local shedding operations are mom and pop efforts this means little sound sleep for the family during the peeler runs.

And I could go on about this but you kind of get the picture, so don't complain about the cost of that one soft-shell crab.............

And then there are the mullet. Not a very exciting fish but arguably among the most important because of the gap it bridges in the food web. Being a vegetarian, complete with gizzard, it is one of the great transporters of plant energy on up the food chain. Needless to say the mullet is incorporated, unwillingly, into many other species of fish.

The mullet in our river have been growing like crazy all summer. This years crop is excellent, great numbers all over. In the next few weeks they will start to get antsy about migrating as the first few cool days of fall arrive. They will also start to develop roe. Mullet roe, once a great delicacy along the southeast coast, is today a food in demand by only a few. It's something we're soon to lose as a culture, the love of it. Mind you I don't much care for it but I do care for tradition and a holding on to....oh well regardless it's a passing thing.

And for those of us who've caught them, and who know what we are looking at, the appearance of the schools will change over the next few weeks as they aggregate for the run to the ocean. The scattered schools, often no more than a few fish, will come to gather into schools that will string for hundreds of yards....or more. And they'll travel. It'd take a page or two to describe it.

And it's worth mentioning that a mullet is not just a mullet. Out close to the ocean we've got a mix, black mullet ( Also called striped. ) and silver mullet. The silvers are much smaller, seldom over a pound. The blacks, those are the mullet of our river, the ones that travel all the way south. They are the ones that attain 4 and 5 and more pounds, and produce the once so highly prized roe. And that roe. During this time of year the commercial fishermen will gauge the mullet by the roe. The constant question, because the price paid to the fisherman hinges on it, is what percent are they cutting? This refers to the pounds of roe per hundred weight of female mullet in the round that can be recovered. At times this can be as high as 15 to 17 percent.

The male fish are basically crab bait.................and you can figure out why.

Midges. A.K.A. blind mosquitoes. Last year we had numerous hatches all the way to south Jax. Almost every night of gator season we endured some level of swarm. A few nights it was so bad that we had to rinse off the boat because their accumulated eggs and squashed bodies rendered the boat slippery. They were so prevalent, and its been so long sense we've had significant hatches up this way, that there were news articles written on them.

Why they are gone this year........I'd venture the salt. And in this part of the river the fact that the salt has killed the grass. Why we've not seen significant hatches on Crescent or George or south of Palatka, places where the grass is a gorgeous as I can remember........can't answer that one. When we're gator hunting we don't miss them swarming our lights and crawling in and under and around our persons and belongings, but we do know they, like the mullet, are transporters of energy up the food chain so we wonder.

And there's a lot more but..................time...............

Do let me share this quote. It came from Louann as we drove back across the Shands bridge from a gator effort. She was looking out at our river over the rails of the bridge and noting the groups of boats, both north and south and spread all about. Some, most I'd say, were shrimping, a few were fishing, a couple were sailboats and of course a PWC or two was skimming along.

And Louann said "Look at all those people enjoying the river. That's a good thing."

And it is a good thing. And it's a good thing that can be still happening a hundred years from now. And if it is it will be because of the good thing all of you are doing for our river. That's what I think. I think because of the efforts of a lot of people, people who to infrequently get to enjoy our river, our river will still be a productive and enjoyable place for our grandchildren.


An afterthought.........the gator......he will be used. We use them all. The meat from that one, all of it not just the tail, went to Magnolia Point Golf Club. The hide will end up in the hands of a artisan leather worker, most likely in France or Italy.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Central Florida's Thirst Threatens River

Starting in early 2003, an influential group of business leaders, called “The Florida Council of 100”, met behind closed doors to divvy up the state's water supply. Those meetings resulted in the development of a report published in September, 2003, entitled, Improving Florida’s Water Supply Management Structure.

The controversial report called for the establishment of a statewide water supply commission and presented the idea of redirecting of North Florida’s precious water resources to thirsty, booming Central and South Florida. The report also called for the alteration of the water management law policy at that time called “Local Sources First.”
The report caused a firestorm. The specifics of the Council’s closed meetings that led to the report were published in numerous newspapers accounts statewide. The idea that communities that had allowed unsustainable growth and were suffering water shortage issues would be allowed to take water from other areas was universally condemned.

The Florida Senate sponsored a series of public hearings to discuss the report, and at every venue, citizens denounced the idea of piping water from north Florida to south and central Florida. The opposition to the Council’s report was so overwhelming, that many felt that the idea of water transfers had been defeated. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

The ideas put forth by the Council are not dead. To the contrary, the Council’s ideas have been moving forward under the guidance of the State’s Water Management Districts. The idea of taking water from one area of the state to meet the needs of another is no longer a concept, it is a reality. Unfortunately, the St. Johns and Ocklawaha Rivers are the testing grounds for this experiment.


• The St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) has stated that central Florida has out-stripped the Floridan aquifer’s ability to provide a sustainable drinking water source beyond 2013. The District has told communities they will have to seek alternative water sources (AWS).

