1906-2014, Water Depth Changes in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Hand drawn map Sewall's Point water depths created for Hugh de Laussat Willoughby ca. 1914. (Map and history courtesy of Todd Thurlow and Sandra Thurlow.)
Hand drawn map of Sewall’s Point’s water depths created for Hugh de Laussat Willoughby’s proposed New York Yacht Club at the southern tip of Sewall’s Point. Willoughby came to Sewall’s Point in 1906 in hopes of establishing a Southern New York Yacht Club. (Map and history courtesy of  Sandra Thurlow and Todd Thurlow.)

If Hugh Willoughby had not been searching for a southern location for the prestigious New York Yacht Club in 1906, we would not have the remarkable hand drawn map above. The New York Yacht Club’s southern headquarters was never established at the southern tip of Sewall’s Point, but we can see the water depths in the area were substantial, at 20 feet, around the tip of the protected west side of today’s High Point subdivision.

I stumbled upon the information about the New York Yacht Club again, because of trying to track water depths in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon over the past century in my mother’s book, The History of Sewall’s Point.

From my parent’s old timer friends, over the years, I have heard stories about the the water depth and clarity being extensive in many areas of the St Lucie River, from Palm City to Stuart to Sewall’s Point, and how over time the sediment, due to canal run off from C-23, C-24 and C-44, has “filled the bottom of the river” in many areas, even forming “islands” north of the Palm City Bridge. C-44, connected to Lake Okeechobee, was first connected in 1923, and then deepened and widened again in the 1930s, and 50s and “improved since.” C-23 and C-24 were built in the 50s and 60s. Tremendous amounts of sediment and pollution has filled the river over time from these once thought “harmless” canals.

Today this sediment fill is often referred to as “muck.”

Anyway, for a baseline comparison of water depths, I started looking thorough my historian mother’s maps and asking questions to my attorney brother, who is a wiz at any type of map old or new, and although I did not get mapping for all of the the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, I did for my own beloved Sewall’s Point. I imagine it is a microcosm of the rest.

Let’s take a closer look:

IMG_4928

(http://www.charts.noaa.gov/OnLineViewer/11428cgd.shtml)

Hand drawn map Sewall's Point water depths created for Hugh de Laussat Willoughby ca. 1914. (Map and history courtesy of Todd Thurlow and Sandra Thurlow.)

NOAA, 2014 electronic water depth map juxtaposed to hand drawn map of Sewall’s Point ca. 1906.

Comparing the two maps, one can see that the southern tip of Sewall’s Point in the NOAA map is not documented, I imagine because it is too far away from the Okeechobee Waterway. Disappointing. Nonetheless, if one looks at Sewall’s Point’s mid area, across and north of Hell’s Gate (the narrow part of the river) one can see water depth numbers like 19; 15; and 14 feet. Today those numbers on the NOAA chart read 4; 8; and 7.

Looking on the Stuart side, north of Hell’s Gate, the 1906 map reads 10; 8 and 12 feet. The 2014 NOAA map reads 2; 3; and 4 feet. Mind you, the channel has been dredged many times by the Army Corp, and Florida Inland Navigation District since 1906 and this certainly affects depths overall in the river as well. Nonetheless, for me, it is interesting to compare as even the channel depths in this area are no deeper than 11 feet and often more like 8 or 6  feet.

The famous mid 1900s environmentalist editor of the Stuart News, Mr Ernie Lyons, once said “Life too, is a changing river.” I  wonder if he knew how much we were going to fill it in…

___________________________________________________

After I wrote this blog , friend, Kevin Stinnette, sent me the insert for south Sewall’s Point as he has experience as an avid sailer. I am adding for interest although I will not adjust my blog. The same principles hold true. 🙂 Thank you Kevin!

InsertD-Chart 11472b SP

 

 

 

 

10 thoughts on “1906-2014, Water Depth Changes in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

  1. Thanks, Jacqui! That’s important to know. If you really want to get in to that study, go see Chappy Young at GCY, Inc. in Palm City. He has lots of the old surveys.

    W.E. “Ted” Guy, Jr.

    643 SW Fuge Rd

    Stuart, Fl 34997

    (772) 287-4106 (home)

    (772) 485-1866 (cell/car)

    guywe2@gmail.com

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  2. Jacqui,

    Back in ’91-92, when the Rivers Initiative was first getting started Kevin Henderson put together a powerpoint showing the depth of the ooze that had filled in the rivers over time. It included graphs, etc., and it was shocking. I cried during the BCC meeting when he presented it, because it was the first itm eI began to understand the travesty that has been done to our rivers. He may still have the presentation or the info, and it may have more useful measurements of prior depths, etc. Just an FYI, in case it is useful.

