Stormy Weather and the Toxic Algae Bloom of Lake Okeechobee, SLR/IRL

 

Radar weather from 4-29-15. My phone, JTL.
Radar weather screen shot from 4-29-15. My phone, NOAA site. JTL.

The past two days, I feel like I have been a guest on the TV series “Storm Chasers,” except I have been running from the storms.

Yesterday, I decided I really needed to go look at Lake Okeechobee myself to see the toxic  algae bloom that has been reported through social media, TC Palm, and the internet. –The algae bloom that inspired Senator Negron to ask Col. Dodd of the ACOE to refrain from opening the gates, which they did not do. On Tuesday’s, at 2:00 PM, are the Army Corp of Engineers’ “Periodic Scientist Call for Lake Okeechobee” of which I have participated in for almost three years…

“Perfect,” I thought, “I’ll go to the lake for the call a bit early and take some photos. I will be out in Palm City around that time anyway; it’s  really not that far…” The drive is about 20 miles.

Sign at Port Mayaca, Indiantown.
Signs at Port Mayaca, Indiantown.JTL

In spite of the previous day’s inclement weather, I had not checked the weather closely as I can never figure out how to get radar maps on my phone. Not checking the weather, turned out to be a big mistake.

satellite photo of Lake O, NOAA.
Satellite photo of Lake O, NOAA. If you look closely, you can see the C-44 canal connecting the St Lucie River in Stuart to the Lake O. This canal runs along Highway 76 in Martin County.
Map SFWMD showing canals and basins. Note S-308 or structure s-308 at Lake O and S-80 down the C-44 canal. Both of these structures have to open to allow water to flow into the C-44 canal to the St Lucie River, Indian River Lagoon.
Map SFWMD showing canals and basins. Note S-308 or “structure 308” at Lake O, and S-80 east along the C-44 canal. Both of these structures have to open to allow water to flow into the C-44 canal to the St Lucie River, Indian River Lagoon.

Around 1:00 PM, as I approached Port Mayaca going west along Highway 76, suddenly grey clouds in the distance converged overhead spilling out over the sky like black oil. Huge bright lightning bolts struck the ground in the direction of the lake, thunder followed almost immediately;  rain dumped out of the sky. …”Oh no, not again…” I thought.

The winds screamed across the landscape. Large trucks coming towards me in the opposite direction splashed wakes hitting my car full force.  Eventually, I pulled over at the entrance of DuPuis Wildlife Reserve;” the water was rising on the dirt road. Looking at my surroundings, I realized I was next to the Port Mayaca graveyard where thousands of people were buried in a mass grave after perishing in the 1928 hurricane. I turned on the radio, my windshield-wipers whipping back and forth. The unnerving sound of the Emergency Broadcast System blared and a calm computerized voice said: “Tornado warning for western Martin County.”  Shaking, I forced my self to try to find radar on my phone. I found a written tornado warning for Indiantown. I was at ground zero.

All alone with the elements, I wondered what possessed me to do such a thing….I closed my eyes…I prayed…

Within thirty minutes the storm had passed. Thankfully it was not my day to die. I shook off my fear, got my self together, and completed my drive to the lake.  This is what I found:

S-308 as, the structure that allows water from Lake Okeechobee to enter the C-44 canal, SLR/IRL.
S-308 as, the structure that allows water from Lake Okeechobee to enter the C-44 canal, SLR/IRL. Lake O is in the background.
Closer view of S-308 with the beginning of the C-44 canal before its gates.
Closer view of S-308 with the beginning of the C-44 canal before its gates. The lake is behind the dike structure.
Algae bloom on west side of S-308.
Algae bloom on west side of S-308 gate.
West side of S-308 showing all gates.
West side of S-308 showing all gates. Algae bloom visible.
Close up of western side of S-308.
Close up of western side of S-308.
Edge of S-308 structure standing on dike, looking east over Lake Okeechobee.
Edge of S-308 structure standing on dike, looking east over Lake Okeechobee.
East side of S-308 facing the lake.
East side of S-308 facing the lake.
Turning around to see the rim canal. Dike on left of photo. Lake on other side of dike.
Turning around from S-308 structure to see the rim canal. Dike on left of photo. Lake on left side of dike.

The lake seemed oddly calm after such rage. You could hear a pin drop. I looked around…

Storms tend to break up algae blooms, but under the right conditions of heat and over nitrified water (over-fertilized basically), they come back. In my opinion, this toxic algae issue really forces us all, from the public, to city government, to the office of the Governor, to the state legislature, to the President of the Untied States, and Congress,  to ask ourselves the most critical of questions.

“Is it legal for a federal agency to knowingly release toxic water into a local community?”

To me this is situation is different than a toxic algae bloom simply forming in a localized body of water. What we are talking about here is toxic algae being purposefully transferred from one body of water to another, by the government no less…This seems wrong. Un-American.

Then of course there is the other issue, flooding south and around the lake. As I experienced yesterday, things happen very fast around this giant lake, this “big waters,” this Lake Okeechobee.

Take a look again at the first photo I show of S-308 from the bridge. This photo gives perspective of how fragile this dike and structure-gate system is. It is like trying to hold back an ocean with a cement wall. There has got to be a better way to keep our families, healthy and safe….

