Monday, October 20, 2008

Yankee Lake Ends with Little Fanfare-Decision Later

I apologize for leaving you hanging last week.

After the hearing ended Thursday, I drove home and intended to post that night. Unfortunately, I felt a cold coming on and just didn’t feel well. Planned to post Friday, but I was laid up in bed Friday and Saturday. Rested yesterday, and I am back at the office today.

Today, I will try and wrap up the hearing—well, up to this point anyway. As you will learn, the ending remains to be written.

Last Thursday, the hearing ended, but not before Seminole County and the SJRWMD both presented rebuttal witnesses. I believe our attorneys did a good job of rebuffing this testimony. And that was it’ no closing arguments or statements. After three weeks it all ends rather quietly.

The parties agreed that the proposed recommended order, or PRO, will be filed by December 8th. A PRO is a legal document that each side submits to the judge, in effect, to state how they believed the hearing went down, i.e., based upon the evidence and testimony, how the judge should rule. (NOTE: this is my take; I’m not an attorney).

For SJRK, we believe our case proved that the withdrawals would cause harm to the St. Johns, would negatively impact our members’ use and enjoyment of the river, and Seminole County could meet its reuse needs WITHOUT removing water from the St. Johns.

The judge will review the PROs, exhibits, testimony and make his decision. At this time, I don’t have a timetable for the ruling. So, we all just need to sit tight and continue our opposition to the misguided withdrawals. Believe me there are many other communities and utilities watching the Yankee Lake case. The threats to the river will not end with this one ruling, regardless of the outcome.

I’ve been asked what we have gained by this struggle.

First, SJRK’s mission is to stand and defend the St. Johns from those who seek to harm it. I can honestly say we have done the very best we could to do just that. Thanks to the community’s support, both emotional and financial, we presented a compelling case against the withdrawal of water from, the St. Johns.

We exposed how little thought the SJRWMD put toward the Yankee Lake permit decision. One of the most remarkable pieces of testimony came from the SRJWMD staff person who drafted the Yankee Lake permit. He testified that he did the cumulative impact analysis for this permit in his head. Unbelievable.

During the course of the hearing, the SJRWMD finally admitted something SJRK has been saying for 18 months. Removing water from the river WILL increase the potential for algae blooms AND increase the length of time blooms exist in the river. As I mentioned in previous blogs, had SJRK NOT challenged the Yankee Lake Permit, no additional science would have been completed by the SJRWMD and the Yankee Lake permit would be fait acompli.

Our next challenge is to continue to monitor and question the science that is now being completed as part of the reanalysis.

So, that’s it-- my last blog on the administrative hearing. Hope it kept you up to date and informed you about this important, no historic, happening.

I’ll end with some exciting news about a new program SJRK has developed. It’s called My St. Johns River, and it is an education and awareness campaign to facilitate personal connections with the St. Johns and to provide you with tools to “get to know” your river.

The goal of the My St. Johns River campaign is to foster a greater sense of awareness, appreciation and understanding of the river and to ultimately provide inspiration and opportunities for you to get out and experience your St. Johns firsthand.

Check it out at

Thanks for everything.

For the River,
Your St. Johns Riverkeeper

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hearing Ended Today--Our Case Recap

I apologize for the delay in blogging. Yesterday, I spent all day at the hearing, and then had to drive back to Jacksonville for a fund raising event. Thanks to Helen Lane for hosting a gathering at her beautiful house on the St. Johns. It was nice to spend some time on the river, especially after spending almost three weeks in a stark, government building.

Well, today was the last day. SJRK rested its case yesterday. Our witnesses did well. We presented Dr. John Wolschlager from Arizona State University who testified that he believed Seminole County had used incorrect numbers in developing their reuse water supply plan. Basically, John, and others believe there is no need for Seminole to remove water from the St. Johns to augment their reuse water needs. Water conservation can produce the water the county needs for reuse and protect the river.

Understand this, Seminole County’s obsession with removing water from the rivers has never been about augmenting reuse—they want to take water from the river for profit. They do not give a damn about the St. Johns River; the river provides them a cheap source of water. The structure they propose to build will be able to remove 10 times their predicted needs of 5.5 MGD. It’s simple, they want sell water; the 5.5 MGD permit is a scam.

By the way, Seminole officials have criticized north Florida communities for not having meaningful water conservation plans like the ones they have in place. FACT (from testimony): Southwest(?) Seminole County’s per capita water use is 217 GPD --almost 40% larger than per capita average water use in the SJRWMD. Can you say hypocrite?

Our next witness was Dr. Quinton White. You make remember Dr. White was one of the first experts who challenged the SJRWMD’s plan to take water from the St. Johns River. Quint has been studying the river for over 30 years, and testified eloquently about the current impaired state of the river, and additional risks from water withdrawal.

Next up was Dr. Mark Luther, a marine biologist from the faculty of the University of South Florida. Dr. Luther testified that the model used to predict salinity changes caused by the proposed withdrawals have been underestimated because of dynamic salinity stratification occurs n the lower St. Johns River. He testified that removing even small amounts of freshwater from the river could cause significant salinity changes far upstream.

Our final witness was Robin Lewis a wetland ecologist. Robin testified about the impairment of the River and specific ecosystems. He presented evidence that flow to the river have been declining for decades. He stated flow from the Ocklawaha River, the River’s largest tributary, has declined by almost 50%. He also testified about impacts to the River’s Ell Grass beds from increasing salinities. Robin believes the salinity studies are "fatally flawed"

Speaking of declining flows in the river. When SJRK first challenged the SJRWMD's dangerous idea of removing freshwater from the St. Johns, they noted that 12 million gallons per day (MGD) has been removed from the river for decades, and the river has not shown harm. Later, the SJRWMD noted that, lo and behold, they determined that 29 MGD) was being removed from the St Johns. Shortly after that admission, District staff estimated over 30 MGD was being removed from the river.

During the hearing, District staff TESTIFIED they now estimate almost 60 MGD is being removed from the St. Johns every day. Why does this matter?

When the SJRWMD determined how much water could be removed for the river safely, i.e., the MFLs, the 60 MGD removal was never considered. The only reason the district bothered to compute this data was for the purposes of this hearing.

In fact, more science about water withdrawals has been generated by this hearing and the public’s outcry for an objective analysis than before the SJRWMD recommended approval of the Yankee Lake Permit!

One thing is evident. Our challenge of this permit has clearly shown the District did not fully consider the full environmental impacts of this permit and did not have sufficient information on which to base a permit decision. Need evidence to support my conclusion?

Last week the District staff person who drafted the Yankee Lake permit testified that he did the cumulative impact analysis, i.e., the deliberation on all the environmental impacts AND potential environmental impacts of the proposed Yankee Lake river withdrawals on the health of the St. Johns River, IN HIS HEAD.

Think about that. One of the most controversial decisions facing the SJRWMD in decades, and one of the more important analyses involving this permit was not written down. A staff person did it in his head. Incredible.

And the SJRWMD asks why the public has lost trust in the agency?

More Later. I'll wrap up the last day's action, tomorrow.

Thanks for your support. It means a great deal.

Looking forward to sleeping in my own bed, I remain,

Neil A. Armingeon
Your St. Johns Riverkeeper

Monday, October 13, 2008

Positive Happenings at the Hearing

Happy Monday,

Hello from the SJRK Office. It's good to be home for a couple of days. The Hearing starts again on Wednesday. The hearing will END by this Friday; the judge is adamant about that, and he runs the show.

Yesterday, I mentioned that I felt the momentum in the case has shifted toward the end of last week. I just wanted to follow-up on that thought with some detail.

Most of the week was spent listening to SJRWMD staff testify how they reached the decision to recommend approval for the Yankee Lake Project to remove 5.5 MGD from the St. Johns River (project can exceed 11 MGD). There was much discussion about modelling, technical analysis, salinity changes, etc., etc.

Wednesday afternoon the SJRWMD staff person who DRAFTED the Yankee Lake Permit testified under oath that he did the cumulative impact analysis in "his head". There was nothing put on paper.

My testimony went fine. Seminole County's attorney tried to impeach me with an out of context statement from my first deposition, and the judge stopped him and ended the question. After that, the attorney's seemed to lose steam. SJRWMD's 4 attorney's had no questions!

