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RIVER LIFE: Here’s to the new year — and resolutions for the St. Johns

Dr. Quinton White

New Year’s resolutions are important to many people, so when a good friend mentioned recently how much impact a group of people can have when they work together, I thought, how about some resolutions for the river! Perhaps people living in the St. Johns River basin can adopt some River Friendly New Year’s Resolutions for 2017 (and beyond).

Most of these resolutions will not cost anything to do and, in fact, will save you money. We seem to have a general attitude that if a little is good, then a lot is better. But the opposite is true.

Resolution 1: Think small. Take a look at your water and energy consumption bill and resolve to shrink those numbers over the year. On the energy front, you can do little things like turning off unnecessary lights and unplugging recharging cords when not actually connected. That is money in your pocket. And in a similar manner for water, reduce the amount of lawn irrigation you do by either turning off your sprinkler system when it has rained or if rain is in the forecast, or reducing the time and therefore the amount of water used. You can also install moisture sensors on your sprinkler system. And make sure you are only watering your lawn and not the road or sidewalk.

Resolution 2: Use less. When applying fertilizer, use one with zero or low-phosphorous and slow-release nitrogen. When you buy fertilizer, the numbers on the bag (10-10-10, 18-4-8, etc.) represent the percentage nitrogen, phosphorous and potash or potassium in the product. That middle number should be zero because our soil is naturally high in phosphorus.

Resolution 3: Think local. If you need or want to plant or expand your flower beds, use native, drought-tolerant or low-maintenance plants. This will save you time, effort and money in the long run.

Resolution 4: Be kind to nature. Reduce the amount of herbicides and pesticides used around your house. Most of these are toxic to marine life, especially the larval forms of shrimp, crabs and fish. Avoid using any chemicals (fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides) prior to a heavy rain. With our sandy soils, they will wash into the river.

Resolution 5: Mulch, don’t blow. When you cut your grass, cut it high, and use a mulching lawnmower. Don’t blow your clippings into the street. The mulch is good for your lawn. It decomposes and releases nutrients back into the soil and reduces your need to buy fertilizer. We want those nutrients on your lawn, not in the river. By the way, a buildup of thatch is a sign of over-fertilizing and over-watering.

Hopefully you won’t find any of these resolutions too onerous, but they might just save you some money and make our river just a little bit cleaner.

Ask River Life
Is the St. Johns River really a river?

Interesting question, because the answer isn’t as straightforward as you might think. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a river as a “natural stream of water of usually considerable volume,” but even that is sort of vague. Most people think of rivers flowing down from the mountains, which the St. Johns does not do. Actually, the St. Johns is more of a tidal estuary than a river. But maybe the real answer is yes, it is a river — because we call it a river.

River Life runs the last Friday of each month in The Florida Times-Union. E-mail A. Quinton White, executive director of Jacksonville University’s Marine Science Research Institute, with questions about our waterways at qwhite@ju.edu. For more on the MSRI, visit ju.edu/msri.