• The SJRWMD has stated that 155 million gallon days (MGD) can be “safely” removed from the St. Johns River between the headwaters and Deland (State Road 44). The term “safely” applies to the District’s belief that a 155 MGD withdrawal will not affect the aquatic health of the river or its ecosystem.

• At a July 18 meeting in Orlando, various cities and counties submitted ~ 46 withdrawal projects/proposals vying for the 155 MGD.

• Because river water has a high salt or mineral content, most withdrawals will involve reverse osmosis, or RO. A by-product of RO is high mineral content and/or very salty water. RO water is also high in nutrients. The byproducts, or pollutants, are called “concentrate”. The SJRWMD has recently started a study to document the problems with concentrate on the river environment—the study will end in a year.

• The SJRWMD is also focusing its attention on the lower Ocklawaha River. Although District staff has not set a minimum flow level, or MFL, for the Ocklawaha River, the agency is telling counties to expect to be able to withdraw 90 to 108 MGD from the river.

• The SJRWMD is currently looking at potential withdrawals from the St. Johns River totaling 262 MGD.

• Withdrawals from the St. Johns will impact the river’s salinity line.

• One of the largest proposed water withdrawals, Yankee Lake, is planned in an area just south of the Wekiva Aquatic Preserve! Also, this plant could eventually discharge concentrate into the river.

• The only county proposing to withdraw water from the River that has a mandatory water conservation plan is Volusia County. None of the other counties or municipalities that are planning water withdrawals has mandatory water conservation programs.

• The current withdrawals plans will only provide drinking water needs until ~2030, less than 25 years into the future.

Riverkeeper’s Concerns

1. St. Johns Riverkeeper is concerned that the withdrawals from the St. Johns and the Ocklawaha Rivers have the potential to harm the health of both rivers.

2. The SJRWMD has minimized the risks to the River’s ecological health by portraying the withdrawals as a simple percentage of the river’s total flows.

3. The withdrawals will cause the river’s salinity line to shift upstream especially during low flow conditions. No one, including the SJRWMD, fully understands the potential impacts to the river’s health and fisheries from the proposed withdrawals.

4. In addition to withdrawing water from the St. Johns and Ocklawaha, the SJRWMD is also proposing to utilize Aquifer Storage Recovery, or ASR, a process that injects minimally treated water back into the ground water aquifers. There are risks associated with this procedure. For example, ASR has been linked to high levels of arsenic found in the stored water because of chemical changes during the storage process.

5. “Concentrate” from the RO process could harm the river’s health by adding additional pollutants to an already stressed system.

6. SJRK is concerned the SJRWMD could issue numerous withdrawal permits before the concentrate study is completed.

7. The SJRWMD has not required mandatory conservation programs in an attempt to reduce the need to withdraw river water.

8. All of the District’s studies rationalizing and/or minimizing the environmental impacts of water withdrawal have been done “in house”, i.e. written by staff or consultants paid for by the District. There has been no independent review of any of these reports.

9. Once the river water withdrawal program is started, there will be no turning back, regardless if the act is harming the River’s ecological health.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Congrats and Thanks

Congratulations to Mary Pepe for winning the raffle for the Gibson Les Paul studio guitar signed by JJ Grey of MOFRO and the members of Los Lobos.

A special thanks goes out to JJ and MOFRO for making Riverkeeper the beneficiary of the festival. We appreciate all that they are doing through their music and their support of Riverkeeper to spread the word about protecting the REAL Florida .

Thanks also to Gibson for donating the guitar, to Randy and Beth Judy for donating 2 tix to Magnolia Fest, and to Paul Levine for donating 2 tix to Bear Creek Music Festival.

Finally, thanks to all of our volunteers who helped staff our table and everyone who supported the raffle. We can't continue to do this work without the support of our members, volunteers, and the community. THANK YOU!

Jimmy Orth backstage with JJ Grey of MOFRO and the legendary, Willie Green.

Friday, August 31, 2007

MOFRO concert benefits Riverkeeper

Just a reminder that this Sunday, September 2, is the Blackwater Sol Revue, featuring MOFRO and a host of other great bands. Riverkeeper is the beneficiary of the festival. Come on out, see a great show, and support Riverkeeper. We will have a table at the event selling raffle tickets to for guitar donated by Gibson and signed by JJ Grey. We are also raffling off 2 tickets to Magnolia Fest! The drawing will be help before MOFRO takes the stage.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Drains to the River

I am collecting photos of storm drains that are poorly maintained or are being used for trash receptacles instead of stormwater. Send your pictures to me at jorth@ju.edu.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Riverkeeper Seeks Compliance

On Monday, St. Johns Riverkeeper filed suit against the Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA) in United States District Court. The suit was filed under the Federal Clean Water Act for JEA’s continuing water quality violations at the Buckman and Arlington East Wastewater Treatment Facilities (WWTF).

