Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Riverkeeper Keeps an Eye out for Runoff

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Riverkeeper Keeps an Eye out for Runoff

Article excerpt

Byline: Steve Patterson, Times-Union staff writer

Old concerns about creeks filling with silt and construction runoff are drawing renewed attention from activists worried about the St. Johns River's health.

Since autumn, the private St. Johns Riverkeeper organization has asked managers at dozens of construction projects in Duval County to control runoff that has buried creek beds, killing plants and sealife. Releasing harmful amounts of runoff is forbidden in construction permits, but enforcement of those permits is often weak.

The Riverkeeper group sees better enforcement as a way to control a far-reaching problem.

"It's not sexy, but it has teeth," said Mike Hollingsworth, who carries the title riverkeeper as the group's full-time advocate.

"We're discovering many, many more sites than we ever dreamed of," Hollingsworth said. "I'd guess there's 30 or 40 [unreported] violations going on at once."

Mud and sand washed downstream can unbalance a waterway's ecology and have made a number of shallow creeks impassable for boaters. Large-scale sedimentation that blocks boat channels has made docks on waterfront homes nearly useless and prompted some communities to spend small fortunes on dredging.

Changes can be both blatant and sudden.

"We normally watch the wood ducks and the herons this time of year. They're not around. They can't see to fish," said Tresa Buckley, whose home backs up to Christopher Creek on Jacksonville's Southside. Buckley said the creek turned cloudy brown over the course of a month after mud moved downstream from a drainage project.

Damage from siltation and erosion have been documented in many areas for years. Companies causing that damage can face heavy fines. Runoff sources can vary from drainage or utility projects to apartment and office complexes under construction.

Hollingsworth, formerly a scientist with the Department of Environmental Protection, said he recorded similar problems in studies of creeks for the state. Delicate insects like dragonflies disappear first, he said. So do small animals that live on the creek bed, and become food for small fish. …

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