Top 25 Discharge Years to the St Lucie and Calooshahatchee

S-80 Spillway at St Lucie Locks, Top 25 Discharge Calendar Years, 1953 to 2019. Source SFWMD DBHydro, courtesy of Todd Thurlow.

“Destruction by the Numbers” Lake O & C-44; S-79

Although the St Lucie River was declared “impaired” by the state of Florida, in 2002, the damage has been cumulative. The above chart created by my brother, Todd Thurlow, displays the damaging discharges from Lake Okeechobee and the C-44 basin at S-80 spillway, St Lucie Locks and Dam, for the top 25 discharge calendar years on record, 1953-2019. (, source: DBHydro:

Shockingly, the worst year, 1960, displays 3,093,488 acre feet of water coming through S-80 into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. For comparison, the highest year in the past decade was 2016 at 857,529 acre feet.  ~A difference of 2, 235,959 acre feet.

We know now that an “acre foot” is an easy calculation, “one foot of water covering one acre of land.” 3,093,488 acre feet of water would have just about covered St Lucie, Martin, Palm Beach, and Broward counties as the acreage of these counties combined adds up to 3,293,440 acres. Hard to believe!


Even though in 1960, the lake was not yet prone to massive cyanobacteria blooms, fresh water itself is destructive to a brackish estuary, and over three million acre feet discharged into the river by, what would have been at that time, the Central and South Florida Flood Control District, (the predecessor to the South Florida Water Management District), must have wiped out just about everything.

Of course the question is: “Why such high a high number in 1960?” One would deduce, that the primary reason would be because there were three tropical storms and one hurricane that crossed over Florida during this era. According to NOAA’s Tropical Cyclone Rainfall in Florida chart: Judith, October 1959, 7.90 inches; Donna, September 1960 13.24 inches; Florence, September 1960 15.79 inches, and we do not know for the Unnamed 1959 storm.(

But this is conjecture…

Going back to Todd’s graph, you’ll  notice that thirteen out of the twenty-five years listed had higher discharge number than 2016. Sobering, isn’t it? Staggering numbers, for a river that by Nature was never connected to Lake Okeechobee, and only a portion of the so-called C-44 Basin. We have drowned her, indeed…

Hurricanes 1959, 1960 NOAA, courtesy of Todd Thurlow.

Now for one final question.

The Caloosahatchee has data too, but only for years 1967-2019. Thus the Caloosahatchee’s  highest year for discharge of its top 25 years is 2005, at 3,731,056 acre feet;  followed by 2016, at 2, 950,926 acre feet and so on. Please click on the graph.

So what about the missing thirteen years of 1953-1968? Where did this water go? Did it go to the St Lucie? Was the Caloosahtchee off-line? Did it go through the Calooshahatchee but was not recorded? These are questions I cannot answer. But in any case, both rivers need a break, or they shall break themselves. History allows us to see the long-standing destruction and ecological disregard for our treasured Northern Estuaries.

S-79 Spillway on Caloosahatchee at Franklin Lock and Dam, Top 25 Discharge Calendar Years, 1967-2019, courtesy Todd Thurlow.

Above chart larger format:

Basin map SFWMD. Before it was connected by canals, the St Lucie River was a large fresh water “stream” that ran into the Indian River Lagoon.
Structures along the Caloosahatchee, courtesy Melody Hunt, Research Gate. The Caloosahtchee was connected to Lake O in the late 1880s by Hamilton Disston after he blew up the waterfall rapids at Lake Hipochee and dredged on to the Lake.

EyeonLakeO, Todd Thurlow:


5 thoughts on “Top 25 Discharge Years to the St Lucie and Calooshahatchee

  1. Once again I thank you and your brother Jacqui! While a high volume of fresh water negatively affects the East Coast and West Coast estuaries, nutrient loaded fresh water especially with cyanobacteria is both a human health risk and marine health risk.

    We need to remove or at least minimize the nutrient load in the Kissimmee River and Lake O ASAP. Hopefully, the SFWMD, FDEP and FDOH can work together to pass an Agricultural Buffer Zone Bill in the 2020 Legislative Session.

  2. Even though I have been to numerous Martin County Commission meetings on the subject the county has done little to correct the amount of water released from Lake Okeechobee because the damage is already done to the water coming down the Kissimmee & the Chattahoochee Rivers. The pollution has settled to the bottom of Lake O and when released the water swirls due to the amount of water released & then gets into our Indian and St. Lucie Rivers.
    Commissioners don’t want to get involved because much of their re-election funds come from these farmers & Big Sugar which protect their right to farm the land needed south of Lake Okeechobee to correct this problem, the Fonjuls need to donate or sell this land but if their hearts are hardened because they feel what’s mine is mine, it must be taken by eminent Domain. This would qualify as a project that would protect all people & water on both sides of the Rivers, but for 33 years that I’m aware and have been involved with they have refused to give it up.
    I am convinced after 33 years of trying, the only way to get the land south of Lake O in order to build the holding or purifying Lake with land to over flow & would wind or purifying it’s way to the Everglades clean, is to get President Trump to issue an Eminent Domain for that purpose.
    I have written letter after letter to Presidents in the past about this issue & will continue to ask for the Fonjul land to build the holding Lake & winding purifying overflow river that would empty into the Everglades CLEAN water, it’s the only way left.

    Joe Florio

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