The sewage collection systems for Buckman WWTF and Arlington East WWTF have repeatedly failed over the last several years, illegally discharging over 8.3 million gallons of raw sewage and poorly treated wastewater into Duval County waterways. The Arlington East WWTF experienced 96 illegal discharges of raw sewage, or Sanitary Overflows (SSOs), between September 2001 and July 2007. The Buckman WWTF experienced 111 illegal SSO discharges. The lawsuit is a natural progression of our campaign to step up compliance and enforcement of environmental regulations related to wastewater discharge permits in the lower St. Johns River.

As you may know, St. Johns Riverkeeper and the Public Trust Environmental Law Institute of Florida released the Lower St. Johns River Compliance Report in June, a study that analyzed the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) specific to the lower St. Johns River. That study documented 301 violations of the NPDES permit limits or conditions.

This legal action is just a continuation of the Compliance Report Project. We spent hundreds of hours reviewing DEP files and documents and confirmed that there is a serious problem with permit compliance and the enforcement of the laws that are supposed to protect our waterways. We found that ongoing violations continue to occur at these and other wastewater treatment plants and are not being adequately addressed by JEA or the DEP. We feel like the ongoing situation leaves us no choice but to file suit, and let the courts resolve this matter.

"We hope that JEA and DEP will get the message that these violations are unacceptable and must be adequately addressed,” noted our General Counsel, Michael Howle. “Riverkeeper cannot stand idly by and allow this to happen. If our regulatory agency won’t do its job and enforce clean water laws and JEA won’t take the responsibility to fix these ongoing problems in a timely manner, then Riverkeeper will step in and make sure that the public interest is protected."

If JEA is truly committed to protecting our waterways, then fixing failing wastewater treatment facilities and sewage collection systems should be one of its top priorities. Based on the ongoing violations at the Arlington East and Buckman facilities, JEA does not appear to be adequately living up to that commitment. Our goal is to make sure that they are fulfilling their legal responsibility and obligation to operate facilities that are fully and consistently in compliance with the law and don’t cause harm to the public or our river.

We'll keep you posted as things progress.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Green Monster Returns

This photo was taken on Wednesday along Julington Creek by Dr. Gerry Pinto while doing his bi-monthly aerial manatee survey. It serves as a reminder that the nutrient pollution problem has not been resolved and could even lead to a more substantial bloom like we had in 2005. We will keep monitoring the "Green Monster" and let you know if it gets worse or if the algae turns out to be toxic like in 05'. Read the latest article that was in the Daily Record about the recent algae sitings.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Pollution Pipeline

As I’ve mentioned before, the Georgia Pacific Paper Mill’s (GP) discharge permit is up for renewal. We have been following the application as it moves through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection‘s (DEP) process.

You may remember that DEP issued GP a permit in 2002 that would allow the mill to build a 1,500 ft, 48 inch diameter pipeline that would move its discharge point from Rice Creek to the heart of the St. Johns River. GP has said that building the pipeline was a last resort effort; the pipe would be used only if all of the plant upgrades left them no choice. Now, the Mill seems to have changed its tune, and according to a new GP website, the company now plans on constructing the pollution transfer system in the near term.

Riverkeeper opposes the construction of this pipeline. We believe the mill should not be able to move its pollution from Rice Creek to the River and the mill should do more to reduce its impacts from the environment. GP is the second largest source of nitrogen in the lower St. Johns discharging over 200,000 lbs/year. Nitrogen is the cause of the Green Monster. The Mill’s pollution also has such an impact on the dissolved oxygen levels in Rice Creek that the mill has to inject liquid oxygen into its waste stream. There are still byproducts of the mill’s bleaching process that have been shown to cause impacts to fish reproduction processes.

Riverkeeper and our partner, Clean Water Network of Florida, will continue to follow the permit renewal process. Given the prospect of massive water removals from the river, discharge permits such as GP, will have even more significance for the River’s health. We will keep you posted on this important issue. We will need your help in this battle.

What is that sucking sound?

If you haven't already heard, Central Florida is planning to withdraw large amounts of water from the St. Johns River and the lower Ocklawaha. This issues is huge, and it grows daily. We’re busy plowing through hundreds of pages of documents, and there is much more to learn. We will be producing a white paper and/or fact sheets on this topic. Here’s what we know right now:

The St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) has stated that central Florida has out-stripped the Floridan aquifer’s ability to provide a sustainable drinking water source beyond 2013.

The District has told communities they will have to seek alternative water sources (AWS). The SJRWMD has stated that 155 million gallon days (MGD) can be “safely” removed from the St. Johns River between the headwaters and State Road 44. This number was based upon a study done by a consultant hired by the district. By “safely”, the District means 155 MGD withdrawal will not affect the aquatic health of the river or its ecosystem.

At a July 18 meeting in Orlando, various cities and counties submitted ~ 46 withdrawal projects/proposals vying for the 155 MGD.

