Today I share yet another remarkable historic article from my mother Sandra Thurlow’s archives. This time from the Miami Herald, 1923. The significance of this article, that I have transcribed and broken down into two parts, is that it tells the story of Palm City, Florida, as part of the “Empire of the Everglades;” this a past of Palm City that most of us don’t know.
Indeed, Palm City was founded partially as Palm City Farms and even had its own drainage district. We have altered the land so we can be productive and live here, and today, and in the future, we try the best we can to put some of the water back on the land to clean it and bring all back to health. Also this article is shared as 2024 is the official 100 year anniversary of the St Lucie Canal.
“Empire of the Everglades,” Miami Herald, 1923, Part 1 as transcribed by JTL
“The Great Prairie of Florida”
Palm City Drainage District Lets Contract for Additional Ditches
Will Expend $100,000 Supplementing the Original Drainage Plan; 900 Acres of Citrus Trees Growing In the Reclaimed Area; C.C. Chillilngworth Is the Developer.
By William Stuart Hill
Back of Stuart, in the Palm Beach county, lies Palm City, then Palm City Farms and the Palm City Drainage District, the latter extending almost to the St. Lucie canal and containing 14,300 acres of land and prairie.
Palm City is situate on the shore of the south fork of the St. Lucie river, and its inhabitants have access to the other bank by means of the Palm City bridge, and to Stuart two miles away, by means of a hard surface road. Another road, to the south, connects with the Dixie highway at a considerable distance below Stuart.
The Palm City drainage district was formed recently to supplement the work of drainage begun and achieved by the Palm Beach County Land company, original owner and developer of the Palm City Farms, C.C. Chillingworth, attorney, of West Palm Beach, is owner of the Palm Beach County Farms company and retains about 5000 acres of the original 10,000 acre tract. The remainder has been sold to settlers.
There are 28 citrus groves in Palm City Farms, comprising 900 acres. The largest of these, the grove owned by the Niagara Fruit company, contains 160 acres, and is said to be the largest citrus grove on the east coast of Florida. There are also considerable plantings of avocados and one guava grove in the drainage district, which takes in 6,200 acres not in the Palm Beach Farms.
The land within the drainage district is well adapted to citrus culture and has the double advantage of easy drainage and easier irrigation. The highest elevation in the district is 27 feet above sea level. Artesian water may be had, with flowing wells at a depth of approximately 600 feet.
During the years between 1912 and 1916, the land company spent $102,000 in the digging of drainage ditches and the construction of the roads within its 10,000-acre tract. Three main outlets were provided, one through Danforth creek, another through Bessey’s creek, and a third large ditch, emptying into the south fork of the St Lucie river near the outlet of the big St. Lucie Everglades drainage or control canal.
Aerials of St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon taken February 3, 2023, 1pm “about two hours before low tide.”Florida Oceanographic Society graded the St. Lucie River at an overall “B” for water quality January 26 through February 1st. An “A” for the IRL and a “C” for the SLR west of Sewall’s Point. Since January 22, 2023, the ACOE continues to discharge 500 cubic feet per second from Lake Okeechobee to lower the lake in avoidance of toxic algae blooms predicted in Lake Okeechobee this summer due to Hurricane Ian. The lake is presently at 15.92 feet down from 16.10 feet on January 22, 2023. ~Photographs Ed Lippisch
Due to high Lake Okeechobee level and in light of cyanaobactia blooms predicted on lake this summer -a side effect of Category 4 Hurricane Ian- the U. S. Army Corp of Engineers, with the support of the SFWMD on 1-22-23, began discharging 500 cubic feet per second to the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon on January 22, 2023 and 2000 cfs to the Caloosahatchee to lower a lake not receding.
Yesterday, on January 29, 2023 my husband, Ed Lippisch, flew over the St Lucie River to see how the estuary is visually faring after seven days of discharges. He captured the images around 2pm so it was what he calls a “slack tide,” a tide in between high tide and low tide.
Today I share Ed’s aerials, the effects of discharges is obvious and to compare to a pre-discharge high tide and low tide taken on January 22, 2023, before the discharges reached the estuary, please see link above and go to end of blog post.
I cannot thank my husband enough for all of his flights and dedication as a River Warrior of the St Lucie River. He continues to be our eye in the sky since 2013 and my best friend.