The final witness for the SJRWMD was very telling. After stating water withdrawals will not have any impact on algae blooms, the SJRWMD did a 180 and announced withdrawals WOULD increase alagal growth potential, i.e, blooms will last longer!! SJRK has been stating this for the past 18 months; withdrawals will exacerbate blooms and will increase their occurrences in the lower river.

The District announced they are requiring Seminole County to mitigate these impacts. While it is nice to hear the district change their story, our position has not changed--we are against Yankee Lake withdrawal. Regardless of this last minute admission.

I'm looking forward to this week. We present our case. I'll save the details until after the fact.

Needless to say, I'm encouraged by what has happened and know Ken and Michael will do a good job.

Keep the faith.

Thanks for all the well wishes and prayers.

For the River,

Your St. Johns Riverkeeper

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Good Week For the St. Johns

Hello Friend of the St. Johns

Sorry about the delay in posting. It was a very long week which ended with my testimony and cross examination. I need some time to decompress. This is hard, but we ended the week on high note.

First, let me say again how much I appreciate our attorneys, Ken Wright and Michael Howle. I cannot begin to describe how much time they are putting in on this case. They spend many late hour's preparing for the tremendous amounts of witnesses put on the stand by Seminole County and SJRWMD. They read depositions well into the early morning hours, and they are sitting in the hearing the next day @8:30 AM ready to do battle.

This hearing is one of the greatest experiences of my almost 20-year career of working for environmental organizations. It is an honor to be a small part of this historical event.

Honors are due,too, to Jacksonville's attorneys, Sean Frazier and Jason Teel, and St' Johns County's team of Patrick McCormack and Regina(forgive me Regina, I forgot your last name). Our side is really working together well, and it is great to be part of this effort.

I'll end by saying the last part of the week went extremely well for the St. Johns River. I need to go do some yard work. Stay tuned. Later today, I'll post a blow-by-blow and why I believe we have a real chance to win the case.

Thanks for your support.

For the River

Your St. Johns Riverkeeper

Friday, October 10, 2008

The River Finally Speaks!

Good Friday Morning,

After hours of testimony by paid consultants and SJRWMD staff, Seminole County and the SJRWMD have rested their cases--well almost. The district is negotiating a new permit condition for the proposed Yankee Lake permit with Seminole.

This action stems from the SJRWMD admission that removing water from the river will increase the algal growth potential causing algae blooms to last longer.

Riverkeeper has been stating the obvious for over 18 months; removing water causes more residence time making algae blooms last longer.

In any event, less this situation the hearing finally turns to those defending the river, SJRK, St. John County, and Jacksonville. Finally, the "rest of the story."

Jan Brewer, Director of Environmental Services for St. Johns County (SJS), testified yesterday afternoon. She was great! Those of you from SJC should be very proud; she represented he river and your interests very well.

This morning, Jacksonville, presents two of their witnesses, and then, its showtime for SJRK. I testify this afternoon. I've been preparing for the last couple of nights, and I am confident things will go well.

I will tell the judge about the real St. Johns River--the beautiful, important body of water that means so much to all of us. Sadly the others side rarely if ever mentions the river in any terms other than millions of gallons of available water. That changes today!

Knowing you are all with me will make my job easier.

Today, the River finally gets her say!

I'll post later to let you know how things went.

Keep the Faith.

For the River,

Your St. Johns Riverkeeper

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Quck Update From Sanford

Good Morning,

Forgive me for failing to post in the last several days. Things are very hectic--that's an understatement. Also, Internet connections that allow me to log on to the blog are not always available.

We've had a couple of good days. The SJRWMD has been putting on their case, and that will continue until this afternoon. St. Johns County presents its witness today. Tomorrow, Jacksonville present some of their witnesses, and it looks like I'll go tomorrow afternoon. That means I've got a lot of work ahead of me to prepare.

Its remarkable what we've learned during this process. Its clear the District made the decision to remove water from rivers without fully considering the alternatives.

Yesterday, the permit writer for the proposed Yankee Lake withdrawal testified he did a cumulative impact analysis for the Seminole County's project in HIS HEAD. He did not write anything down; he just worked through it in his head. I don't know whether we should be angry or scared.

Got to run. I'll get something out tonight.

Thanks for your support, and in some cases prayers. We all the help we can get.

For the River,

Your St. Johns Riverkeeper

Monday, October 6, 2008

A New Week Begins in Sanford

Greetings from Sanford,

First things first.

Below, is a link to an essay/blog from St. Johns River Champion, Bill Belleville, on his thoughts about the administrative hearing in Sanford. Bill, a Seminole County resident, captures
the events far more eloquently than I ever could. It's a very powerful read.

Today, Seminole County rested its case. An expert testified the county has spent ~$2.4 million +/- to intervene in this case. There are more surprises ahead from SC , but I'll hold my cards close to the vest.

Tomorrow,the SJRWMD begins their case. I believe they have 5-7 witnesses, and I'm not sure when they will rest. Remember, us, the taxpayers, are paying the District to put on this case. The irony in ANY administrative case is the fact that we pay the regulatory agencies to litigate (against us) and THEN, citizens have to raise funds to pay for our attorneys. Anyway, I know Ken and Michael will do a good job during the cross examinations.

Next up, Jacksonville will call their witnesses, then St. Johns County, and finally SJRK bats last. We could begin Friday or perhaps next Wednesday.

Thanks for your support. I'll talk to you tomorrow.

For the River,

Your St. Johns Riverkeeper

Saturday, October 4, 2008

First Week Ends

Good Morning,

I apologize for not posting for the last two days. I drove to Gainesville Thursday night, and the motel I was staying in did not have Internet access.

Friday morning, I spoke to a conference on water and art yesterday at Santa Fe Community College. Thanks to Mallory O'Connor, author Bill Belleville , and a great audience, for an inspiring morning.

I need to change my reporting style somewhat until I have time to speak with our attorneys.

You may remember, the judge invoked the rule, and that ruling prevented other witnesses from sitting in the courtroom hearing testimony. Hence, my blog may need to describe events more generally to honor the judge's intentions. I'll clear this up this weekend.

Generally, I fell okay about the first three days. I believe we were successful in challenging Seminole County's expert witnesses in several cases. I'll leave it at that. I was not in attendance on Friday, so I won't speculate. I will be present for the remaining days of the hearing

Seminole's case continues Monday and Tuesday,and then the SJRWMD begins to present its case. It looks like SJRK, Jacksonville, and St. Johns County will be presenting our cases starting next Friday.

We have t0 be patient; our day will come.

Keep the faith.

For the River,

Your St. Johns Riverkeeper

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Hello From the Front

Hello Friend Of the River,

I'm here in Sanford at the administrative hearing, and this is my first report on today's happening.

Let me be clear; this is going to be a real fight. We're facing an army of attorneys. The SJRWMD has 2-3, and Seminole County has 2 and a team of witnesses. Seminole is presenting their case first, and it may take until early next week to complete their testimony. Then, the SJRWMD presents their case, and finally, Riverkeeper and the City will present our cases.

Our Administrative Law Judge is Judge Johnston. We had an early victory today when the Judge ruled the witnesses could not sit in the courtroom during the entire trial. SC and the
SJRWMD could allow their witnesses hear all the testimonies and prepare accordingly. We cannot afford to have our witnesses stay the entire time. The ruling evens the odds somewhat.

Our lead attorney, Ken Wright, was very good today in cross examinations. Tomorrow, Riverkeeper attorney Michael Howle will handle the cross. They have spent countless hours in the past weeks preparing for this hearing. We owe then a great deal of gratitude.

Finally, I want to thank the folks who turned out to show support, today. River Champion, Bill Belleville, was welcome sight as were Michelle Thatcher, Chris Belflower, Deborah Schaffer, Steve Barnes and Vikie Desormier. Thanks Ya'll!!!

That's it for tonight. I'll file something tomorrow night.

Keep the faith!

