JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - With the redevelopment of downtown Jacksonville, city leaders are working to incorporate the St. Johns River as another attraction by adding more walkways and riverfront restaurants.
However, the 12th annual river report showed alarming environmental concerns that the St. Johns Riverkeeper said need to be addressed before another development can occur.
The 2019 River Report for the state of the lower St. Johns River basin reported several red flags currently in the water.
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The St. Johns River said the major concerns are phosphorus pollution, heavy metals and saltwater intrusion.
"There were several red flags that stood out to us," St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman said. "One is a sudden uptick in phosphorus pollution. Up until now, we've been having a reduction of nutrients in the St. Johns. Then to see that all of a sudden increasing dramatically. Also an increase in heavy metals in the river, so that trend is concerning, as well as more saltwater intrusion, which can be due to the dredging and sea level rise."
Rinaman is calling on elected city leaders to enforce policies that would help protect the St. Johns River.
"The city of Jacksonville has a fertilizer ordinance, but it's not enforced regularly, so that's a step," Rinaman said. "They can also lead by example. We need to make sure in our parks and public land, that we're doing everything we can."
The Downtown Investment Authority will soon be accepting proposals for the old courthouse and City Hall annex properties along East Bay Street downtown.
This week, the group approved proposal guidelines for bids.
They include a proposal that has interaction with the St. Johns River.
City council member Reggie Gaffney said with the redevelopment of downtown, the city is working to incorporate more of the St. Johns River.
"I hope they're able to incorporate the river with whatever the project is going to be potentially coming," Jacksonville resident Oliver Green said. "It's a calming feeling when you come down here, so hopefully they can continue that."
Action News Jax contacted the city's environmental protection board to learn how they plan to fix issues in the St. Johns River. The administrator said he was out of town and unable to comment.
A city spokesperson sent Action News Jax this response:
"The St. Johns River Main Stem and tributaries are the main focus for the Environmental Quality Division's Water Branch. While the Nitrogen levels are decreasing in the St. Johns River, further improvements are required and underway for it and other waterways.
We have several programs to help identify and eliminate unauthorized discharges to our stormwater system, and locate sources of both bacteria and nutrients that can be removed to help improve water quality. The City recently started a pilot study on several stormwater ponds to see if further improvements can be made through treatment of those ponds. Additionally, the City is working on improvements to McCoy's Creek with a natural restoration project, partnering with JEA on Septic Tank Phase Out projects, and researching innovative technologies that might provide enhancements to water quality."
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