All posts by Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch

Holding Lake Okeechobee’s Algae at Bay

My husband, Ed, was able to fly the Baron yesterday. As the plane has been in service, we have not taken photos of Lake Okeechobee or the St Lucie River from a higher altitude in almost two months.

Because the satellite images have been showing Lake Okeechobee’s bloom lessening, I wasn’t sure what Ed would find. Well, he found a large blue-green algae bloom right outside the gates of Port Mayaca at S-308.

http://eyeonlakeo.com/NCCOS%20HAB%20Images/index.html via Todd Thurlow

On his way back to Stuart, he also took pictures of the St Lucie Inlet showing plentiful seagrass recovery near the Sandbar at the confluence of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, the ocean/river looking blue and inviting ~ not like the black coffee sediment and toxic nutrient-filled discharges seen recently in 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, and 2018.

I am thankful to the ACOE and all involved for this summer’s reprieve. The Saint Lucie River really needed it!

We must keep in mind that with all of the recent rain, of course, Lake Okeechobee is rising. Today lake is at 12.99 feet. Hopefully, in the coming and most active months of hurricane season, there will not be a tropical system that could rapidly increase the lake level. In years past hurricanes have brought as much as three or four feet. There are many factors, but usually, the ACOE starts releasing at 15.5 feet to protect the Herbert Hoover Dike’s integrity and those living south and in the shadow of our diked lake.

Humans may have figured out how to “control” the state’s water, but Mother Nature holds the final card.

SFWMD 8-19-19

 

LAKE OKEECHOBEE AT PORT MAYACA AND LAKE O’S N.E. RIM SHOWING ALAGE BLOOM. IF S-308 were open, this bloom and freshwater that sustains blooms would be pouring into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Photos by Ed Lippisch 3-18-19.

Lake O

N.E. Lake Okeechobee and Rim Canal

Boat tracks through algae bloom off Port Mayaca

 

Looking toward Lake Okeechobee at S-80, A.K.A. “The Seven Gates of Hell.” These gates can be opened by the ACOEO to discharge water from Lake O into the St Lucie River.  Photo Ed Lippisch 8-18-19.

C-44 Canal connects Lake Okeechobee to St Lucie River, photo Ed Lippisch 8-18-19

 

ST LUCIE RIVER/INDIAN RIVER LAGOON AT ST. LUCIE INLET showing nearshore reefs, blue waters, and recovering seagrasses ~even with high local rains and discharges from canals C-23, and C-24. This area between Sewall’s Point and Sailfish Point was once considered the most bio-diverse in North America. This year, 2019, there have been no discharges from Lake Okeechobee allowing the area to begin to recover from years of destructive discharges from Lake Okeechobee.

St Lucie Inlet at the confluence of SLR/IRL, #Clean2019

Darker shades are recovering seagrasses!

 

SFWMD canal and basin map. C-44 canal is the canal most southerly in the image and connected to Lake Okeechobee.

Historic Phytogeography of South Florida with Present Day Features

 Phy·to·ge·og·ra·phythe branch of botany that deals with the geographical distribution of plants.

Historic Phytogeography of South Florida with Present Day SFWMD Features, 2019, by Lexie Hoffart & Nichole Miller, Geographers, SFMWD.

It started with a request, an idea, and over many months materialized with the guidance of  Tia Barnett, Governing Board and Executive Services, and Dr. Ken Chen, Supervisor, Geospatial Mapping Services Unit, Information Technology Bureau, SFMWD.

The request: “Could we create an educational map blending pre-drainage natural features such as water flow, plants, and forests with the modern sixteen county map we use for today’s SFWMD’s “Facilities and Infrastructure”?

Dr. Chen excitedly assigned two young modern-day cartographers/geographers to the task: Ms. Lexie Hoffart and Ms. Nicole Miller.

Their research began with an overlay of the famous 1913 Phytogeographic Map of the Original Florida Everglades by John Harshberger. Then they “moved north” to research the Kissimmee River and Lake Okeechobee using the 1882 Communications Steamboat Map by W.G. Williamson and Q.A. Gilmore of the USACE.

Modern publications were studied as well: a 2017 article by Michael A. Volk, UF, entitled “Florida Land Use and Land Cover Changes in the Past 100 Years:” also Landscapes and Hydrology of the Predrainage Everglades, 2011 by Christopher W. McVoy. All this and more was taken into account as an overlay on a modern SFWMD map of present-day facilities and infrastructure including modern estimates of populations.

Wow! What does the old adage say? “The only constant is change!” May understanding the past help us to be better stewards of the future…

The outcome,  a document rich in revelation past and present. Thank you, Lexie and Nichole!

