Greetings everyone. I have fallen behind in my new year’s resolution for 2023 – “write once a week on a historical aspect of the St Lucie Canal for 2024’s 100 year anniversary.” The St. Lucie Canal was built by Florida’s Everglades Drainage District from 1916 to 1924. In the early days many locals called it the “monster ditch” but it would reach much larger status in the years to come once turned over the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1931.
Today, I share one of my mother’s articles from the early days of the canal and river from one of Sewall’s Point’s most famous adventurer naval residents, Hugh L. Willoughby who came to Sewall’s Point in 1906. This article is an uncovered gem of a piece from The Stuart Messenger penned by Willoughby. The date on the front page is hard to read; to me it looks like 1918. My mother thinks it looks like 1916.
World War I occurred between 1914 and 1918 and thus the St Lucie Canal was first constructed during this difficult era. Also Congress was considering deepening the St Lucie Inlet after being opened by hand in 1892.
Thoughts of war are reflected in the article: “Willoughby Boost the Canal and Inlet, Both are of Great Importance. On the Completion of These Projects Submarines and Torpedo Boats Can Navigate East Coast.”
Hopefully, such thought are never something we have to ponder again…
Hi everyone. I wanted to share an email written to me by Todd Thurlow yesterday that really made me smile. It shows that we are getting closer to the ACOE halting Lake Okeechobee discharges to the St Lucie River as the lake level is approaching where the Corps wants it to be prior to next hurricane season. And today was so sunny, not a cloud in the sky, surely the lake is even lower. Check eyeonlakeo.com. Have a great weekend!
With the top of the Eco envelope flat at 14.5ft between 3/15 and 4/1, it looks like we are catching up and could get down in the envelope soon.
(By my calcs – I had to interpolate the top and bottom on my own a while back with no publicly available table to find). The 0.27ft number also appears live on the banner of eyeonlakeo.com. I hadn’t looked at it in a while until I was talking to Lt. Col. Polk today at Rivers Coalition and checked it on my phone. We are only +3.2 inches above to Top, as shown on the banner.
These aerials were taken today, March 22, 2023, around 10:45 am. High tide crested at 11:09 am. Thank you to our eye in the sky and the apple of my eye, Ed Lippisch for consistently photographing the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Also included is S-308 at Port Mayaca, Lake Okeechobee-checking for algae.
Tomorrow there is a meeting at noon at the St Lucie Locks and Dam of the longstanding defenders of the the river, the Rivers Coalition, asking or one could say, demanding, that the discharges to be stopped. We all know that discharges are helpful for lowing a high (now 14.84) Lake Okeechobee, but not for the health of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, who has unfairly bore this burden for 99 years.
-St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon with discharges of 500 cfs. Aerials Ed Lippisch.
-S-308 3-22-23 Port Mayaca, Lake Okeechobee – no visible algae at 1500 feet, Photos Ed Lippisch.
Today I share “on the water” visual reporting by my brother, Todd Thurlow. On Saturday, March 18, 2023, Todd and family took a boat ride to the popular Sandbar area just inside the St Lucie Inlet of Martin County. This is a region my husband Ed and I have been documenting since the 500 cubic foot per second discharges from Lake Okeechobee began by the Army Corp of Engineers on January 22, 2023. First there was no algae reported then there was. The ACOE has started and stopped at least three times as reported by TCPalm, but now with the weather cool the gates are again open.
For months, from the air, the historic seagrass beds have looked like a desert.
Todd’s pictures close up, on the water, show some life and give hope that by June or August there may be more lush seagrass meadows as retuned in 2022. Sprigs of seagrass, although light, are visible along with young welch, conch, and moon snails. Wading birds and sea birds can be seen feeding on and around the flats. Rays or manatees take off -hiding in sand cover. Such a beautiful place! This area and its critters are protected; be careful and thoughtful when boating here. It is an Indian River Lagoon aquatic preserve.
