The mastic tree had been in my yard for many years before I noticed it. Cradled next to a giant strangler fig, the trees’ high branches are mixed together in a very high canopy. Over the years, I realized it was a special tree that I should know more about. Mastic trees are high hammock trees native to Florida, attracting much wildlife and growing slowly to great size. The mastic tree, the hammock tree, the forgotten tree, the tree mindlessly chopped down in my hometown of Sewall’s Point…
There used to be a large mastic at the entrance to High Point at River Road. It was cut a few years ago in favor of pentas and mulch. A few months ago, I discovered another one on an empty lot located at about Ridgeview and River Roads. Covered in a thorny vine, few would notice the huge trunk covered in different colored fungi, like a piece of God’s art. Ancient and otherworldly. A reminder of days long past before non-native plants, floratam grass, fertilizers, and pesticides would replace a tangled forest and contribute to the death of the St Lucie River.
Just recently, my mastic dropped gooey, orange berries and the wildlife ate them with relish. I have been trying to grow the seeds, now wrinkled and brown, in my quest to bring my yard closer to what it was prior to development and help the river and soil, but the squirrels and raccoons raided my pots! Proud to outsmart my four-legged friends, I “ingeniously” figured out how to protect the seeds in an old aquarium. But just today, I learned that mastic trees are male and female. Dropping the orange seeds, I believe I have a female.
I am afraid I might have one of the last mastic trees in Sewall’s Point. She needs a companion if there is to be the return of the majestic mastic. We are calling your name…
Greetings to my blog readers! Hope your new year is off to a good start.
For me, 2020 started with the Everglades Coalition (EVCO) Conference January 9-11 at South Seas Island Resort in Captiva Island, Florida. The theme for the conference was “All Hands on Deck,” and I would certainly say that the inspirational event achieved such! (https://www.evergladescoalition.org)
As a member of the South Florida Water Management District, (https://www.sfwmd.gov), I was asked by EVCO Co-Chair Mark Perry, to sit on the panel “Lake Okeechobee Management, The Big Water.” Other panelist were: Dr Dale Gawlik, Director and Professor, Environmental Science Program, Florida Atlantic University; Dr Paul Gray, Everglades Science Coordinator Audubon Florida; David E. Hazellief, Okeechobee County Board of County Commissioners; and Col. Andrew Kelly, Jacksonville District Commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Thank you to long time River Warrior, Gayle Ryan, for taping and you can find the entire panel video taped on her Facebook page dated January 10, 2:07pm. To say the least, I felt very privilege to sit with such a group. Today, I would like to share my slides and the 13 minute recorded talk below. Thank the Everglades Coalition for the opportunity to share and the SFWMD for helping me prepare.
I am ready. Both of my hands are on deck!
Historic Phytogeography of South Florida with Present Day SFWMD Features Map, 2019
“This is thought to be our school house where the courthouse is today. So this would be today’s South East Ocean Boulevard. I would say the year is about 1907.” Mom
This quaint photograph is a far cry from what one sees toady. It was taken along the well traveled South East Ocean Boulvard near today’s Martin County Court House. The photo is believed to have been taken around 1907 and reveals that the area was a sand pine habitat with an understory of palmettos and other scrub like plants. These sandy soils are ancient sandbars. They remain today under inches of fill, floratam grass, and pavement.
They are interesting because we are traveling along them “all the time.”
According to the History of Martin County one of the reasons there were rumbling in our area, starting around 1915, -to brake away from Palm Beach County- was that there were no paved roads:
The book states on page 441: “There were no paved roads, for example, between Stuart and Indiantown, or between Jensen and Stuart, or from Palm City to Tequesta. The roads that had been built were narrow “shell” roads. ~By the middle 20s then citizens of this area were tired of getting stuck in the sand. They decided the only way they would get good roads was to break away and form their own county.”
*Today this habitat is endangered as most all sand pine scrub types along Florida’s east coast have been developed. Certainly, prior to development, there were many scrub jays and gopher turtles that had lived and adapted to changes in this area for thousands of years
When you are driving around today, do you ever wonder what things looked like before humans changed things so much? I do.
I think about it mostly in the context of deteriorating water quality and trying to wrap my head around the story of how we got to where we are today.
My mother, historian Sandra Henderson Thurlow, recently shared these photos. I think they make a point. Both photos belonged to Stuart’s renowned pioneer Kitching family. The first photo was hand titled “Lover’s Lane,” by Josephine Kitching and is marked 1907. That same photo was used by Mr Stanley Kitching to made into a beautiful color postcard to market our area. According to my mother, the quality color printing was only offered in Germany pre World War 1, (1914-1918).
Compare the images. You can see that the second post card is the same image as the first, but now colorized and professionally entitled: “Tall Trees through the Pines, Stuart, Fla.”
