Welcome to the Lower St. Johns River Basin “State of the River” Report.

The State of the River Report is the result of a collaborative effort of a team of academic researchers from Jacksonville University, the University of North Florida and Florida Southern College. The purpose of the project, funded primarily by the Environmental Protection Board of the City of Jacksonville, was to review various previously collected data and literature about the river and to place it into a format that was informative and readable to the general public. The report consisted of three parts—the brochure, the full report, and an appendix. The short brochure provides a brief summary of the status and trends of each item or indicator (i.e. water quality, fisheries, etc.) looked at for the river. The full report and appendix were produced to provide those interested with more detail regarding the results summarized in the brochure. In the development of these documents, many different sources of data were examined, including data from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, St. Johns River Water Management District, Fish and Wildlife Commission, City of Jacksonville, individual researchers, and others.

Infographic of the ratings of the SJRR

Executive Summary

The Thirteenth State of the River Report is a summary and analysis of the health of the Lower St. Johns River Basin (LSJRB) available at http://www.sjrreport.com. The Report addresses four main areas of river health: water quality; fisheries; aquatic life; and contaminants.  

This year’s findings indicate some positive developments in the health of the River. 

  • Total nitrogen levels are satisfactory, because less than 5% of observations during 2019 in either the mainstem or tributaries exceed the numeric nitrogen standard for peninsular Florida, the most comparable concentration standard available. The trend in total nitrogen in the period 2015-19 is improving as well.  
  • Eighty-five sanitary sewer overflows with a total of 959,267 gallons released were recorded in 2019, an improvement over 2018. 

Some developments are mixed: 

  • Dissolved oxygen levels are satisfactory in the mainstem but continue to be unsatisfactory in the tributaries. 
  • During 2019, total phosphorus is satisfactory in the freshwater reach of the mainstem, but unsatisfactory in the marine/estuarine reach of the mainstem as well as in the tributaries. During the 2015-19 period, trends in total phosphorus are unchanged in the freshwater reach and tributaries, but are worsening in the marine/estuarine reach.  
  • Fecal coliform levels in the tributaries still greatly exceed water quality criteria in terms of percent of observations exceeding the water quality criterion, but the magnitude of those exceedances is falling. 

Several developments and trends are cause for concern in this year’s findings.  

  • Cyanobacteria blooms were widely observed and reported throughout Summer 2019. Although direct comparison to water quality criteria suggests some improvement in chlorophyll a levels, the dataset is limited in scope and misses bloom events.  
  • Salinity continues to be unsatisfactory in the basin due to its impacts, despite recent storms over the past three years that have contributed freshwater to the system. 
  • Submerged aquatic vegetation, in terms of grass bed parameters, has largely declined in several regions in the basin due in part to an anomalous weather pattern over the last three years: severe drought followed by major storms.  
  • Wetlands continue to be lost due to development pressures, which will likely contribute to flooding from storm surge and sea level rise. 
  • The number of non-native species in the basin rose from 87 to 90, and studies indicate a lack of public awareness of the impacts of non-native species in Florida. 
  • Concentrations of arsenic, cadmium, lead, nickel, and silver in the predominantly saltwater reach of the mainstem have increased during 2016-19. 

This year’s report and website offer a new Highlight section on the subject of microplastics. Microplastics are small fragments of plastics less than 5 mm in size that are accumulating in oceans and rivers worldwide. The Highlight section on this emerging threat focuses on existing research and knowledge gaps. The Report includes a Guide for the General Public that summarizes important findings and their implications for boating, fishing, and swimming, as well as ways for readers to get involved in the Lower St. Johns River Basin and its health. The website hosts resources for K-12 teachers to use the Report in their curricula, as well as maps and data that visualize vulnerabilities along the St. Johns River, including tracking the magnitude and locations of sanitary sewer overflows. The website also features educational resource video clips on a wide range of topics, including algae blooms, manatees, and oral histories of people who live, work, and recreate on the St. Johns River. 

The full Report provides an in-depth look at many aspects of the LSJRB. Section 1 provides an overview of the Report and the basin and describes the basin’s landscape, human occupancy, and environmental management spanning the 1800s to early 2020. Section 2 describes water quality in terms of dissolved oxygen, nutrients, algal blooms, turbidity, fecal coliform, tributaries, and salinity. Section 3 addresses the state of the river’s finfish and invertebrate fisheries. Section 4 examines the condition of aquatic life, encompassing plants, animals, and wetlands. Section 5 discusses conditions and importance of contaminants in the LSJRB. These contaminants include mercury, the subject of a statewide reduction effort; metals, in both sediments and the water column; polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons; polychlorinated biphenyls; and pesticides. 

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