    Mary

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  3. Thank you Facebook friends!
    Ellymay Key, Scott Trevisan, Connie Geral Bartlett and 5 others like this. 4 SHARES
    Ellymay Key, Rick Crary and Keri West like this.

    Kevin Stinnette Look for the insert on chart 11472 through the same NOAA viewer. It shows the tip of your fair city.
    38 minutes ago · Unlike · 1

    Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch Thank you Kevin —i will try to figure it out! I may be calling u!
    16 minutes ago · Like

    Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch Kevin Stinnette how do you access the insert? I just tried.
    GOT IT!

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  4. Jacqui,

    Excellent information once again.

    Here’s something to think about that I believe ties in directly to this story.

    I’ll call it the “10lbs. of __hit, in a 5lb. bag” theory.

    When Hurricane Sandy skirted our shores last October, we didn’t get much rain… but we DID experience a huge Storm Surge which acted like a giant “plug” at the inlets. This was the same time when the ACOE was releasing billions of gallons of water at the Locks. The streets in the neighborhoods just SE of the Locks were flooded, not from the storm, but because the water couldn’t get out of the river.

    In addition to this, there wasn’t a high or low tide at the Palm City Bridge for months last Summer and Fall. I sent my photographs to the Stuart News along with my “theory” but got only a tepid response.

    My point is that the depth of the river is definitely not what it used to be and therefore, it has less capacity to convey the discharges from the Locks. I thought that the ACOE was in charge of “navigation and flood control” – not causing floods… I also wonder how FEMA would react to homeowners claims if we didn’t have a Hurricane, but their homes got flooded out due to rising canal waters?

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    1. Great insights Ezra. I want to learn more and your theory is a good reason to spend the money and dredge or vacuum to muck/sediment out of the river. There is no seagrass there or oxygen anyway. It may damage the environment but after all settles it seems it would improve things. And then to keep it out from here on out…the hardest question of all perhaps….many say it will never be as bad as it has been —the sediment fill….thanks.

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  5. Another great insight by EZRA APPEL doing the math over time of muck/sediment build up in SLR
    Dear Jacqui,

    I like to crunch numbers, so I thought to use the information you gave in your Water/River Depth article to see if I could determine how much silt, muck, whatever, was being deposited into the river each year.

    On a purely mathematical basis it turns out to be about 1in. per year, but I think it’s much more than that. As you mention, there are so many other factors that would influence this occurrence, ie heavier rainy seasons, hurricanes, dredging etc. I really wish there were a qualified oceanographic study of this problem because as we all know, the river is eventually going to fill up with muck and then where will the discharges go?

    As I mentioned before, the river already overflows the banks upstream in the canals that border it during storm surges. Do you think anyone else is interested in this?

    Using your information:
    … “Nonetheless, if one looks at Sewall’s Point’s mid area, across and north of Hell’s Gate (the narrow part of the river) one can see water depth numbers like 19; 15; and 14 feet. Today those numbers on the NOAA chart read 4; 8; and 7.

    Looking on the Stuart side, north of Hell’s Gate, the 1906 map reads 10; 8 and 12 feet. The 2014 NOAA map reads 2; 3; and 4 feet. Mind you, the channel has been dredged many times by the Army Corp, and Florida Inland Navigation District since 1906 and this certainly affects depths overall in the river as well. Nonetheless, for me, it is interesting to compare as even the channel depths in this area are no deeper than 11 feet and often more like 8 or 6 feet.”

    MY NUMBER CRUNCHING (un-scientific)

    1906 S. Tip of Sewall’s Point Map: 19’+15’+14′ = 48′ div. by 3 = 16′ ave. water depth
    2014 ” “ : 4’+ 8’+ 7′ = 19′ div. by 3 = 6.3′ ave. water depth
    So, in 108 years the average depth in this part of the river has been diminished by: 9.7 ft.

    1906 North of Hell’s Gate Map: 10’+8’+12′ = 30′ div. by 3 = 10′ ave. water depth
    2014 ” “ : 2’+3’+ 4′ = 9′ div. by 3 = 3′ ave. water depth
    The average depth in this part of the river has been diminished by: 7 ft.

    9.7ft. plus 7ft. = 16.7ft. div. by 2 = 8.35ft. Which would be the gross average loss of water depth in 108 yr’s. or about 1 inch per year of deposited debris going into the river.

    Regards,
    Ezra

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