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Water-Related News

Tons of south Florida sewage finds its way into St. Johns River to ‘devastating effect’’

Over the past decade nearly 90,000 tons of sewage sludge have been trucked up from South Florida and dumped into the St. Johns River watershed and conservationists say it’s having a devastating effect.

In 2007 the Florida legislature gave the waters of South Florida special protections, essentially banning the land disposal of sewage sludge, the byproduct of wastewater treatment facilities, in the Lake Okeechobee watershed. The legislation was a response to the nutrient pollution that was seriously degrading the lake’s water quality.

Since that ban, more than 89,000 tons of sewage sludge have been dumped into the St. Johns River watershed and, according to Lisa Rinaman, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, “that’s having a devastating effect on the headwaters of the St. Johns and will also have downstream impacts as it flows our way.”

That sewage sludge is being dumped in agricultural land near the headwaters of the St. Johns River. According to Rinaman, that practice is being pitched as an opportunity to provide free fertilizer. “The idea is to provide free fertilizer to farmers, but what we’re seeing is it’s a cheap disposal opportunity for utilities and the volumes are just overwhelming the soil and, in effect, the waterways.”

That’s because the nutrients in the soil runoff into the river. Phosphorus, which the sewage sludge has in abundance, is one of the main problem causers. “Phosphorus is one of the nutrients that fuels green toxic algae,” Rinaman said.” So we’re seeing toxic algae outbreaks in areas we’ve never seen it before in the St. Johns.”