Washington, DC — Eight months after American Rivers named the St. Johns River one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers™ for 2008, decision makers have yet to protect the river by denying permits for massive water withdrawals. American Rivers called on the St. Johns River Water Management District to deny these permits and require counties to develop more aggressive water conservation measures and incentives before authorizing increased water withdrawals.
Seminole County has already submitted its permit request to withdraw water from the river, and several other counties are preparing to do the same. An administrative law judge will make a ruling on the Seminole County permit in late January. The Governing Board of the St. Johns River Water Management District will then vote on the permit application.
The St. Johns River, one of only 14 American Heritage Rivers in the country, is home to an ecological wonderland that may be damaged by the water grab. The plan would be equally threatening for the thriving economies in the region that depend on tourism and recreation dollars. Some of the fastest growing counties in America lie in the St. Johns watershed and the region’s population is expected to double to almost 7million people by 2025. Yet water conservation is not a priority for either the water management district or the state as a whole.
While some counties are implementing water conservation measures, more comprehensive action is needed, and would result in significant water savings. Most of Florida’s water goes to thirsty lawns and other landscaping. All of the counties in the state should follow the lead of Lake County, which is reviewing more aggressive landscaping ordinances in an effort to save water.
“Water is not an unlimited resource even in Florida,” said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers. “Global warming is here, and we’re already feeling its effects. If we just keep putting a straw into the river, instead of actually changing our water habits, what’s going to happen when we eventually suck the St. Johns dry?”
Water managers claim they can withdraw 155 million gallons of water a day from the St. Johns, (enough to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool every 2 minutes) without harming its health. We remain skeptical. The St. Johns’ waters are a delicate balance of salt and fresh water that are home to alligators and manatees and hundreds of species of fish and birds. Its slow movement makes it equally slow to flush out pollution. Removing even more freshwater from the St. Johns would change the river’s chemistry, concentrating the pollution, which could not only be harmful for wildlife, but could make the river’s water hazardous to humans.
“Instead of having the foresight to fix the state’s water woes, decision makers are taking an eyes wide shut approach to the problem,” said St Johns Riverkeeper Neil Armingeon. “It’s time for them to open their eyes. How does killing the St. Johns River and turning its waters toxic help anyone, either today, or in years to come?”
Tens of millions of dollars are spent and earned on the St Johns River every year through commercial fishing and recreational activities. Each year, more than one million people visit Timucuan Preserve National Park on the northern and southern banks of the St. Johns.
“In a state with theme parks, cruise ships, and any number of other tourism-based ventures, it’s simply mind boggling that decision makers are telling those who enjoy the St. Johns to take their money elsewhere,” added Armingeon.
American Rivers is the leading organization working to protect and restore the nation’s rivers and streams. Rivers connect us to each other, nature, and future generations. Since 1973, American Rivers has fought to preserve these connections, helping protect and restore more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and the annual release of America’s Most Endangered Rivers®.
Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 100,000 supporters, members, and volunteers nationwide. Visit www.americanrivers.org, www.facebook.com/americanrivers and www.twitter.com/americanrivers.