Is it safe to eat from or swim in the river?
The latest State of the River Report grades the health of the St. Johns River including some positive developments but many more worrisome trends.
The good news!
Some animals are living better. Bald eagles, wood storks and striped mullet show populations continue to recover and manatees are maintaining their numbers.
Even water quality has improved overall in the main parts of the river.
Sewage spills have been curtailed due in large parts to remediation efforts by JEA.
Sewers overflowed eighty-five times spilling 959,267 gallons of sanitary waste into the river last year and as bad as it sounds this is an improvement over 2018.
We missed another huge algae bloom this summer. While blue/green algae blooms were widely observed and reported throughout Summer 2019, some improvement in chlorophyll levels may have held back the green monster.
Poor grades outnumbered the good scores.
Invasive species like mollusks, crabs and foreign plants are invading the river and taking resources from our native species.
Contaminants from pesticides are increasing.
An overabundance of heavy metals like zinc, mercury, and lead concentrated in river tributaries are entering the food chain and can work into human diets.
“Water quality in some of the tributaries is too poor to allow the safe consumption of fish from these streams or to allow swimming,” the report reads.
The problem is so widespread the Florida Department of Health maintains a county by county list of fish which should not be consumed.
Phosphorus and nitrogen have stimulated algae blooms and decrease the quality of the water harming animals and plants.
Heavy metal pollution from industrial processes is stable and contributes a smaller proportion of pollutants compared to other sources according to Jacksonville University marine biologist Dr. Quinton White.
He says the focus should address pollution originating from many points around the watershed that wash into the river known as sheetflow.
Some steps to mitigate these problems have helped including storm water retention ponds which trap contaminants before entering the river in addition to city street sweeping.
Wetlands are declining from salt water intrusion.
Deepening the river increases the amount of water that enters the river. Salty water flows farther upstream and the effects are evident by declining freshwater vegetation.
The wetlands are not moderating the fluctuations in salt leading to rapid changes that can harm fish and plants.
Salinity is increasing despite recent storms over the past three years boosting freshwater to the system.
Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman says the Army Corps has underestimated the impacts of the dredging impacts with frequent flooding events, Mitigation projects must offset the deepening impacts by restoring tributaries and increasing resilience by protecting wetlands and making sure conditions upstream are healthy and maintain adequate water flows coming out of central Florida.