*If you’d like a copy of this map, please email me at jthurlowlippisch@sfwmd.gov.
You can also go to this link: https://sfwmd.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MinimalGallery/index.html?appid=1facf32f199240b49a326432258c102f

 

Historic Phytogeography of South Florida with Present Day SFWMD Features Map, Lexie Hoffart & Nicole Miller, SFWMD 2019
Lexie Hoffart, JTL, and Nicole Miller at SFWMD where they were recognized yesterday for their work!

Seagrasses? Algae? Who Wins?

The Crossroads off Sewall’s Point in the confluence of the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon. In 2019, seagrasses can be seen returning to an area that was post-2013, 2016, and 2018  a desert of sand. 8-3-19 photos by Scott Kuhns.

On August 3rd, I posted the above aerial noting the return of visible recovering seagrasses since the ACOE stopped discharging from Lake Okeechobee.

One of my readers wrote: “Most is not true seagrass, some algae’s, discolored sand. A little shoal grass here and there. It’s gonna take a few years of no discharges.”

And this is true. Seagrass is growing back, but right alongside, or even on the algae itself, is something else. A type of dark green, slimy-algae covering the grasses. I don’t remember it like this before…

We are living in a time of over-nitrification. Too much Phosphorus and Nitrogen drains off the land into the estuary feeding algae of all kinds as they compete for dominance.

And we decide who wins:

~A great video shared by my brother Todd covering the story of all types of algae and cyanobacteria.

 

8-3-19 Scott Kuhns what do you see?
8-3-19 Scott Kuhns looks back towards Stuart from St Lucie Inlet area. Area to right was once famous for its rich seagrass beds.

I have seen the microalgae growing back on our seagrasses in the SLR/IRL, and it has been here for years; it is just getting more dominant. I have not photographed as doing so requires a protected camera. Thus I am sharing these photos that in some ways resemble our beds.

Seagrass growing with microalgae: photo SeaGrant: https://seagrant.noaa.gov/News/Article/ArtMID/1660/ArticleID/357/Quantifying-Nitrogen-in-Shellfish-Helps-Planning-Efforts-on-Cape-Cod-
Example of seagrass and microalgae USGS public domain. https://www.usgs.gov/media/images/macroalgae-seagrass-and-litter-oh-my

A Summer Day Without Lake Okeechobee Discharges, 2019

7-28-19

Today,  Ed and I document a summer day along the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon without Lake Okeechobee discharges. ACOE, we are grateful! J&E

The Crossroads between Sewall’s Point and Sailfish Point, the confluence of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Seagrasses returning…
Hutchinson Island south of the St Lucie Inlet, home of the northern reefs. Color- blue not brown!
The St Lucie Inlet looking beautiful.
Sailfish Point at the St. Lucie Inlet, blue and turquoise meet.
Sailfish Point along the ocean with Sailfish Flats and Sewall’s Point in background.
Sailfish Flats east of Hutchinson Island and the Atlantic Ocean. Ed and I could not fly over IRL here due to air traffic, so I could not get up close pictures. But the color certainly looks better!
Turquoise ocean but lots of sargassum weed! Turtles and manatees were present.
Just north of Martin County, St Lucie County’s Hutchinson Island beaches with super density Nettles Island visible in a blue looking Indian River Lagoon.
Hutchinson Island and IRL in St Lucie County
Indian River Lagoon with good visibility as discharge water is not being pushed up north through the IRL in Martin County.
IRL St Lucie County, good visibility and some seagrasses.
IRL St Lucie County looking to the Savannas.
A clearer IRL due to lack of discharges from Lake O. The most suspended sediment comes into the SLR/IRL from Lake O. St Lucie County. As I said earlier the tower would not allow Ed and I to fly over the S. IRL in Martin County due to air traffic. We will have to get it another time.
IRL near St Lucie Power Plant
Nettles Island
Back south, looking over Indian Riverside Park and the Penninsula of Sewall’s Point. IRL on left. St Lucie River on right. St Lucie Inlet and the Atlantic Ocean in distance.
St Lucie River, Langford Landings docks, with Roosevelt Bridge and Stuart in distance.

 

St Lucie River, west side of Sewall’s Point
Wide St Lucie, Roosevelt Bridge, Rio, and Stuart.
Wide St Lucie looking west towards Lake Okeechobee.
Ed and Jacqui -seven years older since the first “lost summer” of photographing in  2013 ~never giving up!
The Super Cub!