Aerials of St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon after 7 days of discharges from Lake O, note darker water and plume at inlet. Among other things, the discharges cause less light to reach the struggling seagrasses and a plume exiting the St Lucie Inlet covers already sick near shore reefs.
More CERP projects than ever before are being built to offset discharges to the estuaries and this is cause for celebration, but it will take years for these projects to all be completed and undo the horrible environmental consequence of the Central and Southern Florida Plan of 1948. Most recently, since 2018, the State of Florida under the DeSantis administration, has led the effort to stop harmful discharges to the estuaries under Executive Order 19-12 and now 23-06. Millions of dollars are being spent by state and federal government. We will get there.
LOSOM, a new lake operations schedule of the ACOE, will help too and should be in place by mid summer. This was an effort of all stakeholders. An exhausting and successful effort.
The St Lucie has not had heavy discharges in over four years. At height in years such as 2013, 2016 and 2018, over 5000 to 9000 cubic feet per second were sent to the St Lucie. This present 500 cfs is an attempt to avoid such a situation this summer. To lower the lake before it kills us. I hate discharges but I rather take my medicine now than be destroyed later. Also I appreciate the ACOE for trying something different (HAB DEVIATIONS & LOSOM). I have been watching like a hawk since 2008, I can assure you we are in a better place due to advocacy changing the political landscape. Do not get discouraged!
The St Lucie Canal, also known as, the C-44 Canal, is the property of the U.S. Government. Martin County public records show that in the early 1930s, as a result of the 1928 hurricane, the right of way of the Everglades Drainage District was taken as part of the Okeechobee Waterway.
The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers holds jurisdiction and decision making over the canal and the water that flows through it from basins and Lake Okeechobee. Since the great flood of 1947 and the creation of the Central and Southern Florida Plan, there has been a “local partner” in decision making. That partner today is named the South Florida Water Management District, formerly the Everglades Drainage District…
In a modern world, every week, there are conditions calls regarding Lake Okeechobee and the environmental envelope, etc. As in all things, these calls start with the “higher ups” and then end with a public call. The public call is the ACOE Periodic Scientist Call. During this call, stakeholders share conditions and concerns from all over south and central Florida. Most participants are government people or elected officials, but also heads of NGOs and members of the public chime in.
The process generally works as such: after all these calls, the SFWMD, the local sponsor, puts out an operations statement or recommendation to the ACOE. All of this information is available on line, but its like trying to find a needle in hay stack.
Of course the ACOE and the SFWMD have been communicating all week. At the end of the day, because the U.S. ACOE holds jurisdiction over the C-44 Canal the ACOE is the final decision maker. More than ever, though, they are listening and even seeking public input. This is refreshing!
The ACOEs has been announcing their decision on the Jacksonville District’s media call on Friday of the week of all the other calls. This past Friday, the day after the SFWMD operations report was submitted, and all the “calls”, January 20, 2023, the ACOE held its media call, and the decision to start discharging from Lake Okeechobee was made make Col. Booth.
Going back a couple of years, Col. Kelly, at the ACOE, came up with an operations plan called a HAB DEVIATION or Harmful Algae Bloom Deviation. This was done after Governor Ron DeSantis put forth Executive Order 19-12 that did all possible to avoid harmful and toxic discharges to the northern estuaries, St Lucie and Caloosahatcee, as years 2013, 2016 and 2018 had been disasters. HAB DEVIATIONS, like all things Army Corp, is engineering-like and complicated, but goal was to allow a deviation from lake operations (LORS or LOSOM) if there was algae in the lake or it was possible there could be algae in the lake, like after a Category 4 hurricane stirs everything up and brings massive runoff…
I am not sure if what the ACOE is doing now qualifies as a technical HAB Deviation, but it is certainly in the spirit of one. Both SFWMD and ACOE have stated they are expecting a large post Ian cyanobacteria blue-green algae bloom in Lake Okeechobee this summer. High lake water in summer would set off releases so they are hopefully dodging a bullet by lowing the lake now.
Due to Hurricane Ian, a Category 4 storm, that obliterated the lower west coast of Florida, coming in just north of Sanibel Island and Ft Meyers, Lake Okeechobee has risen four feet since September 28, 2022 cresting at around 16.47 feet. Because the Herbert Hoover Dike was almost complete, the ACOE did not discharge right away. If the lake had been at the 15.50 limit as before dike completion, there would have been discharges, input or no input.
