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?"