Because river water has a high salt or mineral content, most withdrawals will involve reverse osmosis, or RO. A by-product of RO is high mineral content and/or very salty water. Also, RO water is high in nutrients. The byproducts are called “concentrate”.

The SJRWMD has recently started a study to document the problems with concentrate on the river environment—the study will end in a year. RK is concerned SJRWMD could issue numerous withdrawal permits BEFORE the study is complete.

The SJRWMD is also focusing its attention on the lower Ocklawaha River. Although District staff has not set an MFL, minimum flow level, for the Ocklawaha River, the agency is telling counties to expect to be able to withdraw 90 to 108 MGD from the river.

The only county proposing to withdraw water from the River that has a mandatory water conservation plan is Volusia County. None of the other counties or municipalities that are planning water withdrawals has mandatory water conservation programs.

One of the largest water withdrawals, Yankee Lake, is planned in an area just south of the Wekiva Aquatic Preserve! Also, this plant will eventually discharge concentrate into the river.

This current process will only provide drinking water needs until 2025, less than 20 years into the future.

If you are concerned about this process you can contact the Executive Director of the SJRWMD, Kirby Green, at kgreen@sjrwmd.com or 386-329-4262 and Barbara Vergara, Chief of Water Supply, at bvergara@sjrwmd.com or 386-329-4169.

If you want to contact the policy makers of the SJRWMD, the Governing Board, you can send a email c/o Linda Lorenzen, executive assistant, and ask her to forward your correspondence to the board. Her contact is llorenzen@sjrwmd.com.

Thanks again for caring for our beautiful St. Johns.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Water Wars

July 24, 2007

Central Florida shouldn't take water from St. Johns

Lovers of the St. Johns River be warned.

The St. Johns River Water Management District is gung-ho about plans to take perhaps as much as 150 million gallons a day out of the river to quench the thirst of Central Florida where growth continues out of control.

And it's not just the St. Johns. Millions of gallons could also come out of the Ocklawaha, a major tributary of the St. Johns.

And it's not just water for Central Florida. South Florida and Southwest Florida are bellying up to the bar as well in a behind-the-scenes ploy to get around the public outcry that came when a similar idea was proposed a couple of years ago.

A major problem is no one knows for sure what sucking that much water out of the St. Johns and Ocklawaha would do to the health of the rivers.

It's easy to tell the water management district is serious about proceeding. Why else would it pay the law firm of Fowler White Boggs Banker about $1 million to facilitate planning sessions for the projects?

One such meeting was held in Orlando last week where about 40 entities expressed interest in staking out claims on water from the St. Johns and the Ocklawaha.

The St. Johns Riverkeeper, Neil Armingeon, attended the meeting and described the atmosphere as being "like dogs fighting over a hunk of meat." When he asked about challenging the projects, Armingeon said he was told, "Hey, dude. It's a done deal."

Well, it shouldn't be a done deal.

When communities spend perhaps as much as $300 million on a plant to treat the river water to make it potable, do you really believe the water management district is going to say, sorry, it turns out we were wrong and the health of the river is being adversely affected, so stop using the water?

And there's no satisfactory answer as to what will happen to the effluent from the plants. When you remove the dirty stuff from the river water, where does it go? Back into the river in concentrated form?

"This is madness," Armingeon said.

The water management district insists withdrawing the water will be safe. I know scientists who disagree.

One big question is how taking that much fresh water out of the St. Johns would affect the river's salinity levels and ecology.

Gov. Charlie Crist has been presenting himself lately as an environmentalist. I applaud him on his efforts to cut greenhouse gases.

He also needs to make it clear to the boards of the state's water management districts that their mission is not only water supply.

It's also protecting the health of the state's waterways.

He has a perfect opportunity to drive that point home.

The board of the St. Johns River Water Management District has nine members. The terms of three of those members have expired. Crist needs to appoint people who get it.

One thing didn't come up at the Orlando meeting where hands were wrung over finding alternative water supplies to meet the needs of burgeoning development.

Half of the water being taken from the aquifer is being used for irrigation.

Institute strict conservation programs and leave the St. Johns and Ocklawaha alone.
ron.littlepage@jacksonville.com, (904) 359-4284

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Study Reveals Significant Compliance Problems

If you watched our new documentary, Revenge of the River, then you know that we have been working on an analysis of Clean Water Act permit compliance for the Lower St. Johns River. Well, the study, Lower St. Johns River Compliance Report, is finally complete and the findings are rather troubling.

In 1972, Congress passed the Clean Water Act, a law that marked a new direction in the management of pollution discharged to our waterways. As authorized by the Clean Water Act, the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program was created to regulate point sources (e.g. a pipe) that discharge pollutants into the waters of the United States. In Florida, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has been authorized to administer the NPDES permit program. Thus, DEP has the primary legal authority to implement, oversee, and enforce the permit process.