For the River

Your St. Johns Riverkeeper

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The River's Future Rests in Sanford

Hello Friends of the St. Johns,
Tomorrow the administrative hearing on the Yankee Lake permit begins. The hearing goes October 1 through the 3rd, October 6th through the 10th, and resumes, if necessary, October 16-17th. I will be attending the hearing each day, save a few, and will be posting a recap each night on the St. Johns Riverkeeper blog.
Our challenge is to the SJRWMD's recommended issuance of a permit to allow Seminole County to remove 5.5 million gallons per day (MGD) from the St. Johns River. But, our fight goes well beyond the SJRWMD legal staff.
Seminole County intervened, and frankly, they are driving the case. We're facing a tough battle; Seminole County is spending over $2 million to push the Yankee Lake permit through. They have listed 30 witnesses and 1,100 exhibits! Despite this display of money, political influence, and power, I'm feeling optimistic about our chances.
Riverkeeper has two excellent attorneys, Riverkeeper Counsel, Michael Howle, and local attorney Ken Wright. They both deserve our thanks for long hours and dedication as they prepare our case. We also have some excellent expert witnesses who will help us make our case against the proposed water withdrawal.
Thanks go to Jacksonville and St. Johns County for sticking with their individual challenges to the permit. Specifically, I want to thank Mayor Peyton and the City Council for recognizing the importance of this case and directing the city's legal efforts. Thanks, too, to Chairman Tom Manuel and his fellow commissioners in St. Johns County. We're all in this together.
We've already made progress on this issue. Two weeks ago, the SJRWMD convened a panel of experts to objectively review the potential impacts from withdrawing hundreds of millions of gallons of freshwater each day from the St. Johns and Ocklawaha Rivers. This group has some world class scientists aboard to review, and in some cases, collect data, to truly evaluate the environmental impacts of the proposed withdrawals. The results of this reanalysis will then be reviewed by a panel convened by the National Academy of Science.
None of this would have happened without Riverkeeper, other groups, and countless citizens who have challenged the SJRWMD's misguided proposal to remove freshwater from our rivers to continue unsustainable growth in Orlando and Central Florida.
Our voices and actions forced the District to conduct the type of research that should have been completed before any permit to withdraw water from the river was considered. This is real progress. Thank you.
The withdrawal issue has also cemented real relationships between citizens up and down the St. Johns River. I want to thank Friends of the Wekiva, the Sierra Club, the Seminole Audubon, and countless citizens in central Florida who oppose water withdrawals and want to see real, meaningful, water conservation programs in their counties and cities. Special thanks go out to Peggy Belflower for all her hard work.
The withdrawal battle begun a statewide debate on the future of water use in Florida. We all must be active in this debate--Our river's futures depend on it.
I'll keep you posted on the hearing through this blog. Please share it with your family and friends. If you would like mto attend the hearing contact the Riverkeeper office for directions. I'd love to see friendly faces.
Thanks for all your help and support. It means a great deal to me.
For the River,
Your St. Johns Riverkeeper

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

State of the River Report

An exciting project was recently announced that unfortunately did not get the attention that is certainly deserves.

The first annual State of the River Report for the Lower St. Johns River Basin was released by a team of academic researchers from Jacksonville University and University of North Florida. The project was funded primarily by the Jacksonville Environmental Protection Board.

St. Johns Riverkeeper initiated this project a few years ago and then turned it over to JU and UNF to complete.

We believe that this report is a valuable tool in evaluating the health of our river and in determining what must be done to restore the St. Johns.

We commend all of the researchers and individuals who worked so diligently on this important project.

Please, take the time to go to the River Report website and learn more about the health of your St. Johns River.


Well, St. Joe is up to their old tricks. They have muddied the creeks at their Rivertown development, once again. Not too long ago, St. Joe was fined over $40,000 by the St. Johns River Water Management District for water quality violations that resulted from faulty sediment controls, allowing construction-site runoff to enter the fragile creeks that flow through their property along SR 13. This is unacceptable, especially when they consistently claim to be such an environmentally-responsible company.

Here is an excerpt from their website:

At The St. Joe Company, conservation is more than a philosophy; it is a science we study and a practice we employ.

Today’s company is carefully, purposely walking a tightrope.
The challenge is filling the obvious need for homes, business and the
infrastructure to connect them -- while at the same time maintaining the natural
allure that draws folks to Northwest Florida in the first place.

I guess they fell off their tightrope.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Weavers Announce Challenge Grant

J. Wayne and Delores Barr Weaver, owners of the Jacksonville Jaguars, have awarded a challenge grant of up to $150,000 to St. Johns Riverkeeper. The matching gift will help the organization to raise awareness about threats to the health of the St. Johns and to legally challenge plans in central Florida to withdraw millions of gallons a day from the river.

The Weavers will donate one dollar for every two dollars that St. Johns Riverkeeper raises for its St. Johns River Awareness and Legal Fund up to $150,000. Neil Armingeon, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, stated that “the incredible generosity and support of the Weavers will enable us to raise the funds and acquire the resources necessary to defend and protect the health of the St. Johns River. This also sends a powerful message that the citizens and business leaders who love the river are not going to just stand idly by and allow the St. Johns River Water Management District and some public officials in central Florida to proceed with their short-sighted and irresponsible plans to take millions of gallons a day from the flow of the St. Johns River without a fight.“

“Wayne and I are deeply concerned about the plans to withdraw millions of gallons of water from the St. Johns and the potential harm that this could cause to our river,” said Delores Barr Weaver. “We absolutely love the river and recognize how important it is to Jacksonville’s economy and quality of life. We cannot just stand on the sidelines and allow Central Florida to gamble with its future. As a result, we have decided to get behind St. Johns Riverkeeper and their efforts to raise awareness about the threats facing our St. Johns and their legal challenge of the water withdrawal plans.”

As a result of years of poor planning, uncontrolled growth, and wasteful water-use practices, Central Florida communities are reaching the limits of their groundwater resources and are anxiously pursuing alternative water supply sources. Many of these communities are looking to the St. Johns River and Ocklawaha River (a major tributary of the St. Johns) to solve their water supply problems.

Seminole County is the first to submit a permit under the Alternative Water Supply (AWS) program to withdraw surface water from the St. Johns River. The proposed Yankee Lake project would withdraw an average of 5.5 million gallons per day but could exceed 11million gallons per day (MGD) during periods of high demand. However, Seminole County officials plan to eventually withdraw up to 80 MGD at the Yankee Lake facility. All of the withdrawal projects under consideration would result in a total of up to 300 million gallons per day being extracted from the St. Johns.

In February of this year, St. Johns Riverkeeper filed for an administrative hearing to challenge the permit application from Seminole County. The hearing is tentatively scheduled to take place in October.

“This is not simply a ‘water war’ between two different regions. This is also not only about stopping Seminole County from taking our water. We are advocating for a paradigm shift and a whole new approach to how we use water, how we manage water, and how we protect our water resources for this and future generations. The ultimate goal is a sustainable Florida where we have clean and healthy waterways and an adequate supply of groundwater to sustain our needs. We can have both, but we will need the resolve and political will to do so,” explains Armingeon.

You can donate on our website at

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Coming to an Aquifer Near You

On August 12th, the Governing Board of the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) will vote on a permit application from California-based Niagara Bottling to withdraw 484,000 gallons of groundwater a day from the aquifer. Recently, the SJRWMD staff recommended that the permit be approved, and the Governing Board rarely goes against staff recommendations.

However, the Governing Board may not have a chance to vote if Lake County, Groveland, and Clermont follow through and file for an adminstrative hearing to challenge the permit application, as they have indicated that they might do.

Orange County Commissioner Teresa Jacobs sent a memo to Mayor Rich Crotty asking about the possibility of providing support to Lake County. Jacobs said, "Can anyone expect citizens across Central Florida to take water conservation seriously if the SJRWMD approves a permit for a private company to pull millions of gallons of water from the aquifer to bottle and sell throughout the country?"

Here is the contact information for the SJRWMD Governing Board members, so that you can let them know what you think about the permit.

David G. Graham, Chairman
Susan N. Hughes, Vice Chairman
Ann T. Moore, Secretary
W. Leonard Wood, Treasurer
Douglas C. Bournique
Michael Ertel
Hersey “Herky” Huffman
Arlen N. Jumper
Hans G. Tanzler III

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Less is Best

This past week, the Jacksonville City Council passed both an irrigation ordinance and a fertilizer ordinance. The new irrigation legislation will limit watering of lawns and shrubs to twice a week and designate assigned days of the week for households and businesses. The fertilizer ordinance will limit the amount of fertilizer that can be applied on an annual basis and will require buffers along waterways where fertilizer can't be applied.

