A Shocking Reality Now Publicized
We at the Sierra Club are very pleased when other environmental organizations take a lead role in protecting our natural world. The Riverkeeper, a fairly new presence in Northeast Florida, is now stepping up to the task of this daunting job and we at Sierra want to publicize their efforts.
For more than ten years public agencies have been gathering water quality data about the St. Johns River and its tributaries. The data has consistently shown very high levels of coliform bacteria in the tributaries of the river in Duval County. The state limit for bacteria is 800 and some of the samples have been as high as 10,000.
Research has shown that this is primarily of human origin.
There is clear evidence that such high levels have caused respiratory and gastrointestinal disease and skin and ear infections. With this well documented problem at hand the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Department of Health and the City of Jacksonville Regulatory and Environmental Services Division (RESD) have either ignored the data or pointed fingers at one another as to who should address the problem. This damaging evidence has not been openly shared with the public sufficiently. The St. Johns Riverkeeper felt that ten years of data gathering and finger pointing was enough and began plans to print their own signs to post at the worst tributaries to inform the public of the health hazard. Shouldn’t parents of children who go swimming and skiing in these areas and fishermen and their families know of the risk of disease and infection?
Just before the Riverkeeper was ready to take the full burden of publicizing this shocking data the matter was discussed in a meeting of the Mayor’s Environmental Advisory Board. Our own Dan Donaldson, a Board member of the Riverkeeper, was instrumental in this process along with Riverkeeper Mike Hollingsworth and Riverkeeper Chairman Roger Bass (also a member of Sierra). To his credit, Mayor Delaney said the City would take bold steps to let the public know what these different agencies have learned about but not publicized in the past. (An article about the many environmental accomplishments of Mayor Delaney will air in next month’s Sentry).
Mayor Delaney directed his staff to meet with the St. Johns River keeper and put a plan in place to post signs on the worst tributaries informing the public of the potential health problems from water contact in some of our tributaries. There will be a press conference covering this plan and the posting of the first sign sometime in early March. The first step is to inform the public through posting signs that there are potential health problems in some tributaries. The next step will be forming a plan to clean up the river and obtaining the funding that will be required. There is some talk about a possible River Summit to address these grave concerns. Among the culprits causing this outrageous amount of contamination and pollution are failing sewer lines and septic systems, unpermitted discharge pipes into the river, as well as other sources not yet fully identified.
When this information is finally publicized there will be many who are outraged that the results have not been organized and published sooner. The Sierra Club wants to thank the efforts of the River keeper for this breakthrough that will hopefully provide momentum to make necessary changes to minimize the pollution of our wonderful St. Johns River.
Sierra encourages support of the new River keeper organization. We applaud environmental groups who join us in taking aggressive legal action to protect the paradise that is Northeast Florida. For more information write: St. Johns River keeper, Inc., Jacksonville University, 2800 University Boulevard, Jacksonville, Florida 32211.