St. Johns Riverkeeper and the Public Trust Environmental Law Institute of Florida, Inc. initiated the study to analyze the DEP NPDES permit data specific to the St. Johns River. The groups established an 20-month time frame, from January 1, 2005 to August 31, 2006, as the study period.

The purpose of the Lower St. Johns River Compliance Report is to: (1) evaluate the effectiveness of facilities in complying with the limits and conditions of their NPDES permits, and (2) educate the public and provide insight into how DEP oversees the NPDES program and fulfills its responsibility of protecting our waterways. The results clearly indicate that problems exist with the compliance of NPDES permits and the administration and execution of the NPDES program. This analysis serves to document those shortcomings and provide recommendations to address those problems.

Key Findings:

  • The permit review documented 252 violations of NPDES permit limits or conditions and 46 Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSOs) for a total of 298 total violations during the 20-month study period. SSOs totaled almost 266,000 gallons of material, with the majority relating to sewage.
  • Nitrogen-related violations were the most frequent type of violation with 73 incidences. Other Water Quality issues were a close second with 65 occurrences. Bacteria violations numbered 44, and Oxygen related violations totaled 26. There were 21 violations involving heavy metals, followed by 12 violations involving toxic chemicals. There were 11 flow violations. When combined with the 46 SSO violations, flow and SSOs combine to create a substantial problem.
  • JEA’s Julington Creek Water Reclamation Facility (WRF or WWTF) led all facilities in the number of violations with 37. The Julington Creek wastewater treatment facility was followed by Paradise Point WWTF with 27 violations. Hiawatha and Hart Point WWTF each had 22 permit violations.
  • JEA facilities, the majority of which are wastewater treatment facilities, violated their permits a total of 64 times. JEA facilities accounted for over 90% of the SSO violations, 42 of the 46 events.
  • The review noted that DEP designated 27 facilities as “Out-of-Compliance” and documented 36 various “compliance” related incidences. Eighteen facilities were designated as “Significantly-Out-of-Compliance”.
  • A review of the data indicates that some facilities were allowed to operate for long periods of time with an out-of-compliance designation. In some cases, the time period was over a year. For example, the DEP declared East Putman County Road WWTP as “significantly-out-of-compliance” in March 2005. A year later, the facility was again designated as “significantly-out-of-compliance”. The Palatka WWTF was listed as “out-of-compliance” in July of 2005. A return inspection almost a year later, in June 2006, resulted in the plant being declared “significantly-out-of-compliance”.

Currently, the Lower St. Johns River is designated as “impaired” or polluted because of too much nutrient (nitrogen) pollution, and most of the creeks and tributaries in Duval County have high levels of fecal coliform bacteria. In other words, our river and creeks are already polluted. These permit violations are violations of the law--illegally contributing additional pollution to our waterways causing further degradation.

If we are going to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to restore the health of the St. Johns, then compliance and enforcement of our environmental laws must be a priority, as well. The facilities that are violating the terms of their permits must do a better job of complying with the law. DEP, the state agency charged with protecting the river, must do a better job of enforcing the laws and encouraging compliance. We deserve better, and so does our river.

For more information, visit our website – www.stjohnsriverkeeper.org. You can download the Lower St. Johns River Compliance Report and view the original documents from the DEP files that verify the violations.

Monday, June 11, 2007

River of Late.......

The following is from the latest river observations of Ben Williams, former Riverkeeper Board member, avid fisherman, and owner of Fisherman's Dock seafood market.

Ospreys - Though over the last few decades they have become pleasantly ubiquitous, they can still serve as barometers of things. In that vein, it's worth noting that of late we've noticed at least a couple of nests where the parents have managed to rear 3 chicks to fledge. I'd venture that this is a result of the current conditions in the river. Both because of the great schools of mullet, and because of the large number of distressed freshwater fish, easy picking abound. I should also add that, because of the good crab season we're having, there are more traps around, and therefore, more discarded bait to be scavenged each morning. Less chance of a young osprey not getting a full belly and, therefore, less need for his less strong sibling to go even hungrier.

And speaking of traps and discarded bait, gators love it too. We've noted gators working away from the bank at sunrise in Lake George, precisely when you'd usually expect to see them going in the other direction, and they're working out towards the trap lines.......think they've learned something?

And it is that salt water that is of special note. Marker 18, on the north head of the bar at Browns landing, which is about a dozen miles south of the 17 Bridge at Palatka, had barnacles on it as of Saturday. Not little tiny pinhead ones either, but rather barnacles of BB size or larger. NEVER seen them so far south. Asked around. Found a few fishermen older than I to ask and their response was the same. In the old days, 30 years ago, even the docks in the Toccoi area were barnacle free. And it was big news when, a decade ago, barnacles were growing within sight of Palatka, way beyond that now.

