Summit aims to restore river
Published: Tuesday, January 14, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 14, 2003 at 1:54 a.m.
JACKSONVILLE - The St. Johns River's pollution problems are enormous.
Fish die beneath spinach-like mats of algae and under mud washed down from construction sites. Toxic chemicals from industries and sewage kill others. The hormones of some fish and alligators are so badly skewed they can't reproduce. Some turtles have been born sexless.
These concerns have brought 1,000 people who live along the river to Jacksonville this week to help develop an "Everglades-style" rescue plan that they hope will restore the river to its pristine state.
Jacksonville Mayor John Delaney, the conference's host, said Monday he wants the St. Johns cleaned up, but hopes it doesn't take decades.
"It took 55 years to develop a plan to save the Everglades and in that half century about half the Everglades was lost," he said.
"We want to develop a plan to clean (the river) up and restore it forever."
The St. Johns is one of the few northern flowing rivers in the country. It begins in the central Florida marshes of Indian River County and flows 310 miles into the Atlantic River near Mayport, north of Jacksonville.
Delaney said the St. Johns' cleanup plan will have to deal with several pollution sources: factories and sewage plants and fertilizer runoff from lawns and golf courses.
He also wants land set aside to help preserve the river's natural beauty.
Kirby Green, executive director of the St. Johns River Water Management District, said many river's pollution problems were identified in a 1997 conference and still exist. That conference dealt only with the part of the river that flows through Duval, Putnam, St. Johns and Clay counties, but he said the problems exist along the entire length. That conference led to $200 million in increased government spending to clean the river.
Green said the current conference will help local legislators understand the depth of the problem.
"This is especially important because the St. Johns River is potential alternative source of drinking water," Green said.
Anne Keller, who oversees the river for the federal government, told Monday's meeting that water and land trails should be built along the river to boost ecotourism. That will help convince people that the river should be preserved, she said.
"When we spend time there, when we take our kids there, it becomes part of our lives. We want to take care of it and keep it for the future," she said.
She also said the trails would improve the river's quality.
"From a practical standpoint, land that is not developed or slightly developed, has a lot less runoff that ends up in the river carrying pollutants with it," she said.
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