The 2010 St. Johns River Summit was rife with discussions of the environmental and economic hurdles facing the river. During the Thursday morning panel, several agencies made clear their concern for the cost of implementing a new set of standards to govern the waterbody that is currently plagued by nitrogen and phosphorus overload, and the later panels were concerned with costs, too.
An afternoon panel focused on regional funding focused on problems standing in the way of restoring St. Johns. Most of the panelists, a group that included Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton, state Sen. John Thrasher, R-Jacksonville, and Orange County Mayor Richard Crotty, remarked that budgets for the Fiscal Year 2011 are not looking good. While introducing the panelists, moderator David Strickland remarked that the river, despite its size, has never received “the attention, nor the funding” of the Florida Everglades.
Speaking on the downfall of the once-flourishing St. Johns, state Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, said that witnessing the destruction of area resources is what initially motivated his foray into politics. Altman cited land acquisition as a “tangible” way to preserve the land that lies along the river, therefore allowing for full control over what flows off of it: “Senate Bill 2662 allows public and private utilities to adjust rates to include funding for water preservation. It sounds like a rate hike, but … the alternatives for funding better drinking water (reverse osmosis, etc.) are much more expensive. It’s insane to draw water out of a basin to drink, … but then not preserve it.”
And, though it was made clear that funding for the S. Johns faces is an unlikely proposition, Sen. Thrasher made a promise to take great strides in garnering federal attention for the problem at hand.
“I’ve spoken to constituents in my district, and folks are really concerned,” said Thrasher. “We’ve got to begin to look at policies and funding mechanisms to get the river back on track. My intention is to create a St. Johns River caucus in November, that would consist of at least 24 Florida members. Every person with constituents along the river can come together and work on [solutions]. We need to focus on … bringing the nutrient levels down.”
Mayor Peyton, long an advocate for a cleaner St. Johns, was vocal in his appreciation of Thrasher’s impending caucus: “It’s a great start. In the absence of that grand scale, we won’t … make the progress that we want to.” Peyton, who said that 80 percent of the river’s nutrients come from outside Duval County, said that the city was also investing to mitigate leaky septic tanks and stormwater runoff, likely sources for river pollution in addition to industrial waste.
Another idea, courtesy of the St. John’s River Water Management District, was to build a research facility dedicated to the river in order to better comprehend issues like mystery foam and fish kills.