S-308 as, the structure that allows water from Lake Okeechobee to enter the C-44 canal, SLR/IRL.
S-308 is the structure that allows water from Lake Okeechobee to enter the C-44 canal, SLR/IRL. That is Lake O. in the background and the mouth of the C-44 canal in the foreground. This is not much to stop “an ocean of water”…These gates are one set of gates that allow toxic water to endanger communities along the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. 

______________________________

Learn about toxic algae blooms: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algal_bloom)

18 thoughts on “Stormy Weather and the Toxic Algae Bloom of Lake Okeechobee, SLR/IRL

  1. When I took the kids out there this week, they were in awe over the lake. They had no idea how large it was. Hannah asked of it was an ocean and asked if it had an end. There is something eerie about the area. To me, when I was out there, I felt like it was our “Area 51”. Glad you made it out there and back safely.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So great you have taken your children to visit the lake. Everyone should visit. It really gives a perspective that no map can give. The education of a lifetime. It is eerie but i bet when it was not pushed back and harnessed it was absolutely beautiful and very peaceful. We have killed it.

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  2. Hi Jacqui, You’re very courageous and very brave.
    Since The Video I too have been wondering how the ACOE is going to “handle” (politically) what they invariably must do. Perhaps your question about the “legality” of the matter will be the first step in a lawsuit that’s long overdue.

    ps. Try giving your phone to one your younger nieces or nephews – I’m certain they’ll know how to load up a radar app for you in a jiffy ;-). Be safe.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jacqui,
    I’m sure that weather must have scared you to death especially with the sirens going off for a possible tornado. Around the lake is prime area for that kind of thing to just pop up too. I am so happy that you stayed safe and no harm came to you.

    I am also please although no pleased that it’s there, that you were still able to see the green toxic algae. I was afraid that the recent hard rains and hail would disperse it somehow. It needs to be seen by our governmental official like you who can assess these problems and make the proper contacts to get the ball rolling. You have done that for us this past week Jacqui and that has been one of the pieces that have made things happen swiftly. I thank you for doing this and being so vigilant.

    As far as the dike goes I don’t look at it and feel fearful of any possible major life threatening breach. I know there are concerns and areas that are in need of repair. In fact it was stated I believe in a report about 5 yrs ago that it should be structured differently if the intentions have changed (they have) to use the lake as a storage source for Florida’s drinking water. It was not made that way initially but we are now using it that way which has created this problem. However, as I said I look out over that mass of water as I stand on top of that levy and I do not feel fear at the current level we are at. I know things rise rapidly and I think they need to slow it down a bit but for now I have no fear.

    Thank you for all you do!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Michelle thanks for you words and for your wisdom. Fear may not be necessary, you are right…Nonetheless I think there is another way to deal with this ocean of water. Trying to contain it as we do it an outdated mode. We must rework our perspective and the future of water in Florida.

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  4. In 2004 hurricanes there were 3 of us staying in tents in South Bay campground. I hi taled it for home but this was not their home state. When I got back they told me how they were swimming around in the lake trying to get their tents back.The information they are leaveing out is how all the nutriants are locked in acid. If you waunt I can take a few buckets of sand an cause a very big algie bloom. It needs to happen if any creatures are left to save?I am sure the turbo prop airplane added more nitric acid as you flew over—in the form of nitrogen monoxide.

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  5. The way I see it is this lake is on fire and burning up with nitric acid. Should it be against the law to put the fire out and try to save some of the few creatures left? There is a VERY large prison population in South Bay. It is all one story. It is amazing they did not drown everyone in 2004

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Machelle— The problem is not obvious, I believe the dike is calcium and the bottom of the lake is acid. If this is the case you can put a bucket of this calcium sand in Lake O water and it will go from solid to liquid instantly. You can imagine what a hurricane churning the acid and base togather would do.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Ezra–Much of Miami prison population is in the South Bay area. The prisons are one story buildings.If the dike had failed(in 2004) they would have been under water.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The New Orleans Levy failed when water went over the top of the concrete sea wall and washed out the soil behind it. The concrete fell over. This caused resistance to water allowing the water to rise slowly–giving people time to react. I have seen many times how acid in water instantly desolves calcium . I believe had dike failed in 2004 acid in water would have made it a catostrofic failure not allowing people time to react.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. WE HAVE PHOSPORUS HERE AT NIGHT. You said you don’t miss it till its gone.I growed up with beutifull water glowing at night and now its back. Last winter they took 3 months to remove muck going under the causeway. They blocked off entrances on both sides but they were not water tight. Water they pumped out each day was loaded with phosphorus from the lagoon water many years ago.

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  10. What a great entry, Jacqui. You ask excellent questions and yes it is outrageous that not only do state and fed agencies knowingly dump toxic algae on us, they don’t notify us of impending health hazards. If not for those pictures and videos we would have never known about the Lake O blooms, and when we experienced them we would be told the blooms originated in the St Lucie River and that they were probably caused by septic.

    The main question of course is who benefits from hiding this information, and from the dumping? You know the answer.

    Please continue to pursue this line of questioning. Maybe the folks at Earth Justice could help with some answers.

    Thanks, Chris

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Please include my email address in your updates on the serious condition of the toxic algae condition and the poor condition of the lake Okeechobee levees.
    Vicki Neale

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    1. Vicki thank you for your email. I do not sent out a regular update but if there is something big or noteworthy I am sure I will report it on this blog. My Facebook page is also very current. Thank you so much and I appreciate your comment. Jacqui tl

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