Ravaged by discharges from Lake Okeechobee in 2013, 2016, and 2018, the SLR/IRL does not need any Lake O water, this particularly holds true when blue green algae has been reported by the SFWMD, ACOE, FDEP, and the public.
Thank you Todd for this documentation 3-18-23 taken around 11: 50 am.
Thank you for FWC – Florida Wildlife Commission- for creating these IRL Aquatic Preserve signage to help educate and protect seagrasses. Please share! IRL A.P. 18-24 large seagrass_sgn
Todd Thurlow is the author of the website eyeonlakeo.com for “science for the everyday person.”
Due to cyanobacteria sightings and thoughtful decisions of Col. Booth, the ACOE has been “off and on” discharging an average of 500 cubic feet per second to the St Lucie River from Lake Okeechobee (15.06 ft).
Today’s aerials show the St Lucie River and Port Mayaca at Lake Okeechobee on March 11 about two hours after high tide around 1:30 pm. Discharges began January 22, 2023. ~Ed and I continue to document the discharges with the hope that they will be halted as algae is present, visible or invisible, having bloomed early (February) in Lake Okeechobee.
My husband Ed took these aerials yesterday March 4, 2023 around 11am. He described it as a “mid tide” between high and low. Also swinging by Port Mayaca, at Lake Okeechobee, this time there was no visible algae.
Following Ed’s aerials I am including those of Dr. Scott Kuhns whose photographs taken on February 27, 2023 around 10am showing streaks of algae caused the ACOE to close gate S-308 at Port Mayaca for about 2 1/2 days. Kudos to Dr Kuhns! And thank you to the ACOE for closing!
So the pictures directly below are Ed’s 3-4-23 and those following are Scott’s 2-27-23. We will continue to document the discharges with hopes they will be halted. We all agree that St Lucie River suffers under the discharges. She was taking water to avoid algae in summer. No one thought algae sightings would begin so early in February, but they have. With this discovery, it is time to 🛑 stop! Cyanobacteria is impossible to 100% track and understand. It is too ancient and will outsmart us every time. Close the locks.
If your’e a history person, or someone who likes to read about the Everglades, you have probably heard the name, “Buckingham Smith.” We learn that the drainage and destruction of the Northern Everglades to drain the Entire Everglades all started with his 1848 reconnoissance and report to the United States Treasury.
Perhaps Smith’s report was the first and major factor, but one can’t read it without noting Smith’s stunning description of the Everglades. Today such words, from someone hellbent on drainage would sound contradictory.
Today, I am transcribing parts of Buckingham Smith’s 1848 report. It was Florida’s Senator, James Westcott who asked the U.S. Department of the Treasury to make this study. Westcott was one of Florida’s first senators when Florida was admitted to the Union in 1845. Smith’s report came out in 1848 and has been reprinted many times. It is world famous. You can access the report partially reprinted in 1911 at the above link.
The link will bring you to Document No. 89 of the U.S. Senates’ 62nd Congress, 1st Session, entitled, Everglades of Florida, Acts, Reports, and Other Papers, State and National, Relating to the Everglades of the State of Florida and their Reclamation, Washington Government Printing Office, 1911. The excepts below are of particular interest from that report.
Transcription page 49, Buckingham Smith Report: (Draining Lake O)
“To reclaim the Everglades and the Atseenahoofa and Halpatiokee Swamps and the lowlands on the margin of the Kissimmee River and its tributaries, and the other rives emptying into Lake Okeechobee, this lake must be tapped by such canals running into the Caloosahatchee on the one side and into the Lochahatchee or San Lucia, or both, on the other, and the cuts must also be made from the streams on both sides of the peninsula into the Glades. Besides, after the height of the waters in the Glades should be decreased, even as much as 5 feet, there will probably be a necessity for several drains through the Glades and those swamps, by which the waters accumulating from the rains may be conducted to the ocean or gulf…”
This excerpt is interesting for me because San Lucia is the St Lucie River. Smith is saying the St Lucie should be tapped or cut to allow Lake Okeechobee to drain to the ocean. This is the first formally government documented statement of such an observation/recommendation. The Halpatiokee Swamp, also mentioned as the headwaters, was located between today’s Martin and St Lucie counties. I am told by my brother Todd that Halpatiokee Swamp and “Alpatiokee Swamp” were used interchangeably. Both meaning “Alligator” in Seminole or some similar language stock. The Loxahatchee river, spelled “Lochahatchee” by Smith, was never connected to drain Lake Okeechobee but has been partially channelized and otherwise extensively drained. The Calooshatchee was tapped first by Hamilton Disston around 1881 to drain Lake Okeechobee and then widened and deepened multiple times as also with the St Lucie. “Asteenahoofa,” a new work for me, was Smith’s word for today’s Big Cypress Swamp.
