Restoration of St. Johns River and Tributaries

Nutrient load reduction target levels and water restoration plans have been adopted for the Lower St. Johns River and its tributaries, as well as the Middle St. Johns River. To continue its part of the ongoing restoration efforts of advancing restoration of the Lower St. Johns River and its tributaries, DEP recently presented updates on pollution and bacteria reductions to improve water quality and protect aquatic life. Stakeholders are actively coordinating with DEP to implement projects to improve water quality.

In addition, the restoration plans for the river and tributaries, the department has also adopted restoration plans for the Wekiva River, Silver Springs, Lake Jesup, Orange Creek and the Upper Ocklawaha River Basin, which will also provide ancillary benefits to the river by improving water quality basin-wide.

Lower St. Johns River Main Stem

Significant load reductions have been achieved in the St. Johns River between Welka and Jacksonville, as DEP and stakeholders 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.

On Feb. 25, DEP updated stakeholders on progress in reducing nutrient loads to the Lower St. Johns River Main Stem to address both water quality and aquatic life. In June 2008, DEP adopted restoration goals for the main stem from just south of Palatka to the mouth of the river in Duval County, followed by adoption of a restoration plan, or Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP), in October 2008. In the freshwater section, the goal targets a reduction of total phosphorus and total nitrogen to achieve healthy chlorophyll-a levels. In the marine section, the goal targets total nitrogen to restore dissolved oxygen levels for the benefit of aquatic life.

Nutrient pollution, specifically excessive nitrogen and phosphorous, is the primary source of the water-quality imbalance in the Lower St. Johns River Main Stem. Nutrients are naturally present in the water and necessary for the healthy growth of aquatic plan and animal life. Excess nutrients however, can cause rapid algal growth and lead to water-quality complications including oxygen depletion in the water and habitat smothering.

Since the BMAP was adopted, significant efforts have been made to upgrade wastewater facilities, improve agricultural runoff and increase urban stormwater treatment. To date, projects and activities undertaken by local governments and others have reduced 90 percent of the total phosphorous loadings and 84 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 nutrient reduction targets.

In 2015, St. Johns County substantially completed their improvements to the Deep Creek West Regional Stormwater Treatment area, expanding the treatment pond, installing new pumps, and improving the overall function of the system.  These upgrades are expected to remove more than 2,000 kilograms per year of nitrogen to benefit the freshwater section of the Lower Basin.

The Lower St. Johns River BMAP represents the collaborative effort to identify the management strategies necessary to achieve the nutrient TMDLs for the main stem of the river. As implementation continues, we will continue to focus on non-point discharges in the freshwater section, 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. In the marine section, the department is supportive of efforts by the city of Jacksonville to address their stormwater impacts to the marine section of the river.

Lower St. Johns River Tributaries

On March 10, DEP held an annual update meeting for two BMAPs that address bacteria impairments in 25 Lower St. Johns River tributaries. These BMAPs, which were adopted in 2009 and 2010, address excess levels of bacteria in tributaries that receive stormwater runoff in highly urbanized areas, which can transport bacteria from yards and roadways. Fecal coliform can be transported in sediments and debris, and these materials can also create a breeding ground for bacteria. Cleanup events increase public awareness and enhance community support for healthy waterbodies while removing trash from the tributaries.

The goal is to reduce human activity-related sources of bacteria. Deer Creek, Trout River (Middle Reach), Newcastle Creek, Deep Bottom Creek and Moncrief Creek are all showing water-quality improvements, with most recent monitoring results demonstrating less frequent fecal coliform criteria exceedances.

The BMAP process emphasizes the importance of collaborative watershed restoration efforts. Examples of this approach during 2015 were cleanups of McCoy’s Creek by Rising Tides and the St. Johns Riverkeeper’s young professionals group. Nine documented cleanups occurred, which included 264 volunteers who contributed 607 volunteer hours to collect 296 bags of trash totaling 5,920 pounds. Additional cleanup events held in the spring of 2015 by Keep Jacksonville Beautiful included sites impacting Pottsburg Creek, McCoy’s Creek, Hogan Creek and Big Fishweir Creek. These events included 124 volunteers who contributed 347 volunteer hours to collect 188 bags of trash weighing 3,760 pounds.

JEA, city of Jacksonville, Neptune Beach, Atlantic Beach, city of Jacksonville Beach, Florida Department of Health, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and DEP will continue their ongoing programs to address potential pollutant sources.

Results from the first phase of the restoration plans show improvements in bacteria levels in 21 of the 25 tributaries. Activities identified in the second phase, which will take place during the next five years, include the use of microbial source tracking to identify the origin of bacteria through DNA analysis. Knowing the bacteria’s origin enables DEP to target potential sources more accurately. As sources are determined management programs will be utilized to eliminate the human-activity-based sources.

For more information on the BMAPs for the Lower St. Johns River and its tributaries, click here.

Lakes Harney and Monroe and the Middle St. Johns River Basin

The Lakes Harney and Monroe and Middle St. Johns River (MSJR) Basin includes the main stem segments of the MSJR located between the inlet of Lake Harney and the confluence of the St. Johns River with the Wekiva River. These river segments receive discharges from the Upper St. Johns River and from several major tributaries. DEP identified these water bodies as impaired by nutrients and low dissolved oxygen, and in December 2009 adopted TMDLs for total phosphorus and total nitrogen for the lakes and river segments.

As of August 2015, more than 81,000 pounds per year of total nitrogen and more than 18,000 pounds per year of total phosphorous have been reduced from entering these water bodies. Total nitrogen has been reduced by 93 percent and total phosphorous has been reduced by 112 percent, exceeding the nutrient reduction target.

An important consideration for the restoration of the MSJR Basin is that the majority of the loading to the impaired water bodies comes from sources outside the watershed. Therefore, reductions from these upstream sources must occur before water quality standards can be met in the impaired water bodies.

For more information on the Lakes Harney, Monroe, MSJR and Smith Canal BMAP, click here.

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