St. Johns River

 
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The St. Johns River (River) is the longest river in Florida, and in 1998 it was officially designated an American Heritage River. Its tributaries drain about one-sixth of the state of Florida, or about 8,700 square miles.

The Health of the River

Historically, the River has experienced periodic recurring algae blooms that are associated with the presence of excess nutrients. As a result, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) developed a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) to determine the allowable level of nutrient loadings to ensure the restoration and protection of the River. In June 2008, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) adopted a comprehensive road map called a BMAP (for Basin Management Action Plan) to implement the reductions in nutrient loadings from all sources as mandated by the TMDL.

JEA has been an active participant on the executive committee of the Lower St. Johns River for more than a decade, working with other stakeholders and regulatory agencies to develop and implement the most efficient and cost-effective means of restoring the river. The BMAP is the culmination of this effort. JEA’s BMAP compliance strategy included making treatment improvements at our five regional wastewater treatment plants to achieve economies of scale; retiring smaller, older technology treatment plants; and the expansion of our reuse system. As a result of JEA’s BMAP efforts, as well as a long term voluntary effort that preceded it, JEA and has completed all its obligations under the BMAP and significantly exceeded its nutrient reduction requirements. 

Historical Background of the JEA’s Voluntary Initiative

JEA’s work to improve the river began in 1997, when the utility first took over responsibility for the City’s water and sewer services. From that time to the signing of the River Accord, JEA invested more than $2 billion in improvements to the water and sewer systems. Some of the specific actions and results include:

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Closed Title:$400 Million Improvements to Pump Stations and Failing Sewer Pipes
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Thanks to these improvements, street cave-ins were reduced by 80 percent annually. Reportable sanitary sewer overflows were reduced by 80 percent annually as well. 

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Closed Title:$220 Million Upgrades to Regional Wastewater Treatment Plants
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This action resulted in an even stronger compliance record and nutrient removal targets well ahead of regulatory mandates.

JEA’s largest wastewater treatment plant, Buckman, received the EPA’s 2003 Operations and Maintenance Excellence award as the best large facility in the nation. In addition, even though Northeast Florida’s growth increased the sewage flow into our five regional wastewater plants by nearly 20 percent from 1999 to 2006, JEA’s total nitrogen discharge into the river decreased by 39 percent over the same period.

JEA’s efforts have allowed the utility to surpass its Basin Management Action Plan reduction obligations, with JEA’s nitrogen discharges to the river totaling only 77 tons in 2014. This amounts to a reduction of over 60% from its high of 1,450 tons per year and well under the final limit of 720 tons per year. 

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Closed Title:Conversion of Wastewater Byproducts to Organic Fertilizer
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In the past, JEA would incinerate wastewater residuals. JEA built a state-of-the-art reprocessing facility to turn collected solid waste into a commercial grade biosolid fertilizer. Eighty percent of this fertilizer is used commercially in agricultural applications. The remainder is sold as a slow-release organic fertilizer called Green Edge. 

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Closed Title:Wastewater Disinfection with Ultraviolet Light
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JEA eliminated the need to add hazardous chlorine to kill bacteria in the effluent before discharging into the river.

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Closed Title:Reclaimed Water for Irrigation
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Shortly after taking responsibility for the city’s water and wastewater systems, JEA began producing reclaimed water. Prior to 1997, no reclaimed water was being produced. At the time the River Accord was signed, JEA was able to make 10 percent of treated wastewater available for reuse in irrigation. This served two positive purposes: reducing nitrogen discharge into the river by using the water for irrigation rather than returning it to the river and reducing the use of fresh water from the Floridan aquifer for irrigation. 

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These efforts allowed JEA to reduce its discharge of nitrogen to the River by approximately 50% by July 2006.

Beginning with JEA’s voluntary initiative and continuing through the BMAP and River Accord efforts, JEA has continued to reduce the amount of nitrogen discharged to the River. Under the requirements of the BMAP, JEA was required to reduce its total annual discharge of nitrogen into the river from 1,450 tons per year in 1999 to 720 tons per year by the end of 2013. The ongoing success of JEA’s efforts have allowed the utility to surpass its BMAP reduction obligations, with JEA’s nitrogen discharges to the river totaling only 577 tons in 2014. This amounts to a reduction of over 60% from its high of 1,450 tons per year and well under the final limit of 720 tons per year.  

Tributary TMDLs 

The State of Florida has determined that many tributaries of the St. Johns River in Duval County have unacceptable levels of fecal coliform contamination. The FDEP has begun an effort to develop Total Maximum Daily Load for fecal coliform for at least 55 Duval County tributaries. The three main stakeholders in this effort represent or regulate the largest potential sources to the tributaries: the Duval County Health Department (septic tanks), City of Jacksonville (storm water) and JEA (sanitary sewer).

FDEP has organized an innovative Tributary Assessment Team (TAT) effort to conduct sampling of the affected tributaries, investigate potential sources, and implement corrective actions to address any problems that are identified. JEA has been a key member, assisting with the identification and control of potential sources. This program was developed with JEA funding and has been nationally recognized as a key tool in controlling fecal coliform contamination.

Over the last decade, JEA has invested $400 million in improvements to the utility’s sewer infrastructure, including the replacement of old failing sewer pipes and upgrades to pump stations. As a result of these actions by JEA and others members of TAT, most Duval County tributaries have shown significant improvements in recent years.

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