It has been quite an education to serve on Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission.
If you follow my blog, you might recall that during the 2017/18 Commission, I sponsored five public-submitted proposals, all environmental in nature: A Right to a Clean and Healthful Environment; the Department of Environmental Protection as a cabinet position; Clarifying the Water and Land Legacy; Florida Wildlife Commission/Wildlife Corridors; and No Oil and Gas Drilling in Florida’s Territorial Seas.
Early on in my journey, with an outcry of controversy from the Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Chamber, and the Florida Agriculture Coalition, I fought. It was a scathing experience, I will never forget.
With regard to A Right for a Clean Environment, former Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court, Kenneth Bell, was hired along with lawyers from U.S. Sugar Gunster Law Firm to destroy my proposal, which they did.
In the end, only one of my proposals made it to the ballot, supported by all by but one CRC vote that day. That proposal, now an amendment, is “No Oil and Gas Drilling in Florida’s Territorial Seas,” our state waters, ten miles off our west coast and three miles off the east. These waters belong to the people of Florida, not to the federal government.
And now Amendment 9 is under attack from yet another former Supreme Court Justice, Harry Lee Anstead! For me, it is of no consequence that my proposal is bundled with another environmental proposal.
I think it is repulsive that these men of influence, who raised their hand to represent fairly all the people of Florida now are spending their “golden years” off the bench getting paid by Big Corporate Interests to partake in the carnage of Florida’s environment. Former power and influence should not be allowed to seduce the court.
Shame on you former Supreme Court judges, for getting paid by Big Business, Big Petroleum, Big Tobacco, and Big Gambling to try to influence the Florida Supreme Court to deny taxpayers of Florida the quiet enjoyment of their properties and the waters we all treasure.
More than likely we shall know by September 24 if the Florida Supreme Court decides to place CRC Constitutional Revision 9 on the 2018 ballot or not. In the meanwhile, hang in there and please keep fighting for Florida’s precious environment.
The photograph above is one of those rare images that tells you everything even without a caption. This photo, shared by my mother, historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow, (http://www.sandrathurlow.com) was given to her by Mrs. Elizabeth Early, a pioneer of Stuart, “Stuart on the St Lucie.” The photo is entitled “Mosquito Ditch Digging,” and the subjects are unidentified. My mother believes the photo was taken in our region around 1920.
Mosquitos…such an integral part of Florida ~as is our war against them. Some have even gone as far to call the mosquito our “state bird.” As a kid, growing up in Sewall’s Point, in the 1970s, I remember having to run in place at the bus stop so as not to be attacked. Forever it seemed, I had white scars covering my tan scrawny legs. Another classic mosquito tale is gleefully riding my bike, along with my friends, behind the fog of the mosquito trucks. When we heard the trucks coming we ran from our houses, meeting in the street, quickly negotiating who got to be first behind the blower.
In any case, the mosquito ditches, the mosquito control districts, and the small green and white metal markers along Indian River Drive reading “MC” for Mosquito Control are not something we think too much about anymore, but for the old timers, mosquitos, and our war against them, and thus against Nature, defines this place.
My mother’s photos from her “Mosquito Control” file tell part of our local Martin County tale below. The lands are almost unrecognizable. In 1948 when the “Bridges to the Sea” were constructed over the Indian River Lagoon onto Hutchinson Island’s beaches – everything changed. The wetlands, the scrublands, and the old bean farms from early pioneers were ditched and diked, laced through and through like a pearl necklace. The government and owners organized with the goal to control those pesky mosquitos so the land would be fit for fill and for sale.
Over time, the mosquitoes lessened, and more and more people came to replace them.
According to my mother, some of the very early mosquito control worked by allowing fish into ditches to eat the larva; this not-so-intense mode was later replaced by other more stringent methods, including chemical means using DDT. As so often is the case in Florida, we are “successful,” successful at the expense of the environment.
Today we drive over the the Indian River Lagoon and forget the wars we’ve waged to live here, and instead, we wage a war to put our environment back into place.
Recently a gigantic swath of dead mangroves, east of the Indian River Lagoon on Hutchinson Island in Jensen Beach was brought to my attention. About a year ago, I had noticed the dead forest of trees; however, with my full attention on toxic-algae, water-quality, or lack thereof, I had put this graveyard of walking trees out of my mind. Until I got a phone call a couple of days ago…
My contact, as many others, proposes fundamental changes, such as culverts or another small inlet between the barrier island and the IRL to allow more flushing and increase salinity, pointed out that the primary reason the mangrove forest died, post Hurricane Irma, was too much fresh water. He also noted that the toxic-algae, as bad as it is, is not the worst killer for our St Lucie River. The worst killer is an old enemy: too much fresh water from Lake Okeechobee and area canals. The fluorescent toxic algae has just “put a face” on the carrier, the real enemy, too much fresh water.
