State of the River vs. State of My Mind

It’s Thursday, I wake up late, the sun hasn’t been rising as early these days, and it’s pounding rain for the first time in a month. I’m cold, I throw on pants and slide into the computer seat awaiting the pop of my bagel. Burned, I eat it anyway. The vegan butter seeps through the paper towel onto the desk. An email reads: ”October has been nearly record-setting in terms of tornado activity across the United States and more severe weather is forecasted on Thursday for areas from South Florida to the Carolinas.”

Brakes squeaking worse than normal, I pull into the gas station in my Isuzu Rodeo with its cow print interior. The $1,500 gas-eater was a quick fix for my previously flooded Nissan Versa. Droplets bouncing off my jacket at a slow pace, I thank the clouds for holding it in while I complete the dreaded task of filling my tires with air. Crouched and staring into the nothingness, I gain consciousness and notice the sewer. It’s about to overflow. Feeling lucky my parking spot Downtown is raised, memories start pouring in.

Riverside is notorious for flooding. For several years now, trash blocking the flow of stormwater paired with unworthy pipes, more severe weather and the river’s high tide floods the streets, totals cars and remodels living rooms with about five minutes of heavy rainfall.

In September of this year, city officials announced plans to spend $1 million to improve drainage in the northwest section, west of Riverside High School, increasing pipe size from 36 to 48 inches to accommodate rushing waters. But the project is only in its design phase.

The State of the River Report was published last month. It’s Friday, a week later. I read through the heavy, 363-page document that contains years of research and findings on water quality, wildlife, contaminants and the state of our wetlands. The report gives wetlands an unsatisfactory red arrow, meaning conditions are worsening. Many low-budget, elementary school field trips to the St. Johns River taught me this is bad news. Wetlands help minimize flooding, a threat that rising sea levels poses to our peninsula.

Urbanization is a key factor in the degradation of the wetlands. Though permits have been put in place, they seem to reflect the capitalist nature of our government and look something like this: 1) permit-seekers should first try to avoid wetlands; 2) if wetlands cannot be avoided, then permit-seekers should try to minimize impacts; and 3) if wetland impacts cannot be avoided or minimized, then permit-seekers must compensate for the losses.

Wetland mitigation banks have become a popular way to “compensate for unavoidable impacts that occur as a result of federal or state permitting processes” (National Resources Commission, 2001). That’s nice but does compensation ever really fix the problem?

Brain-fried and hog-tied by anxiety and words I should’ve remembered from college, I scroll to the end of the laborious River Report in search of positivity. The French Dispatch soundtrack mimes the horns honking on the street below my office window where I see rain flying in all strange directions. Is it snowing?!

I’m left with this:

“In summary, the future outlook of the health of the Lower Saint Johns River Bed (LSJRB) wetlands depends upon detailed, accurate, consolidated recordkeeping of wetland impacts, the cumulative impact of parcel-by-parcel loss of wetland ecosystem functions and services, and the success of wetlands enhanced, created, or restored,” the report read. “Given the continued trend of mitigation via purchase of mitigation credits and off-site conservation areas in place of on-site mitigation and the implication of sea-level rise in combination with the development occurring in the LSJRB, the outlook for local wetlands in the LSJRB does not look promising.”

Read the full report at


–Rain Henderson