Today is what I consider the genesis of the Martin and St Lucie River movement, as last year, on this day, May 8th, 2013, the Army Corp of Engineers opened the gates of S-80 once again, but little did they know, this time things would never be the same….
Before we laud ourselves too much it is important to know our history and its not a fun one to study. Martin County and the C-44 Canal have a long history, in fact the canal, started in 1915 precedes Martin becoming a county which occurred in 1925. The City of Stuart though was incorporated in 1914, and it was their early leaders that supported the the building the C-44 canal.
Ironically most the early settlers wanted it, having no idea of its unintended consequences, and in 1915 even held a celebration when construction began by featuring the high school band and a gathering at Woodmen Hall in downtown Stuart.
According to historian Sandra Thurlow’s book Stuart on the St Lucie:
“The Stuart Times pleaded for a canal in its early issues in 1913. The Stuart Commercial Club pushed for the canal and clashed with BW Mulford and and other promoters of Salerno who insisted that the best route for the proposed ship and drainage canal from Lake Okeechobee would be one cut into the Manatee Pocket.”
The canal was an economic issue and people wanted jobs and trade brought to the area.
After the Hurricane of 1928 the canal was widened and deepened, and the situation really got worse. “Silt and chemicals entered the St Lucie/Indian River and diminished the once teeming fish population.” Again according to Sandra Thurlow, “because the the changes were gradual it took a while to notice that the abundance that had nourished the settlers and attracted the sports fishermen no longer existed.”
Hard to believe isn’t it? I have had some people tell me, “It’s better not to bring this up….” I disagree. Times change and values change. Our country is known for overcoming some of the most difficult of institutions such as slavery and women’s rights. Environmentalism is also a social issue. It is based on how one views the world, what is acceptable or not.
Today most Stuart and Martin/StLucie residents agree that it is no longer acceptable to have up to 9000 cubic feet per second of dirty, tainted Lake Okeechobee water released into our St Lucie River. In 2013 the releases from Lake Okeechobee tipped the scale for toxic algae blooms in the estuary, (FOS, Mark Perry). And it was well known from sampling that the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) knew toxic algae was being released into the estuary at S-80.
In the early 1900 and even through the 1970s, not that many many people lived in Martin County. Having grown up here, I can attest to that. But, that is not the case today. Releases that were simply “accepted” are now “unacceptable.” Unlike years ago, with today’s high population and health and safety issues that are the responsibility of the state, the releasing of toxic waters from outside our basin is an embarrassment and seems illegal.
1930 was the first year the Martin County Commission asked the ACOE to stop discharging and passionate people have been demanding such ever since. But at that time, there were not enough people to really have a voice and the general public was not screaming along side its leaders. Today we are are all on one page. Local elected officials and the public. And we also have tools that allow us to make our cause a state and national issue.
If history has shown anything at all it is that things do change. I believe we are the generation that is in the right place at the right time to finally cause the turn of history for the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Happy May 8th, 2014!
DEP Eco-summary C-44 Canal: (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/southeast/ecosum/ecosums/C-44%20Canal%20.pdf)
Impairment of C-44 Canal, DEP: (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/southeast/ecosum/ecosums/C-44_Impairment.pdf)