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Pollution Pandemic in the St. Johns River

                  Sixty-one-year-old Jacksonville resident Neil A. Armingeon, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, said "The St. Johns River, and the communities that depend on it for our economy and our quality of life, are at a crossroad.  We cannot continue to pollute the St. Johns River and expect it to magically cleanse itself." Pollution is getting worse as time continues on and community members across Fla. need to be aware of this.

Due to the growing water pollution problem, Armingeon has a multi-step solution which stated, "Protecting and restoring the health of the St. Johns River will require a comprehensive plan that includes: well-crafted regulations and policy changes to limit pollution and minimize impacts; funding to support and incentivize research, conservation programs, and restoration programs; and education to raise public awareness and provide training, when necessary."

Michael D. Adams is a 53-year-old professional biologist and the founder and principal of ADAMScience Inc. a multidisciplinary consulting, education and research firm operating from Elkton, Fla., along the St. Johns River. He has lived and worked in Northeast Florida for 31 years. His formal education includes a bachelor’s degree in Biology and a master’s degree in Environmental Management. He is also a Certified Environmental Professional, a certified arborist, a gopher tortoise agent and prescribed burner. 

Adams has been a Watershed Action Volunteer , or WAV, with the St. Johns River Water Management District since 2001 performing monthly water quality monitoring of the St. Johns River. This monitoring has produced valuable data on the conditions of the river. Adams also sits on the Land Acquisition and Management Program, or LAMP, Board for St. Johns County. His community service is far reaching as he has established an Adopt-a Road section along County Road 13 and the McCullough Creek public boat ramp. This involved quarterly trash and other pollution source cleanup that could enter the river or its tributaries. 

According to Adams, the condition of the St. Johns River is problematic to say the least. Adams said, “As a scientist working and living along the St. Johns River and its watershed since 1984, there have been many issues of concern regarding pollution and clean up. Probably one of the biggest reasons is the products as a result of human development and increase population. Other issues include chemical contamination from fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides from agricultural runoff associated with the regional production of potatoes, cabbage and other vegetables.”

Adams’ pollution research in the St. Johns River said, “Based on the WAV data from only one location, my findings have been very stable and relatively good water quality. However, other zones particularly closer to heavy urban areas, such as Jacksonville, Green Cove Springs, Palatka and Sanford are not doing as well. In addition, on the west side of the river, in Putnam County, there is a by products discharge pipe project proposed in the main channel of the river from Georgia Pacific Paper Mill. If this point source is established, the water quality at that specific location will decrease.”

Adams said, “There is also a proposed project to remove water from the St. Johns River as a source of potable (drinking) water for several municipalities along its shores.  Regulatory agencies are in the process of studying this proposal for environmental and economic viability.”

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is concerned about the current standing of the St. Johns River. Environmental consultant Amy Tracy, works at the Watershed Planning and Coordination Section of the Bureau of Restoration Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration Florida Department of Environmental Protection. When asked how to stop pollution in the St. Johns River, Tracy said, “Community awareness of the issues in the St. Johns River is the key to restoration; pollution abatement can only happen by personal responsibility and a commitment to change, combined with support to local officials in eliminating sources of pollution to the river. The causes of the pollution are the stormwater runoff, nonpoint source pollution and point sources.”

Amy Tracy has a master’s degree from Florida Atlantic University and has been employed by FDEP in her current position since 2007. Tracy believes that the pollution problem will only worsen in time. She said, “The State has a program underway that assesses the health of Florida’s waterbodies, adopts total maximum daily loads or TMDLs, for waters not meeting designated standards, and develops a Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) to implement the reductions required by the TMDL. In the Lower St. Johns River (LSJR) there is an adopted TMDL for nutrients and an adopted BMAP which is plan to show how the nutrient reductions will occur to improve the health of the LSJR.”

Tracy also believes that community awareness will make a difference. She said, “In addition to the plan above there are two more adopted fecal coliform bacteria BMAPs to improve the water quality in 25 tributaries to the LSJR; and another underway to address Total Phosphorus loads into the middle trout river (a tributary to the LSJR). There are several more waters in the LSJ basin that will receive similar plans. The efforts by the State, the City of Jacksonville, and other local and State agencies coupled with the increasing awareness by citizens to the health of the river will result in an improvement in water quality.”

Tracy reasons that simple precautions by the public will make a huge difference. “Fertilize accordingly by applying the proper fertilizer, in the recommended amount, at the appropriate times of the year. Only water down the storm drains, don’t let your car wash or grass clippings go into the storm drains. Pick up your pet waste. Make sure laundry discharge do not drain to rivers or canals. Rain gardens and cisterns are good ways to reduce stormwater runoff,” said Tracy.

Division chief of environmental quality of the city of Jacksonville, Vincent A. Seibold said, “The Lower St. Johns River Basin is impaired due to excess nutrients. The City of Jacksonville, along with many other stakeholders, is doing our part to reduce Nutrient loading into the river in conjunction with the Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) established by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in 2008.”

Seibold commented, “Since JEA manages wastewater for Duval County, the City is embarking on a comprehensive strategy to reduce nutrient laden runoff from its Stormwater system. This strategy includes structural in terms of building ponds and phasing out septic tanks, and non-structural things like public education, Low Impact Development (LID) principles, Florida’s friendly landscape practices, fertilizer, irrigation, and pet waste ordinances, street sweeping and other preventive maintenance activities and other control measures.”

Seibold is forever optimistic about the future of the St. Johns River, he said, “I believe that in time the River will achieve a healthy state and that the solution to the Nutrient impairment of the River must include community involvement. Community members can get involved by participating in local government ordinance development, attending environmental education events, and thinking about personal pollution prevention.”

Seibold, 47, can be considered an environmental expert because he holds an environmental engineering degree from University of Florida and an MBA from University of North Florida. He is also a registered Professional Engineer in the State of Fla. since 1994. Seibold stated this about his job, “I currently have 110 staff in my division and have been with the city since 2007 after serving nearly 17 years with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection both Jacksonville and Tallahassee.”

News Producer for Osprey TV at the Jacksonville’s University of North Florida, Andrew Leverett, 20, created a documentary film about the St. Johns River. Leverett said, “The best way to ultimately stop the pollution in the St. Johns River is for all of us to do our part in cutting down on your own personal consumption of goods that use chemicals that will end up as waste in the river.”

Leverett agrees that the origins behind the pollution are wide-ranging. Leverett said, “Pollution is a by-product of production. Factories create pollution and they discharge it into the river. Also, pollutants such as the excess nitrogen found in the river are the effects the community using too much lawn fertilizer.”

Combating the pollution will be an uphill battle; Leverett said, “This problem will only worsen as time goes on, however we can fight the progress of the pollution in our river by holding businesses accountable for polluting the river, and by individually doing out part to protect our river.”