DEP Uses Public Input and New Technology in Restoration of St. John’s River and Tributaries

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is hosting a series of meetings soliciting public insight on identifying sources of bacteria in 10 of the St. Johns River tributaries, continuing efforts to restore these waterways. The program began today at the Northeast District DEP office in Jacksonville with a discussion of three of the tributaries and continues through June.

Five years ago the department adopted a restoration plan for 10 St. Johns River tributaries, with a long-term goal of reducing fecal coliform bacteria by 50 percent. Restoration efforts have exceeded the 50 percent milestone in Newcastle Creek, Hogans Creek, Miramar Creek, Deer Creek and Goodbys Creek. Improvements have also been shown in Miller Creek, Big Fishweir Creek, Terrapin Creek and Open Creek, however, the full restoration goal has yet to be achieved. Butcher Pen Creek continues to require improvement.

With restoration well underway, DEP is working alongside the public and local government experts to assess opportunities for further improvement. At the upcoming meetings the department will present a map of each tributary and invite local stakeholders to identify dog parks, landfills and other potential sources of bacteria. Stormwater and sanitary sewer staff and local public health officials can contribute first-hand knowledge of the waterbody and identify areas of concern they have observed working in the field. The meeting will result in a common understanding of the existing conditions in the watershed and a list of concerns to investigate out in the field.

“Through public involvement, stakeholder insight, as well as scientific investigation, DEP continues to strive to improve water quality and restore Florida’s valuable water resources,” said Tom Frick, director of the Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration.

The department will then assemble with a team of regional experts familiar with components of the watershed to walk along and investigate the perimeter of each tributary, as well as drive further away to observe conditions in the watershed. The updated maps from the public meeting will guide the group as they make observations and take water samples. DEP staff and the other participants will look for ditches, potential illicit wastewater and stormwater connections, failing septic tanks, animal waste, and other potential problems. Possible pollutant sources will be documented and photographed for follow-up action; water samples will be sent to the DEP lab for analysis.

The DEP laboratory is using new technology to analyze the water samples, specifically a method called microbial source tracking, which identifies bacteria origin through DNA analysis. Knowing whether the source is human waste rather than pets, agricultural animals, birds or of a different origin allows stakeholders to tailor restoration actions directly to solving the pollution problem.

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