A Good Days Work!!! SFWMD’s C-23 Mechanical Vegetation Removal

Mr Mike Knepper is a force. His passion? Changing the way Florida state agencies such as FWC and the SFWMD approach aquatic vegetation removal. Mike feels strongly that agencies should manage waterway aquatic vegetation mechanically, rather than with chemicals. Mike has become a regular voice at the SFWMD Governing Board meetings and people are listening….

Mike is a 1979 graduate of Martin County High School, a grandfather, a well known and respected home builder (Knepper Construction), and an environmental activist.

On August 5, 2022, Mike contacted me.

“Jacqui,  I would like for you to meet me at the end of boat ramp road so you can see the spray job the district just did. It will make you sick. All of these dead plants will end up in the St Lucie River.”

As it was my mother’s 83rd birthday and my 40 year high school reunion, I replied:

“Mike, aggg. thanks for letting me know. Why don’t you call Executive Director, Drew Bartlett?”

Mike:

“I just left him a message, I bet he won’t reply…”

Not only did Drew Bartlett return Mike’s call, Drew Bartlett, SFWMD Executive Director, decided that the vegetation in C-23 at the S-97 structure should be removed MECHANICALLY.

-C-23 Canal prior to removal of vegetation, photo Mike Knepper, 8-5-22By the time I spoke to Drew Bartlett later that afternoon the plan to mechanically remove the vegetation was in motion. I was ecstatic and yes, a bit surprised. “This could be the beginning,” I thought. What made me most pleased was that I was told this decision was made on behalf of the St Lucie River…

AND SO THE WORK BEGAN!

SFWMD’s Mr Rich Virgil, Division Director Field Operations, informed his men of a change of process. The men would be working through the weekend to remove the vegetation.

“The Okeechobee Field Station has a long reach backhoe at the S-97 structure and C-23 Canal performing mechanical removal of the floating vegetation. This is the location that was reported by Mr Knepper yesterday. The crew will work today and tomorrow to address the issue.”

-Photographs mechanical removal of vegetation C-23 Canal, photo SFWMD’s Rich Virgil “Mr Knepper, your voice has been heard!”

Vegetation is being mechanically removed and a towboat has been deployed from S-65 (Kissimmee River) to assist. Mr Virgil says this will decrease response time to remove the vegetation an the towboat will remain on site through the duration of the wet season.

-Mr Virgil’s photos below of towboat being deployed S-65 structure in Kissimmee to C-23

“The crew is done for the day, they will be back in the morning to finish. The picture is from the S-97 structure looking east plus the pile of removed vegetation. 

A good days work!!! ” ~Rich Virgil

-C-23 Canal vegetation removed day 1, August 5, 2022. Photo SFWMD’s Rich Virgil August 6, 2022

Day 2

“Task Complete: C-23 Canal at Structure S-97 Mechanical Vegetation Removal Efforts-the crew has completed the vegetation removal in the C-23 Canal at the S-97 Structure.” 

-After vegetation removal is complete. C-23 & S-97 Structure. Beautiful!  Photo SFWMD’s Rich Virgil 

WOW! A GOOD DAYS WORK! EVEN A GREAT DAYS WORK!

-Thank you to those who worked through the weekend to clear the C-23 canal:

Robert Prescott crew chief

Jack Theriault excavator OPER

Joey Conroy transport OPER / barrier remover 

Jonathan Spooner boat OPER 

Brody Lamb transport OPER / barrier remover 

-Thank you Mike Knepper for inspiring the removal!

-Thank you Mr Drew Bartlett, SFWMD Executive Director and Mr Rich Virgil, Division Director of Field Operations, for showing leadership and thoughtfulness working for the health of the St Lucie River.

SFWMD: “Our mission is to safeguard and restore South Florida’s water resources and ecosystems, protect our communities from flooding, and meet the region’s water needs while connecting with the public and stakeholders.” 

Captain’s for Clean Water – why not to spray!

 

 

 

Field Trip of a Lifetime: EAA Reservoir/STA

At 8am on Friday, July 29, 2022, a group of realtors, environmentalists, reporters, and professionals met at SFWMD headquarters in West Palm Beach. The day had finally arrived for our field trip to the EAA Reservoir/Storm Water Treatment Area south of Lake Okeechobee. The Army Corp will be building the reservoir scheduled to be complete in 2029, and the SFWMD is under construction with the storm water treatment area or “STA” to be complete in 2023. The project, became part of CEPP, the Central Everglades Planning Project, and was reborn through public outcry due to toxic summers and the grit and leadership of Martin County’s 2017/18 Senate President, Joe Negron (SB10). And thus today, like a phoenix, the EAA Reservoir and STA is rising, and will one day be the first structure built to encompass sending cleansed Lake O water south to the Everglades. Make no mistake, this reservoir is the greatest hope for the health of the Northern Estuaries that for decades have been subjected to damaging discharges from Lake Okeechobee.