My mother wrote of this photo: “Jacqui, This postcard was printed in Germany so it was before WWI. I think it was printed around 1907. It was one of a series ordered by Stanley Kitching and is very early. I think this is the trail that became U. S. 1 (Avenue E.) Mom”
In any case, if indeed this is the old Avenue E that became Stuart’s US1 look what it used to be – a Sand Pine Community, now one of the the rarest in the world. A community whose white sands used to clean and purify the water…There were thousands of acres in today’s Stuart, Martin County, and along all of Florida’s east coast and central high ridges. (https://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00000505/00001/1x)
I am thankful for those who saved these habitats so we can see how rain water was once cleansed, naturally.
Sand Pine Habitat has a fascinating ecological history. Our history. You can read more here:
“Scrubs dominated by a canopy of sand pine are usually found on the highest sandy ridgelines. The pine canopy may range from widely scattered trees with a short, spreading growth form, to tall thin trees forming a dense canopy of uniform height. The sand pine scrub understory is characterized by either scrub oaks or Florida rosemary.”(https://www.fnai.org/PDF/NC/Scrub_Final_2010.pdf)
For a number of weeks now, I have been on this quest to be able to identify pine trees as the history of our forests are connected to the our St Luice River. To get me started, my mother, historian Sandra Henderson Thurlow, lent me a number of books, historic photographs, and great old newspaper articles. What I thought would be easy has ended up being hard.
Today, I am going to begin my pine tree series, asking for your help, starting with the example of the post card above. This ca. pre 1900 post card shows something we do know: Stuart, Martin County was once covered in pine forests, mostly sand pines or slash pines, but throughout varied texts that are references to other types of pines too.
According to column entitled “Memories of Early Forests In This Area” written on January 24th, 1974 by Stuart News editor, Ernie Lyons “most of the virgin longleaf yellow pines…were logged off from 1918-1928.”It has been confusing to me that Mr Lyons an avid naturalist, mentions longleaf yellow pines, rather than slash pines, but as all the trees were cut, I doubt I will ever know for sure the answer to this question: “Were there any longleaf pines in the lands that became Martin County?
Mr Lyons also notes: “They were magnificent trees, some towering to 60 feet. Where the big pines prevailed there was almost no undergrowth , just a forest floor carpeted with pine needles and giant cones.“
Pine identification is hairsplitting but it is easy to see that the longleaf pine has the giant pine cones, not the two varieties of slash pine, nor a sand pine. This leaves one wondering, could Ernie Lyons possibly be talking about longleaf pine? https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/FR/FR00300.pdf
Below is Ernie Lyons’ column. What pine or pines do you think he is taking about? 🙂
Most of the virgin longleaf yellow pines in this part of Florida were logged off form 1918 to 1928. They were magnificent trees, some towering to 60 feet. Where the big pines prevailed there was almost no undergrowth, just a forest floor carpeted with pine needles and giant cones.
The big stands were practically immune to the ravages of fire. There simply wasn’t enough undergrowth to send the flames high enough to reach viable limbs and branches. But the lumberman’s crosscut saw was a different matter.
This not to say that all of Martin and St Lucie counties was tall yellow pine country. The big pines did not favor high water tables. The were most avoidant on the high ground along the North and South Forks of the St Luice. There were scattered strands on high ridges in western Martin County and dense forests between Indiantown and Okeechobee.
Three big mills operated in the area at that time. One of the largest was at Rio, with a logging railroad which ran from there across the North Fork at about the site of the present Port St. Lucie bridge over the river. Another mill, which left a giant pile of sawdust was located on the upper North Fork about half a mile west of the present mouth of C-24, then called Cane Slough Creek. There was a giant lumber and turpentine operation at Sherman west of Indiantown.
By the time the Florida Boom collapsed in 1928, there were not enough big trees left to make it worthwhile to operate large mills and the bottom had fallen out of lumber prices.
Then began the era of the small “hit and run” portable saw mills. These gathered in the few big trees overlooked becasue they were in dense hammocks and so hard to get out that the effort had not been worth the trouble.
The small operators cut anything big enough to saw a two-by-four from. Timber leasing was often overlooked entirely. If leasing was observed, the usual practice was to lease a quarter section and then timber the sections around it on all sides.
By the early 1940s, the county was practically denuded of pines bigger than three or four inches in diameter. It was a scraggly, ugly county, its natural beauty demolished shamefully. There has been a remarkable recovery in the past 34 years, but the pines of any size that you see now are mostly second growth and will never equal the old virgin forests.
The only evidence of the the former forests in most of the county is pitch pine stumps, and in recent years most of these have been removed and shipped off to make resin, turpentine, and dynamite.
