Guess what rolls downhill and into the St. Johns River

The polite name is biosolids, but let’s use the more descriptive term: sewage sludge.

That’s what is left after treatment plants finish processing human waste, and it’s full of nitrogen and phosphorous compounds.

What to do with the stuff? Here’s a swell idea: Spread it on pastures and agricultural fields as fertilizer.

The brain trust in Florida did that for years until it nearly killed the Everglades and other South Florida waterways, filling them with toxic algae.

Reacting to outrage over the slime, the Legislature took action to protect the Lake Okeechobee, Kisseemee River, Caloosahatchee River and St. Lucie River watershed.

Lesson learned, right? Come on, this is Florida.

Now more of the sewage sludge is being spread in fields in the Upper Basin of the St. Johns River.

Kevin Spear, a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel who covers the environment, wrote about this last April, writing in part:

Most biosolid sludge – either raw or refined – is spread on farms and pastures in a state laced with wetlands, rivers and lakes.

“What is actually happening is we are using our agriculture lands as solid-waste disposal sites for sludge,” said Gary Roderick, an environmental consultant in Martin County, where he formerly was the county’s head of water quality.

Echoing opponents of the practice, Roderick said farms and ranches are overdosed with sludge, accumulating a damaging source of pollution able to trigger a green invasion of harmful algae in rivers and lakes.

One of those opponents is Lisa Rinaman, the St. Johns Riverkeeper. She notes that Blue Cypress Lake, once pristine, is now being overloaded with phosphorous from the sludge,.

“We cannot stand silent and watch the degradation of the headwaters of the St. Johns River and the undermining of dowstream water quality,” Rinaman told the St. Johns River Water Management District in urging the board to take action before it’s too late.

Wait a minute. Didn’t we just spend $250 million and years of effort to restore the Upper Basin of the St. Johns River, and now we are just standing idly by and letting the river be degraded again?

Of course we are. As I said, this is Florida.

When it comes to protecting the health of the St. Johns, we tend to live in silos. In Jacksonville, we worry about what the deep dredge of the river’s channel will do to the river’s health.

We had better also be concerned about what’s happening in the Upper Basin because what rolls downhill there will eventually roll through Jacksonville.




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I wrote opinion columns for The Florida Times-Union for 28 years. I retired in December 2017, but I still have a few things to say. Often those thoughts come to me when I'm at our farm in Gadsden County where life is simple and the environment still beautiful.

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