Although these ordinances are certainly not perfect and will definitely not solve all of our water use and fertilizer runoff issues, they are a good start. Hopefully, they will serve as tool to educate homeowners and businesses about the importance of conserving water and how to responsibly apply fertilizers to our lawns. Let's face it; we use an excessive amount of water (over 50% of our water is used for irrigation) and many people frequently apply far more fertilizer than is necessary. We have to start taking significant measures to curb our excesses and live more sustainably. Our river is sick, and we are reaching the limits of our aquifer, the source of over 90% of the drinking water in this state. This unfortunate situation will only get worse if we don't do something now to address the causes of these problems. These ordinances represent a first step in that direction for Jacksonville.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Muddy Waters

These photos were taken yesterday by Christopher Ball, a St. Johns Riverkeeper Board member. Neil Armingeon, the Riverkeeper, responded, trying to locate the source of the sediment. Unfortunately, it was difficult to pinpoint the culprits with absolute certainty. However, there is some reason to believe that it may have come from a Department of Transportation road project. The City of Jacksonville is still investigating the incident. We'll keep you posted about what we find out about this unfortunate situation.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Let's Get Ready to Rumble

As you may recall, St. Johns Riverkeeper filed for an administrative hearing to challenge the permit application by Seminole County to withdraw 5.5 million gallons of water a day at its proposed Yankee Lake facility for irrigation purposes.

In the meantime, many of the counties, cities, and utilities in Central Florida have been attempting to intervene on the side of Seminole County. As a result, St. Johns Riverkeeper filed motions to dismiss the petitions filed by the Tohopekaliga Water Authority (Toho), Osceola County, City of Cocoa and City of Sanford to intervene. Last Friday, the Adminstrative Law Judge assigned to the case dismissed the petitions to intervene by Tohopekaliga Water Authority, Osceola County, and the City of Sanford due to a lack of standing.

Also last week, Putnam County Environmental Council, Inc. filed a legal challenge to stop the St. Johns River Water Management District from issuing permits to Central Florida communities and utilities for withdrawals from the St. Johns and Ocklawaha. PCEC is contending that surface waters from the St. Johns River and Ocklawaha don't qualify as "alternative water supply" sources as defined by state law. They are also asking the Florida Land and Water Adjudicatory Commission, that consists of the Governor and three Cabinet members, to review the District's water supply plan.

Stay tuned. It just keeps getting more and more interesting.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

No Water, No Growth

The following editorial was in the May issue of Florida Trend. It seems most people,including those in the business community, recognize the importance and potential for water conservation as a principal water supply strategy. Unfortunately, many of the politicians in Central Florida and the St. Johns River Water Management District would rather roll the dice with the health of our rivers and spend billions of taxpayer dollars on expensive short-term technological "fixes" that don't address the sources of our water supply problems.

No Water, No Growth
By Mark R. Howard, Editor - 5/1/2008

However healthy Florida’s economy is or isn’t at the moment, it will cycle back into growth mode in fairly short order. The LeRoy Collins Institute, which in 2005 accurately predicted the revenue shortfall that’s currently pinching state and local governments in Florida, says as much in an updated version of its insightful “Tough Choices” report. In the new version, the institute sees “strong signs” that Florida is establishing itself as a chosen destination for an affluent segment of Baby Boomers that’s now reaching retirement age. And it predicts that the impact of the retiring Baby Boomers will sustain itself over 15 years, not flattening out until the early 2020s.

After the real estate market adjusts, the report says, “Florida is going to have a big appreciation in property values ... and fresh demand for housing supply in the most desirable and limited locations.” And so within 18 months or so — my prediction, not the institute’s — we’re likely to see headlines shift from concerns about the state budget and the health of the economy back to traditional growth-related issues.

In that light, some behind-the-scenes bureaucracy that’s playing out now will be a big factor in whether the state rides the next growth wave or is, once again, swamped by it.

New Florida residents can get by without enough roads or schools, but they can’t live without water. In 2005, the Legislature linked growth management and water supply more closely with two pieces of legislation, Senate Bills 444 and 360, whose effects will be felt this summer.

Together, the laws dictate that after water management districts determine how much water will be available in a region, communities must plan their growth around that water supply. Previous laws asked communities only to “consider” the water supply. Now, if a community says it expects 10,000 new residents next year, it has to specify exactly where the water for those new residents is going to come from, what facilities are available to treat the water and how it will pay for new treatment or production facilities (desal plants, for example).

Since the laws passed, the water management districts have updated their water supply plans, and communities have been updating their comprehensive plans with new growth projections and passing them to the water districts for review. Some, like Lee and Collier counties, have been proactive and progressive in their planning, while others show less foresight. For most local communities, “the reality of it is starting to hit home,” says John Mulliken, director of water supply planning for the South Florida Water Management District. “We’ve got a lot of comp plans in. There’s a wide variety in terms of whether they meet the statutory requirements.”

Over the next several months, as more comp plans trickle in, the water management districts will evaluate whether the communities are meeting the requirements of the law — and they’ll recommend whether the state should approve those local growth plans. There may be rude awakenings for communities that either are oblivious to the law or have chosen to ignore it. Under the law, a local community can’t approve a building permit or issue a certificate of occupancy without a determination that there’s an adequate supply of water to serve the new development. A worst-case scenario could see a building moratorium in a community that doesn’t get its act together. “The rubber starts to meet the road this summer,” says Carol Ann Wehle, SFWMD’s executive director.

Aside from whether the Legislature resists diluting the law, a key issue is how communities will create additional water supply. Additional groundwater pumping in many parts of the state, particularly the south and southwest, isn’t an option.

Many communities will be looking at creating alternative water sources — via reuse, desalination, treating brackish water and the like. They also need to make conservation a bigger priority. There’s an inherent bias in big organizations like water management districts toward expensive, technology-heavy solutions like desal without comparable investments in conservation, which is cheaper and faster. The state, meanwhile, puts a disproportionate amount of money into creating alternative supply vs. spending on conservation.

Many believe conservation should get more emphasis. At least one group, the Utility Council of the Florida Section of the American Water Works Association, supports making water conservation or demand-side management programs eligible for funding as alternative water supplies. David Moore, executive director of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, a leader in conservation efforts, told attendees at a water conference at the University of Florida in February that he believes “the biggest bite of the water-supply apple in the next 20 years is going to be conservation.”

At the conference, Moore refuted the notion, advanced by another water manager, that you can’t “count” gallons created via conservation. Moore’s district has excellent statistics to that point, and to how effective conservation measures can be. Water use in Pinellas County, for example, fell from 153 gallons a day in 1990 to 89 gallons in 2006, largely the result of education and conservation measures. Meanwhile, as Trend reported last year, as construction of a giant desal plant on Tampa Bay dragged on for years, the regional water utility managed to reduce groundwater pumping in the region from 192 million to 121 million gallons a day in the face of a growing population — without any of the desalinated water that officials once insisted they needed to meet that goal.

The state has plenty of room to conserve. Farms use half the water consumed in Florida; half the farms use inefficient flood irrigation. State-supported investments in micro-irrigation could help reduce ag’s consumption. As for overall use, although Florida has reduced its daily per capita usage from 174 gallons a day in 2000 to 157.5 in 2005, that’s still higher than the average daily U.S. per capita consumption of about 100 gallons. Europeans use about 53 a day.

As Trend’s associate editor, Cynthia Barnett, makes clear in her book, “Mirage,” water supply planning needn’t be built on the premise that we have to have more and more water to prosper. Overall water use in the United States stopped rising in the 1980s, yet population as well as gross domestic product have grown steadily ever since. Saving a gallon of water is just as effective — and much, much cheaper — than producing a new one. All the numbers show that growth and conservation co-exist just fine.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

And the winner of the PSA Contest is (drum roll, please)...

We are excited to announce that our panel of judges (Riverkeeper Neil Armingeon, Deborah Gianoulis, and a Team Gaia representative) has selected the winner of the 1st ever St. Johns Riverkeeper "Conserving Water to Save Our Rivers" PSA Video Contest. Andy Leverett, a junior attending Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Jacksonville, received the highest score and the $1000 prize. Congratulations, Andy!