Yesterday, January 25, 2023, was the ribbon-cutting for the Herbert Hoover Dike Rehabilitation. It took eighteen years. This does not mean there is unlimited allowance of water in Lake Okeechobee, but it allows for more flexibility as will LOSOM. Sediment has been settling in the lake since September/October.
I for one, appreciate the flexibility of the ACOE. In the old world when I entered in 2008, they just followed the book and opened the gates toxic algae or no toxic algae. Now there is awareness and thought. And water quality remains the responsibility of the state. If the ACOE believe/agree a HAB deviation is necessary after a Category 4 hurricane in order to try to avoid toxic discharges in summer when the lake often cooks into a toxic soup, I am all for it. I do not want to go through those type of years again!
These charts below from my brother Todd’s eyeonlakeo.com website show how water was discharged to the St Lucie in 2016, 2018, 2021, and 2022. Although the ACOE is discharging at 500 cfs average now to the SLR, all will be done to avoid another “Lost Summer!”
2016 Lost Summer 2
2018 Lost Summer 3
2021 nice summer even with LO releases (green)
2022 great summer, no releases LO
Photos of Ed Lippisch taken on Sunday, January 22, 2022, the day the 500 cfs discharges began to the St Lucie. These photos are baseline photos to compare to the future. I takes a day or more for discharge water to reach the St Lucie Inlet. The differences in these photos is due to tide and light.
-Stuart News 50th Anniversary Edition, 1964.Today I will complete part three, the final portion of my transcription of an historic 1964 Stuart News, anniversary edition from my mother’s archives. She actually shared this article with me over a year ago and I was so taken by it that I thought it may be an inspiration for a book. I never got around to it, thus now I am sharing on my blog as part of my 2023 new year’s resolution to write more and learn more about the St Lucie Canal. 2024 is the official 100 year anniversary of the St Lucie Canal according to the Department of Environmental Protection.
~Interesting references in part three of the article are the mentioning of a “release canal,” south to the Everglades, something that never materialized; reference, once again, to cutting edge “scientific water control” and the amazing success of the agriculture industry; 1933 noted as the first extreme discharge year from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie River and damaging effects to fisheries and tourism; and in the final paragraph, a future plan linking a new “C-23 Canal on Martin County’s northern border with a major channel which would extend westward to Lake Okeechobee, with a side link to St Lucie Canal, and another channel from St. Lucie Canal southeastward down toward Pratt & Whitney and the Loxahatchee Marshes;” Gulp!
This is a reference to part of the canal system proposed in the 1948 and many following editions of the Central and Southern Florida Plan that thankfully was never built. This reference also leads me to believe that I was incorrect in part two when I wrote the article was written around 1937 or 1920 in part one. With these references to C-23, the article must have been composed after the great flood of 1947 as it is referring to the Central and Southern Florida Project of 1948. I am learning all the time as I sludge through this stuff. The St. Lucie Canal has had so many face lifts! It is hard to know what cut they are referring to!
~As we learn, we are more informed and able to change the future of this huge “ditch” that has defined, benefited, and destroyed the region of our St Lucie River.
So here is a transcription of Part III.
I have entitled my post “The Boon of the Huge Monster Ditch, St Lucie Canal,” as both terms “huge” and “monster,” are noted in full article. To me, the canal is a monster continuing to haunt and terrify. And just like in the movies, I know that until I meet this monster face to face, it wont go away. I hope you will encounter it with me.
You can click on images to enlarge.
Begin transcript paragraphs 11-25:
The great hurricane of 1928, which drowned about 4000 persons in the Lake Okeechobee area, resulted in the widening and deepening of both the St. Luice Canal and the Caloosahatchee River as well as major outlets from the lake. The widened and deepened canal was officially dedicated at ceremonies headed by Secretary of Commerce, Daniel Roper on March 22, 1937.
In the intervening years, the canal’s “good and bad” points have been the cause of growth in the agricultural lands of the interior and of damages to the fisheries and resorts on the coast in periods of excessive discharge. Today, as ever since 1933, when the first heavy discharge from hurricane rains was experienced, efforts are under way to so shape the discharge so that the canal’s benefit can be enjoyed without attendant harm. The U. S. Engineer Corp’s plans for a higher lake level by diking the entire lake may result in less necessity for discharge and a long-range plan has been advanced for diversion of excess water to Everglades National Park by means of a relief-valve canal.