Transcription page 51, Buckingham Smith Report: (The unusual beauty of the place)
“Imagine a vast lake of fresh water extending in every direction from shore to shore beyond the reach of human vision, ordinarily unruffled by a ripple on its surface, studded with thousands of islands of various sizes, from one-fourth of an acre to hundreds of acres in area, and which are generally covered with dense thickets of shrubbery and vines. Occasionally an island is found with lofty pines and palmettos upon it, but oftener they are without any, and not unusually a solitary majestic palmetto is seen, the only tree upon an island, as if to guide in approaching it, or a place of signal or lookout for its former denizens. The surrounding waters, except in places that at first seem like channel ways (but which are not), are covered with the tall sawgrass, shooting up its straight and slender stem from the shallow bottom of the lake to the height of 10 feet above the surface and covering all but a few rods around from your view. The water is pure and limpid and almost imperceptibly moves, not in partial currents, but in a mass, silently and slowly to the southward. The bottom of the lake at the distance of from 3 to 6 feet is covered with a deposit of decayed vegetable substance, the accumulated product of ages, generally 2 or 3 feet in depth on the white sand and rock that underlies it over the entire surface of the basin. The flexible grass bending gently to the breeze protects the waters from its influence. Lilies and other aquatic flowers of every variety and hue are to be seen on every side, in pleasant contrast with the pale green of the saw grass, and as you draw near an island the beauty of the scene is increased by the rich foliage and blooming flowers of the wild myrtle and the honeysuckle and the shrubs and vines that generally adorn its shores. The profound and wild solitude of the place, the solemn silence that pervades it, unless broken by the splashing of a paddle of the canoe of light bateau with which only can you traverse the Pahayokee, or by the voices of your “compagnons du voyage” add to awakened and excited curiosity feelings bordering on awe. No human being, civilized of savage, inhabits the secluded interior of the Glades. The Seminoles reside in the region between them and the Gulf. Except for the occasional flight of an eagle or a bittern, startled by the strange invaders of their privacy, for for a view of the fishes in the shallow waters gliding swiftly from your boat as it goes near to them your eye would not rest on living thing abiding in this wilderness of “grass waters,” shrubbery, and flowers…”
This page 51 excerpt is interesting because this man who we have forever associated with the determination to drain the Everglades obviously also recognized its awe and beauty. Buckingham Smith was a very learned man of his era, a deep intellectual. I think it pained him in some way to recommend drainage. He had a job to do -survey – and he knew what the government wanted to do. In his full report, he did really present both options: the Everglades’ incredible beautiful essence, and then on the other, hand demonizing it as a filthy swamp to be resurrected for mankind, as below.