We were extremely pleased with the number of entries (20), the number of counties from within the watershed that were represented (students from 5 different counties submitted entries), and the quality of the PSA videos. All of the students should be commended for their hard work and obvious concern for the St. Johns River and the future of our precious and limited water supply resources.

One of the reasons that we created the contest was to to help raise awareness about the importance of protecting and conserving our water resources. We also wanted to give kids the chance to have their voices heard. Our youth often do not have a say in the decisions that are made about the future of the St. Johns River and the use of our groundwater supplies. However, they have as much at stake, if not more, regarding the outcome of those decisions, and they will be responsible for dealing with the consequences.

Please, go to the St. Johns Riverkeeper website and see what our high school students have to say about this issue. You can view the winning video and 5 of the runner-ups.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

How Not To Be Sustainable

Recently, I spoke to a group of international environmental leaders visiting the United States through International Visitor Corps of Jacksonville. The theme of the multi-day visit was "Global Perspectives on Jacksonville's Sustainable Development." I put together a handout with the following statistics and facts about our water resources in Florida.

I was already aware that we Floridans are not living and using our limited resources sustainably, but seeing the rundown of troubling statistics on one page highlighted the magnitude of the problem and the urgency of the situation. We are currently not doing a good job of protecting the health of our rivers, groundwater supplies, and environment, in general. How can we accomodate the intense growth that is projected, if we don't dramatically reduce our current impacts to the environment and develop a more sustainable blueprint for our future, now?

This also highlights the fact that the debate over withdrawing water from the St. Johns River must be more about how we use our water resources than where we will get water from. We must focus on the reasons why communities are facing water shortages and looking to the river to fulfill their needs and work toward solving those problems, first. If we don't, we will continue to exploit our water resources and will continuously be in search of new sources. This business as usual approach to solving our water supply problems will also come at a huge expense to taxpayers and the citizens of this state. This is simply not a socially, ecologicially, or economically responsible approach to managing the natural resources that belong to all of us, as well as future generations.

• Florida entered the Union as a state in 1845 with a population of 57,951 people.

• In 1950, the population increased to 2.8 million. At this time, residents served by the public supply used 102 gallons of water per day, requiring public supply withdrawals of 170 million gallons a day (MGD). Total freshwater withdrawals totaled nearly 1.5 billion gallons per day.

• In 1970, the population increased to 6.8 million, per capita water use from the public supply increased to 163 gpd, and total water withdrawals for the public supply increased to 883.4 MGD. Total freshwater withdrawals exceeded 5.6 billion gallons per day.

• In 2000, 16 million people lived in Florida, the per-capita use increased to 174 gpd, and water withdrawals for the public supply increased to 2.2 billion gallons per day. Total water withdrawals in 2000 were nearly 8.2 billion gallons per day.

• The average water use within the St. Johns River Water Management District in 2006 was 164 gallons per capita per day (gpcd, and over 50% of that water was used outside the home for irrigation purposes.

• Today, over 18 million people reside in Florida. A 2006 report by 1000 Friends of Florida, projected Florida’s population to increase to 35.8 million in 2060.

• Over 90 percent of Florida’s population relies on groundwater for their drinking water needs. Most of this water comes from the Floridan Aquifer, one of the most productive sources of freshwater in the world.

• Despite having such a vast and productive aquifer underneath our feet, we are reaching its limits. The St. Johns River Water Management District has directed municipalities and utilities in Central Florida to identify “Alternative Water Supply” (AWS) sources, because the rate of withdrawal from the aquifer is no longer sustainable.

• Within the St. Johns River Water Management District, only 28% of estuaries, 41% of lakes, and 13% of streams met their designated uses in 2007.

• Florida has approximately 10.5 million acres of wetlands, down from the 11 million acres of wetlands in 1980 and 20.3 acres of wetlands in 1780.

• According to a St. Petersburg Times special report, Florida has lost at least 84,000 acres of wetlands since 1990.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

St. Johns Receives National Attention

St. Johns Listed as One of America’s Most Endangered Rivers

Today, American Rivers, the nation’s largest organization fighting for healthy rivers, named Florida’s St. Johns River as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers™. The St. Johns was nominated by St. Johns Riverkeeper.

The 2008 America’s Most Endangered Rivers™ report highlights the 10 rivers in the United States that are facing the most uncertain future, rather than those suffering from the worst chronic problems. The St. Johns was selected because of Central Florida’s plans to remove over 260 million gallons per day from the St. Johns River system, and the threats that this will potentially pose to the river’s ecological health and the economic benefits that the St. Johns provides.

“I don’t know whether to celebrate or cry”, said St. Johns Riverkeeper, Neil Armingeon. “This elevates the proposed water withdrawal issue to a national level and brings this to the attention of a worldwide media market. Florida’s lack of water planning is no longer a secret”, he added.

When discussing the St. Johns River designation, Rebecca Wodder, President of American Rivers, stated, “No matter what the problem is, stealing is never an acceptable solution. Yet, instead of embracing water smart solutions like conservation and efficiency, Florida lawmakers seem set on sanctioning this river robbery. It really is unconscionable.”

Sadly, the naming of the St. Johns River as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers™ corresponds with the 10th anniversary of the St. Johns being designated one of only 14 American Heritage Rivers in 1998. St. Johns Riverkeeper, local governments, and numerous business and citizen groups believe that removing millions of gallons of water from the St. Johns before pursuing aggressive water conservation measures is irresponsible and short-sighted public policy that will potentially cause significant harm to one of this country’s American Heritage Rivers.

About America’s Most Endangered Rivers™: Each year, American Rivers solicits nominations from thousands of river groups, environmental organizations, outdoor clubs, local governments, and taxpayer watchdogs for the America’s Most Endangered Rivers™ report. The America’s Most Endangered Rivers™ report results in thousands of supporters taking action on behalf of their beloved river. Such action produces immediate and tangible results. To see success stories visit

The full report is available at

St. Johns Riverkeeper is a non-profit grassroots organization that serves as an advocate for the St. Johns River and the communities that benefit from this tremendous resource. The Riverkeeper philosophy is rooted in a sense of public ownership of local water bodies. Our mission is to protect, preserve and restore the ecological integrity of the St. Johns River watershed for current users and future generations through advocacy and citizen action. For more information, visit


Catawba-Wateree River (North Carolina, South Carolina)
Rogue River (Oregon)
Cache La Poudre River (Colorado)
St. Lawrence River (NY & Canada)
Minnesota River (Minnesota)
St. Johns River (Florida)
Gila River (Arizona, New Mexico)
Allagash Wilderness Waterway (Maine)
Niobrara River (Wyoming, Nebraska)
Pearl River (Mississippi, Louisiana)

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Business As Usual?

Recently, Governor Charlie Crist appointed 2 more people to the Governing Board of the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD). In case you don't know, the Governing Board is a group of politically appointed people who set the policies for the District and make the final decision on permit applications to impact wetlands and to use our groundwater (consumptive use permits - CUPs).

The two appointees are Hans G. Tanzler III of Jacksonville and Douglas C. Bournique of Vero Beach.

Tanzler, 56, is the son of former Jacksonville Mayor, Hans Tanzler, Jr., and is president of Marion Equities Inc., a family holding company. For some reason, the SJRWMD press release failed to mention that he is also president of Cypress Grove Farm that specializes in wetland tree species for wetland restoration and mitigation projects.

Bournique has been the executive vice president of the Indian River Citrus League for nearly 30 years and previously worked for the Florida Sugar Cane League.

Previously, Crist appointed Arlen Jumper who has been the former director of the Florida Sod Growers Co-op, a Board member of the Florida Turfgrass Association and has served on the Florida Citrus Commission. For the last 14 years, Jumper has owned and managed the Jones Turf Grass Farm in McCoy.

Hopefully, these gentlemen will all make decisions based on sound science and what is truly best for the St. Johns River. However, you have to question whether or not apparent conflicts of interest could compromise their ability to objectively perform their jobs, most specifically Jumper and Bournique.

