Causeways Choking the Indian River Lagoon

The Jensen Beach Bridge's causeway, built in 1957-58, as all causewayed bridges to the sea, severely blocked the slow flow of the Indian River Lagoon impacting the health of the river. (Photo courtesy archives of Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)
The Jensen Beach Bridge’s causeway, built in 1957-58, severely blocked the flow of the Indian River Lagoon, impacting its flow like a choked artery.  Many causeways along the lagoon continue to do this  today. (Photo courtesy archives of Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)

“Take your hands off my neck, ” she whispers…

The Indian River Lagoon is not a “river;” she is a “lagoon.” She has no “headwaters “like a true flowing river, but is rather a 156 miles depression along 40% of the Florida’s east coast. The lagoon once contained naturally cleaned waters from surrounding vegetated lands, brooks, larger tributaries and had the benefit of naturally opening and closing inlets to the ocean.

Today not only are its inlet fixed, but the lagoon’s water contains run off from polluted/populated surrounding surface waters, naturally rising and falling salty/nutrient filled groundwaters, and those of impacted water bodies  like the Crane Creek in Melbourne or the St Lucie River in Stuart. These water bodies have been channelized and engineered to take on sometimes as much as 50% more fresh water through drainage of lands and lakes than than Mother Nature planned; of course, it ends up in the IRL as it goes to sea.

The lagoon’s water moves only through tides and wind. In some areas of the lagoon where there are no inlets, it is estimated that the water can remain “there” for over three years or more. Even close to an inlet, like here in Sewall’s Point, causeways heavily impact the ability of the lagoon’s water to move and flow cleaning itself, becoming  becoming stagnant.

The lagoon was formed over many ice-ages with the rise  and fall of the ocean. According to the History of Martin County, “evidence of comparatively recent rise of ocean levels during the past 10,00 years is frequently found in the spoil and dredging of operations along the Indian River through fossils of giant mammals.”

It may have taken thousands of years for Nature to form the lagoon but mankind is close  to destroying  it in just under 100; one of the primary ways of doing such was/is  through the building of causeways to support bridges to Hutchinson Island.

There have been and will be opportunities to improve this situation, most recently in 2004, in Martin County, when the Ernest Lyons Bridge located between Sewall’s Point and Hutchinson Island,  was being rebuilt, this problem was addressed, but not corrected, as the public at the time was unwilling to give up its access to  the causeways. The causeways were lessened but not removed.

The causeways don’t just impact the water flow but also the lagoon’s wildlife. I remember my parents telling me stories in my youth about the fisherman of early Jensen noting that the causeways sticking out into the “river”confused the migratory  fish that had followed its shoreline as navigation to the inlets for thousands of years.

We will have an opportunity to rebuild the bridges before the next thousand years, my vote is remove the causeways and stop choking the already suffocating Indian River Lagoon.

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1985 SFWMD report notes   problems of causeways: (http://www.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/pg_grp_sfwmd_watershed/portlet%20-%20coastal%20ecosystems/tab1806037/irlswim99/appendixb.pdf)

2014 Florida Today letter to the editor: (http://www.floridatoday.com/story/opinion/readers/letters/2014/05/19/letter-causeways-contribute-lagoon-pollution/9169601/)

2 thoughts on “Causeways Choking the Indian River Lagoon

  1. And remember next time you vote. Doug Smith was the one who put up the fight to not allow pipes to be put in under the Jensen Beach causeway to allow more water to flow when we had the chance. He doesn’t care about our waterways.

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  2. Facebook Comments/thank you friends!
    4 shares
    Lily Chen, Jeff Anuhea Shakra, Patty Childs and 22 others like this.

    Nyla Pipes Unfortunately, Port St. Lucie is pushing for another… that’s what the crosstown parkway bridge is a precursor to… PSL believes they need a causeway to the ocean in order to develop that “downtown” area by the civic center. Mark my words, they will keep pushing….
    23 hours ago · Unlike · 1

    Keri West The new bridge in Stuart over the St Lucie on Indiantown Rd. was done with the minimum impact to the environment. We can build and do it with the environment in mind, it just takes brilliant minds and good hearts committed to doing it right.
    21 hours ago · Like

    Stephen Meleski I don’t think there will be another bridge over the Indian River Lagoon in PSL. The current bridge discussions are extending crosstown parkway over the north branch of the River and connect it with Route 1, which makes sense. Bridges are expensive: Indian Street Bridge costs about $242 million and Crosstown is estimated at $145 million; PSL doesn’t have the money for their cost sharing portion.
    18 hours ago · Like · 1

    Nyla Pipes Stephen Meleski, I’m talking 10 years or so… and trust me, the city wants it… it’s part of WHY they want the current bridge location over US 1.
    18 hours ago · Like

    Nyla Pipes Many, many conversations are behind my statement… Unfortunately
    18 hours ago · Like

    Nyla Pipes It just worries me greatly; they would be willing to sell out the citzens to aquire the funds… just sayin…
    18 hours ago · Like

    Kevin Stinnette My friend Walt, estuarine biologist from Tampa Bay, pointed out the Google Earth photo of the Skyway Bridge over Tampa Bay. You can see plumes of sediment streaming off of the piles in the incoming tide. Bridges are bad for our estuaries.
    13 hours ago · Like

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