Executive Summary

The Twelfth 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.

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

  • Total nitrogen levels remain unsatisfactory, because the annual maximum concentrations exceed the numeric nitrogen standard for peninsular Florida, the most comparable concentration standard available. In the period 2014-2018, the mainstem shows some improvement, while the tributaries are worsening.
  • Total phosphorus is unsatisfactory as well, for the same reason: annual maximum concentrations exceed the numeric phosphorus standard for peninsular Florida. During 2014-2018, phosphorus levels are rising in the marine reach of the mainstem, falling in the freshwater reach, and unchanged in the tributaries.
  • Reported values of chlorophyll a, an indicator of harmful algal blooms, show lower mean and median values, but exceedances and algal bloom events continue to occur regularly in the basin.
  • Fecal coliform levels in the tributaries have fallen, but these levels still greatly exceed water quality criteria.
  • Sea level rise poses a threat to the Basin, and it has been acknowledged that dredging the river channel could increase water levels.
  • Salinity continues to rise in the Basin, and the mixing zone between freshwater and saltwater has moved south, with potential negative impacts on submerged aquatic vegetation and the aquatic life that depends upon it.
  • Submerged aquatic vegetation has been destabilized by an anomalous weather pattern over the last two years: severe drought followed by major storms. Drought and the accompanying rise in salinity have reduced grass bed cover, and the turbidity accompanying major storms has limited grass bed recovery.
  • Wetland losses continue, due to increased land development.
  • A unique pattern in the 2016-2018 data, compared with 2009-2014, shows elevated levels of almost all of the metals, particularly arsenic, cadmium, nickel, lead, and silver in the predominantly saltwater portion of the LSJR mainstem. This occurrence follows Hurricanes Matthew (October 2016) and Irma (September 2017), as well as the dredging operation in the LSJR (started in February 2018).

The trends of some indicators are unchanged:

  • Most finfish and invertebrate species are not in danger of overfishing, with the exception of channel and white catfish, which both have the potential to be overfished in the near future.
  • Threatened and endangered species continue to fare well, despite recent storm activity and effect on habitat.

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 2019. 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.

This year’s report and website offer several new features. The Report includes a new 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. 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.

Water Quality, Fisheries, Aquatic Life, & Contaminants