I saw the virgin yellow pine forests up the North Fork and they are a marvelous sight to remember. They were the haunt of the huge Florida fox squirrels, big as cats- black, black and white, grey and reddish. When the big pines went, fox squirrels became scarce.
Some of he tallest pines, especially near lakes and along the river, had stick nests of bald eagles in their crowns. One over near the south end of Mile Lake, had a pair of the most aggressive eagles I ever saw, especially when there were newly hatched eagles up above. I discovered it was not safe to come within a few hundred feet of that tree without being dive -bombed in turn by Ma and Pa.
Wild turkeys used to stroll singe file through the tall pine forests as also did sandhill cranes.
“This 1905 photo is of Margaret Andrews and Rudolph Tietig walking through the property that, at the time, belonged the Twichells – located between today’s Hillcrest and Heritage subdivisions.” Historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow
Today’s historic photographs, shared by my mother, allow us to imagine what the high west side of Sewall’s Point in Martin County looked like before it was cleared for agriculture and development. Yes, although today a few prize trees remain, once, the peninsula’s entire high west side was covered in a hardwood hammock: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/UW/UW20600.pdf; https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw206
We still see many Live Oaks, Sabal Palms, and a few Gumbo Limbo, but other names such as Paradise Tree; Mastic; Srangler Fig; Hickory; Satin Leaf; Marlberry, Myrsine, Ironwood, and Pigeon plum are much more rare.
As was the custom of the day, and remains so, these trees were cleared. Perhaps some were used for lumber. But for the most part, there was little thought of saving them, nor of the birds and wildlife that depended on the tangled forest for shelter and food.
I think this is worth thinking about. We walk about today somewhat unaware of what the land previously looked like, forgetting forest’s relationship to water, and how many creatures have been impacted by these human changes.
Could we recreate the forests? This is doubtful, but we could bring some of it back. In order to do this, we need more than photographs, we need a native hardwood hammock -“to see.”
We are very lucky to live in Martin County, a county that has a history of conservation. When researching the Sewall’s Point hammock, I realized I had never visited Maggy’s Hammock Park in Port Salerno. (https://www.martin.fl.us/MaggysHammock). Named after environmentalist and long time county Martin County commissioner, Maggy Hurchalla, this park is a treasure, a walk back into time. This native site, just a few miles south and across the St Lucie River from Sewall’s Point, preserves ancient live oaks, paradise trees, strangler figs, and many, many others as well as the important understory.
It is a true hardwood hammock!
Considering the location, these trees must be similar to native Sewall’s Point’s. This was my first visit and I will be back as I try to rediscover the beauty and the benefits of the “Once Tangled Forest.”
Work on the C-44 Reservoir and Storm Water Treatment Area started back in 2004 and is one of a few gigantic water projects of the Army Corp of Engineers and South Florida Water Management District. The mammoth construction site is part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, Indian River Lagoon South. In Martin County, the foundation for this was laid back in 1996 and 1998, and then again in 2006 when the public supported environmental land purchases through a sales tax: https://www.martin.fl.us/land-acquisition
Recently, the SFWMD has made great progress for water quality projects with strong backing from the public (fed up with toxic algae blooms), Governor Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature.
Today I will be sharing three things: a flyover with my husband Ed; a field trip led by the SFWMD to C-44 with Florida Sportsman Magazine; and the grand finale, the visit of Governor Ron DeSantis to allow the first waters of the C-44 Canal to flow into the STAs.
Why has everything taken so long? We’ll there are many reasons but we must note the 2008 Great Recession, politics, and most of all, the project’s size!
The map above and below can give you an idea of the project’s 12, 000 acres!
Looking at the Google Map, you’ll notice that you can easily see the outline of the former groves. Perusing the map below, you can see the reservoir will be in the north west corner and the six cells of the storm water treatment area on the east. You will also notice that Allapattah Flats, once a gigantic marsh through St Lucie and Martin County, is north of the project along with Troup’s – RB Ranch – upper east. Star Farms is west and grows sugar cane at the present time. There is a long intake canal off the C-44 canal that brings in the polluted water – primarily from local farm runoff. 2/3 of Martin County is agricultural. It is important to keep these lands in agriculture as developed lands would be even harsher on the wildlife and the environment. We all, coast or inland, must work to clean things up!
FLYOVER C-44 RESERVOIR & STA, ED LIPPISCH and JTL, SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2019.
2. FIELD TRIP TO C-44 RESERVOIR & STA WITH FLORIDA SPORTSMAN MAGAZINE, and JTL led by Alan Shirkey, Bureau Chief, Engineering and Construction, SFWMD and Buff Searcy, Lead Engineer and Construction Manager, SFWMD. THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 2019. This was a great opportunity and thank you to Blair Wickstrom for recommending we do such from the ground. This is were one really sees what is going on!
