The Ninth 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 assessment of the LSJRB shows positives and negatives as noted below. Over the years, some indicators have improved, others have worsened, and still others have remained unchanged.
The trends of some indicators have improved:
- Total nitrogen levels in the mainstem have declined.
- Overall air emissions of toxic chemicals in the region are down.
The trends of some indicators have worsened:
- Salinity has gradually risen over the last two decades and is expected to continue its increase, with potential negative effects on submerged aquatic vegetation and the aquatic life that depends upon it.
- Overall surface water discharges of toxic chemicals in the region have increased.
- Nonnative species increased this year to 75 total species, and the spread of lionfish and Cuban treefrogs is of particular concern due to their impacts on the native ecosystem.
The trends of many indicators are unchanged:
- For dissolved oxygen, there was a change in water quality criterion. Although levels of DO remain largely unchanged over several years, these levels are considered satisfactory when using the new criterion based upon percent oxygen saturation.
- Phosphorus levels in both mainstem and tributaries remain unsatisfactory.
- Chlorophyll-a, an indicator of harmful algal blooms, continues to exhibit high levels, particularly in the saltwater reaches of the LSJR mainstem. However, recent years show possible improvements.
- Fecal coliform levels remain above water quality criteria in many tributaries.
- Submerged aquatic vegetation has experienced some very recent regrowth due to rainfall, but the long-term trend is uncertain.
- Most finfish and invertebrate species are not in danger of overfishing, with the exception of channel and white catfish and Penaeid shrimp, which both have the potential to be overfished in the near future.
- Threatened and endangered species are stable.
- Wetlands continue to be lost to development pressures.
This year’s Report contains a Highlight section by guest contributor Professor Ray Oldakowski of Jacksonville University on survey research about behaviors and opinions of area residents regarding the St. Johns River. The survey is ongoing, and current results are reported from a convenience sample of 373 individuals. Of this group, 70% had used a water access facility, such as a boat ramp or riverwalk, within the last month, and two-thirds felt that additional water access facilities were needed in Duval County.
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 2016. 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 air and water emissions of chemicals in the LSJRB, as reported to EPA Toxics Release Inventory; mercury, the subject of a new statewide reduction effort; metals, in both sediments and the water column; polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons; polychlorinated biphenyls; and pesticides.