For one, Jumper's company, Jones Turf Grass Farm, has a permit from the SJRWMD to withdraw up to 200 million gallons of water a year from the Floridan aquifer to irrigate 660 acres of sod. Turfgrass, especially St. Augustine grass, is one of the primary reasons that we are using over 50% of our potable water outside the home to irrigate our lawns. Can Jumper make unbiased decisions regarding permits? Will he be willing to say no to permits that represent an excessive use of our groundwater for purposes that are not in the best interest of the public or the river?

As a major player in the agricultural industry, the same questions must be asked of Bournique. In 2006, the agricultural industry used 670.1 million gallons of water a day (MGD) throughout the 18 counties in the SJRWMD. This amounts to more water used than the entire public supply (653.39 MGD). In Indian River county alone, 267.63 million gallons of water a day were used for agricultural purposes.

I guess we have to give them the benefit of the doubt and allow them to prove themselves in these extremely important decision-making positions. However, we all need to scutinize their decisions and performance, along with every other member of the Governing Board. There is too much at stake (our water, our rivers and creeks, and our wetlands), and we simply cannot afford to continue with business as usual.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Opposition Is Mounting

Well, the opposition to the water withdrawal proposals in Central Florida is mounting. Here is a current list of all of the groups, organizations, and government entities that have passed resolutions opposing the drawdown. If you are a member of a civic/business group, please ask them to consider a resolution, as well. We will need significant support to stop these withdrawals from taking place.


City of Neptune Beach
Jacksonville Beach
Keystone Heights
Atlantic Beach
Jacksonville Planning Commission
St. Johns County
Jacksonville Environmental Protection Board
Jacksonville Water and Sewer Expansion Authority
Jacksonville Waterways Commission
Town of Hastings
Town of Callahan
Nassau County
Clay County
Duval Soil and Water Conservation District

Citizen Organizations

St. Johns Riverkeeper
Putnam County Environmental Council
Northeast Chapter of the Sierra Club
Clay Action Network
Turtle Coast Sierra Club
Jacksonville Civic Council, Inc.
Shrimp Producers Association
Central Florida Sierra Club
Polk Sierra Club
Suwannee-St. Johns Sierra Club
Florida Chapter Sierra Club
William Bartram Scenic & Historic Highway Corridor Management Council
NW St. Johns County Community Coalition
Beaches Watch
St. Johns County Roundtable
Greater Arlington & Beaches CPAC
South Anastasia Community Association
Environmental Youth Council
Save Our Lakes
Greater Arlington Civic Council
Mandarin Community Club
Duval County Democratic Executive Committee
Santa Fe Lake Dwellers
North East Florida Association of Realtors
Clay County Chamber of Commerce
Florida Lure Anglers
Southside Businessmen’s Club
Democratic Women’s Information Network

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

3rd Annual River Celebration Day

3rd Annual River Celebration Day
Saturday, March 29, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Walter Jones Historical Park
11964 Mandarin Road, Jacksonville

Join St. Johns Riverkeeper and Mandarin Museum and Historical Society for a celebration of the St. Johns River.

Music by Ashley Gang and Palm Valley String Band, storytellers and re-enactors, ecology programs, games and activities for kids, boat rides on the river, and free kayaking provided by Black Creek Outfitters. Food will also be available during the event. Historical tours will be provided of the museum and park throughout the day.

Kayak/Run Biathlon
7:30 am – 9:30am

Free kayaking provided by Black Creek Outfitters
11am – 3pm

Boat Trips – 45 minutes each on the hour
11am – 3pm

Nature program
11am - Noon & 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm

Ashley Gang Band
11am - 1:15pm

The Storytelling Sims
Noon – 12:30 pm & 1:30 – 2:00 pm

Palm Valley String Band
1:30 pm – 3:45 pm

Native Plant Workshop

For more information, call 904-268-0784.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Dash for Trash

Today was the annual St. Johns River Cleanup in Duval and St. Johns County. Andy Fraden, owner of All Wet Sports, organized Dash for Trash as part of the cleanup event. The Dash for Trash took place at the Pottsburg Creek boat ramp and prizes were awarded for most trash bags, most trash by weight, and most unusual item. It was amazing to see the amount of trash that participants pulled out of the creek using canoes, kayaks, and boats. A basketball goal and ball, refrigerator, boat, computer monitor, gas tank, and shopping carts were some of the more interesting items of trash that were retrieved.

Thanks to all of the Riverkeeper volunteers who helped out. A special thanks goes out to Michael Howle, Walton Cheney, and J.P. Gaither for using their boats to retrieve trash from the kayaks and canoes.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Delicate Balance

The Florida Times-Union

March 11, 2008

Alterations could have an impact

The million or so residents of Northeast Florida who commute daily over or along the St. Johns River give little thought to what happens below the river's surface.

All most of us see is water and the occasional seagull. The proposal by Central Florida governments to remove water has made the First Coast pay attention as we never have before. Much will be made of the economic impact that will befall the Orlando area if water is withheld. Similar dire outcomes are predicted for the residents and industries in Northeast Florida if water is diverted.

Unfortunately, only a few people appreciate the complex biological machine that is already stressed. No one knows what ultimately will happen when the flow of fuel - fresh water - is altered. Anyone who has lived near the St. Johns River already knows that it has been severely impacted. We have deepened channels, added pollutants, built bulkheads along its banks, filled wetlands, dammed the river, etc. It's testament to the resiliency of nature that the river continues to function at all.

Old-timers know that the St. Johns has changed in ways that are not good, and that the fish, crabs and just about all life dependent on the river are not what they should be. Fresh and saltwater meet at the coast where the river empties into the ocean. Twice a day, high tide pushes saltwater upstream and twice daily low tide sends some of that water back into the ocean. Changes in water salinity are natural, and plants and animals living there have adapted to this change. Even the occasional drought or flood is part of the natural cycle.

Life in the St. Johns River has had thousands of years to adapt to natural variations. Most of these adaptations go unnoticed by those of us who use the river or fish along its banks. But each year, animals move in response to changes in water temperature and salinity to spawn at just the right time. Their young ride currents out in the ocean and find their way into the river's nursery areas at exactly the right time. It's difficult to say how these century-old patterns have been altered already by even the small changes we make in how much and what kind of water reaches the coast.

Just as we pay little attention to our cars until they break, we don't notice small changes in the river until it affects our lives or pocketbooks. A clogged air filter makes your car run a little rough. The St. Johns River has also been "running rough" for some time, too. We would repair our car, but have largely ignored the St. Johns until smelly algae covered its surface. What will happen to the St. Johns River engine that has sustained Northeast Florida for centuries when the proper mix of water and nutrients is altered?

COURTNEY T. HACKNEY, Director of Coastal Biology, University of North Florida, Jacksonville

Monday, March 10, 2008

Losing Our Way With Water

The following essay by Bill Belleville, author of River of Lakes,appeared in today's Orlando Sentinel.

Fort Drum Creek was hardly a creek at all. My paddling partner and I had lugged a kayak down to it from the edge of a country road to explore. But the creek, hidden in a dense hardwood swamp north of Lake Okeechobee, behaved oddly, sluicing off into shallow rivulets.

Finally, we gave up on finding navigable water and forged ahead on foot. This was, after all, close to where historic maps told us the giant St. Johns River actually began its 310 mile crawl northward to the sea.

We walked until our calves sunk into water and mud. We crawled over the deadfall of sabal palms and large hickories. We stepped around deep furrows of wild-hog ruts. Just when we were ready to give up, the creek coalesced into a single channel -- bucolic, tea-colored, almost sure in its flow. And then without warning, it dissolved again, as if unable to catch its breath.

It was a good reminder that true "management" of water on this peninsula is tricky work. Human-driven conceits fool us into thinking we understand what this universal element is about. Yet, trying to engineer "hydrology" without having a deep and abiding respect for water is a dangerous presumption -- one that ordains us with more wisdom than we actually have.

The Native Americans who preceded us here by 12,000 years or more had a reverence for this water, as they did for all of nature. Their deities were woven into it, and not separate from it. Water held fish and snails, fed wildlife, watered crops, floated dugouts, gave life. In storms and in drownings, it also took life away.

Water was enchantment, certainly. But it was also deeply feared and honored, held close to the heart in both mystery and awe. It was sacred.