However in the half century which has ensued since the canal was approved, one indisputable fact not clearly seen in the beginning has emerged stage by stage to justify it.
It is “scientific agriculture by water control.”
Thousands of pleasure craft and hundreds of barges, shrimp boats, and other commercial craft use the waterway today, but it never did develop into the “thriving artery of commerce” that was predicted in which ocean ships would sail up to Stuart and load the products of the Everglades Empire brought to the coast by the St. Luice Canal.
Nor did a plan advocated during World War II jell out to make it a major barge and oil transport canal to escape the submarines which infested the Straits of Florida, Yucatan Channel and the Gulf Stream.
What did “jell out” was an expansion all along the route of the the scientific water control for agriculture that was proven at Port Mayaca by that pioneering agricultural beginning in 1925.
G.C. Troup and Troup Brothers at Indiantown on their former 20,000-acre holdings, demonstrated that the combination of irrigation and good drainage would unlock agricultural riches. Today the Minute Maid and Hood corporations are among the huge citrus firms which have planted some 10,000 acres of new citrus and the largest lemon grove in the world on former Troup lands and lands opened to agriculture through water control by P. L. Hinson and others.
On both sides of the St. Lucie Canal, in the entire twenty-five miles of its length, there are spreading pastures, ranches where blooded cattle graze, and the Indiantown area also has some of the country’s largest diaries.
The Bessemer firm that proved it could be done is “in there pitching” with some of the most outstanding modern developments including Westbury Farms 1, 2, and 3, the new Westbury Farms Valencia Groves on the south side of the canal, and the spreading Green Ridge Groves on the north side. George Oliver who manages the giant spread and Michael Phipps of the major corporation are proud of the agricultural and ranching growth but prouder still of St. Lucie Training Park, unique race horse training facility where, “hopefuls” of some of the nation’s top stables get their “running” starts.
They can be found at dawn watching the work-outs on the oval track. Both are skilled polo players.
“Scientific water control with ample supplies from the St. Lucie Canal, and drainage into the canal, is the key to our county’s solid growth,” commented Oliver.
Currently being pushed by Martin County agricultural interests is a new over-all water control plan for the county which would spread the advantages of irrigation and drainage to areas not continuous to the St Lucie Canal.
The new plan would link in C-23 Canal on Martin County’s north border, where huge citrus planting have recently been made, with a major channel which would extend westward to Lake Okeechobee, with a side link to St Lucie Canal, and another channel from St. Lucie Canal southeastward down toward Pratt & Whitney and the Loxahatchee Marshes. Private landowners would link in with these new canals by irrigation pumps and drainage outlet as they have done along the St. Luice Canal.
-Eye in the sky since 2013, Ed Lippisch I am going to keep this blog post short as I already wrote another today. Yesterday, 1-15-23, at around 1:45 pm, Ed took aerials over the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. As it has been cold and windy the past few days there has been a “Beach Hazards Statement” from the National Weather Service. In Ed’s photos, the rough, turquoise, incoming ocean waters make for a stark contrast against the darker waters of the river. I believe the ocean waters are full of sand and that is what gives the aerials the milky, almost iridescent coloring. Hopefully, the sand is not burying the dormant seagrasses in the Sandbar and Sailfish Flats. Thankfully, there is no dumping from Lake Okeechobee at this time although the river is receiving the other C-Canal water and runoff. I’ll get Ed up in the plane again soon as I have not yet flown in the Van’s RV -and I am not planning on it! 🙂 JTL
Today’s post is the second part of a story. A story from the 196450th Anniversary Edition of the Stuart News. “Signalizing Half a Century of Growth and Progress in Martin County,Florida.” It is a huge special edition newspaper, 110 pages!
The article I am sharing is on page 6-H and is titled ” St. Lucie Canal Approved in 1914, Is Boon to Agriculture Here. Huge Citrus Growth Along Water Route; Mayaca Groves First.” I feel this remarkable article given to my mother for her history archives by family friend and real estate man, Ronnie Nelson, must be shared. As the 100 year “anniversary”of the St. Luice Canal is next year in 2024. At this time, I must state I am finding many different dates as to the completion date of the canal, but at this point I am sticking with an article from the Department of Environmental Protection, 1916-1924. (Ecosummary 2001, C-44 Canal)
Learning about the St. Lucie Canal can be confusing because it was “rebuilt” or “improved” and, believe it or not, “celebrated” a few times. I think this article included in the 50th anniversary edition was written as the canal approached its second rebirth in 1937.
