St. Johns River WMD resiliency officer lays out challenges ahead of Session

St. Johns River WMD resiliency officer lays out challenges ahead of Session

Water is both a necessity and a threat, something woven through the resilience priorities for the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD). The District Board received a soup-to-nut review of Florida resilience plans and the district’s place in that process this week, looking ahead to what is possible in the next legislative session.

“Communities in our district and across Florida are being affected by environmental changes such as rising temperatures, changing weather patterns and rising sea levels,” he said Tom Frick, the Chief Resiliency Officer for Weapons of Mass Destruction. “As you can see…this sea level (at Fernandina Beach) has risen by over 8 inches in the last hundred years.

“That’s a pretty big number, but current projections say it’s going to rise by another foot in the next 30 years, so we’re accelerating that sea-level rise.” These environmental changes I mentioned are exacerbated when superimposed on changes such as low-lying development and aging infrastructure.”

Beyond technical expertise, Frick told SJRWMD board members that it is the responsibility of state WMDs to provide technical assistance to other resilience projects in addition to their core responsibilities of water supply, water quality, flood control and preservation of natural systems.

The district’s resilience priorities are protecting freshwater supplies from saltwater intrusion, as well as flood control and nature-based solutions such as wetland enhancement and vibrant shorelines.

“I’m not trying to overdo it, but in saltwater intrusion and in the thought process about it, there’s the struggle of how Doug (Bournique)s people are concerned about salt water entering the deep water, but there’s also… the way the coast is developing, some areas have sewers and some areas have septic tanks,” SJRWMD Board Treasurer Ron Howe said.

“Because you’re making (surfaces) impervious, you no longer get hydraulic pressure from rain seeping through them, and a lot of those areas are just sandy soils.”

This can lead to higher runoff, he said, because a connected sewage system would require more impervious surfaces than those with septic tanks, and he’d like to see a study addressing the situation.

“As we continue to shut down more septic tanks, in some ways we will also shut down direct deposits of groundwater,” Howse said.

He suggested there are some patch-style fixes that the board could pursue as it makes progress toward longer-term goals, which may need to be the board’s funding target from the Legislature at the upcoming session.

“On some of these projects, you could probably do work through this legislative session that could help some small areas,” Howse said. “Also…sometimes when you start the project and you say, ‘We’re going to study that,’ and once you start the study, eventually Blackwater Creek gets built.

“Some of these things for saltwater intrusion, maybe we need to start a study so something happens six to eight legislative sessions of that.”

He suggested staff would return to the board in January with some quick-fix projects for which funding could be available through the Legislature sooner rather than later. There are now also six efforts for which the district is asking the state for $49 million.

“That’s what we ask for,” said Frick. “If we have the agreement, we’ll do all six of those projects.”

CEO Rob Bradley suggested that it would be a better idea for the board to pursue this larger effort.

“I think this process where we’re following these buckets is going to be progressively more efficient and successful (plan) over time, honestly,” Bradley said. “Unless we can identify a major project like the Black(water) Creek project and then target it.”

For January, he is looking for a list of all projects in the district for which state funding exists or is desired, as well as projects for which there is the possibility of submitting a request to the state.

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