The St. Johns River could soon have a larger audience.
During the second day of the St. Johns River Summit, State Sen. John Thrasher announced during a panel discussion his intent to create a St. Johns River caucus of at least 24 members of the Legislature in November.
The caucus, he said, would establish a platform for interested parties within the political realm to discuss ways to lower nutrient levels within the river, establish river funding mechanisms and review current policies.
“I think it will make a difference,” said Thrasher of the caucus.
Algae blooms, fish kills and an unidentified film have all been problems. Thrasher saw them on a river trip with Mayor John Peyton and St. Johns Riverkeeper Neil Armingeon and also has heard concerns from constituents.
Thrasher said he envisioned the caucus being joined by political leaders from communities along the St. Johns River, including those within Northeast Florida.
One of the caucus members is expected to be State Sen. Thad Altman, another panelist during the discussion, who called the issue a “political problem” and said the river is what initially inspired him to enter politics.
During the discussion, Altman talked about a water resource protection bill, SB 2622, that failed to yield a House co-sponsor during the last session but would again be introduced.
The bill would authorize counties and municipalities, in cooperation with water management districts, to evaluate primary water resources and use funds collected from water and sewage usage to help finance conservation efforts.
While some might look at the measure and expect a rate increase, Altman said the preservation efforts would help reduce long-range costs.
The river discussion, moderated by David Strickland, EverBank COO, included Peyton; Orange Park Mayor Richard Crotty; Kirby Green, St. Johns River Water Management District executive director; and Greg Strong, Florida Department of Environmental Protection Northeast district director.
Crotty discussed the partnership aspects of river protection, while Peyton talked about some of the issues during his tenure. He also weighed in on Thrasher’s announcement of a potential caucus formation.
“I think it’s a great start,” said Peyton.
Green talked of the $1.3 billion total in river improvements throughout the basins. Strong concluded with a discussion about adopting total maximum daily load standards and the need for funding Basin Management Action Plans, which are blueprints for restoring impaired waters.
As for the caucus, Thrasher said that while efforts to save the Everglades have attracted headlines across the state, the waterway closer to home deserves attention.
“I don’t want us to ever begin to forget about our concerns right here in our own river,” he said.