“No-ing” Your Canals, South Florida, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

1909 map of South Florida from the 1909 State of Florida report “Report on the Drainage of the Everglades of Florida, By J. O. Wright, Supervising Drainage Engineer." (Courtesy of Dr Gary Goforth.)
1909 map of South Florida from the State of Florida report: “Report on the Drainage of the Everglades of Florida, By J. O. Wright, Supervising Drainage Engineer.” (Courtesy of Dr Gary Goforth.)

Just say “No!” To wasteful canals that is….

There are over 2000 miles of canals draining precious fresh water off South Florida; it’s a good idea to know the main ones. I started thinking about this after going through some old files and finding this awesome 1909 Map Dr Gary Goforth shared with me showing a plan in 1909 to drain the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee WITHOUT killing the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.

1909 map of South Florida from the 1909 State of Florida report “Report on the Drainage of the Everglades of Florida, By J. O. Wright, Supervising Drainage Engineer." (Courtesy of Dr Gary Goforth.)
1909 map of South Florida from the 1909 State of Florida report on the Drainage of the Everglades of Florida, By J. O. Wright. (Goforth)

Well as they say: “The rest is history….”  As we know, the C-44, or St Lucie Canal, was later built.

So when I was looking on-line for a good map to show the canals of South Florida today to compare to Gary’s canal map of 1909, believe it or not, I could not find one! One that was well labeled anyway. So I made my own.

It’s pretty “home-school” but its readable. From left to right, below, you will see canals Caloosahatchee, (C-43); Miami, (L-23); New River, (L-18); Hillsboro, (L-15); West Palm Beach, (L-12); L-8 that never got a name as far as I am aware; and St Lucie, (C-44.) I do not know why some are labeled “C” and others are “L,” but you can follow them to see where they dump.

I believe the first two built were the Miami and the New River— by 1911, as I often see those two on historic maps prior to 1920. Today our state canal plumbing system is outdated and wasteful sending on average over 1.7 billion gallons of fresh water to tide (to the ocean) every day. (Mark Perry, Florida Oceanographic.)

Even though I grew up in Stuart, I was never really taught about the canals. As a young adult and even older, I drove around for years not knowing about these canals and others like C-23, C-24, and C-25. If I “saw” them, I did not “recognize” them. I knew the land had been “drained” but really had no conception of what that meant or the extent thereof…

I remember my mom used to say if we were driving around in Ft Pierce in the 80s, “And to think there used to be inches of water covering all this land at certain times of the year….” I just stared at her but didn’t really “get it.” The pine trees flashed by and it seemed “impossible” what she was saying…

In any case, the young people today should be learning in detail about these canals so they can be “updated,” “refreshed,” “reworked,” and “replugged.” Say “no” to old-fashioned canals, and “hello” to a new and better South Florida!

South Florida major canals: L to R. Calloosahatchee, Miami, New River, Hillsboro, West Palm Beach, L-8 and St Lucie. (SFWMD canal map 2013)
South Florida major canals: L to R. Caloosahatchee, Miami, New River, Hillsboro, West Palm Beach, L-8, and St Lucie. (SFWMD canal map 2013)

Below is a history of the South Florida canals as written in an email to me by Dr Gary Goforth. It is very enlightening. Thanks Gary!

Hi Jacqui

As you know, plans to manage the level of Lake Okeechobee (by discharging to tide) in order to develop and protect the agricultural lands south of the lake were developed before 1850 and evolved through the mid-1950s.

1. Buckingham Smith, Esq. in 1848 proposed connecting the Lake with the Loxahatchee River and/or the San Lucia (report to the Sec. of the US Treasury; copy available).

2. In 1905, Gov. Broward rejected a proposal to lower the Lake with a new canal connecting to the St. Lucie River.

3. Attached is a 1909 map of South Florida from the 1909 State of Florida report “Report on the Drainage of the Everglades of Florida, By J. O. Wright, Supervising Drainage Engineer”. The importance of this map and report is the recommendation to manage the water level in Lake Okeechobee via drainage into multiple canals from the Lake to the Atlantic Ocean – but NOT the St. Lucie Canal. The primary canal for moving Lake water to the Atlantic was to be the Hillsboro Canal which would connect the Lake to the Hillsboro River in present day Deerfield Beach / Boca Raton. Note the recommendation is to construct what is now called the “West Palm Beach Canal” and route Lake water into the Loxahatchee River and then out to the ocean via the Jupiter Inlet – this is actually being accomplished as part of CERP and the Loxahatchee River restoration program.

4. In 1913, the State accepted the recommendation of an NY engineer (Isham Randolph) to construct a canal connecting the Lake to the St. Lucie River (report available). The Everglades Drainage District was formed the same year, and was responsible for the construction of the canal and associated locks/water control gates. (historical construction photos available). Construction lasted from May 1915 through 1924, and the first Lake discharges to the St. Lucie occurred June 15, 1923 (ref: Nat Osborn Master’s thesis 2012, copy available)

5. After the 1928 hurricane, the State asked for and received federal assistance. The canal was enlarged by 1938; new St. Lucie Locks was rebuilt in 1941; the new spillway was constructed in 1944. —Dr Gary Goforth (http://garygoforth.net)

_____________________________________________________

The canal systems of South Florida are managed by the SFWMD:(http://www.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/sfwmdmain/home%20page) and the ACOE: (http://w3.saj.usace.army.mil/h2o/reports.htm) Their future will be determined by the people and the Florida Legislature.

7 thoughts on ““No-ing” Your Canals, South Florida, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

  1. Hi Jacqui –

    Amazing really, to think that the state and federal governments continue to support ecological pollution of our estuaries at this scale. Let’s hope an informed public will continue the momentum for changes in the way the water management system is operated!

    Over the last year, the water management district sent the largest volume EVER of Lake water south to the stormwater treatment areas (STAs). Concurrent with these historically large volumes of Lake water, the STAs performed at historically exceptional levels! Hopefully these operations have debunked two myths:

    Myth No. 1. “There isn’t capacity to send large volumes of Lake water to the south with existing canals and treatment areas.”

    Myth No. 2. “Sending large volumes of Lake water to the STAs will kill them, and is deleterious to STA performance.”

    The key to this success was sending Lake water south at a slow and steady rate all year round – particularly during the dry season – and not waiting until the last minute during the wet season to make releases south.

    thanks,
    Gary

    ps. I noticed a typo in my description: 1. Buckingham Smith, Esq. in 1848 (not 1948) proposed connecting the Lake with the Loxahatchee River and/or the San Lucia.

    Liked by 1 person

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