Are Lake Okeechobee’s Drained Lands Really Ours to Navigate? SLR/IRL

Lake O has been drained and lowered so that it is 250 square miles smaller than it was in the mid 1800s.
Lake O has been drained and lowered so that it is approximately 250 square miles smaller than it was in the mid 1800s. (SFWMD) Florida became a state in 1845.

“Navigable waters of the state” are protected under Florida law. They cannot be sold–they cannot be owned. They belong to the public…

Although the Swamp Lands Act of the 1850s allowed for drainage of Florida’s swamp lands, in some instances the drainage and claims may have been overdone. In accordance with state law “you can’t convey what you do not own.” This is part of what is known as “The Public Trust Doctrine.”

Hmmm? In all the excitement to develop, did the state break its own rules in conveying lands south and around the lake? Certainly powerful entities own those lands today.

—–That would be a bite wouldn’t it?

Let’s look a bit closer….

It is common knowledge that Lake Okeechobee has lost a tremendous amount of its former self, and that large portions of the lake have been drained and diked for agriculture and development.

Just recently while attending a  University of Florida Natural Resources Leadership Institute presentation in Clewiston, Jeff Summers of the South Florida Water Management District gave a Power-Point presentation using the slide below. It shows the natural vs. altered conditions of the lake going from approximately 1000 sq miles in the 1850s  to 750 square miles today. –Thus the approximate water stage has gone from 20 feet to 14 feet. Definitely a loss of navigable waters–don’t you think? Today those lands around the lake are used for growing mostly sugarcane. Today most of those lands are “owned.” How could this be as they were once under water enough to be “navigable waters of the state?”

Slide from Jeff Summer's power point presentation SFWMD, 2016.
Slide from Jeff Summer’s power point presentation SFWMD, 2016.

The excerpt below is straight out of the “Florida Bar Journal” as shared by my brother Todd. After reading the paragraph, click on the link below to read the entire article. It is certainly worth thinking about…The maps below show land ownership.

Florida Bar Journal’s article conclusion:

The Public Trust Doctrine imposes a legal duty on the state to preserve and control title and use of all lands beneath navigable water bodies, including the shore or space between ordinary high and ordinary low water, for public use and enjoyment. The people of this state have raised the protection afforded by the doctrine to constitutional stature. In the most recent challenge to this doctrine, the Florida Supreme Court relied upon this constitutional provision in reconfirming longstanding Florida law that swamp deeds do not create a private property interest in sovereignty lands. Attempts to use swamp deeds as a justification to legislatively redefine the ordinary high water boundary and thus transfer all or part of the shore to the adjacent private owner are similarly inappropriate and unconstitutional.

Full article Florida Bar Journal, April 2001:

Map of land ownership TCRPC 2016
Map of land ownership south and around Lake O TCRPC 2016. Key below.
Key to above map, 2016 TCRPC.
The bigger picture. Lake O used to flow to the Everglades. Google Earth map 2016.
The bigger picture: Lake O used to flow to the Everglades but is now directed to the northern estuaries St Lucie/IRL and Caloosahatchee causing great destruction.  Google Earth, 2016.


Navigable Waters of the State:

32 thoughts on “Are Lake Okeechobee’s Drained Lands Really Ours to Navigate? SLR/IRL

  1. Those people(farmers) took something that was of no value—literly hell on earth—and turned it into a jewel that has feed our country since the great depression. You guys on the other hand have taken a national treasure (our lagoon) and turned it into a hell on earth.

      1. David Bryan. I have also been documenting this issues. Jacqui is one of our most knowledgeable people. Please do your research before making accusations that are not only not true but actually laughable.

    1. No value to who? This land is infinitely more valuable as a natural resource than for sugar cane fields. Look at the damage being done by polluted water being pumped into lake Okeechobee and flowing out to both coasts killing everything in it’s path.

  2. I might suggest that “we” be very very careful with what you may envision as a possible “legal loophole”. As it related specifically to lands along the Indian River Lagoon, I found during my research that several of the ORIGINAL sales for these lands traced back to lands granted to the state under the “Swamplands Act” and subsequently sold to Hamilton Diston in that 4 million acre transaction @ 25 cents per acre that literally kept the young state of Florida out of bankruptcy. Granted the majority of the lands envolved in this transaction were lands in the EAA… it also included lands right here in St. Lucie (and most likely Martin county as well). (This also applies to a great deal of what is now Port St. Lucie.) Reference my article on “WHO WERE THE ORIGINAL FREEHOLDERS – ON SOUTH INDIAN RIVER DRIVE”

    1. The lands you are referring to are conveyable Swamp and Overflowed lands. This is different than Sovereignty lands – those which were beneath the navigable waters. PSL was not navigable in 1845 – just swampy. However, if Disston’s TIIF deed in PSL had described any of the navigable St. Lucie River, it would have been ineffective to convey title to that portion of land. The deed refers to those sections as “fractional sections” because they are partially under the St. Lucie and did not purport to convey it.

  3. David Bryan—-I have been endlessly telling how to bring sea grass back and stop fish kills but I have not heard one peep of you guys doing your own research into what I have been saying so I am now beginning to believe you all ready know and your motive is not to save the lagoon but to destroy US Sugar. Have my buckets of shells and am now headed for the lagoon. Thanks for letting my opinion be heard.