And with those barnacles, riding too on the salt, have come the fish. Tarpon, 3 I know of hooked by one bass fisherman on Friday last. And snook, and porpoise south of Green Cove, and jellyfish to the Shands and beyond, and the crabs are carrying sponge south of town, which pushes the crabbers farther south to escape those they can not sell legally. And here at the house, Fruit Cove, a few hundred yards south of Julington Creek, the fish feeder's school of bream has dwindled. Driven from the constant source of food by the salt, I assume. And I think it a good assumption for, and trust me I know what I am looking at, as I look off the dock I see few freshwater fish. Where a couple of months ago there would be groups of small bass and sundry panfish species wandering the shallows, today, none.

But it's not as if there is no life there, for the saltwater species have replaced them. Mullet, and schools of small croakers, and spots, and pinfish, and all sorts of minnows. And where we would see shad, we're now seeing porgies. And a few hours ago I noted vast numbers of tiny marine shrimp, the result of the spring spawn, moving along the bank. And their general direction of movement, as is to be expected this time of year, is south.

And the eel grass is in full retreat here near Julington. Since January, it's transitioned from lush to sparse, with gone on the way. It's headed where it was a decade ago, white sand and sight casting reds off the dock................... But to the south, Lake George and the river proper, there the grass is coming back with a vengeance. The bars in the river, bars which for the last 4 or 5 years have been just that, sand bars, are now sprouting grass. And in Lake George, how beautiful it will get is anyone's guess. We were there yesterday. Along the east shore, there are places where it extends hundreds of yards from the bank, farther than we can ever remember seeing it. And the west shore, according to reports as I've not been over there lately myself, has recovered nicely from the lashing of the hurricanes. The grass, which had been rooted up in mass by the waves of those storms, is well on it's way to lush also.

And more good news. With the exception of a report or two from Crescent Lake, there has been no sign of our ugly green friend. Of course, it's only in the last couple of weeks that the water has hit the mid 80s steady, which may change things, but then the salt will have some effect?

And the mullet.............! If there have been more mullet in the river in recent years, we missed it. It's hard to explain this, but generally while we do see some significant size variation in the mullet populating the river, the mullet in the river will be more of the larger and fewer of the smaller. Of course, the river harbors mostly black mullet and not the silvers that tend to run smaller. But what we're seeing is a population structure with a far greater number of small, as in what fishermen call "finger mullet", than usual. And the numbers are huge. Doctors Lake is literally seething with them. How this unusually large population of vegetarians will effect things, who can tell.

And then there is the bottom in the shallows. When we have grass, the grass tends to impede the passage of sediments down the river. Here at the house, and in many places, a muck layer will develop behind and amongst the grass. The bottom not covered by grass will be dark. Now though, even in the shallows, sand is much more visible. And where did the muck go? And where did the nutrients bound up in that muck go? And is this good? And is this a natural cycle that allows the river to purge to some extent? Questions that prove we need science and scientist because we fishmongers can only guess. I guess it's a good and natural thing, guess being the operative word.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Revenge of the River

Riverkeeper's new documentary, Revenge of the River, looks at some of the critical issues facing the St. Johns River and explores what can be done to prevent our booming population from overwhelming our river. As our state continues to experience rapid growth and development, we are faced with significant challenges and critical decisions that will impact the future of our river. Will we decimate our remaining wetlands, lower or inadequately enforce our environmental protections, deplete our groundwater, and establish communities that are unsustainable? The decision is ours. We still have time to reconcile with our river before it seeks its revenge.

DVDs will be available soon. For more information, call 904-256-7591.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Spring Eco-Heritage Boat Trip

The following has been posted by Jimmy Orth, Executive Director of St. Johns Riverkeeper.

We have been blessed with an absolutely beautiful day as we begin the spring Eco-Heritage Boat Trips. This is the type of day that you dream of - blue skies, soft breeze, glassy waters, mild temperatures and low humidity, and an abundance of wildlife all around. We are only on day one, and we have already seen limpkins, alligators, and a manatee. As usual, Trout Creek is a delight to the senses and a reminder of what we have to lose. You hope that generations to come will be able to experience this creek as it is today. As much as we discuss the problems that are impacting our river and focus on what ails it, the river and its tributaries still support a tremendous amount of wildlife and much beauty still remains.

However, the impending growth and development that is projected to besiege our state may change our river for the worse, if we don't change course now. I spoke with one of the passengers, Bill Basford, at lunch, and we both agreed that the river as we know it today will most likely not remain the same for much longer. I thought about this realization and the dilemma that we are faced with. Can we sustainably accommodate the enormous growth that is projected, - a doubling of our state population by 2060? Will we be able to restore the health of our river, or at least maintain its current state of health - impaired but still sustaining life and providing significant economic and recreational benefits?

I am often nostalgic for how I remember the way things once were - the woods where I used to play as a child where houses now stand, an old marina where I used to buy bait that has since succumbed to soaring land values, my favorite local fish camp now filled with transplants and tourists, or the beautiful canopied back road that is now lined with strip malls and towering billboards. I long for the culture, charm, character, flora and fauna that seem to be withering away from my home and birthplace, as we seem to be intent on fulfilling Patrick Smith's prophecy of Florida as a land remembered. I don't want to one day have to reminisce about and long for the river of today, one that is polluted and, in many measures, in decline. I don't want to ever have to say, "At least we used to be able to eat fish on occasion and swim in some parts of its waters with precaution."