3. GOVERNOR DESANTIS ACTIVATES THE C-44 STA, INDIANTOWN, FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 8, 2019. A great day and an honor for me to be there up close to our wonderful new Governor!
“The SFWMD recently completed three of the six cells of the 6,300-acre treatment area and expects to have the entire STA completed next year. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is building a 3,400-acre reservoir next to the STA that is expected to be completed in 2021. The C-44 Reservoir will store 50,000 acre-feet of water, including local basin runoff and Lake Okeechobee releases. This will reduce harmful releases reaching the St. Lucie Estuary that can fuel harmful algal blooms. The C-44 STA will treat the water stored in the reservoir before it is released into the estuary. “I can’t help but smile. Water flowing into this treatment area marks a momentous day in the history of the Everglades, the Treasure Coast, and the St. Lucie Estuary,” said SFWMD Governing Board Member Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch. “This is the start of the road to a healthier estuary and Everglades. Under the leadership of Governor DeSantis, progress on Everglades restoration is moving at a rapid pace.””
Today is November 6th. On November 4th, friend, Clerk of Court Carolyn Timmann contacted me noting that the Florida Wildlife Commission https://myfwc.com had reported that on November 2, a panther was hit and killed in Martin County.
“The remains of an adult male Florida panther, UCFP368, were recovered on 11/2/2019 in Martin County, Florida (558227, 2984817). The suspected cause of death was vehicle collision.”
Where: About two miles south of Indiantown on Highway 710 known as Beeline Highway
Sometimes we do not realize that these spectacular and rare creatures usually associated with West and Central Florida are sometimes also in our eastern Martin County ~ in our presence. While driving (especially through a Wildlife Management Area) we must be looking; be aware; slow down; and share the road. In this unfortunate instance, Highway 710 (Beeline Highway) cuts right through prime wildlife habitat and is very near Indiantown, Florida. I have written earlier blog post about panthers being reported in western Palm City. They are here…
Comments of interests of my conversations with very helpful FWC. Thank you to FWC for all of your work.
“It is not rare for it to be uncollared. In fact, most panthers are not radiocollared. Currently we only have 7 panthers radiocollared; the current population range is 120-230. In years past, we had many more panthers collared. But our research focus has changed over the years and we don’t need to have as many collared at the moment.
We don’t have many panthers in that part of the state (Martin County) but they can turn up just about anywhere. We had a couple of recent sightings (trail camera photos) from Corbet (management area south of there) so we knew at least one was in that general area. There’s no way to know if this was the same one photographed. Only time will tell if we get any more photos from there.
I’ve attached our data sheet (above) that we fill out when we recover panther carcasses. Because of the location, this panther never passed through our office so we don’t have much of the information we typically collect (age, weight, etc). That information will be determined when a necropsy is performed. An FWC officer recovered the carcass and took it to a nearby field office. The location information is on here though.”
Mark Lotz, Panther Biologist, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Naples
Here is what I got from our panther team:
FWC recovered the remains of an adult male Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi), UCFP368, on 2 November 2019 in Martin County, Florida. The suspected cause of death for UCFP368 is vehicular trauma. The carcass was recovered at these coordinates: UTM easting 558227, northing 2984817. The carcass is currently at the FWC Fish Eating Creek Field Office and will be sent to the FWC Research Lab in Gainesville for a complete necropsy.
We had received a couple of trail camera photos from the Dupuis WMA back in August so this road kill could possibly be that panther.
[The identifier UCFP368 stands for Uncollared Florida Panther Number 368]
Kipp Frohlich, Director, Division of Habitatand Species Conservation, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Tallahassee
When I was a kid, my brother, sister and I lived on Edgewood Drive in Stuart. My parents were great about teaching us to appreciate, respect and love wildlife. Today, many of our actions would be frowned upon. We fed the animals, and at one time or another, had wild pets. It was wonderful!
This weekend unable to garden trapped inside by relentless rain, I started thinking to myself “what did the ecosystem of my childhood backyard really look like?” That was the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Could I find anything that looked like it today? Does my yard, today, resemble it at all?
So I took a drive to the old neighborhood.
St Lucie Estates looks a lot the same but our family house has been knocked down and replaced by one much larger. Also every lot is developed. When I was growing up, our house was surrounded by a number of empty lots and as kids we roamed freely. These undeveloped lots allowed my siblings and I to have native nature right in our “backyard.”
I racked my brain to think of where I might find a comparable lot to the ones in St Lucie Estates. I wanted to see what plants were on it. What trees. The color of the sand.
I drove east on East Ocean Boulevard.
Near Kingswood Condominium I found one lot that looked a lot like the ones I ran around in as a kid. Although drained and full of invasives, the space held a few recognizables: a sand pine, a stand of sand oaks, yucca, palmettos, prickly pear cactus, and other flowering plants and grasses whose names I never learned.