  4. Great post Jacqui. It may be of interest to note that all of those “Major Private Ownership” tracts have state permits to pump the water off of their fields at a rate of one inch per day. After a major rain event they fill the canals and SFWMD is obligated to pump the water into the WCA’s and if they deem it necessary, to backpump into the lake. This puts the communities in the EAA at risk and means that Lake O water can’t go south because the WCA’s are full. And we pay the price in so many ways.
    The permits are issued by SFWMD and they have a provision that in an emergency, the permits can be temporarily suspended by the executive director of SFWMD. The Florida Administrative Code says, “The Executive Director may employ the resources of the District to take whatever remedial action necessary to alleviate the emergency condition without the issuance of an emergency order, or in the event an emergency order has been issued, after the expiration of the requisite time for compliance with that order.”
    Allowing water to stand in the fields of the EAA may be a short term solution that would motivate the “Major Private Ownership” companies to sign on to sending the water south in a flow way that would save the estuaries, the Everglades and Florida Bay.
    It will take voters remembering that when they go to the ballot box and choose candidates who aren’t beholden to “Major Private Ownership” companies.

    1. Very interesting. I know you have written letters to the editor about this before. I want to know more….On another subject—I did not understand “major private ownership” and “private ownership” as specified by the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council’s map. I am going to ask them Monday what that means. Seems like private ownership is private ownership, major or otherwise…?

      1. I think “Major Private Ownership” refers to those who have ownership of the executive and legislative branches of government. I am a freeholder of acreage but I am certainly not in that group. I don’t feel that our government is often responsive to us “Minor Private Owners.”

  5. If water is being pumped it could easily be churned violently in sea shells so the H2 O2 would oxidize any chemicals then once purified it could be released into Lake O

  6. Megan—-There is not one word in article that says how acidic “brown tide” was. When I put calcium beach sand in it turned to liquid before it hit the bottom. I estimate it would take 5 gallons of viniger for every 20 gallons of water to be able to desolve 50 pounds of sand immediately. This article (to me)just shows the power of the media to brain wash the masses. I hope you will get a bucket of beach sand(shells ) and put them in your lagoon—then come back in a couple of weeks with a fine net and scope them up and see how many baby creatures there are. Thank you for reading this

  7. Megan—Fish kill could have been avoided. I have told so many people FWC—fishermen—Marine Resource Council—but unless people hear how on TV it’s not true. Brainwashing ability of TV is truly amazing.

  8. Here are 2 more FACTS for you to keep for a reference that support what I have been saying. If you google earth to Pineda causeway then look at the Northwest corner on the Banana River side you will find a live coquina formation. Waves churn in calcium on the Southwest side also. Directly north on this same shore is (for 4 miles) is one of our last healthy grass flats. Now google earth the 528 causeway. On the southwest corner on the Banana River side you will find a live coquina formation. Coquina shells also churn violently in strong winds on the northwest side . One of the LAST remaining healthy grass flats is directly North on this shore. They have now placed granite bolders on both these causeways to keep acids from desolveing them. I have a mountain of hard FACTS that prove ALL our shores were once live coquina formations and I am in the process of bringing a few of them back. It is obvious that where these formations are comeing back the sea grass is also comeing back. Any attacks on sugar companies are totally uncalled for because you will NOT fix the lagoon by doing so.

  9. When you google earth Pineda causeway on the Banana River side you will see granite jetties running parallel to the shore on the west side. It took me a long time to figure out why they did this. Once you understand how acids desolve these calcium causeways it is obvious they built these jetties out away from causeway to stop this. I still believe the people of Florida voted overwhelmingly to ban gill nets and then FWC and the state government who were working with the gillnetters destroyed the lagoon—-PAYBACK—- Gates being opened wide releasing maximum amounts of water—-stripping landmark propertys bare—government has not changed at all. I can not say for sure its PAYBACK but it sure stinks

  10. A mere 35-45 years ago the abundance of Floridas waters seemed endless. Schools of menhaden 20 miles long. Schools of row mullet half mile across and 10 foot deep solid—one after another—-king mackerel—grouper—snapper—whales–sea life of every kind in abundance. The only thing I think we can compare to what we have now is the Ukraine famine of 1930 and it too was caused by a government

  11. Jacqui I have a question– a while back on one of your blogs your good friend Mark Perry was in a picture that had him burying a coffin that said IRL (indian River Lagoon ) on it. I had a friend who I helped occasionally on his small gill net boat. In 1983 he stopped gill net fishing and came to work with me. I believe the gill net ban went into affect around 1981-1983. My question is this. What year was this picture taken. Back then our lagoon was healthy. What inspired him to simulate the death of a healthy lagoon? Was it the FACT that our state government was NOT going to accept the overwealming will of the citizens of this state to not commercially slaughter every living creature.If they cant have her nobody is going to have her and they commenced to dump sewage and many other things to KILL THE LAGOON

    1. The photo was from the graduating class of MCHS in the 1970s. I think the net ban was ’94. The inspiration was not Mark’s but the entire graduating class. I am not sure how to answer your questions. We are all heartbroken Brent. It doesn’t matter where one is coming from or where one has been. Thanks for always writing.

  12. my heart is full of joy because I know the lagoon can be brought back —if my tired old body can hold up

  13. After the 2004 hurricanes tore into the jungle trail calcium road I would drive over Wabasso bridge and look down and see endless BIG oysters on the rocks. Of course I wondered where did they all come from? The fishing all returned at the inlet for the next couple of years and everything gradually died down.Sometimes it takes a while to catch on—I guess I was just like everyone else caught up is the thoughts of catching fish.

  14. Actually I am not opposed to commercial fishing. Its people having 2 sets of laws that is wrong. Growing up the private fisherman had all sorts of rules to follow while the commercial guys had NONE. Only a corrupt FWC and bought off government would think this is OK. I guess they taught me well. Today I put shells up where there was brown tide just south of Pineda causeway. I saw lots of mullet and I also saw a giant spotted eagle ray jump. I wish I had time to put shells and sand where waves will churn them violently where the main fish kill happened but now I have to go to work to support what I am doing. I think porpus in this area will be OK but it would be easy to cast net a truck load of live mullet and bring them to where porpus hang out if they need it.

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