When they settled here, Europeans chose natural harbors on the coast, and along high river bluffs or atop ancient Indian middens inland. Florida was one big swamp and marsh and the best and surest roads were its waterways. The ether that others once worshiped became utility. Florida became a place to be sopped up, trimmed and tamed.

Perhaps nature as religion may have had a chance in Florida. But when technology developed to allow "submerged bottomlands" to be drained and sold for as little as 25 cents an acre in the l9th century, then Florida's destiny -- which was once to flow -- began to ebb.

Humans have done more to disconnect themselves from Florida's water in the last century than they did in the 12,000 years that came before. Water has become a visual Muzak, a background to our clever hardware-driven lifestyles, a solvent to be turned on or off, ditched away or drained. Once a noun and a verb, once a giver of life -- once a muse to writers, artists, musicians -- water in the 20th century became an expletive. It was called "flood control."

Today, our lack of connection has caught up with us. The feature that most shaped Florida into a singular place is being transformed. Now, lakes are drying or turning eutrophic; the springs declining in magnitude; the coastal estuaries becoming cloudy with sediment. The reefs, those miraculous living berms of color just offshore, are ailing. Even when we have the best intentions, we seem to forget that water is guided by gravity. We all live downstream.

And we have a tremendous thirst, far beyond any sustainable use the Timucua or Mayaca or Tequesta may have imagined. Floridians use 170 gallons of water a day -- compared to 110 gallons nationally. Uplands that might recharge aquifers with rain disappear under hard surface.

As if these insults weren't enough, we are preparing to siphon 260 million of gallons of water a day from the St. Johns system simply because developers bully water districts into doing so. Forget that half our residential use irrigates non-native landscapes that, in Florida, are simply impractical.

Our innate affinity for natural places -- what Pulitzer-winning biologist Edward O. Wilson calls "biophilia" -- is thwarted. The ability of our spectacular landscape to nourish us and to provide solace is diminished.

For the first time in the history of Florida, the liquid energy that once shaped us is now being shaped by us. We have taken ownership of water away from the gods. Fort Drum Creek, which a century ago, would have floated a dugout, struggles to catch its breath. As do we all.

Friday, March 7, 2008


The top photo was taken at the JEA chilled-water plant that is located near the Arena. The sprinklers had been running every day for at least two weeks in row. It then took over a week just to get someone to turn off the irrigation system once it had been reported, because no one knew who was responsible for maintaining this property. It turned out that the irrigation system was the responsibility of the City of Jacksonville (not JEA).

The second photo was taken today at FCCJ at 6:15 p.m. on my way home from work while it was raining. In fact, it had been raining all day. Look closely and you will see the sprinklers going full throttle in the background. This property is located on State Street between Jefferson and Broad.

Unfortunately, incidents like these are not that rare. We just can't continue to waste such a precious and limited resource as water. We had better get our act together in NE FL or we will be singing the Orlando and Atlanta blues soon, as well.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

St. Johns Riverkeeper Takes Legal Action

Here is the press release that we sent out yesterday announcing the legal action that we are taking to stop the withdrawal of water from the St. Johns by Seminole County.

On Tuesday, March 4th, St. Johns Riverkeeper officially filed for an administrative hearing to challenge the permit request from Seminole County to withdraw an average of 5.5 million gallons of water per day (MGD) from the St. Johns River for irrigation purposes. In addition to challenging the permit through an administrative law court (DOAH), St. Johns Riverkeeper is joining Public Trust Environmental Law Institute of Florida to pursue other legal actions, as well.

St. Johns Riverkeeper and Public Trust Environmental Law Institute of Florida have notified the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) of their intent to seek an injunction to require the SJRWMD to do the following:

1. Cease granting any consumptive use permits (CUPs) involving the St. Johns River;
2. Cease granting any consumptive use permits involving the Ocklawaha River;
3. Cease giving "assurances" to municipalities that the municipalities will be awarded CUPs involving the St. Johns and the Ocklawaha River surface water prior to proof that the legal requirements of issuing CUPs have been met.

The injunction would be effective until all the pending studies are completed by both the SJRWMD and the DEP.

The administrative legal challenge by St. Johns Riverkeeper and the pursuit of an injunction are in response to the recent announcement that the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) staff has recommended approval of the Seminole County request to withdraw an average of 5.5 million gallons of water per day (MGD) from the St. Johns River for its proposed Yankee Lake project.

The SJRWMD Governing Board was scheduled to decide upon the permit request at its next meeting on March 11th, but the legal action taken by St. Johns Riverkeeper will postpone any decision by the Board.

Seminole County is proposing to use the surface water from the St. Johns River for irrigation purposes. Seminole County is seeking to withdraw an average of 5.5 million gallons per day, but the amount of water withdrawn from the St. Johns could be as much as 11 million gallons per day during certain times of the year.

After 2013, Seminole County proposes to use the St. Johns River to supplement its drinking water needs, as well. Seminole County has plans to eventually withdraw as much as 80 MGD from the St. Johns River at the Yankee Lake facility. Water withdrawal proposals from Seminole County combined with those from other counties and utilities total nearly 400 MGD.

"Today, we are making good on our promise to do everything within our power to protect the St. Johns River. We will not allow Seminole County to move forward and destroy the River's health,” says Neil Armingeon, the St. Johns Riverkeeper. "This permit is not about 5.5 MGD; it is about the future of the St. Johns River."

Armingeon continues, “We could not take the chance that the Governing Board would do the right thing and deny this permit. We need to try and nip this in the bud, and put an end to these withdrawal proposals now before the flood gates are opened.”

Regarding the injunction, Warren Anderson of the Public Trust Environmental Law Institute of Florida stated, "It is not just Seminole County wanting to draw-down the River. We want a judge to order the SJRWMD to stop granting these permits until all the appropriate scientific studies are completed. Finish the studies first. With the health of the St. Johns River at stake, is that too much to ask?"

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Let the videos begin!

Today, St. Johns Riverkeeper announces the start date of the Conserving Water To Save Our Rivers PSA Video Contest.

“Conserving Water To Save Our Rivers” PSA Contest entries must be 60 seconds or less and address the importance of protecting our water resources and the St. Johns River system. We are not looking for entries that simply provide water conservation tips. We want kids to raise awareness by challenging viewers to examine how we use water, to understand why it is important to conserve water and the consequences of over-use, and to consider how to sustainably protect the St. John River and our groundwater resources. We expect this to be a challenging task for kids to tackle in 60-seconds or less, but never underestimate the talents and creativity of our youth.

All of the decisions that involve how we use our groundwater and the surface waters from our rivers are being decided by politicians and adult decision-makers. The PSA Contest will provide our youth with the opportunity to have a voice in the debate and to help raise awareness about an issue that impacts their lives, as well. In fact, any problems that should arise from the decisions that we make will fall to our kids to bear and to solve.

For more information, visit the St. Johns Riverkeeper website at

On the PSA Contest page of our website is a really cool video about the Contest that was created by our partners in this project, Team Gaia.

Also, there is a video posted on the Florida Times-Union website about the Contest.
Check it out!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Below is the unedited version of a recent letter written by Jimmy Orth, Executive Director of St. Johns Riverkeeper, that appeared in the Florida Times-Union:

