Water is a necessity and a threat, something woven through resilience priorities for the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD). The district’s Board received a soup-to-nuts overview of resiliency plans in Florida and the district’s place in that process this week, with an eye toward what’s possible in the next Legislative Session.
“Communities in our district and throughout Florida are being impacted by environmental changes, such as increasing temperature, changing weather events, and sea level rise,” said Tom Frick, the Chief Resiliency Officer for the WMD. “As you can see … over the last hundred years, that sea level (at Fernandina Beach) has risen by over 8 inches.
“That’s a pretty big number, but also, the projections right now are that it’s going to rise another foot in the next 30 years, so we’re speeding up that increase in sea level rise. These environmental changes I’ve mentioned are exacerbated when they’re layered upon changes such as building in low-lying areas, and aging infrastructure.”
Beyond technical expertise, Frick told SJRWMD Board members that it was the state WMDs’ responsibility to provide technical assistance in other resilience projects, along with its core missions of water supply, water quality, flood protection and conservation of natural systems.
The district’s resilience priorities are protecting freshwater supply against saltwater intrusion, along with flood protection and nature-based solutions like wetland enhancements and living shorelines.
“Not trying to over-nerd out, but in saltwater intrusion and in the thought process of that, there’s the battle like Doug (Bournique)’s people worry about that’s deep water saltwater intrusion, but there’s also … the way the coast is developing, some areas have sewerage and some areas have septic tanks,“ SJRWMD Board Treasurer Ron Howse said.
“Since you’re making (surfaces) impervious, you’re no longer getting hydraulic pressure from rain percolating through it, and a lot of those areas are just sandy grounds.”
This can play into higher runoff, he said, because a connected sewer system would need more impervious surfaces than those with septic tanks, and he would like to see a study looking into the situation.
“As we keep taking septic tanks offline, we’re also going to take direct deposits of groundwater offline too, in some respects,” Howse said.
He suggested there are some Band-Aid style fixes the Board could pursue while making progress toward longer-term goals, which may need to be the Board’s funding goal from the Legislature in the coming Session.
“Some of these projects, you could probably get some work done through this Legislative Session that could help some small areas,” Howse said. “Also … sometimes when you start the project and say, ‘we’re going to study this,’ 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 with it six to eight Legislative Sessions from it.”
He suggested staff come back to the Board in January with some quick-fix projects, funding for which could be feasible from the Legislature sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, there are also six efforts for which the District is seeking $49 million from the state.
“That’s what we’re asking for,” Frick said. “If we have the match, then we do all six of those projects.”
Board Chair Rob Bradley suggested it was a better idea for the Board to go after these larger-dollar efforts.
“I think that process of us going after those buckets is always a more efficient and more successful (plan), quite frankly, over time,” Bradley said. “Unless we can identify a major project like the Black(water) Creek project, and then we go into focused advocacy on that.”
For January, he’s looking for a list from staff of all the district projects in which state funding exists or is desired, along with projects in which there’s potential to make a request of the state.