Seeing the Kingwood lot brought back a lot of memories and I thought about how this once familiar habitat is basically gone. This rare Florida Scrub has been covered with shopping malls and subdivisions most sporting heavily fertilized floratam along with a variety of ornamentals.
I wondered why developers just cleared the natives. I am realizing that my childhood home must have been a Florida Scrub environment. For goodness sake, one of our favorite wild friends was the very smart Scrub Jay! We never thought that our house may have destroyed their favorite bushes. We just smiled and lifted our arms strong and high -palms perfectly flat balancing one nut. Always, they came. So smart! So consistent!
Of course Scrub Jays are now a threatened species whose habitat is considered to be one of the most endangered in the world…
~The location of my childhood backyard.
After getting the photos from Kingwood, I decided to drive north to Jensen to visit Hawk’s Bluff off of Savannah Road. Here I could walk and remember the some of the sights of my childhood. This is one of the few places the Florida Scrub Ecosystem has been saved.
~The wind whistled through the trees. I felt timeless. The rain had brightened the usually muted colors. I sat on the bench. Lake Henderson’s grey and purple reflection resembled a Monet. It was beautiful!
I was alone in my childhood backyard…
I raised my arms above my head, hands upright bent -perfectly flat.
Would a Scrub Jay come to visit?
I held my arms up until I could no longer -putting them down- I got up to walk my adult path.
Visit #1 one of the last undeveloped lots near Kingswood Condominium, East Ocean Drive, Stuart, Florida, still reveals native scrub vegetation:
The sun’s first light rose over a gigantic crane that was displaying both the American and Florida flags. Gusts burst through the C-43 construction site as the earth slowly warmed, the giant banners flapping loudly in the wind. I smiled to myself thinking, “it really is a new day for the Caloosahatchee.”
~Confusing for those of us on the east coast, unlike the St Lucie, the Caloosahatchee sometimes needs water. The idea of the C-43 Reservoir is to both reduce the amount of water released from Lake Okeechobee that makes it to the estuary during the wet season and to store water to be released during dry season in order to help maintain an ideal salinity in the upper estuary. Right now, it is often the case that the Caloosahatchee has to “compete” with other interests for water.
With this in mind, on his second day in office, Governor DeSantis called for expediting the important long-awaited reservoir as well as adding a water quality component. People on the west coast are bold to say that DeSantis has done great things for the Caloosahatchee since day one.
Knowing I would be traveling in lands unfamiliar, I drove a day early to the C-43 site with Sean Cooley, Communications Director, South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) and his assisting, Mr. Carter. Thus I was able to tour before and during Governor DeSantis’ visit. It was rare opportunity to learn more about Florida’s west coast.
How would I describe the expericence?
Let me explain…
Video of going driving up the 45 foot mound to view the site of the C-43 Caloosahatchee Reservoir, 10-25-19.
On Thursday, Mr Phil Flood -SFWMD West Coast Regional Representative – was the first to give me a tour. We drove a truck up a huge mound that was weighing down clay to be used in the reservoir’s surrounding dike. When we got to the top of the 45 foot hill, Mr Flood pointed in every direction: “See that tree line? See the horizon? See the edge of that old packing house? All this all will include the reservoir…”
The wind whipped by; I held my hair out of my face, eyes squinting. I thought about the once natural flow of water from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay. I though about how much things have changed in a hundred years.
“Just like my friend Mr Haddad told me,” I shouted across the way,” we spent a hundred years taking the water off the land and we’ll spend the next hundred years putting it back on…”
Mr Flood broke into his wonderful smile directing my eyes, again, to the horizon.
“The C-43 will be huge! The lands consists of 10, 500 square acres of former orange groves, will have 19 miles of dam embankment, 15 miles of perimeter canal, 14 major water control structures, 3 pump stations, and 3 bridges.”
“And most important, it will help save the Caloosahatchee!” I replied. We drove back down the giant mound watching the excitement as all prepared for the Governor’s arrival.
These photos in this post are from both Thursday, October 24 and Friday, October 25, 2019. They were taken as SFWMD staff along with Lane Construction Corporation, a U.S. subsidiary of Salini Impregilo prepared for the groundbreaking ceremony. The was great fanfare! We all know it’s time to fix the water!
It’s now October 25th, waiting for the Governor and First Lady to arrive!
The initial goal of my South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) field trip was to tour Storm Water Treatment Area (STA) 3/4 and the A1 Flow Equalization Basin (FEB). When I saw the location, I asked if it would be possible to also see the A-2 lands to the west that will become the EAA Reservoir.
Later on, I realized that although the future site of the EAA Reservoir “wasn’t that far away,” it certainly wasn’t easy to get to!