 

Army Corps of Engineers’ February 2019 operational change press release for Lake Okeechobee and the Estuaries. This operational decision continues to affect operations this summer: https://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Media/News-Releases/Article/1764322/corps-takes-action-to-lower-lake-okeechobee-in-advance-of-wet-season/

Backyard Pythons? SLR/IRL

Skilled hunters, Burmese Pythons are one of the five largest species of snakes in the world and native to South and Southeast Asia. They are a threatened species in their native lands, but today there are breeding populations in a new environment, the Florida Everglades.  Image public domain.

I have this dream that I am enjoying walking around in my garden,  I look down, and there is a seventeen-foot python curled up under my house. Sounds ridiculous, but one day this may not be that far fetched.

This past week, the Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC) https://myfwc.com held their meeting at the Hutchinson Island Marriott, just over the Ernest Lyons Bridge from Sewall’s Point. One of the things they discussed was the overpopulation of Burmese Pythons that are ravaging native wildlife in Everglades National Park and other parts of South Florida.

I have been vaguely aware of this for years. My previous Sewall’s Point neighbor was a python enthusiast. Around 2012, he wrote TCPalm a letter to the editor in the python’s defense arguing that the Burmese Python did not bring itself to South Florida, people did! According to FWC pet pythons have been released since the 1960s but it was after Hurricane Andrew’s 1992 destruction that a breeding facility was destroyed, pythons escaped, the population exploded, and a breeding community arose.

I do believe “in all God’s Creatures,” but this is a nightmare-dynamic for Florida’s native wildlife. Public speakers noted Everglades National Park is “devoid of small mammals.” This is not an exaggeration, perhaps down 98%, and “small mammals” are not just what’s for dinner. Meals also include birds, eggs, bobcats, deer, alligators and who knows what else. Mr. Kipp Frohlich of FWC estimates a range from tens-of-thousands to over three-hundred-thousand snakes could be living in the Everglades. We really don’t know. One was even found in Florida Bay all curled up on a buoy. Oh yes, they can swim.

If I were a python and my friends and I  had eaten everything down south, what would I do? I’d slither north…

Opossums, armadillos, and families of raccoons visit my yard a few times a week. ~For now…

python-snake, public image

 

Please see links to learn about what is being done to controll and educate ourselves on the python:

FWC Presentation

Division: Habitat and Species Conservation
Authors: Sarah Funck, Kristen Sommers, and Melissa Miller, Ph.D. Report date: July 2019

https://myfwc.com/media/21029/10b-presentation-python.pdf

 

Smithsonian article shared by SFWMD:  Snake Landia_Smithsonian Article_07-2019

*Florida still allows breeders of Burmese Pythons in Florida, but they can only sell the animals outside of the state. All things considered, at the meeting, FWC Commissioner Gary Lester questioning the wisdom in this. I agree. Considering this is how pythons got out of control in the first place.

The Florida Channel videos of FWC meetings in Hutchinson Island; pythons: day 2:

https://thefloridachannel.org/videos/7-17-19-florida-fish-wildlife-conservation-commission-part-2/

https://thefloridachannel.org/videos/7-18-19-florida-fish-wildlife-conservation-commission/

Gary Goforth Ph.D ~Comments for BMAP Deadline

As I wrote about yesterday, Governor DeSantis’ Executive Order 19-12 calls for the Basin Management Action Plans around Lake Okeechobee to be “updated” by January 10, 2020.

https://wp.me/p3UayJ-a2Q

Dr Goforth (http://www.garygoforth.net/Other%20projects.htm ) is a familiar and trusted friend in our fight to protect the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Today, I am sharing his comments made during the development of the Basin Management Action Plan for the St Lucie River; and also his easy to read charts presented at the June 10, 2019, SFWMD Northern Estuary Workshop. It is my hope, that my very oversimplified post from yesterday can be complemented by Dr. Goforth’s input.

From Dr. Gary Goforth, Ph.D

  1. Subject: Estuary Water Quality Protection, July 8, 2019

Looking forward to a productive workshop on Wednesday…

Gary Goforth

*Please see attached:

Key Recommendations for Enhancing the SLRE BMAP

 

2. Subject: RE: Estuary Water Quality Protection, July 12, 2019

Thank you for a very productive workshop Wednesday on water quality and its impacts to the northern estuaries.

