BY SHANNON BLANKINSHIP, Outreach Director, St. Johns Riverkeeper
This is the time of year when our river can get lost in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. With all of the distractions that fill our thoughts and our days, we tend to lose focus of the pollution problems plaguing the St. Johns and how important the river is to our quality of life.
What if, instead, protecting the river made it to the top of our holiday wish lists? What if all of the 4th graders in northeast Florida asked for a clean river to play in instead of toys or new gadgets? It’s a stretch, but would it make Mom and Dad think differently? Would we still accept the health conditions of the St. Johns, or would it galvanize the community to clean up the river with the level of determination usually only seen when Walmart opens its doors on Black Friday?
This holiday, we’ll make it easy for you. When making your wish list, whether it is just one item on a list of others or the only thing you ask for, here are some action items that will help make the St. Johns River the main act of the season instead of just the backdrop. Remember, the springs and creeks that provide flow to the St. Johns ARE the St. Johns River. Start in your neighborhood and advocate for your nearby creek.
- Hogans Creek: Springfield and the Eastside have great leaders working to build community support and funding for restoring Hogans Creek, a long overdue project. It won’t be easy, but for your holiday wish list, ask that the city work with Groundwork Jacksonville to remove failing septic tanks on this creek and begin revitalization.
- Julington and Durbin Creeks: What incredible waterbodies to explore! Unfortunately, toxic algae blooms caused by over-fertilization, loss of riparian shorelines, and development heavy with St. Augustine grass and impervious surfaces have left these creeks vulnerable. If you don’t like green slime covering your creek or river, the top of your wish list needs to be river-friendly yards. By using native plants, less water, and less fertilizer, we can have fewer algae blooms and more water sports.
- McCoys Creek: Unfortunately, flooding and drainage issues dominate the conversation on this Riverside/Murray Hill gem. This creek has continuous greenway ripe for recreational trails that could connect it to Hogans Creek and the St. Johns River, creating what is called the Emerald Necklace. Add the Emerald Necklace to your wish list, and let’s finally make this vision a reality. It will be a place to bike, hike, and kayak; a wish list item for next year.
- Willow Branch Creek: Restore the native grasses, expand the floodplain, and make the construction company that polluted Willow Branch last year finally pay to restore it.
- Ocklawaha River: From October to March, the water levels in the reservoir behind the Rodman Dam on the Ocklawaha River will be lowered to remove the excessive buildup of invasive plants. Submerged springs begin to flow again and the channel takes its shape. Explore this area while you can, and add the removal of the dam and the restoration of the Ocklawaha River to your holiday list.
- Doctors Lake: The issues that plague Julington Creek are similar to Doctors Lake. Once again, add river-friendly yards to your list. Start at home. If you are in an HOA, work with your association to ensure that homeowners can use river-friendly landscaping practices to help protect the lake without fear of fines and penalties. Change has to start somewhere.
St. Johns County
- Trout Creek: St. Johns County creeks and waterways are plagued by new developments, golf courses, and agriculture. What was very recently a rural part of the watershed now has neighborhoods, schools, and shopping centers opening up every day. Agricultural lands and golf courses need strong Best Management Practices and new development should be “Low Impact”.
The St. Johns River
- Deepening the St. Johns: If the river is going to go deeper, there must be adequate mitigation to offset the environmental damage. You can help make sure this wish comes true, by telling city leaders you want more mitigation to protect your river.
- Water Withdrawals: Central Florida is gearing up for major development and they are looking to the St. Johns to ensure an adequate water supply. Wish list item: Water conservation! Look at what California has done to dramatically reduce its consumption during the drought. We can do the same and avoid taking millions of gallons of water a day from the flow of our river.
We know the river is important, and it needs advocates all year long. As the #optoutside trend continues, let’s unite and ask for a healthy St. Johns River for the holidays and continue to demand action for our waterways.
To learn more about the conditions in waterway near you, visit www.dep.state.fl.us/northeast/stjohns/TMDL/tmdl.htm.