After a long and bumpy truck ride atop levees and back roads we arrived. I was led by two talented South Florida Water Management staff: Ms. Jennifer Leeds, Interim Division Director of Ecosystem Restoration, and Mr. LeRoy Rodgers, Lead Invasive Species Biologist both respected experts in their fields.
After leaving SFWMD Headquarters in West Palm Beach, our first stop was STA 3/4. Tracey Piccone, Chief Consulting Engineer of Water Quality, and Nathan Ralph, STA 3/4 Site Coordinator provided an airboat tour through open areas that were once cattails. Since 2007, the cattails in the northern part of the STA are slowly dying off. This is of great concern to Tracy and Nathan as the cattails are what clean the nutrient rich water leaving the Everglades Agricultural Area. Under certain circumstances, water from Lake Okeechobee is also sent through this STA as well. Strict laws 1994 Everglades Forever Act laws require the exiting water to meet water quality standards before being sent south to Everglades National Park. The scientists spoke to me about resting, replanting, and diversifying the vegetation. I asked how we can send more water south…
It’s complicated. STAs are living systems, not machines. In fact, this 16,300 acres in western Palm Beach County is the largest constructed wetland in the world!
After the tour of STA 3/4, we focused north and I could see the glistening 15,000 acres of plants and shallow waters known as the A1 FEB, a “giant triangle” always easy to locate on a map. Once the Tailsman Sugar Company, this land now functions as a Flow Equalization Basin stabilizing the waters coming in from the Everglades Agricultural Area before they go through STA 3/4.
As we drove, I tried to note the markings of multiple bird species. I was so happy to see birdlife in spite of how drastically humankind has altered this once pristine landscape. It is said that today’s wading bird population is down 90% from the days this wetland was an unobstructed “River of Grass.” As we approached, birds flew off in every direction and I thought about Marjorie Stoneman Douglas and others who forged this restoration path.
After the STA 3/4 and A1 FEB tour, we drove north. Sprawling Holey Land Wildlife Management Area was on our left and the A1 FEB on our right. I asked why it was so flat and treeless. “Over the years the tree islands have washed away and been damaged,” was the reply.
We drove in silence.
Size here is Grand Canyon like and it was difficult for me to judge where we were. Suddenly, we took a sharp left. Jennifer Leeds smiled saying: “We’re here…” I climbed out of the truck.
Standing on a levee looking over both fallow and producing sugarcane fields, I stared out to the horizon. I felt my eyes tear over as it hit me that this was the land. The land that one day soon will become the EAA Reservoir.
“This was Senate President Joe Negron’s fight, this is our fight…” I thought to myself. Getting to the EAA Reservoir…
Though my husband Ed has flown me over the A2 lands multiple times, seeing them from the ground was much more convincing. If I’d had a River Warrior Flag I would have staked it in the ground. Instead, I smiled and took a picture. 🙂
Video – A2 lands growing sugarcane that are to become the EAA Reservoir
When I took this photo recently at a South Florida Water Management District meeting, I thought to myself “score!” It is a rare thing to see all in one place, the latest changing of the ACOE guard.
As we know, the Army Corp of Engineers, Jacksonville District, changes out its leadership top positions, almost like clock-work, every three years. I say “almost” because Lt. Col. Jennifer Reynolds stayed for four years during a time of change and controversial issues like toxic algae being discharged into the St Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers and the beginnings of the updating of LORS (Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule) to LOSOM (Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual: https://www.saj.usace.army.mil/LOSOM/) . Acronyms aside — “how Lake Okeechobee is operated” being updated –now to possibly include considerations for cyanobacteria and human health.
Today we set our issues aside to welcome Lt. Col. Todd Polk who has now officially replaced Lt. Col. Jennifer Reynolds. (Col. Kelly has another two years.)
In case you have not met him already, as he has been being phased-in for a couple of months now, we welcome Lieutenant Colonel, US Army Deputy District Commander, South Floria, Todd F. Polk, PMP!
You can read his impressive bio below. HIs email is firstname.lastname@example.org should you like to welcome him too!
Lt. Col. Todd Polk joined the Jacksonville District as the Deputy District Commander for South Florida, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in August 2019. He oversees the planning, construction, and operations of Corps projects in central and south Florida. Polk joins the Corps from the U.S. Army Garrison at Fort Drum, New York. While at Fort Drum he served in two positions, most recently as the Chief of Engineering and Design Branch for the Department of Public Works, and Chief of strategic and community planning for the Plans, Analysis, and Integration Office. In 2016-2017, Polk deployed in support of the U.S. Military Observation Group previously serving on the Force Headquarters Staff for the United Nations’ Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Prior to his deployment to Africa, Polk was a Project Manager for Military Construction and Sustainment and Restoration projects with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Alaska District, 2015-2016. His previous assignments include the Executive Officer for the 6th Brigade Engineer Battalion (Airborne), 4th Infantry Brigade, 25th Infantry Division (A), Fort Richardson, Alaska from 2014-2015; and, Brigade Engineer and Chief of Plans, 4th Inf. Bde., 25th Inf. Div. (A), Fort Richardson, Alaska from 2013-2014.
