About 10 days ago I was fortunate enough to be able to fly over a large portion of the St. Johns River with Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman, South Wings Pilot Roy Zimmer, and scientist Rob Storm. The St Johns River is an incredible body of water. While I was working on my project for the South Florida Museum, some friends and I rented a houseboat for a week. I took my kayak and paddled the smaller waterways. Yet even knowing the river that intimately, I did not fully appreciate this river's grandeur until I viewed it by plane. Prior to this trip, I was also afraid of small planes, but when I looked out and saw the stunning views I forgot all about my fears. It helped that Roy was an excellent and very safe pilot. Besides the beauty I saw, I noticed many troubling signs along this waterway.
As we all know, the Indian River Lagoon is in a State of Emergency–one that has been lurking on the horizon since the algae blooms of 2011 and likely before that. A month ago I saw manatees gasping for air near Round Island, and a family swimming with young children in glowing yellow-green water around the corner. Though the St. Johns is no longer on the 10 Most Endangered Rivers List, due to battles fought by Waterkeepers and other environmentalists, it is in no way free and clear of toxicity as the images above and below show. Rob said some of it was Salvinia, a form of duckweed I have encountered in Apalachicola. However, he was pretty sure there was a lot of algae mixed in, especially along the shoreline. I am still waiting for confirmation from ground level as to exactly what type of algae it is.
As you can see in the above image, algae tends to collect along shorelines and areas where the water is not moving as much. The current algae problem in the St. Johns likely has many causes including nitrogen and phosphorus from agriculture, using fertilizer on lawns, and point source pollution from mines and other industries, as is the case for most rivers in Florida. Photographs of such sites along the St. Johns watershed are shown below.
Hastings is the potato capital of Florida and the Stormwater Treatment area shown in the image below was built to deal with the runoff from these fields. The Edgefield tract runs from Palatka to Hastings and abuts the Deep Water Creek Conservation Area. Sometime soon, I would like to paddle in Deep Creek.
Below is an aguaculture site on site on the south shore of crescent lake. Fish farms utilize a lot of water from wells that then runs into rivers or lakes. Chemicals used in fish farms included hygenic or anti-fouling substances and drugs to prevent infection. All of these run into our waterways. In Chiloe in Patagonia there was recently a very large algae bloom that wrecked havoc on marine life likely caused by the chemicals used in fish farms when exposed to above average temperatures. The destruction caused riots in Chile.
Adena Springs, a 30,0000-acre cattle ranch owned by billionaire Frank Stronach is one of the biggest users of water along the St. Johns River. The land has since been renamed Sleepy Creek Lands, probably to make it sound like they are using less water since their permit requests are countered by environmentalists and others who oppose the amount of water they already siphon. Adena Springs requested a permit to use an additional 1.12 million gallons of water per day for use on the north tract in 2011. In 2014, district staff completed its review of the request and based on cumulative impacts to Silver Springs and the Silver River recommended that the application be denied. For a detailed description of the legal proceedings around this permit request and others, visit the permitting webpage at: https://permitting.sjrwmd.com/epermitting/jsp/Search.do?theAction=searchDetail&permitNumber=137808.
The St. John's River also is impacted by two power plants, the St. Johns River Power Park and the Seminole Electric Plant shown here. The Seminole Electric Plant was built in the 1980s and they have spent $530 million on environmental controls, but its continued existence is in jeopardy due to the Clean Power Plan federal Initiative which is seeking to shut down coal burning plants around the country. Coal ash leaching into our waterways, especially in unlined pits, is a huge issue for water quality. Georgia Pacific used to dispose of all its effluent, which has high concentrations of cancer causing dioxin, directly into Rice Creek. In 2002, Georgia Pacific was ordered to build a four-mile pipeline by a Federal Administrative Judge. In 2012 they received a permit from the DEP to dump 23 million gallons of pump mill wastewater directly into the St. Johns River every day. This has not surprising led to a drop off in the abundance and diversity of river life around the pipe according to Waterkeeper Lisa Rinaman.
A big controversy in the St. Johns Watershed is the Rodman Dam on the Ocklawaha River. Every four years there is a draw down, and all the hidden springs can be seen, as well as trees and evidence of other aquatic life. The dam was constructed in 1971 as part of the failed Cross Florida Barge Canal (see the following image) and as been controversial ever since. Lisa Rinaman, the St. Johns Riverkeeper believes that restoring the Ocklawaha to its natural free flowing state will reduce the impact of dredging downriver in Jacksonville (the St. Johns flows from Kissimmee to Jacksonsville, one of only two south/north flowing rivers in Florida). The opposition comes from lawmakers in the area who claim that the region's ecology and economy have adapted to the dam. Conversations continue between the local politicians and the Riverkeeper, the Port Authority and the JAX Camber of Commerce.
The image below shows how wild the Ocklawaha River is and the heavily treed nature of its watershed.
Below are some other areas we flew over. It was interesting to see just how many water uses there are in a river's watershed. Flying over the St. Johns and its tributaries and lakes really put the interrelation of all these uses and ecological systems in perspective. We were so grateful to South Wings for making this trip possible.
On the opposite side of the creek is Dunns Creek State Park, a 6200-acre park with 23 natural communities including flatwoods, baygull, and sandhills. Creatures found here include the sand hill crane southeastern kestrel, hawks, and wading birds, as well as white tailed deer and foxes. Native Americans used this area a lot as is evidenced by shell mounds. In the last century, it has been used for cattle ranching, logging, turpentining, and farming. This park is one of the newest additions to the State Park system. However, that does not mean it will be protected from these uses, as politicians continue to try and seek approval for the commercialization of parks to earn revenue.
The image above is of the St. Johns River with Moccasin Slough, which is a wet connection between the river and Doctors Lake. Rob Storm identified the cloudy area you see beneath the surface of the water as an algae bloom. The photograph below is a larger aerial of the St. Johns River by Moccasin Slough with Doctors Lake in the background,
The image above is of Bear Island in Crescent Lake. It has a landing strip, a house and a dock and is privately owned. This island was actually given away on the Price is Right (http://www.floridamemory.com/blog/2014/10/03/the-day-they-gave-a-florida-island-away-on-the-price-is-right/) on December 11, 1961. It was right before the movie "Mysterious Island," based on a Jules Verne novel was going to be released by Columbia Pictures.
According tot he Florida Memory Blog, "Mr. and Mrs. Henry Freeman of New York were the lucky winners of the “Mysterious Island” house. They were flown to Crescent City for a ceremony at their new home, where they were given the keys, the deed to the land, and a private screening of Mysterious Island. Columbia filmed all of this, and used it to help promote the movie."
We also flew over Silver Glen Springs and De Leon Springs. Over 100 springs are located in the St. Johns watershed and they provide 30 percent of the flow. For more information on the springs and their health, visit the St. Johns Riverkeeper blog at: http://www.stjohnsriverkeeper.org/blog/the-springs-of-the-st-johns/.
De Leon Springs also has a shell mound and a burial mound, as well as a 6,000 year-old canoe sunk in the bottom. Water flows at an average of 14.1 million gallons per day.
LIsa Rinaman has been the St. Johns Riverkeeper since February 2012. She works tirelessly to improve the quality of the river and to protect pollution from entering the river. Before becoming the Waterkeeper, she worked at City Hall, where she worked on ordinances to protect the St. Johns River and other local waterways. Lisa is very knowledgeable about water issues and cares deeply about her watershed and its ecosystems. It is always a pleasure to work with her on raising awareness about the current conditions of our waterways. I love listening to her talk about both the problems she faces and the remaining beauty of the St. Johns River.