There is so much to learn about how the St. Lucie Canal was perceived in earlier times. And it is only through understanding the past, that we can create a better water future for today and for tomorrow.
“The completion of this monster ditch will mean much for the Everglades, for south Florida in general, and for Stuart in particular. The improvement of the St. Lucie Inlet and harbor will thus make Stuart the gateway to the Everglades, and millions of dollars worth of agricultural timber, fish, and livestock products will pass through the canal transferring at Stuart onto ocean-going vessels. The canal is, according to contract, to be completed in four years.
First tangible result of the canal for large-scale agriculture was the pioneering effort of the Port Mayaca development back around 1925, created by Bessemer Properties, Inc., a Phipps company which saw the opportunities for agriculture through scientific water control by tapping on to St. Lucie Canal with pumps to provide irrigation in dry spells. At the same time, a series of canals discharged excess water into the canal during wet spells.
Port Mayaca Valencia orange groves today represents the first big-scale successful planting of citrus in Martin County.
Port Mayaca could well be said to be the test plot on which millions were spent to prove, by trial and error, with the best possible scientific agricultural advice, what could be done by enlisting the aid of the man-made waterway.
Paul M. Hoenshel, now a resident of Stuart, was the first agricultural manager in the Port Mayaca development. He was backed by the vision and guidance of such able Phipp’s representatives in Florida as Paul R. Scott and Roy M Hawkins, as was Thomas Gartland when he took over the management in later years.
Port Mayaca was an outstanding “first” because it squarely faced up to the fact that the problems of drainage and water control must be solved if agriculture was to be successful in Martin County. The Phipps interests took the property of several thousand acres and divided it into forty-acre fields separated by drainage ditches, roads, and windbreaks.
About 100 miles of those ditches were dug in the Port Mayaca development, all linked by giant pumps to the life saving waters of the canal. Since Port Mayaca contained both muck lands and sand lands, it was an ideal test tube not only for for its initial 600 acres of Valencia oranges but also for various truck crops, gladiolus- then a major flower crop before chrysanthemums came along- and for experiments in the right grasses and mineral additives to make pasture lands where livestock could thrive…”
~End of transcription. To be continued. JTL
Google Maps 2023 shows Port Mayaca’s location on/near Lake Okeechobee, in Martin County, FL. Blue Dot is area of confluence of St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon leading to St Lucie Inlet.
After a stretch of hurricane and rains since October 2022, the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon is clearing up. The river has endured the “usual suspects” C-44 basin, C-23 canal, C-24 canal, and stromwater runoff; however, luckily no damaging discharges from Lake Okeechobee.
With my husband Ed’s most recent flight, I was pleased to see the blue, clear waters returning to the Sailfish Flats and surrounding waters of the St Lucie Inlet in the vicinity of Sewall’s Point. But I was surprised and a bit disturbed to see a “seagrass desert” once again. Of course seagrass, like all plants, is more abundant and lush in summer months, but to see “nothing?” This seems strange. I need to get in the water with a mask for a closer look!
Let’s compare two photographs, one taken in August 2022 and another taken in January 2023.
I. AERIAL TAKEN January 8, 2023. Water looking clearer but no visible seagrasses.
As the August 26, 2022 photograph shows, seagrasses had rebounded in the southern Indian River Lagoon after years of damaging discharges. The worst recent Lake Okeechobee discharges were between the years of 2013 and 2018.
St. Lucie seagrasses are critical water and wildlife habitat. Especially as the seagrasses in the central northern lagoon have disappeared at such an alarming rate that a high number of manatees have starved to death.
In recent years FWC has been feeding Indian River Lagoon manatees romaine lettuce as they have no secure seagrass food source. This is not sustainable. All political policy must specifically support the betterment of water quality and the return of seagrasses of the Indian River Lagoon. This began yesterday with an Executive Order of Governor Ron DeSantis. See section 2.
-ALL OF ED’S AERIALS January 8, 2013, around 12:30pm.
-EXTRA and WONDERFUL NEWS. Click on photos to enlarge.
The next day, January 9th, Ed went flying with artist and friend Geoffrey Smith to relocate a very endangered Right Whale and her calf that Geoffrey had spotted in the Hobe Sound area just south of the St. Luice Inlet, on January 8, 2023. With his permission, I am sharing Geoffrey’s photos.