Even though our river has its problems and its health must be improved, we are still fortunate to have undeveloped and pristine sections along the river where we can catch a glimpse of our river in its natural state. We still have so much worth fighting for. Despite the challenges that lie ahead of us, my spirit has not been dampened and I am certainly not ready to give up. In fact, the wonders of the river that I am experiencing on this trip make me more determined than ever to protect our river and our quality of life. I am optimistic that we can successfully and sustainably coexist with our river and our natural world, but it will require that we put an end to the status quo. Business as usual has run its course. Let's use our American ingenuity and resolve to craft a new vision and path for our state and for our river. Let's not settle for fond memories or a polluted river. Let us settle for nothing less than a clean, healthy and vibrant St. Johns.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Observations of the River

The following is from a recent e-mail from one of Riverkeeper's founding Board members , Ben Williams. Ben is an avid fisherman and owner of a seafood market, Fisherman's Dock. Enjoy!

The ospreys. They are finishing their nests and a few, I'd venture, are sitting eggs. For weeks now we've observed them ferry, not just the usual fish, but all manner of plant material back to their growing nests. Numerous times we watched as one, a clump of moss or such grasped in a talon, swooped down and dragged the moss across the surface of the water. Why do they do that? Don't know but they do. For the moment, as they've recovered to the point that their nests are almost ubiquitous on channel markers, they simply take flight if we fish to close. In a few weeks noisy defensive behavior, in lieu of just taking to the wing, will be their response to our encroachment. A sure sign little ones have arrived.

And the wood ducks. The nest boxes at the head of the our dock, put there by a thoughtful neighbor, are in use. As sure a sign that the box is in use, as sure as actually seeing them entering a box, is the presence of a pair in the same location each afternoon and morning. They're waiting for the small ones to tumble to the water. Later in the year there will be less of this consistent presence by adult pairs. And it should be mentioned that the ospreys eagerly await the little ones too. As do a host of other predators, from bass to otters to turtles.

And the coots. The coots are notable by their scarcity. While their numbers this year were not as high as in previous years (Their numbers fluctuate quite a bit, for what reason I do not know.) for the last few weeks the few that were here have been leaving. And with their leaving the eagles lose one source of food. So you've never seen a eagle hunt coots? Unusual methods for a bird of prey, a bird we expect to hunt by ambush. The eagle will lazily swoop and dive, back and forth, over a flock of coots on the water. Coots are slow to the wing and prone to dive for protection. Generally the eagles activities will succeed in driving the coots, in a fluttering running rush, back and forth across the water. The eagle just swoops and watches, watches for a weak one, or a stupid one. And if you've never seen coot feathers floating down across the yard as a eagle plucks his meal........

And in the water. It is very busy in the water. It's spring you know and love is in the air (water).

While we haven't heard the gators bellowing yet, it won't be long. They've been much more active of late. Not just sunning themselves but actually behaving as if they're hungry. Had to pull a expensive lure away from a small one the other day.

The other reptiles, the turtles. Friday we noted a big female cooter laying eggs a few feed from the patio. How she, and the many more like her we've see over the years, navigate up the bank, through the thick vegetation.....more impressive is how the quarter sized hatchlings will do the reverse in a few weeks..... the hare knows.

And the river grasses. What we fishermen ( I will NEVER use the PC term "fishers" to describe fishermen. A fisher is a weasel. And "fishermen" is a gender neutral word in the real world! ) call eel grass is, and has been for a few weeks farther south, sending forth it's flowers attached to long round stems. In places the water is speckled with the lime green pollen for them. At least I figure it's pollen, could be the seeds? Anyway it's lime green and floats. In a few weeks the specialized stems will disappear.

And the filamentous algae. It's ahead of itself this year. We've attributed that to the warm winter, maybe wrongly. We fishermen call the algae "snot". Snot, because it hangs on a lure like........well you get the picture. And the algae, when it gets thick enough, will float to the surface in ugly snotty green mats and......well enough of that.

And the fish. My favorites, obviously. As a fisherman, not a fisher!

For the last few weeks the gar, the long nose brand specifically, have been grouped up in breading schools. It may be a stretch to call one large female being followed by as many as 6 smaller males a school, maybe a.......won't got there. Anyway they lay their eggs in the grass. As best I know they thrash their way into some thick stuff, make a group deposit, leaving the eggs to hatch untended. Maybe not right, but I think so. Whatever they do it's obviously working as we've no shortage of gars. And imagine the mating group. A big female, notably darker and pudgier, followed by her admirers, slowly swimming about the shallows, almost oblivious to the boat: unless you make a sudden move. And when they thrash about, the female sometimes of almost 20 pounds, and in water mere inches deep, quite a commotion.

