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

The State of the River Report is a collaborative effort by a team of academic researchers from Jacksonville University, University of North Florida, Jacksonville, FL; Florida Southern College, Lakeland, FL; and West Chester University of Pennsylvania. The report is supported by the Environmental Protection Board of the City of Jacksonville. The purpose of the project is to review data and literature about the river and to present it in a format readable to the general public. The report consists of four parts—the website (http://www.sjrreport.com) the brochure, the full report, and an appendix. The brochure provides a brief summary of the status and trends of each indicator (i.e., water quality, fisheries, etc.), and the full report and appendix contain the full background, analysis, and status and trend evaluation. Many different sources of data are 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 Fourteenth 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 the need for concern in many aspects of the health of the River. 

  • Trends in total phosphorus levels are worsening, amid rising phosphorus levels during the 2016-20 period. In June 2021, new rulemaking that takes biosolids into account will come into effect. 
  • Freshwater harmful algal blooms are an ongoing phenomenon, driven by hard-to-control factors such as nutrient inputs, habitat alterations, and global climate change. 
  • Salinity continues to be unsatisfactory in the basin due to its impacts, despite recent storms over the past four 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 four years: severe drought followed by major storms.  
  • Wetlands continue to be lost due to development pressures, and the use of mitigation banking to compensate for their loss has its own set of inherent problems. 
  • The number of non-native species in the basin rose from 90 to 92, and studies indicate a lack of public awareness of the impacts of non-native species in Florida. 

 Some developments offer both positive and negative aspects: 

  • Dissolved oxygen levels in the mainstem are satisfactory, but seasonal and intermittent lows in the tributaries indicate conditions that can negatively affect aquatic life. 
  • While total nitrogen in the mainstem is satisfactory and shows an improving trend during the 2016-20 period, total nitrogen in the tributaries remains unsatisfactory.  
  • Fecal indicator bacteria, specifically E. coli and Enterococci, continue to be present at high levels in numerous tributaries; a new biennial assessment plan adopted by the FDEP will enable a faster process of identifying impairments and implementing restoration plans. 

This year’s report and website offer a new Highlight section on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), an emerging contaminant. PFAS are used in stain and water repellents for textiles, food packaging, and paper products, as well as many other applications, and the Highlight addresses the sources, environmental fates, exposure routes, toxicity, and regulations of PFAS. 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 2021. 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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