Everyone in NE FL seems to be in opposition to the proposals by Central Florida and the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) to withdraw millions of gallons of water a day from the St. Johns River. Most local governments have passed resolutions in opposition to the plan. Mayor Peyton and many of our state legislators are concerned that these proposals will harm the river. Everyone also acknowledges that we have to do a much better job of using our limited water resources more responsibly and efficiently. Even the SJRWMD claims to support an expansion of water conservation measures. Unfortunately, our actions don’t correspond with our rhetoric. Each day, I see businesses and residents watering at the wrong time of the day or too frequently with sprinklers that are not properly adjusted. Recently, I reported a problem at a city-owned property where the sprinklers have been operating every day for at least 2 weeks, extending beyond the10AM rule and pouring thousands of gallons of water on the adjacent street. Four days after reporting the problem to the city, the sprinklers were still running. In NE FL, we have not adopted mandatory water conservation measures and our utilities provide few incentives for conservation. Even though the SJRWMD has said that conservation could postpone the water withdrawal plans, they continue to rubber stamp consumptive use permits (CUPs) for the withdrawal of our groundwater. In 2007, permits were issued that total 2.845 million gallons a day (mgd) for golf courses, 1.74 mgd for sod farms, 4.31 mgd for a fish farm, .769 for water bottling plants, and 1.296 mgd to a Cocoa Beach surf shop for its cooling and air condition. That is a total of 10.96 mgd or over 4 billion gallons of water a year. These are just some of the more egregious or excessive permits and only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the total amount of water that is permitted each year for withdrawal from our aquifer. Now, the SRJRWMD wants to allow Seminole County to withdraw 5.5 million gallons per day from the river to be used primarily for irrigation purposes. The bottom line is that we have not taken water conservation seriously, and we absolutely must. We must provide more effective education, substantially increase incentives and markedly improve and strengthen regulations that govern water use. Using over 50% of our potable water on our lawns and shrubs is no longer an option, and we must start using drought-tolerant landscaping practices. We also have to start making prudent decisions about the appropriate uses and how we prioritize and allocate this essential public resource. Now is the time for us to decide – do we continue to just talk a good game or do we also start demonstrating our commitment by taking aggressive and more responsible actions. Yes, we all oppose the plans to take water from the river. But, we must also take responsibility and conserve our water resources to the point that there is no need to withdraw water from our river in the first place.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Damn Yankee

The St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) has announced that it is recommending approval of a permit by Seminole County to take up to 5.5 million gallons of water a day (mgd) from the St. Johns River at its Yankee Lake facility primarily for irrigation uses.

This comes right on the heels of the SJRWMD announcing that it will spend nearly $2 million of our taxpayer dollars to study the potential impacts of the withdrawal proposals over the next 2 years. We certainly support further studies before any withdrawal decisions are made. However, the District's decision to recommend approval of the Yankee Lake project permit before the study has even begun gives the impression that the study is just window-dressing for a done deal.

The Yankee Lake permit will be voted on by the SJRWMD Governing Board at their next meeting in Palatka on March 11th. Even though the SJRWMD staff is recommending approval, the Governing Board can vote to deny the permit application. Write or e-mail the Governing Board members and let them know what you think about this permit and the water withdrawal proposals in general.

If you can, try to attend the meeting on March 11th, as well. We need to show up in force and let the Governing Board members know that they have an obligation to protect our St. Johns River and our water resources.

For contact information for the Governing Board, visit the Riverkeeper website and click on the image in the Current News section or go directly to

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Where's Charlie?

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned a ruling by the district court that would have allowed the Army Corps of Engineers and Georgia to enter into an agreement for water rights to the Lake Lanier reservoir. The decision was viewed as a victory for Florida and Alabama.

Governor Crist applauded the court for "recognizing the importance of maintaining Florida's water flow."

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary, Michael Sole, also supported the ruling, saying that lower river flows would harm Apalachiacola Bay.

Why don't they apply that same logic to another one of our state's most important rivers, the St. Johns?

Similar to the situation in Georgia, the St. Johns is also threatened by plans to reduce its flow by using its waters to supplement the drinking water needs of communities that have reached their water supply limits.

The St. Johns River water withdrawal proposals could be just as harmful to an important and fragile aquatic ecosystem. In fact, the rate of flow of the St. Johns is less than the Apalachiacola and the tidal influences are much greater. This results in the St. Johns not being able to flush pollutants efficiently to begin with.

The bottom line is this: Less freshwater and less flow are bad for BOTH rivers.

Governor, when are you going to stand up and defend the St. Johns River, too?

Let's maintain the flow in the St. Johns, as well.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Conserving water to save our rivers

This past Friday, elected officials and concerned citizens from Northeast Florida gathered at the St. Johns County Convention Center at World Golf Village for the Water Supply Summit. Your Riverkeeper, Neil Armingeon, was one of the speakers who voiced opposition to the plans in Central Florida to withdraw millions of gallons a day from the St. Johns River.

Dozens of citizens attended wearing "Every Drop Counts" stickers to let the elected officials know of their concern and opposition to the withdrawal proposals.

One of things that Riverkeeper is concerned about is the lack of discussion and dialogue about the reasons our river is being concerned for withdrawals in the first place. Before one drop is even considered for removal, we must begin to address the problems that have created the need for more water - overdevelopment, unsustainable growth, poor planning, and an extremely inefficient use of water. Let's address those issues before we move on and deplete and cause harm to another one of our water resources - the St. Johns River.

This is why Riverkeeper is developing the Conservation First campaign. The St. Johns River Water Management District keeps saying that conservation alone will not provide all of our water needs. We say - How will you know until you really try?

Saturday, January 5, 2008


If you are a Riverkeeper member, then the answer is definitely "YES".

Thanks to YOU, our loyal and generous supporters and members, Riverkeeper had a very successful year in 2007 and is poised to continue to make significant progress toward our goal of a clean and healthy St. Johns River.

· In 2007, we released our first annual Compliance Report that exposed and raised awareness about the numerous wastewater discharge permit violations that have taken place over the last two years. Soon after its release, FL Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole announced that DEP would strengthen its penalty guidelines and would take a tougher stance against the most serious environmental violations.

· We initiated a legal challenge against JEA for repeatedly violating the Clean Water Act that will hopefully result in infrastructure upgrades at the Arlington East and Buckman wastewater treatment facilities and fewer Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSOs) of untreated sewage.

· We continued our fight for a meaningful and protective nutrient pollution reduction plan (TMDL) for the St. Johns.

· We led the effort to stop the proposals in Central Florida to annually withdraw millions of gallons of water from the St. Johns River. As a result of our involvement, resolutions opposing the withdrawal projects were passed by the Neptune Beach City Council, Jacksonville Beach City Council, Jacksonville City Council, Jacksonville Planning Commission, Town of Keystone Heights, and numerous citizen groups.

· Riverkeeper was in the news over 120 times, spoke to over 60 organizations, and had over 60,000 visits to our website.

· Riverkeeper released its second documentary film, Revenge of the River that addresses critical issues, such as the rapid loss of wetlands, inadequate enforcement of our environmental laws, and the depletion of our groundwater supply. Recently, the documentary was nominated for two regional Emmy Awards. In September, our first documentary, The Green Monster, received first place honors at the national Awards for Reporting on the Environment.

· Riverkeeper hired an Education and Outreach Coordinator and retained a General Counsel for legal services.

· Danielle Dolan, our Education and Outreach Coordinator, developed and led numerous educational boat trips and field trips for families and children. She also began developing lesson plans and programs for teachers and schools that will be available this year.

· Michael Howle, our General Counsel, initiated several important legal actions and assembled a stellar Legal Advisory Committee consisting of Marc Hardesty, Warren Anderson, Bill Sheppard, and Wayne Hogan.

· We started our Partnership for a Clean River business program with our charter members: Black Creek Outfitters, Kayak Amelia, Sadler Point Marina, Jacksonville University, and Commercial Diving Academy.

· Neil Armingeon, the Riverkeeper, was named the “2007 Outspoken Citizen of the Year” by the Southside Business Men’s Club, and the St. Johns Riverkeeper organization received the Zone VIII Conservation Award from The Garden Club of America.

Although we had some success and certainly made progress in 2007, the St. Johns and Riverkeeper will continue to face many difficult challenges in 2008. We will need your unwavering support more than ever this year.

As you know, Central Florida and the St. Johns River Water Management District continue to move forward with plans to withdraw millions of gallons of water each day from our river. We will continue to oppose the withdrawal projects and to advocate for aggressive water conservation measures and sustainable building and planning practices.

Within the next week or so, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection will notice the discharge permit for the Georgia Pacific Paper Mill in Palatka. This notice will begin the public comment period for this permit, and it signals the beginning of yet another battle to stop GP from moving its polluted discharge from Rice Creek to the St. Johns via a pipeline.

Make no mistake, this will be a time consuming and costly effort. This pipeline threatens the health of the River. Our general counsel is researching our legal options. I will be providing regular updates on this issue, including fact sheets and ways you and your family can help our efforts. We will need all of your help if we are to mount an effective campaign to stop GP’s efforts to build its pipeline and increase its discharge to the River.

As always, thank you for all you do for the St. Johns River. We look forward to meeting the challenges facing the River, and we will do everything within our power to make sure our St. Johns is protected during the coming year.

Happy New Year!