The St Lucie is an estuary (https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/estuary.html) and needs salt water to exist, also the microcystin toxin cannot survive in a brackish system. The constant discharges, from Lake Okeechobee especially, continually push fresh water through a once brackish system, poisoning it, and toxic algae is along for the ride…
I found this message a powerful tool in visualizing what has happened to our St Lucie River. The dead mangroves are indeed a metaphor for the entire St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon system: our lush seagrass beds have died and the water quality is terrible, leaving little or no wildlife.
We must remember, below our waters, too much fresh water has caused a dead forest too.
Below, I am including Martin County’s response to my inquiry about the dead mangrove forest as a matter of public interest and education.
This loss of mangroves at the JBI site prompted a serious investigation by the Mosquito Control and Environmental Resources Divisions. Given the large-scale mortality event, testing was conducted to rule out site contamination. Water quality testing was also conducted to determine dissolved oxygen, pH, salinity, and hydrogen sulfide levels. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, St. Johns Water Management District, Smithsonian, a local mangrove arborist and Ecological Associates Inc. were all consulted regarding concerns over the mangroves. The majority opinion was that heavy late season rain and high water levels were the primary cause of the mangrove mortality with hurricane stress and suspended solids associated with storm surge as secondary causes. Additionally, lack of species and age structure diversity contributed to the loss, more diverse communities are associated with greater resiliency. Areas in close proximity to the JBI show evidence of mortality caused by ‘ponding’ in which high freshwater levels result in the loss of vegetation.
Recommendations going forward are to improve hydrological connectivity through the installation of additional culverts, clear out channel sedimentation, and install spillways. These actions will improve water quality by allowing for more exchange with the IRL and also increase the discharge capacity of the south cell to prevent high water levels associated with heavy rain and storm surge. In order to accomplish these actions, a capital improvement plan for the site was tentatively approved by the board on April 10th, 2018. Additional funding opportunities will be sought for site improvements and the board granted permission on July 24th, 2018 for staff to pursue State Wildlife Grant funding from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.
While funding opportunities are being sought, in-house activities have been pursued. Specifically, staff gauges have been installed to monitor natural tide conditions to allow for careful water level monitoring. The Project Engineer from Field Operations has put together a conceptual plan. A failed culvert is in the process of being replaced. Blockages along the perimeter have been identified and several have been cleared. Transects are being put in for vegetative monitoring. New growth can be seen within the JBI site, however, this is primarily restricted to the areas in closest proximity to the IRL. Culverts are currently opened to allow for natural recruitment and mosquito control is being accomplished through alternative means to allow the area to reseed.
Let me know if you would like to meet to discuss this.
Terry B. Rauth, P.E., Public Works Director, Martin County Board of County Commissioners
It really says something about the state of Florida waters, when our most renowned Nature photographers visit to photograph the decline of what was once most beautiful. They cannot lie. To only photograph what is beautiful, is not to tell the story of what is happening to Florida’s waters.
On August 19, my husband Ed and I had the pleasure of taking award-winning Florida conservation photographer, Mac Stone, https://www.macstonephoto.com for a flight over the St Lucie River, Lake Okeechobee, and afterwards, for a Sunday toxic drive.
Today, I share Mac’s photos, a testament to the terrible we must change…
To be around Mac himself was very uplifting. His message, I offer below. Please visit his Facebook page to view how Mac presented his St Lucie algae experience and to see his other work that is entirely inspirational.
Thank you Mac for sharing. Thank you Mac for caring! It meant so much to have you visit the dear St Lucie and your story reaches the world.
“Cities and estuaries, homeowners and businesses, beach goers and anglers, dems and repubs, people and wildlife, we are all affected by polluted water, no matter where you live. It’s heartbreaking to see my beloved coasts and wetlands like this and to hear the desperation in residents’ voices as algae-laden water courses through the arteries of their backyards. Let’s make sure this doesn’t happen again. Elections are coming up and no matter how you lean, please vote for water.” ~Mac Stone
#noworneverglades #florida #algae #everglades @ Martin County, Florida
“Deep Well Injection” is a term uncommon at most dinner tables. However, it is becoming more so because the South Florida Water Management District has interest in creating deep well injection “Estuary Protection Wells” around Lake Okeechobee. These wells would “lessen discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the St Lucie and Caloosahatchee Estuaries,” hence the name. Of course there is a spin factor here as Estuary Protection Wells sounds better than Deep Well Injection that has a negative connotation, in spite of its popularity in the state of Florida.
So what is deep well injection?