Polk’s earlier assignments include Battalion Operations Officer, Executive Officer, and Observer-Controller/Trainer for the Sidewinder Team, Operations Group, National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California from 2010-2012. Brigade Engineer for the 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT), 10th Mountain Division (Light) in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) 10, and A Troop Commander, 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry in Logar Province, Afghanistan, OEF 9-10, in 2009, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop Commander, 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry, 3rd IBCT, in OEF 6-7, Kunar Province from 2006-2007. G-3/5/7 Operations Officer 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, New York, from 2004-2005. Battalion Maintenance Officer, Headquarters and Headquarters Company Executive Officer and C Company Platoon Leader, 65th Engineer Battalion, 25th Infantry Division (L), Schofield Barracks, Hawaii from 2000-2003.
Polk was commissioned as an Engineer Officer in 1999 from the University of Kentucky. He holds a Bachelors of Arts in Communications from the University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky, and a Masters of Arts in Public Administration from Webster University, Saint Louis, Missouri. His military Education includes the Engineer Officer Basic and Captains’ Career courses; Combined Arms Services and Staff School; Army Command and General Staff College; Airborne, Air Assault and Ranger courses; and, Joint Planner and Joint Fire Power courses. He is a registered Project Management Professional.
His military awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster (OLC), the Meritorious Service Medal (3 OLC), the Joint Commendation Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, the Army Achievement Medal (5 OLC), Meritorious Unit Citation (1 OLC), Army Superior Unit Award, Airborne Badge, Air Assault Badge, Combat Action Badge, Ranger Tab, and the Bronze Order of the de Fleury Medal.
Polk is a native of Cincinnati, Ohio. He is married and has two children.
Thank you to Rotarians Mr Larry Lavargna and Ms Elmira Gainey for co-chairing Stuart-Sunrise Rotary’s 2nd Annual Water Forum, Public Health as it Relates to the St Lucie River. There are few instances where so many influential water voices come together to speak on the river as it relates to public health and for a question/answer period after each to boot. A excellent public forum!
I noticed that of all the speakers, Dr Gary Goforth had written out his talk, thus in case you were unable to attend, I asked if he would share. His words are included below. You can also find many of the presentations recorded and posted at Treasure Coast on Facebook.
The most powerful things happen when we all get involved and include others! Thank you Sunshine-Rotary!
We are so blessed to live in Paradise! Like you I love this river, its estuary, its mangroves, its beaches, its near-shore reefs. But as many of you know, it is a Paradise with a tragic problem. Below the surface of this serene river lies poison.
Ms. Sandra Thurlow recently provided the following treasure: In 1885, Homer Hine Stuart, Jr. for whom Stuart is named carried around a small woodcutting representing the confluence of the North Fork and South Fork of the St Lucie Rivers. This carving showed the river as 20 feet deep at the location of the future Roosevelt Bridge. Imagine that!
Thirty years later Ernie Lyons described looking down into the River 15-20 ft through clear tea-colored water to a sandy bottom below.
The area behind us was known worldwide as “Giant Tarpon Kingdom” with regular catches of silver kings above 175 pounds. The world record was reported as 220 pounds, caught just up river.
In 1913, the State of Florida decided to construct a canal connecting Lake Okeechobee with the Atlantic Ocean. The primary intent was to divert the overflow of Lake Okeechobee away from its natural course south through the Everglades, thereby allowing the sawgrass plains south of the lake to be developed for agriculture. A secondary benefit was to provide cross-Florida transportation of produce and other commerce.
On June 15, 1923, the first recorded discharges from Lake Okeechobee passed through the newly constructed St. Lucie Canal, which connected the St. Lucie Estuary to the Lake. But an unintended consequence was the discharge of countless tons of muck and dirty freshwater from the Lake that forever changed the landscape of the St Lucie River and Estuary.
Within 10 years the Martin County Commissioners had asked the State to stop the discharges “for the reason that the continued discharge of a large volume of dirty freshwater has killed all the shell fish, driven all salt water fish from the river, filled the river with hyacinths and so polluted the St Lucie River as to completely take away the attractive features and ruin its commercial value to the community.” (December 15, 1930 MCBCC)
The lake discharges drove out the king tarpons – the 150-200 pounders – and the small city of Stuart recast itself as the “Sailfish Capital of the World.”
