Understanding the value of water
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In this issue
Massive restoration of headwaters of the St. Johns River is completed.
Cost-share program helps farmers innovate and conserve water.
2016 marks a decade of work in the St. Johns River’s lower basin.
A host of partners committed time and money to restoration work under the River Accord at the Accord signing in 2006.
A decade of progress since the inception of the St. Johns River Accord
For decades, the lower basin of the St. Johns River (that portion of the watershed from Lake George to the river’s mouth at Mayport) shared the story of many rivers exposed to human impacts. The lower St. Johns had become the last stop for pollutants — particularly treated wastewater and stormwater runoff from urban and agricultural areas. Nitrogen and phosphorus in the storm water fueled algal blooms, at times glazing the fabled waterway in garish green hues.
The river’s condition prompted action on many fronts. Nearly 30 years ago, the St. Johns River Water Management District, along with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), worked with dozens of state and local government partners, water supply utilities, farmers and interested individuals on projects and strategies to protect and restore the lower St. Johns River.
A decade ago, the district and DEP upped the ante by formalizing a partnership with the city of Jacksonville and JEA to improve the health of the St. Johns River’s lower basin. The partnership, called the River Accord, committed to investing $700 million over the next decade. Of this, the district would spend up to $150 million on reclaimed water and wastewater projects in Duval, St. Johns, Clay and Putnam counties, targeted to remove 1 million pounds of nitrogen per year and remove 28 million gallons per day — or 10 billion gallons per year — of discharge from the river by implementing beneficial wastewater reuse.
On the 10-year anniversary of the River Accord, it’s safe to say this partnership has so far succeeded. More than $138 million in projects have been completed in the last decade alone. These partnership projects will meet, and even exceed, pollution reduction targets for both nitrogen and phosphorus in both the marine and freshwater sections of the lower St. Johns River.
“I applaud the numerous district partners who have put projects in the ground that benefit the lower St. Johns River.”
— District Executive Director Dr. Ann Shortelle
“I applaud the numerous district partners who have put projects in the ground that benefit the lower St. Johns River,” says district Executive Director Dr. Ann Shortelle. “They each have dedicated their time and made financial commitments to complete projects that have reduced nutrient loading, better managed urban stormwater pollution, upgraded wastewater treatment plants and expanded reclaimed water systems to reduce demand for precious groundwater.”
Since the lower St. Johns River was originally designated as one of Florida’s seven priority water bodies in need of water quality restoration in the 1987 Surface Water Improvement and Management (SWIM) Act, the district and its partners have celebrated a string of successes — the development of a SWIM Plan, a great deal of diagnostic work, the implementation of pollutant load-reducing projects and the development of a state-of-the-art hydrodynamic/water quality model to help the agency make more informed decisions.
District Executive Director Dr. Ann Shortelle (second from left) toured the lower St. Johns River in January to see the district’s work in the region first-hand. Also on the tour were (from left) Communications Manager Tiffany Cowie, Chief of Staff Lisa Kelley and Lower/Middle Basin Initiative Leader Derek Busby.
“We can quantify our successes in the lower basin. Overall, we’ve reached 90 percent and 84 percent of the total gross reduction requirement for phosphorus and nitrogen, respectively,” Shortelle says. “And overall, 94 percent of the total gross reduction requirement for nitrogen has been met. That’s significant forward progress.”
Nitrogen and phosphorus reductions are still needed in the freshwater portion of the lower St. Johns River. To address this, the district is working with growers in the tri-county agricultural area (Putnam, St. Johns and Flagler counties) on projects and strategies to improve the efficiency of water and nutrient use, which reduces pollution and keeps valuable, high-quality water in the region’s aquifers. The district continues to actively pursue creative project partnerships through its expanded cost-share programs to benefit the river and its communities.
“The progress our partnership has made, and continues to develop, deserves accolades as does the Florida Legislature for the funding it has provided over many years to these critical projects,” Shortelle says. “Our successes are possible through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s support of our work. Ultimately, the winners will be a healthy St. Johns River and the residents who enjoy it and depend on it for their livelihood.”