Wonderful news that our St Lucie is looking better. We must continue to take the protection of seagrasses and water quality seriously.
-Photos and mapping of Right Whale and Calf off of Hobe Sound in Atlantic Ocean. Geoffrey Smith, January 9, 2023.
Today, we will continue to study an article of a 1964 50th Anniversary Edition of the Stuart News from my mother’s history archives. We are doing this in light of the upcoming 100 year “anniversary” of the St. Lucie Canal.
The title of the this article, published originally in the 1920s is “St Lucie Canal, Approved in 1914, Is Boon to Agriculture Here. Huge Citrus Growth Along Water Route; Mayaca Groves First.” In 2023, with all of our water quality issues it is hard to imagine supporting the digging of this giant ditch. Back in the 1920s, it was a promise for a better future.
TRANSCRIPTION, first 4 paragraphs of Stuart News 50th Anniversary Edition, 1964, page 6-H. JTL
“The St Lucie Canal, a twenty-five mile artificial river tapping vast Lake Okeechobee, was originally approved back in 1914 as a drainage and navigation outlet from the lake, with great accent upon its commercial use as a barge waterway, but few foresaw that its greatest boon would be to agriculture. Digging began in September 1915, with dredges starting at the lake and working eastward.
The land from Stuart westward to the mysterious lake was a wilderness supporting a few scrub cattle and a few patches of “hit-and-run” tomato farms which were frequently drowned out or parched. Small scale citrus plantings, attempted on ten-acre tracts west of Palm City and Port Salerno were bringing heartbreak because of a lack of water control. There was either too much or too little.
Back on November 5, 1915, the Stuart newspaper reported the work of digging the huge St. Lucie-Okeechobee drainage and shipping canal is progressing nicely and is being hurried along with night and day shifts. Two dredges are employed in the work, each operating from the Okeechobee end. The small dredge, which precedes the larger, is now about one and one-half miles from the lake, and is advancing at the rate of about 600 feet a day. The large dredge which completes the actual work of digging the huge ditch has reached a point about one and one-half miles from the Okeechobee end and is excavating dirt at the rate of about 10,000 cubic yards daily. If this rate could be maintained constantly work would be finished in a year. Actual digging operations on the canal have been in progress for about five weeks. It is probable, the the Furst Clark Construction Company, the contractors, will also put a dredge at the St Lucie end of the canal so as to expedite the work, although no definite announcement to this effect has been made.
The St Lucie Canal will be the main control canal of the immense Everglades drainage system, the largest drainage project in the world. The huge ditch will be twenty-five miles in length. 200 feet wide at the top, 160 feet wide at the bottom, with a maximum depth of twelve feet. It will empty into the south fork of the St lucie River six miles above Stuart, the waters reaching the Atlantic Ocean through St Lucie Inlet about the same distance southeast of Stuart. Indications are the digging operations will now go steadily forward until the completion of the canal and that no further hitch up will result as the Internal Improvement Board of Florida and the United States War Department have come to a thorough understanding…”
-End of transcription.
The St Lucie Canal, now known as the C-44 Canal since becoming part of the Central and Southern Florida Project of 1948, runs from Lake Okeechobee to the South Fork of the St Luice River. The canal/ditch allows for both “basin runoff” (historically almost all of this water flowed south to the Loxahatchee system attached to the Everglades) and Lake Okeechobee’s waters to be directed through the St Luice River. The “ditch” is also designed to flow backwards into the lake if the lake level is lower than the canal level.
The infamous St Lucie Canal in spite of its “boon for agriculture and Everglades drainage” has been, and continues to be, the most controversial canal in Martin County (in 1925 Martin County was created from Palm Beach County and a smaller part of St Lucie County) due to its potential for immense, longstanding, economic and environmental damaging discharges to the St Lucie River.
Thankfully and ironically, progress by the same entities that built this huge “ditch” is being made by the modern Army Corp of Engineers (referred to in the historic Stuart News article as the United States War Department) and their local partner whose origins go back to the 1905 Everglades Drainage District now the South Florida Water Management District. Yes, modern progress is being achieved through the Indian River Lagoon South portion of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. As we know, times change and so does the definition of what brings a better future!
As we work to improve the system it is important to understand the perceived positive and negative consequences of the history of this “ditch.” I will be writing a lot about the St Lucie Canal this year, as mentioned at the beginning of this post, next year, 2024, will be the official anniversary of the St Luice Canal.
