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From the CEO: Our Commitment to Improving the Health of the St. Johns River
Jacksonville, FL - The St. Johns River is a focal point for life on the First Coast. We play in and around it. We take sustenance from it, it supports our economy, and we enjoy its glorious vistas, every day. We are truly lucky to have this incredible asset in our community. There are many in the community who are concerned about the health of the St. Johns River. At JEA, we too are concerned and we are committed to doing our part to restore and protect the St. Johns. As an active participant in nutrient reduction efforts for our River since 1997, we want the community to know the investments we make on your behalf.
Nitrogen is a naturally present nutrient in the tidal portion of the river, but when concentrations are too high it causes periodic algae blooms. Nutrients added from human activities make the potential for algae blooms greater, and cause blooms to last longer. As a result, JEA as well as many others have focused on addressing this excess nutrient issue.
It should be noted that approximately two thirds of the nutrients contained in the River originate well upstream from Jacksonville, primarily from Central Florida. Those areas have also made tremendous progress to date, but it will require the commitment of many other communities in addition to the efforts of JEA to continue our progress.
JEA was given responsibility for the City’s water and sewer system in 1997. For more than a decade, JEA has invested in the rehabilitation of the City’s infrastructure. One area of focus is nutrient removal from the river. In 1999, JEA embarked on a voluntary initiative to reduce its discharge of nitrogen from the sewer treatment process to the River by 50%. In 2010, JEA met that goal and has more than maintained it over the past three years. JEA began this initiative because it was the right thing to do, long before any regulatory requirement mandated it.
JEA has focused efforts to minimize nutrient discharge on three main categories; concentrating treatment improvements at five large regional treatment plants to maximize economies; phasing out five smaller and older technology plants while redirecting their flows to large regional plants, and expanding the reclaimed water system where possible. We are nearing completion on the last major capital project, a $22 million treatment upgrade to our Buckman Water Reclamation facility. By year end, JEA will have phased out the last of our older technology plants.
Overall, JEA has invested more than $400 million in the past 10 years to reduce the nutrients contained in the wastewater we receive from our customers. Approximately 88% of the nitrogen present in the wastewater we receive is removed before that water is returned to the river – and the small remaining fraction is well below any regulatory requirement.
In addition to removing nitrogen from your wastewater, we are focused on expanding our reuse system which through additional treatment provides water for irrigation systems. We have invested $85 million in this expansion. The system currently serves approximately 15 million gallons per day, and has a capacity of more than 30 million gallons per day. By concentrating our reuse infrastructure improvements in areas primed for future growth, JEA is making the most cost effective use of your resources. JEA’s reuse system expansion provides a dual benefit by reducing discharge to the River while offsetting additional groundwater withdrawals and saving precious potable water for drinking and personal use.
So while we still have a ways to go, JEA will continue to do our part and will look for ways to work collaboratively to reach our collective end in mind—a healthy, vibrant river for all to enjoy.