St. John’s River Restoration Efforts Achieving Significant Nutrient Reductions, Water Quality Improving

The Lower St. Johns River TMDL Executive Committee met on February 27, 2014 for the presentation of the 2013 Progress Report — the five-year assessment report describing restoration efforts for the Lower St. John’s River Main Stem. The report indicatesprojects and activities undertaken by area local governments and others have, to date, reduced 95 percent of the phosphorus loadings and 94 percent of the total nitrogen loadings in the freshwater section and 94 percent of the total nitrogen loadings in the marine section necessary to meet the restoration plan’s nutrient reduction targets.

In June 2008, the Department adopted restoration goals, or Total Maximum Daily Loads, for the main stem of the Lower St. Johns River Basin from Buffalo Bluff just south of Palatka to the mouth of the river. In October 2008, a restoration plan, or Basin Management Action Plan, was adopted to achieve these reductions. In the freshwater reach, the goal targets total phosphorus and total nitrogen to achieve chlorophyll-a levels in this portion of the river. In the marine section, the goal targets total nitrogen to restore dissolved oxygen levels for the benefit of aquatic life.

“Collectively, you committed to a clear set of specific actions to substantially reduce nutrients and improve water quality in the St. Johns River and I have seen first-hand the strides that have been made as a result of these actions,” said Deputy Secretary Drew Bartlett. “I applaud your efforts, but we must continue to implement projects and monitor progress to ensure that the goal of restoration is achieved.”

At today’s meeting, stakeholders also provided updates on recently completed projects, including JEA which completed the final major capital project in its nutrient initiative, nutrient removal upgrades at the Buckman Wastewater Treatment Plant. With the completion of this $22 million construction project, JEA has now reduced the discharge of nitrogen to the river by over 50 percent from all of its facilities. The load reductions achieved by the upgrade at the Buckman Facility itself are 191,183 kg/yr total nitrogen, which benefit the marine section of the Lower St. Johns River. This single project achieves 17 percent of the overall TN reduction needed in the marine section. Department and St. Johns River Water Management District data also show that the density and duration of algal blooms are declining.

“Tremendous progress has been made in the St. Johns River between Palatka and Jacksonville, as we have collaboratively worked to remove excessive nutrient discharges from the river, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, improve water quality and make more reclaimed water available to water suppliers,” said Hans G. Tanzler III, executive director of the St. Johns River Water Management District. “Moving forward, we will continue to focus on non-point discharges, and in particular work with growers to reduce the impacts of agricultural runoff in the Tri-County Agricultural Area and to build on our shared successes.”

To achieve additional needed reductions, additional efforts in agricultural areas are expected in 2014 including the Tri-County Agricultural Area Water Management Partnership. This partnership, which consists of the Department of Environmental Protection, the St. Johns River Water Management District, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and TCAA growers was established to cost share the implementation of alternative irrigation and fertilization methods to reduce groundwater use and nutrients entering the river.

The Department is providing $2.3 million to assist farmers in the TCAA this year, including water quality monitoring. The St. Johns River Water Management District has provided an additional $2.25 million. Cost share funding of $1.5 million from the St. Johns River Water Management District, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Natural Resources Conservation Service will be used for the purchase of equipment, such as specialized fertilizer application equipment and projects.

The 2013 Progress Report can be found here.

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