Study of this historic article is to be continued…JTL
-Part of a series leading up to the 100 year anniversary of the St Lucie Canal (built 1916-1924) as we continue to work to understand and heal this waterway…
-Left side of 1913 east coast drainage blueprint, Florida State Archives-Right side of huge 1913 east coast drainage blueprint, Florida State ArchivesTwo days ago was the first day of 2023. As there is always a chance we will once again be tortured by the “C-44 ,” now seems like a good time to review it under its original title: the St Lucie Canal.
The above blueprints are from the Florida State Archives and they are enormous documents. Ed and I visited Tallahassee in order to lay eyes on these remarkable pieces of history. Laid out on a large table in the library one can piece the two pages together to read:
Territory From lake Okeechobee to the Atlantic Ocean,
Between Townships 37 and 43 South,
Showing Routes Examined for Proposed Drainage Canals,
Made Under the Direction of F.C. Elliot,
Acting Chief Drainage Engineer, March – April 1913.
The St Lucie Canal was built by the state of Florida’s Everglades Drainage District from 1916 through 1924 when Martin was Palm Beach County. Over the holiday I read through some of my mother‘s historic newspaper articles. They were sobering.
A 1923 Stuart Messenger headline reads “Wednesday Next is the Day Set for First Flow of Water From Lake to River Through St Lucie Canal.” It sounds a bit like today, fishermen and tourism had major concerns, but the chamber of commerce folk celebrated with visions of expanded inland agriculture and a port of commerce. The truth of the matter is that the primary reason for the St Lucie Canal, since Florida’s earliest fantasies, was drainage.
In fact most bragged about it. An April 29, 1920’s Stuart Messenger article expressed with pride: “The St Lucie is the main control outlet for Lake Okeechobee.”
On July 7, 1923, the same paper wrote: “the St Lucie is the key to the entire Everglades drainage project.” On November 6, 1931, not long after the deadly hurricane of 1928, TheFlorida Developer printed something that today makes me sick to my stomach: “The east locks of the St Lucie Canal were closed Saturday, after being open nearly two years. In that time the level of the lake has been reduced from 18 to 14 feet.”
Unbelievable! Four feet off the lake through the St Lucie!
In 1937, the year the St Lucie Canal was federally rededicated as part of the Cross State Canal to Ft. Meyers -another jaw breaker. In a 1937 February 27 Stuart DailyNews article written by famous journalist and horticulturalist Edwin A. Menninger it reads: “…work on the St Lucie had begun when the pioneers realized the that canals through muck lands were unless as they refused to carry water out of the lake. Four of them had been dug and were utterly worthless. The St Lucie Canal was completed in 1924 and for 13 years has been the only functioning outlet from Lake Okeechobee to the sea.”
The St Lucie Canal the only outlet for 13 years?! No! Kill me please!
A Daily News Article of the same day has a title reading: “New Ortona Locks to Alleviate St Lucie Flow.” According to this article, apparently until made part of the Cross State Canal’s Okeechobee Waterway in 1937, the Caloosahatchee’s drainage of Lake Okeechobee had not been functioning at least since 1924. 13 years!
Upon reading through these old articles, I just about cried. I drank a lot of wine. I have studied this for years but nevertheless. And there were more articles…
The worst was a Stuart News January 9, 1964 anniversary issue article, the year of my birth of all years. There is a photo is the upper right corner with a picture, it reads again with pride: “Old Aerial View shows the island and lock formerly at Port Mayaca where the canal enters Lake Okeechobee. These works were removed in 1936 to give unimpeded discharge from the lake.”
They removed the structure at Port Mayaca so the most lake water could flow through? What’s wrong with you people?!!!!!! No!!!!!
As I was losing my mind, my husband, Ed, pointed out to me that the lake was not polluted at that time. True, but nonetheless! Fresh water is a pollutant to a brackish system! No! Another glass please!
To think of all the destruction the St Lucie River has experienced! As written in the archive timeline in the hallways of the South Florida Water Management District whose official close date for the St Lucie Canal is 1925:
“Recommended by the Randolph Report and begun in 1916, …unlike other canals constructed at least partially along the alignment of natural creeks or rivers, the St Lucie Canal winds through uplands with no natural drainage patters. Its sole purpose is to channel excess water from the lake to the Atlantic Ocean.”