And the bream. Now let's be clear, "bream" is used by we fishermen as a general term for various members of the sunfish family of freshwater fishes. But in truth there are bream, a distinct species, and shellcrackers, and red breasts and pumkinseeds and........well there are more, grouped under that "bream" umbrella. In the last few days the "bream" have started to move from the shell bars and the ends of docks, where they have been staging, into the shallows to bed. In just the last few days we've noted large bedding concentrations, some the size of a boat and some pushing the size of a garage, in the shallows. The biggest concentrations will usually be shellcrackers, at least that's my opinion. The true bream will generally bed in much smaller groups, often times as individual fish, on pieces of sunken wood or dock pilings. In the early morning a active bream bed, especially at low tide, will make the water above it jiggle like Jell-O. They're active little fish when on bed.

And the catfish. They too, have, in the last few days, started to bed. Most of the catfish we see bedding are the smaller speckled cats. They make pitiful looking beds, expending no more effort than it takes to get a area two or three times their body width cleared of vegetation so she ( And I say she because with the cats I can not ever remember seeing more than one fish on a bed at a time. Much different from all the other bedding fish we see.)can rear their young. Catfish are better parent than the bream and gar that just leave their offspring. In a few days we'll start seeing small clouds of very small catfish in the beds with the females. Imagine a catfish of 1/2 to 1 inch long....black and soft, perfectly formed. Of all the juvenile fish it's the one most often to garner the description, "cute". Not a term applied to the adults. Why?

And the bass. They've been bedding for weeks. The activity starts in the springs along the west shore of Lake George, sometimes as early as December. As the water warms the activity, following water temperatures, gradually generalizes up the river. The last few weeks have been spectacular. We've boated, and released, 3 ten pound class fish and 20 or more over 5 pounds. For weeks, actually months, each spring our attention while fishing is tuned to the bright spots in the grass. Those bright spots often times are the fanned out depressions that will receive the eggs of the female bass. The initial bed is fanned out by the male, who will be joined by a female after a day or two. Over the course of a few days the two fish will guard the bed, with a increasing degree of aggressiveness, until the female lays her eggs. After the eggs are laid the female will wander off and leave the male to guard the eggs. The male will continue to guard the eggs, even after they have hatched into fry, and for as much as a week or more after that.

And most of this, and much more, we've noted, not running up and down the river but up close and quiet. For the primary fishing method, for those bedding bass, is that we stand on the bows of our boats and pole them slowly along in the shallows so as not to spook the fish. Needless to say we get to see far more than the fish.

And I guess it is proper, and necessary, to finally note the human component in the life of the river. Families pulling tubes, the sand bar south of Palatka loaded with boats, we fisherman, thousands of us, flailing the water, the kayakers and more............all evident in increasing numbers.

And if you ever wonder if it's worth all the effort, the effort to keep it cycling, it is. And it is appreciated....... And appreciated even more by those of us who get to experience and enjoy. I guess my biggest wonder is that so many who get little chance to enjoy it would work so hard to keep it.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Thoughts About Our River

I speak to many groups in my role as the St. Johns Riverkeeper. It's important to be able to tell them, and you, what Riverkeeper is about. I've honed my message to make it as direct and to the point as possible. We believe the St. Johns is one of most unique rivers on this planet. We believe the St. Johns River is northeast Florida's most important natural resource. We also believe that what's best for the River is best for our community.

Some people accept that message and embrace it, others don't. I've had people tell me that our vision is too myopic, too short sighted, or worse, unrealistic. One gentleman told me one can't simply put the well being of a river above all the other needs of a community. I believe you can.

Clearly, the St. Johns is one of our most important economic engines; it is worth billions of dollars annually to the communities it touches. But, it is important beyond dollars and cents.
The St. Johns River defines us as a community. Our connection to the River is beyond geography.

The river speaks to each of us in a way that is personal and important. It is our link to the natural world; it is our connection to the other creatures we share this resource with.

I've spoken with people who have lived on or near the river for their entire lives. They speak about the comfort its presence brings them. The River is their connection to a happy time with their family, or a connection with a manatee, pelican, great blue heron, or a river otter. For many people, these memories are priceless. You don't have to live on the River to experience a connection to the River. It belongs to all of us.

Soon, it will be spring, a perfect time to get out and explore our beautiful waterways. The next time you're planning an outing, think about involving the River. Take a walk on the River Walk(s), enjoy a round trip water taxi ride, go fishing, or visit one of the Preservation Project Parks.

Be creative! Think about exploring the river south of Jacksonville, south of Palatka, or visit one of the springs. Need help knowing where to go? Check out our website: stjohnriverkeeper.org. We have listed public access points, boat launches, outfitters and other attractions along the entire length of the River.

We're blessed to have the River as part of out lives. Let's all take a few minutes and be thankful.

Email me if you have a special memory of the River you'd like to share.

For the River,

St. Johns Riverkeeper