In the 1930s the petroleum industry pioneered the technology, injection of liquids (produced brine from their processing) into underground formations. Over time, this procedure was adapted to many other forms of waste byproduct. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website, as the popularity of injection wells expanded, the Federal Government set protections. In 1974, Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act, requiring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop regulatory requirements to control underground injection. These regulations are called underground injection control rules (UIC) and continue to regulate safety of drinking water throughout the United States today. (EPA: https://pubs.usgs.gov/of/1988/0477/report.pdf)
For the Environmental Protection Agency deep injection wells fall into six categories:
Class I industrial and municipal waste disposal wells
Class II oil and gas related injection wells
Class III solution mining wells
Class IV shallow hazardous and radioactive waste injection wells
Class V wells that inject non-hazardous fluids into or above underground sources of drinking water
Class VI geologic sequestration wells
Interestingly enough, again, according to EPA’s website “approximately 30 percent of Class I wells in the U.S. are municipal waste disposal wells and these wells are located exclusively in Florida. It must have something to do with Florida’s geology, or the laziness of our state to want to clean up the water. (Sorry, I could not resist.)
You can see from the 2013 map below exactly where these wells are located; a number of them are located in Martin and St Lucie Counties. Partially treated grey-water or waste water is sent thousands of feet below the Earth’s surface into a “boulder zone” where there is space to hold it and it is “separated” by geological barriers from aquifers and surface waters. Generally it is believed this boulder zone is connected or has an outfall many miles out in the ocean and would leak ever so slowly, if it did at all, and in a time frame so slow it would be incomprehensible to humans…. Hmmm? (https://wasteadvantagemag.com/wastewater-deep-injection-wells-for-wastewater-disposal-industries-tap-a-unique-resource/)
So if the SFWMD is able to implement Deep Well Injection, it would not be unknown technology, it would be nothing new, nothing Florida isn’t already doing ~taking the easy way out…not cleaning the water on land…
Is it laziness, just more of the same, or something to consider as the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) is painstakingly implemented as mentioned in the **UF Water Institute Report of 2015?
Doing the right thing is not easy, however, in the meanwhile the estuaries could totally die. Purchasing the land, insuring funding from Congress every two years, dealing with stakeholders, enduring the slow-pace of the Army Corp of Engineer’s approval process, designing Storm Water Treatment areas that don’t make anybody mad, planting the new vegetation to clean the polluted water running from industrial farms and fewer municipalities into Lake Okeechobee without wrecking the environment for another animal like a poor gopher turtle, takes a lot more time and effort…
In fact, it might be decades before things are in place…
And this is why the South Florida Water Management is considering the wells. I will not say that I agree, but as I sit here surrounded by a dead, toxic-algae filled St Lucie Estuary, I will admit, I empathize.
My mother gave me a late birthday present: antique post cards and a bottle once filled with “Florida Water,” a popular tonic sold for health and beauty around the world. Believe it or not, “Florida Water” is still selling across the globe, and has been since 1808 ~for 210 years!
It was poignant to receive such a rare and special gift from my mother because if Murray & Landman began marketing Florida water today, the product would not be so romantic; in fact, the branding would more look like war.
Such has been the direction from Martin County Government of whether the public is allowed to swim at area beaches.
Let’s review recent days….
8-21-18: Bathtub Beach reported as closed
8-24-18 Bathtub Beach reported as not closed
8-25-18 Bathtub Beach, Stuart Beach, and Jensen Beach reported as closed
These changes are very difficult to keep up with!
Although the 2018 pulse release schedule from the ACOE is certainly a good thing, and a positive effort, one has to wonder if that is part of the reason for the recent back and forth scenario reporting. In 2016 with no pulse releases the algae was everywhere and plastered the beaches with no breaks.
In any case, it has been crazy around here, and unfortunately, the only safe way to deal with things, is to take the “may” out of the permanent signs and not to swim in the water anywhere.
When I visited lifeguards at Bathtub Beach on August 24, the word was if one got on a surfboard and paddled out 50 yards, cyanobacteria was floating in clumps in the sea water watered down by fresh water discharges from Lake Okeechobee since June 1st.
~On and off that is…
To try to get a handle on things, Ed and I took up the SuperCub for the first time on Saturday, the day all beaches were closed, and boy was that a good thing they were closed because blue-green algae was flowing down the St Lucie River in long arched lines. Right in the middle of the river! And this was a day the ACOE had stopped discharging from the Lake…As Ed and I were flying around up there in heavy winds, I was trying to figure out the timing of the algae’s 35 or so mile journey from Lake O and how the pulse releases would affect it.
When Ed and I photographed, the algae was just west of the beautiful peninsula of Sewall’s Point and out in the main St Lucie River.
God what have we done? My home town?
To close the beach or not to close the beach, that is not the question. The question is how did the state of Florida let the most bio-diverse estuary in North America go straight to hell.
The wild thing about flying in the SuperCub is that I can communicate via text and Facebook. As Ed and I were taking photos from the sky of what was heading to Martin County beaches, reports were coming in of the algae blowing up from the ground from my friend Mary Radabaugh at Central Marine, located in the same area Ed and I were flying. Go to Toxic#18 Facebook for more reports.