History of the River Movement; the Tipping Point, It’s Coming, St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon

St Lucie River Initiative's Report to Congress 1995, and River Dayz '96 Festival. (Courtesy of historian Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)
St Lucie River Initiative’s Report to Congress 1995; River Dayz ’96 Festival booklet; and historic newspaper info in this article courtesy of historian Sandra Henderson Thurlow.

A woman’s right to vote did not come come in a day; stopping the horrors of slavery in the Untied States took a civil war and the life of one of our greatest presidents; most recently, we are seeing a revolution in gay rights.

These movements take time, but eventually, there is tipping point were things begin to change direction. As we know, our river movement has been going for almost 85 years as the first time the Martin County commission asked the ACOE to stop releasing Lake Okeechobee water into the St Lucie River was documented in their minutes of  1930.

1930 request of the MCBOCC for the ACOE to halt releases from Lake O to SLR.
1930 request of the MCBOCC for the ACOE to halt releases from Lake O to SLR.

Today I wanted to encourage you not to feel discouraged that the St Lucie Indian River Lagoon movement has been going on so long, but to feel empowered that you are part of something that is big, that takes years, and has a moral element to it just like human rights. This moral element is what in time will force the State of Florida and the United States of America to scrutinize our destructive drainage practices of the past.

As it says in our Declaration of Independence:  When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires they should declare the cause which impels them to the separation.

For me, this document gives permission to pull away when necessary. We are and have been pulling away. We envision something better and we are willing to fight for it. Just for the record, some of those before us include:

1. Commercial fishermen in 1925, two years after the canal opened in 1923, in the newspaper of the day, The Florida Developer fought the destructive abundance of fresh water from the lake.

2. A 1931 article from  The Florida Developer’s editorial team notes it was “critical” that the releases from Lake Okeechobee be stopped.

3. 1945 another paper, The Stuart Messenger notes that the river had turned into a “mud soup,” killing fishing; tourism; and real estate.

4. 1958 local citizens filled the Martin County Courthouse to discuss with a delegation of the Flood Control District and the Army Corps of Engineers the possibility of a third outlet from Lake Okeechobee. Although hopes were high, nothing  materialized.

5. Editor, and writer for the Stuart News, Ernest Lyons (1931-1974) wrote many award-winning articles against over canalization in our area of not only C-44 from Lake Okeechobee but also  C-23, C-24 and C-25 further north that drained even more polluted fresh water into the rivers. His newspaper/writing career continued for many years.

6. In the early 1950s the Izzak Walton Group; the Martin County Conservation Committee and the St  Lucie- Indian Rivers Rivers Restoration League all fought for the river even garnering meetings with top government officials. Apparently the ACOE met with locals and a report was done “but nothing ever happened…”

7.  In 1990 Ernest Lyons, who had been prominent in all groups  listed in #6, died:  to fill that void, “Leadership Martin County” in 1992 , with the help of Mr Bud Jordan, Kevin Henderson and Tim Kinane, founded the St Lucie River initiative whose report to Congress is today’s blog photo. Their “River Dayz Festival” on behalf of the river brought hundreds together, they created river materials for elementary, middle and high school students, focused on muck removal and business support.

8. In 1993 the Greater Martin County Board of Realtors joined in its support of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, sending out a letter stating that the organization had joined the St Lucie River Initiative and encouraged a “call to action to contribute to the organization and to write letters to government officials.”

9. In 1998, after the worst toxic algae bloom and fish kill/fish lesion outbreak ever documented in Martin County during heavy  releases from Lake Okeechobee, the Rivers Coalition came into being unifying businesses and an education program as well as developing the Rivers Coalition Defense Fund set up to sue the Federal Government and others on behalf of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Realtor Leon Abood, became the longstanding and outspoken chair.

10. On December 4th, 2010, a Rivers Coalition Lawsuit against the Federal Government was heard in the Court of Federal Claims in Washington DC. According to edited words of Karl Wickstrom, chair of the Defense Fund at that time, U.S. District Judge Lynn Bush wrote in her explanation:

“The St. Lucie River is by all accounts, a national treasure. The longterm environmental consequences of defendant’s,  U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,’ massive discharges into the river are tragic, and the court takes note of plaintiffs’ tireless efforts to reverse that damage.”

The court ruled that a remedy to stop the harmful discharges must come not from the courts but from Congress; she dismissed the case, but it garnered national attention and moved issues of the river forward.

11. In 2011 the River Kidz were born of two 5th grade girls and became a division of the Rivers Coalition. They held two river rallies at the St Lucie Locks and Dam in 2012 during discharges from Lake Okeechobee. Senator Joe Negron, Chairwoman Sarah Heard, and other politicians mingled with parents looking for a way to deal with the discharges. Congressman Patrick Murphy later also supported the Kidz in their efforts. The key: parental involvement and youth.

12. 2009-2011, going public in 2012/13, it was realized a that a super bloom and brown tide algae bloom had killed 60% of the seagrasses in the northern and central IRL. Unusual Mortality Events (UMEs), declared by NOAA, followed for both endangered manatees and the protected bottle nosed dolphins. Hundreds of pelicans also died.  This galvanized the counties of the IRL, southern, central and northern alike.

13. 2013, the ACOE starts releasing from Lake Okeechobee May 8th until October 21st. This time becomes the “Lost Summer,” toxic conditions ensue. Young Evan Millar and Clint Starling and others call for a rally at the locks on Facebook. Over 5000 show up. Beach rally later brings over 2000. Hands Across the Lagoon unifies thousands across the 156 mile lagoon as well.  The STUART NEWS/SCRIPPS NEWSPAPERS starts a river news campaign that has educated thousands and is still going today. St Lucie County as well as Lee County River Kidz is born…

14. 2013 the Sugarland Rally in Clewiston; Senator Negron’s Senate Hearing on the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin;  Congressman Murphy invites the state and local officials, the River Warriors, and River Kidz  to to a meeting on the Indian River Lagoon and Lake O.  in Washington DC. …..Commissioner Ed Fielding forms the Indian River lagoon County Collaborative unifying all counties along the lagoon. (Palm Bach quits.)

15. In 2014 the fight has continued. The pressure has not let up. Presently the University of Florida is studying the issue of “sending water south…”

16. 2014,  last week, the South Florida Water Management District and Dept of Environmental Protection and others recommend against Sugar Hill, a proposed development in Hendry County on option lands, most designated for Everglades restoration or trading.

It has been a long journey, but I am confident that the tipping point is coming. We have over drained our lands, we have destroyed our rivers and lakes, we are wasting 1.7 billion gallons of fresh a day to tide knowing we have a growning population coming…

If nothing else, it will be the need for fresh water and the knowledge that wasting it is wrong that will  in the future push the St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon movement tipping over the edge…


5 thoughts on “History of the River Movement; the Tipping Point, It’s Coming, St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon

  1. Jacqui,

    You take after your mother as a great historian!

    W.E. “Ted” Guy, Jr.

    643 SW Fuge Rd

    Stuart, Fl 34997

    (772) 287-4106 (home)

    (772) 485-1866 (cell/car)


  2. Of course, farmers in those old days worked on tiny scale compared to nowadays. The sugar cane tonnage is EIGHT times larger than in just 1960. It’s grown bigger and dirtier with the continuing cooperation of our paid politicians.

    We’re not dealing with the good old farmers working their land and enjoying a simpler life.

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