Well located between the Miami and New River Canals, and neighboring the A-1 Flow Equalization Basin, the 6500 acre STA’s gigantic water cleaning marsh and the 10,500 acre, 23 feet deep reservoir, will be a game changer. Listen the videos below by SFWMD Executive Director for insights.

What a day! What an experience!It was sobering to make the long drive from headquarters through the Everglades Agricultural Area and historic City of Belle Glade knowing this is where Marjorie Stoneman Douglas’ “River of Grass” once flowed. Today Taco Bells replace sawgrass. Over an hour later arriving at the construction trailer along Highway 27, SFWMD engineers Tim Harper, Alexis San-Miguel, Jennifer Leeds, Leslye Waugh and Drew Bartlett were available to educate us. Next we returned to the vehicles dodging the hot sun, weaving our way through the sugar cane fields that will soon be replaced with one of the most extensive environmental restoration projects not just in the country, but in the world! For myself, having been visited in 2019 and 2021, it was inspiring to see and compare the EAA Reservoir/STA today -now really coming out of the ground and taking form with the inflow/outflow canal (across the top) and C-640 (between STA and reservoir). Of course, there are controversies as there always are; this is the essence and history of Everglades Restoration. I am confident, that these water and cultural concerns will be ameliorated in friendly fashion, just as SFWMD mascot Freddy the Alligator emphasizes. I for one, am thankful for all who got us here, particularly Joe Negron. Through participation, education, and inspiration, we will continue the work to “rebuild and restore” the waters of South Florida.

Group portrait with SFWMD mascot Freddy the Alligator L-R: Max Chesnes, reporter TCPalm; Jennifer Leeds, SFWMD Bureau Chief-Ecosystem Restoration Planning;  Anne Schmidt (realtor), Deb Drum, Director PBC En. Res. Dept; Todd Thurlow, (website eyeonlakeo); Eve Samples, Exec. Dir. Friends of the Everglades; HB Warren, (realtor); JTL, SFWMD G.B.; Kathy LaMartina, SFWMD Reg. Rep.;  Rob Lord, former President of Martin Health/Clevland Clinic); Crystal Vanderweit, photographer TCPalm;  Alexis San-Miguel, Section Leader EAA Res./STA; John Gonzalez, (realtor); Ike Crumpler, (realtor assoc. consultant /Upstairs Communications; Drew Bartlett, Ex. Dir. SFMWD; Gil Smart, Friends of the Everglades;  Leslye Waugh, SFWMD Eco. Restoration Admin.; Sean Cooley, SFWMD Communications Dir.; Kym Hurchalla, Friends of the Everglades. -SFWMD official group shot 🙂

  • Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Features
  • Reservoir aka “A2 Reservoir”: 10,500 acres with 240,000 acre-foot storage at about 23 feet deep
  • STA aka “A-2 Stormwater Treatment Area”: 6,500 acres
  • Adds 160,000 to CEPP’s 210,000 for a total of 370,000 average annual acre-feet of new water flowing through to the central Everglades ~ ACOE 

Blue line = path from SFWMD Headquarters in West Palm Beach to the EAA R/STA and back-My vehicle: JTL, Alexis, Gil, Max, Crystal, Drew, Todd, John, HB, Kym, Eve.-Construction Manager Principal, Tim Harper, shares maps, information and answers questions.-SFWMD Exec. Dir Drew Bartlett explains videos 1&2 -extremely helpful!

VIDEO #1 DREW BARLETT

#VIDEO 2 DREW BARTLETT

 

-Exec. Dir. Drew Bartlett and JTL arrive on site: smile and wave to Freddy the Alligator! “Freddy the Alligator has come to say hello!” Freddy helps other animals during drought and he and his friends need more and clean water! -Reviewing the site is overwhelming; the reservoir and STA by vehicle cover over eight miles!-Dyno-mite! C-640 Canal divides the STA and the Reservoir. We were treated to a blast during lunchtime. Guest, Eric Eichenberg, CEO Everglades Foundation, and I prepare. We have been waiting for this a long, long time! 

