Riverkeepers watching St. Johns for potential of more algal blooms
The St. Johns Riverkeeper held a presentation Thursday evening at the St. Johns River Center in Palatka as it looks to inform the public about recent algal blooms discovered two months ago.
The presentation focused on the blue-green algae found along the river as early as April 10, around the time when the state Department of Environmental Protection began receiving reports of murky sheets blotching the water.
Residents and activists have been on alert as summer brings warmer temperatures and phosphorus pollution threaten to worsen future blooms.
Some residents have also claimed to experience symptoms of toxic exposure, according to an April 25 report in the Palatka Daily News. While it’s unclear whether current blooms are indicative of a burgeoning widespread public health issue, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, an environmental advocacy nonprofit, wants people to stay aware.
“We’re using that science and using the power of citizen influence and voices to affect change,” said Kelly Thompson, the organization’s outreach director. “We’re an independent voice for the river, and that’s really important.”
Fertilizer runoff and sewage sludge are two problems exacerbating the problem, officials said. In the latter case, part of it has to do with septic tanks that leak phosphorus-rich nutrients into the river.
The Board of County Commissioners have taken steps to decrease pollutants to the river as recently as March, when it approved a $1.3 million contract for septic-to-sewer conversions in East Palatka.
The St. Johns River Water Management District has also played a part after approving $450,000 to fund harvesting phosphorus-rich gizzard shads from Lake George.
While effective and helpful, both measures aren’t enough to mitigate the problem.
“(Gizzard shad harvesting is) only a drop in the bucket. It’s a very small amount compared to what’s going in,” Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman said. “While it’s a good thing, it’s not a silver bullet.”
Instead, she added, activists are looking for a more comprehensive approach to bring about change. That means education, training volunteers to test water quality and lobbying state agencies and the Legislature to pass stronger protections for state waterways.
In the most recent legislative session, no bills related to protecting the state’s water quality was passed, Rinaman said. And while Gov. Ron DeSantis has created a Blue-Green Algae Task Force to investigate the issue, Rinaman encouraged attendees to keep pushing.
“We don’t need any more band-aids. Band-aids don’t work. We need to act now,” she said.
As officials continue to test algae found in the river for toxins, residents can report algae sightings to the state Department of Environmental Protection by calling 855-305-3903 or visiting ReportAlgalBloom.com.
To volunteer with the St. Johns Riverkeeper, contact Volunteer Program Manager Megan Riggs at 904-256-7909 or Megan@StJohnsRiverkeeper.org.