I’ve been asked for copies of the documents I held up during my public comments. These were developed pursuant to the 2007 Northern Everglades and Estuary Protection Program (NEEPP), and were to serve as the technical foundation for an expanded Works of the District (Rule 40E-61) regulatory program administered by the SFWMD. These documents summarize the most comprehensive analyses of water quality and hydrology for the Lake Okeechobee and estuary watersheds. These were presented to DEP during the development of the BMAPs – but DEP chose not to take advantage of them. Even worse, prior SFWMD management worked with an agricultural lobbyist to remove all references to these documents from the 2015 SFWMD annual environmental report (“In 2014, South Florida water managers were on the verge of an agriculture pollution crackdown, but at the last minute reversed course. TCPalm obtained emails that show how a lobbyist influenced water policy. The South Florida Water Management District changed course immediately after a Dec. 3, 2014, meeting with U.S. Sugar Corp. lobbyist Irene Quincey, eventually halting its planned policy in favor of a plan that takes polluters at their word and holds no one accountable if water quality suffers.” http://www.tcpalm.com/story/news/investigations/2017/08/30/u-s-sugar-lobbyist-influence-over-florida-water-pollution-rules/464671001/).

They can be downloaded from the following links; I’m sure staff could provide hardcopies (they’re several hundred pages in length).

Lake Okeechobee Watershed:
http://www.garygoforth.net/Draft_LOW_TSD_-_Feb_2013.pdf

St. Lucie Watershed:
http://www.garygoforth.net/TSD%20for%20SLRW%20-%2012%2018%202013.pdf

Caloosahatchee Watershed:
http://www.garygoforth.net/Deliv%203%2015%20Draft%20TSD%20for%20the%20CRW%20-%209%2030%202013.pdf

Let me know if I can be of further assistance.

Gary Goforth
http://www.garygoforth.net/Other%20projects.htm

Dr Gary Goforth

Monitoring not Modeling! Meeting Governor DeSantis’ January 10, 2020 Deadline for Updating BMAPs

Executive Order 19-12 “What can we do to achieve more now for Florida’s Environment?”

Sometimes all the bureaucracy of water management makes it difficult to understand how things work. Today, I am going to summarize the goals and requirements of Governor DeSantis’ Executive Order 19-12 Section 1, C. in hopes of giving some simple insight into the responsibility of our state agencies to publicly come together to achieve the Governor’s goal; there are only six months remaining.

https://www.flgov.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/EO-19-12-.pdf

On January 10th, 2019, just days after being sworn into office, Governor DeSantis put forth Executive Order 19-12. This order has multiple components, but today, we will focus on Section 1, C:

It states: “Update and secure all restoration plans, within one year, for waterbodies impacting Soth Florida communities, including Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee, and the St Lucie Estuaries. These updates will ensure the Blue-Green Algae Task Force has the necessary information to provide guidance to the Department of Environmental Protection on maximizing the investments in water quality improvements. 

Blue-Green Algae Task Force: https://floridadep.gov/Blue-GreenAlgaeTaskForce

So in plain language what does this mean?

This means that the Basin Management Actions Plans, the system the state uses to try to improve water quality through lessening phosphorus and or nitrogen runoff have to be “updated” by January 10, 2020.

Prior to the Governor’s Executive Order 19-12, there was no unified update date, nor a clear deadline date. Why? Because state statute doesn’t give one. How come? Because over the years special interest has lobbied our state legislature to make it this way. Governor DeSantis’ order complicates this by giving a hard deadline to find out how these BMAPS are working or not working.

An update is an “update on the status of  implementation at the end of the first phase and  an opportunity to provide recommendations for future phases of the BMAP.”

The three Basin Management Actions Plans that need to be updated include the Okeechobee BMAP; the St Lucie BMAP and the Caloosahatchee BMAP.

Below are maps of these BMAPS; and you can read about the evolution of each one separately by looking it up alphabetically here: https://floridadep.gov/dear/water-quality-restoration/content/basin-management-action-plans-bmaps

The agencies that oversee this process are the Department of Environmental Protection (regulation of water quality standards); the Dept of Agriculture and Consumer Services (BMPs or Best Management Practices); and the South Florida Water Management District (water quantity or “projects)

You will see as you read about these BMAPS they are more of a soft than hard science. These maps were developed to meet a “total maximum daily load” reduction of phosphorus and or nitrogen, overtime – like 20 or 30 years!

To do this, basins and stakeholders are identified, and best management practices for agriculture and other stakeholders are implemented. Then the Dept of Environmental Protection models how much the best management practice will help remove phosphorus and or nitrogen and a certain amount of credit is given for using the Best Management Practice.

It’s kind of like giving a grade based on participation instead of performance. It’s time to raise the bar. In order for the Blue-Green Algae Task Force to have the necessary information to provide guidance to the Department of Environmental Protection on maximizing the investments in water quality improvements,” we must truly know the numbers.

~Monitoring not Modeling!

P.S. Why are the three BMAPs together in the executive order? Lake O is discharged into the St Lucie River and Caloosahatchee so for them to meet their goals, Lake Okeechobee has to meet its goals. For now, we are all connected.