Pages 53 and 54: (Smith’s most quoted reference to why the Everglades should be drained)
“Eminent statements and philosophers have, in estimating the services of individuals to their county and to their fellow men, advanced the opinion that he who causes two sheaves of wheat to grow where one only grew before, better deserves the thanks of his race than the author, the legislator, or the victorious general. The degree of merit awarded by them to the particular act first specified may be extravagant, but no one of sound moral judgment will, it is presumed, deny that then increase of the agricultural resources , and the promotion of the the agricultural interests of a people already politically free, is the very highest service that can be rendered them, and most conductive to the preservation of their independence, prosperity, and happiness. The citizen, whether in executive or legislative station, or without either, who succeeds in making fit for cultivation, even if but partially, a region equal in extent to either of the smallest State of this Confederacy, now as useless as the deserts of Africa, will earn a rich meed of praise from the people of Florida and of the Union. The Everglades are now suitable only for the haunt of noxious vermin, or the resort of pestilent reptiles. The statesman whose exertions shall cause the millions of acres they contain, now worse than worthless, to teem with the products of agricultural industry; to be changed into a garden in which can be reared many and various exotics, introduced for the first time for cultivation into the United States, whether necessaries of life, or conveniences, or luxuries merely; that man who thus adds to the resources and wealth and independence of his country, who contributes by such means to the comfort of his fellow men, will merit a high place in public favor, not only with this own generation, but with posterity. He will have created a State. I feel that to be connected with the inception of a measure which, if carried out properly, will probably produce such results; to be identified, even in a secondary position, with the commencement of an undertaking that must be so eminently beneficial to my country, is a privilege of no mean consideration…”
This report has been used thousands of times to showcase the words “The Everglades are now suitable only for the haunt of noxious vermin, or the resort of pestilent reptiles.” A sharp contrast to “Lilies and other aquatic flowers of every variety and hue are to be seen on every side, in pleasant contrast with the pale green of the saw grass, and as you draw near an island the beauty of the scene is increased by the rich foliage and blooming flowers of the wild myrtle and the honeysuckle and the shrubs and vines that generally adorn its shores. The profound and wild solitude of the place, the solemn silence that pervades it, unless broken by the splashing of a paddle of the canoe of light bateau with which only can you traverse the Pahayokee, or by the voices of your “compagnons du voyage” add to awakened and excited curiosity feelings bordering on awe.”
I wonder what Buckingham Smith would write if he were alive today?
These aerial photographs were taken by my husband, Ed Lippisch, on Friday, February 24, 2023 around 1:51 pm during high tide. It was a beautiful day and many boats were fishing over the nearshore reefs. The 500 cubic feet per second discharges are much less noticeable at high tide; the visual loss of seagrass remains. I am sharing all photographs -many are very similar, you can look for small differences.
Please see slides from ACOE Periodic Scientist Call on 2-21-23 for updates on Lake Okeechobee level, red tide on west coast, east coast conditions, and other important information. Periodic_Scientists_Call_2023-02-21
With the hot, dry weather the last few days Lake Okeechobee’s evaporation should be high. Today the SFWMD reported the lake at 15.61 feet. You can see the ecological envelope band in gray below.
I invite my readers to attend a presentation entitled “The History of the St. Luice Canal.”Todd Thurlow and I will be using historic maps, newspapers, and photographs together with modern technology to give insight into a canal that has been “on the minds of men” since the mid 1800s and even earlier.
If you want to attend in person, please join us at the Rivers Coalition meeting, Thursday, February 23, at 11:00am, Stuart City Hall Chambers, 121 S.W. Flagler Avenue, Stuart , FL 34994. If you’d like to join via Zoom, please reach out to the the meeting administrator at firstname.lastname@example.org and request a Zoom link.
I hope you’ll join us!
The St. Lucie Canal was built by the Everglades Drainage District from 1915-1924 (some records state 1925 or 1926). Its unnatural connection drains surrounding lands and allows “overflow” water from Lake Okeechobee to be directed to the St. Lucie River wrecking the estuary’s delicate wildlife ecology and spurring massive toxic blooms in 2013, 2016, and 2018. Of course, the canal has been a boon for agriculture and development of all South and Central Florida as it was built as the “primary drainage canal” of the Everglades.
As the official completion date of the St Lucie Canal by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is 1924, next year will be the 100 Year Anniversary of the St. Lucie Canal. Thus this year, in 2023, I am writing and presenting extensively on the history of this beloved and hated canal as we work to weave it into a better water future.
Lock No. 2, original structure at today’s St Lucie Lock and Dam.