-Realtor Anne’s new hat! -John Gonzalez, JTL, HB Warren, Deb Drub, Rob Lord, Eve Samples -Realtors: John Gonzalez, Anne Schmidt, Ike Crumpler, and HB Warren-all worked in Stuart when the horrific harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee destroyed the estuary and home sales in 2013, 2016 and 2018. “We want clean water!” -My brother, Todd Thurlow, author of eyeonlakeo website, stands before the C-640 Canal that divides the STA and the Reservoir is also part of Friends of the Everglades. This photo was for my mother. 🙂-Thank you SFWMD STAFF! -with David Anderson, RYAN inspector, whom I had met on my previous trip. Thanks David! -TCPalm’s photographer, Crystal Vanderweit, JTL, and environmental reporter, Max Chesnes.-Drew Bartlett, E.D. SFWMD and Bradley Watson, Everglades Foundation.Great that Bradley and Eric Eichenberg joined us too! -JTL and Eve Samples, Friends of the Everglades contemplating the future…-Site photographs, Strorm Water Treatment Area.-My favorite photo of the day, Kym Hurchalla, granddaughter of Martin County’s late environmental leader, Maggy Hurchalla, looks over at  what will become the STA. If anything, everglades restoration is generational…-“Black Gold” from the site. Muck, scraped and stored, now used to grow vegetation to protect the levees.-Everything feels big out here! Everything  is big out here! -Sugarcane fields transforming into the EAA Reservoir/STA…

Thank you to SFWMD‘s Flicker and my brother, Todd Thurlow, for photos included in this post – all are public!

Aerial Update St Lucie River/IRL-end July

My “River Warrior” team and I continue to document the health of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Thank you to pilots Scott Kuhns, and my husband, Ed Lippisch. Also my brother, Todd Thurlow, for his eyeonlakeo website updates and Florida Oceanographic for their weekly water quality report. As the summer temperature heats up, the water is not as clear as earlier this year, however, Saharan dust is keeping the rain and hurricanes away, seagrass is rebounding, and there have been no major discharges from Lake Okeechobee in over three years. Thank you to everyone and every agency fighting and advocating for clean water!

Florida Oceanographic Water Quality Report shows a C+ for the overall St Lucie Estuary with high scores near the inlet but lower scores in the main river and forks. See above link.

The seven photos below were taken by Scott Kuhns from his SuperCub on Saturday, July 30, 2022 around 11:30am.

1.

-St Lucie Inlet area and confluence of SLR/IRL -Sailfish Flats with seagrass recovery but lots of attached micro algae

2.

The ten photos below were taken by Ed Lippisch from the Vans RV-also on Saturday, July 30th, at approximately 2pm. No visible algae was seen visually at S-308, Port Mayaca or S-80 in the C-44 Canal although Lake Okeechobee was recently reported by FDEP to be around “50% algae coverage.” View here on my brother’s website  EYEONLAKEO under HAB-IMAGES.

-Port Mayaca’s S-308 at Lake Okeechobee -S-80 at St Lucie Locks and Dam, C-44 Canal

SFWMD canal and basin map. C-44 canal is the canal most southerly in the image and the only canal that connects to Lake Okeechobee.

 

Thousands of Roosting Swallow-tailed Kites

At 4am my alarm rang. I was headed to Lykes Bros. near the western edge of Lake Okeechobee’s Fisheating Creek. Here were gathered, for their annual assembly, thousands of roosting Swallow-tailed Kites. As a kid, growing up in Stuart, I don’t remember ever seeing these, gorgeous, black and white birds, but today they can be seen gliding almost everywhere: over the woodlands on the side of I-95, around the edge of the Indian River Lagoon, and near Lake Okeechobee. No matter where I see them, time stops. Their graceful beauty surreal, their sharp forked tails unforgettable. These large dove-like birds are raptors in the family of hawks and owls, but eating mostly insects.

Credit: Audubon image, Swallow-tailed KiteYesterday, Lykes Bros., one of Florida’s largest landowners, invited me to visit their land and water resource project, Nicodemus Slough, where an estimated 2500-5000 swallow-tailed kites are roosting. This only occurs sometime between July and August before the birds migrate 10,000 miles to Central and South America. Thank you to Lyke’s Noah Handley, Director of Engineering and Land Management, for being the guide of this field-trip. Thank you to Lykes Bros. for giving shelter and protection to Florida’s wildlife. It was a sight to see. In the early morning hours the birds sat quietly. As the day warmed up, one at a time, they rose in groups of up to a thousand flying like a vortex in the thermals, calling to each other, finally dispersing. A memory for a lifetime! Today I share my photos of this special day.

-A video and close ups of hundreds of dying oak trees where the swallow-tailed kites are roosting. The trees are dying because these lands are being brought back to their natural wetland status inside 15, 858 acres of Nicodemus Slough, a section that the Herbert Hoover Dike had destroyed. My phone camera only captured what was in front of me. This scene went on for miles. Video in slow motion and not the best quality, but it gives the best idea  of the extensive area the birds were in.  

-Kathy LaMartina, SFMWD Region Representative listens to Lykes Bros Director, Noah Handley explain how the company supports wildlife like the swallow-tailed kites. Researchers and scientist study and learn about their not totally understood 10,000 mile migration. -Part of the Herbert Hoover Dike between Fisheating Creek and Lykes Bros. -Noah Handley and JTL This cypress wood carving shows better than any map where Lykes Bros.’ extensive land holdings exists and where the roosting area of the swallow-tailed kite exist.

