by Jennifer Yarbrough
“I found something, grandpa! I found something!” a seven year old girl exclaimed from the shore of the St. Johns River. In her past, the murky brown water brought fun and adventure, today it delivered something else: history. The older gentleman, “grandpa,” wandered over and looked in amazement at what the girl had in her hand. He gently took it from her and smiled. He looked at the arrowhead, then at the river, then at her and said, “Let me tell you a story.” On that day, thirty years ago at a picnic area along our naturally beautiful and historic river, my grandpa lovingly told me the story of the Seminoles along the St. Johns.
My childhood is full of many great memories of the St. Johns River. I want my own children to make memories here, too. That’s why the work of the St. Johns Riverkeeper is so important, for the River, for the future. The St. Johns Riverkeeper is a, “privately funded, independent, and trusted voice for the St. Johns River and the public to whom it belongs.” Its Mission is “to be an independent voice that defends, advocates, and activates others for the protection and restoration of the St. Johns River.” To achieve this Mission, they tirelessly observe the river habitat and water conditions and provide opportunities for the public to enjoy and learn about the St. Johns River.
The St. Johns Riverkeeper patrols the river regularly, noting the river’s health and areas of concern. Current areas of concern are excess nutrients and sedimentation from run-off, bacterial overgrowth, habitat loss, wetland reduction, and pollutants.
Two areas of immediate concern to the river’s health are water withdrawal and dredging. To meet water demands in Central Florida, the St. Johns River Water Management District proposed the District Water Supply Plan which provides for the withdrawal of more than 64 million gallons of water a day from the St. Johns River and up to 86 million gallons from one of its most important tributaries, the Ocklawaha River. Since the St. Johns River flows north, we may feel the effects of the water withdrawals in our area. Such effects could include pollution and increases in algal blooms and salinity. The Riverkeeper maintains that conservation methods would work to meet Central Florida water supply needs while being more cost-effective and environmentally responsible.
The other area of immediate concern is the Jaxport plan for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge thirteen miles of the St. Johns River from the Dames point to the Atlantic Ocean to allow larger ships port entry. The Riverkeeper asserts that the increase in salinity could damage or destroy the wetlands and grasses of the river and its tributaries, including local Julington Creek. The group recently filed a petition against the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for a hearing on its granting of a permit for the dredging.
The St. Johns Riverkeeper seeks to maintain the health of the River and fights for its responsible use for us, “the public to whom it belongs.” Check out their website www.stjohnsriverkeeper.org for ways that you can get involved! Host a workshop at your business or school, participate in a clean-up or find information about history, boat ramps, and more! Two upcoming events that are sure to make a “splash” are:
Rising Tides: McCoy’s Creek Clean-up, July 14, 2016. Creek clean-up from 5:30pm-7:00pm and social from 7:00pm-8:00pm at Bold City Brewery. Contact Alicia Smith, Rising Tides Chair, (904) 563-5160, firstname.lastname@example.org .
4th Annual River Ruckus at the Riverside Arts Market (RAM), August 27, 2016 from 10:00am-4:00pm. In addition to all of the awesome produce, crafts and vendors of RAM, enjoy water-based activities, kids crafts, educational information, music and beer from SweetWater Brewing Company. Contact Shannon Blankinship, email@example.com (904) 256-7613
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