In closing, there is some good historical news, if you click on the blueprints above and study them you will see that in the design work for 1913 there was a proposed canal from Lake Okeechobee trough the Loxahatchee to Lake Worth. Boy they are lucky that canal was never built.
Tomorrow will be December 31, 2022. Today I share the most recent aerial photographs of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon and even one around Lake Okeechobee.
It was a very cold Christmas season. According to the Stuart News, Stuart logged in at 39 degrees on Christmas Day! The cold system hovered for a few days causing intermittent rain and cloud coverage. These photos taken a few days later after it warmed up -on an incoming tide- reveal that since our last photo session, it appears the river is clearing up thankfully with no discharges from Lake Okeechobee in 2022.
-December 28, 2022 at 8:45am, west of Stuart, east side of Lake Okeechobee, near Barley Barber Swamp and FPL cooling reservoir, -sugarcane burning or a controlled burn??? Photographs taken by Scott Kuhns from SuperCub.
-December 29, 2022 around 2:30 pm, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon around St Lucie Inlet, Sewall’s Point, Sailfish Flats, wide view taken over Palm City. Aerials by Ed Lippisch from Vans RV. I am including all photos although some are very similar as each one shows something a little different. Remember you can click on photo to enlarge 🙂
Wishing everyone a very happy and safe New YearEve and let’s continue to work together for a great 2023 for the St Lucie River!
A Florida River, A Look at Wildlife 1950, by E.W. Dutton.
“This film shows a trip down the St. Lucie River with E.W. Dutton. Viewers see gators, blue herons, and many plants and flowers. The film also shows a red-shoulder hawk, sandhill crane, armadillo, black bear and cub, rattlesnake, land crab, and a gator being fed by hand. “Now a NO! NO! “Viewers see pelicans, mullet, cormorant, deer and a Florida panther.” ~Florida Memory.
Recently, my mother sent me this wildlife video filmed by E.W. Dutton, well known for his work of the St Lucie River and for area Chambers. His films bring one back to a time when not as many people lived here, and wildlife was prolific including animals unable to live along the river today such as deer, bears, and panthers. At this time the North Fork was a game sanctuary and conservation laws were respected in the South Fork.
Wikipedia shows the population of St Lucie County as 20,180 in 1950.
And the population of Martin County as 7,807 in 1950.
I wanted to provide a visual update of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Even though the river looks dark and silty, as 2022 comes to a close, we remain fortunate that there have been no major discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the St Lucie River since 2018 and no discharges to the St Lucie this year even though Lake Okeechobee got very high -maxing out at 16.51 feet.
Recently, there has been quite a bit of rain in Martin County. This follows the rains of Hurricane Ian and Hurricane Nicole. Thus the river looks dark and silty from weeks of runoff. The runoff now is coming from surrounding lands as well as C-23, C-24 and C-25 out in the IRL at Ft Pierce. There are also hundreds of old ditches that dump into the St Lucie River running though creeks such as Dansforth, Willoughby, Warner and others.
In the meanwhile we should be working on going septic to sewer where necessary and improving our yards by using little grass, fertilizer, or pesticides; planting more native and Florida Friendly plants; using less water, picking up dog waste; and realizing everything we put on our laws or fertilize -crops and/or yard plants- ends up in the water ways! We have to be part of the solution. Don’t expect the government to do it all.
AERIAL PHOTOS ST LUCE RIVER UPDATE
Ed Lippisch, my husband, and Scott Kuhns, our dear friend, took the aerials I am sharing today. The river does not look great due to so much rain. Thank goodness there are no Lake O discharges on top of this “local runoff.” Of which it really is not! This runoff has been mainlined here through canals of the Central and Southern Florida Plan.
Next year they both Ed and Scott will have been River Warriors for ten years documenting the St Lucie! As eyes in the sky they provide a wider view and inspire a wider net of recovery for these waters. My brother, Todd’s web site eyeonlakeo allows for full time satellite and data updates.
SCOTT KUHNS, SUPER CUB, December 16, 2022 around 9:40 am. St Lucie Inlet (Hutchinson Island) plume about 12 miles south past Peck’s Lake, (Hobe Sound).
ED LIPPISCH, VAN’S RV December 18, 2022 around 12:15 pm. Plume at St Lucie Inlet, and dark runoff waters discoloring the entire estuary even close to the inlet around Sewall’s Point and Sailfish Point, Hutchinson Island.