 

 

From Above

This post is meant to be aerial documentation SLR/IRL July 2022Yesterday I published a blog post about this past Saturday, 7-9-22, that is getting a lot of attention, At Low Tide.

Today, I wanted to follow up with Ed’s aerials the following day, between high and low tides, 7-10-22, 10:30am. The aerials are taken over this same area of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon -between Sewall’s Point and Hutchinson Island. One can see the seagrass/macro-algae flats recovering, visible nearshore reefs off the St Lucie Inlet, and the rain’s runoff plume, but no Lake Okeechobee discharges. You can keep up to date on the lake and the science at my brother Todd’s website EyeOnLakeO.

Thank you for being part of the continued fight for the health of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon and all our waters! 

 

At Low Tide

This post is meant to document the life seen July 2022 On Saturday, 7-9-22, Ed made me promise I would be ready on time. He wanted to take me out in the Maverick to show me the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon’s seagrass/macro-algae flats at low tide. Very low tide. “Exactly 12.37pm.”

I was ready on time, but I don’t think I was ready for what I witnessed. With the seagrass and macro-algae totally exposed, one could see the extent of the recovery; wading birds feasted everywhere -over one-hundred of various species.

Ed and I did not walk out into the delicate grass flats, but anchored and explored along the edge. From where we were, in the distance, we could see many boats at the Sandbar, Sailfish Point, and the St Lucie Inlet. Carefully, we photographed and returned the creatures living on the edge of the seagrass/macro-algae flats. It definitely does not look entirely healthy, like it did when I was a kid,  but nonetheless life reigns. The extreme low tide lasted about an hour. Then the ocean tide came rushing in…

Of the critters  I knew were fighting conchs, living sand-dollars, hermit crabs, inky sea slugs, olive snail mollusks, clams, shrimp, and pen shell mollusks bivalves. Many others were present that I could not identify. There were at least two kinds of seagrasses.

Historically, this is a small amount of seagrass life for the Indian River Lagoon. These flats were completely decimated by long-duration Lake Okeechobee discharges, some toxic, in 2013, 2016, and 2018. Three years without major Lake Okeechobee discharges has allowed some life to return.A reader of my blog recently asked if I thought our water improvements were policy driven or luck. My answer? “Both.”

-Fighting Conch says “hello, remember wildlife is protected!” -Watch video of the fighting conch walking

-Video of low tide exposure

-Ed is happy I was on time! -Various photographs 7-9-22 around 1pm. Looking east towards Sandbar (L) and Hutchinson Island’s Sailfish Point (R) visible behind a stunning mangrove island and ibis rookery. Note all the specks, they’re birds! -Ibis-Ed and I did not walk out on the delicate beds but could see many birds feasting in the distance. -Little blue herons happily eating-Living sand-dollar -Fighting conch covered in sandy mud-A clam excretion? Very strange- and a sea-slug.-A hollow tube formation.-Here one can see two kinds of seagrasses, maybe manatee and johnson. -There were hundreds of these piles of sand. Not sure what they are. -When disturbed, a sea slug excretes beautiful purple ink- kind of like an octopus. I put him right back! -A convention of sea slugs!-Baby olive mollusk makes a path through the sand.-Small clams. There were blue crabs, and tiny crabs about but they were too fast to photograph! -Sand dollar. Amazing they are breeding here! -Ed and I though this might be a baby queen conch due to spikes but the more we looked we thought it was yet another fighting conch.-There were many hermit crabs in many different shells. At one point, after the long Lake O discharges, there were no hermit crabs to be seen. Terrible. Glad to see them back! -I think this fighting conch was eating this little shrimp.-Pen shell mollusk bivalve-A living olive mollusk! A rare sight! Beautiful! -Note macro algae on top of seagrass. This is getting to be more and more due to over nutrification (nitrogen and phosphorus) of our waters. -Hermit crab in macro algae and seagrass.-Ed and I at “high noon.”-Surrounding water looking clear! 

 

Turquoise Today

Today’s post is a visual water update. My husband, Ed, flew over the confluence of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon on July 6, 2022. As you can see, it looks beautiful. Our waters near the inlet are turquoise today. The water is not this color throughout the estuary, only in the area where the inlet regularly flushes in and out.

May Mother Nature hold off her heavy storms and rains this summer; may the state and federal agencies recharge themselves to do all possible to be laser-focused on sending  water south.

As the heat increases, the annual algae bloom in Lake Okeechobee is expanding. Keep track on my brother Todd’s site, EYEONLAKEO.

#NOLAKEO

Aerials, July 6, 2022

-St Lucie Inlet’s nearshore reefs -St Luice Inlet: confluence of SLR/IRL -Sailfish Flats with budding seagrass and macro algae visible -Sailfish Point, Hutchinson Island, Sewall’s Point, Stuart. Look at the color of the ocean!