Kevin Spear- Orlando Sentinel Staff Writer
WRITING ON THE ST. JOHNS RIVER
Biologist Jon Shenker’s nets contain an unusual haul of fish that could help resolve Central Florida’s water war with its neighbors to the north.Each of the days-old American shad in his catch looks like a “white sliver with tiny eyeballs” at less than a quarter-inch long, he says. Yet, they’re considered trophies when it comes to understanding the St. Johns River.
By studying the fish, Shenker hopes to unravel some of the fundamental ecology of a river that’s targeted to become the next major drinking fountain for fast-growing cities of Central Florida. Shenker and others hope to learn how such demands on the river would affect its life chain.
“One thing that surprises me is that nobody has ever done this kind of study,” said Shenker of the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne.
Central Florida utilities want to tap the middle reaches of the 310-mile St. Johns River for as much as 150 million gallons daily for drinking water and irrigation. Fighting that plan is a coalition of environmentalists, politicians and residents of the Jacksonville area, where the river makes a scenic turn to the Atlantic Ocean.
The conflict now embroils lawyers, public-relations consultants, county and city legal staffs, a small but stubborn environmental group and a judge. A showdown state administrative hearing over a proposed Seminole County withdrawal is set for this fall.
What happens to fish?
When discussion of the water war came up, Shenker all but poked his fingers into his ears to block out details.
“I’m staying out of the politics,” he said. “I’m here to find out what the fish are doing. They