Ernie Lyons described the damage in this way:
“We turned our good, sweet water into a cup of poison and changed a laughing little river into a reeking abomination – in the latter part of an ordinary lifetime. Clean rivers are not “forever and forever” like the sunrise.” (from The Last Cracker Barrel (1976) p 62)
As a professional engineer I’ve had the honor of working to protect the environment of south Florida for more than three decades – in the Everglades, in Lake Okeechobee, along the Kissimmee River and its headwaters, and in the magnificent estuaries –the St Lucie and Caloosahatchee. My wife and I raised three kids here along the St Lucie River and I’ve taught my two grandsons to fish and appreciate the incredible biological diversity throughout the river and estuary and near shore reefs. But unfortunately, we don’t eat the fish we catch in the River because of the public health risk.
I recently had the misfortune of being in the emergency room of our local hospital. One of the very first questions I was asked was if I had had any recent contact with the St Lucie River.
During the 2016 discharges I walked along Stuart Beach with Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch and we collected the names and stories of over 100 people who had gotten sick after coming in contact with the water.
A beautiful dog, Finn, died that summer after morning frolic in the water. Several other dogs suffered acute liver failure, and suffer to this day.
2016 was a watershed year in understanding the relationship between the discharge of polluted water from the Lake and public health. The media began to focus on toxic blue green algae – particularly the microcystis form. While parts of our beloved estuary were covered in foul smelling neon green guacamole, the media began reporting on the effects of microcystis and human health. An Ohio State University study reported that those of us in Martin and St Lucie County have twice the national average rate of death for non-alcoholic liver disease. They correlated this high rate with one thing – discharge of polluted water carrying blue green algae from Lake Okeechobee. This particular form of blue-green algae – microcystis – carries a dangerous toxin that can cause serious liver disease which can lead to death. Additional human health risks have also been identified – Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease.
In the last year – thanks to the efforts of Congressman Brian Mast – the Corps of Engineers acknowledged for the first time that Lake discharges to the estuaries carrying microcystis are toxic to humans, and the US Government makes these discharges knowingly and with the understanding that they are poisoning us – the public that they serve.
Numerous public health advisories have been issued in our region in association with lake discharges – warnings to the public to avoid contact with the water. But none have ever been issued when Lake water is sent south – the environmental conditions south of the lake are not advantageous for sustaining toxic blooms. So the alternative to knowingly poisoning the public are clear – send the water south.
Col. Kelly is now in charge, and we are truly grateful for his leadership. As the Corps revises its operation schedule of the Lake, I am sure that Col. Kelly will ensure that the public health, economies and environment of our region are given equal weight as the public health, economies and environment of the area south of the Lake. Hundreds of millions of dollars in economic loss are felt by the regions around the estuaries during years of heavy lake discharges. Public health is adversely affected. There is no acceptable level of lake discharges. There is no level of Lake releases to the St Lucie Estuary that is beneficial.
Lake discharges contain pollutants include toxic blue green algae, sediment (muck), low salinity water, and nutrients. However, even if all the Lake water was sent south, our beloved St Lucie would still be in trouble. Our local watershed has its challenges – particularly high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in agricultural runoff. Our watershed suffers from the same lack of pollution regulation as the Lake Okeechobee watershed: landowners are not held accountable for pollution from their property.
But the problem is not just ag runoff – WE ALL ARE RESPONSIBLE. For the St Lucie Estuary, approximately 5-10% of the total nitrogen loading is from our septic tanks. If you have a tank – have it inspected and maintained. Water quality data show an improvement in nitrogen levels due to positive actions taken by the City of Stuart, Martin County, Port St. Lucie and homeowners – conversion of more than 8,000 septic tanks to centralized sewer. The City of Stuart has one of the best programs for converting septic tanks to sewers: a voluntary system that allows homeowners the option of waiting until their tanks or drainfields need replacing before hooking up. But converting septic to sewer doesn’t solve the problem of nutrient overload – it just moves the problem to other areas. The majority of the residuals from wastewater treatment plants are returned to our watersheds as “biosolids” that contain high concentrations of phosphorus and nitrogen. An article in this morning’s Stuart News documented the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in dolphins, and the researchers attribute much of the problem to pharmaceuticals that pass generally untreated through centralized sewers and are returned to the watershed through biosolids. We still need a better strategy for managing biosolids. Sen. Harrell – we look to you for leadership in the Legislature to require additional oversight and regulation of the application of all biosolids in our watershed.
The Florida Legislature is the single most influential group that can positively affect the public health in the state of Florida. The Legislature has an obligation to understand that allowing continued pollution of Lake Okeechobee and the estuaries will directly and adversely impact the health of the public you represent. Unless the State begins holding landowners accountable for the pollution they generate, there is absolutely no reason to believe that our water quality will improve and as a result, our public health will continue to decline. No matter if the Corps and SFWMD implement all the projects on the books – there will still be Lake discharges of toxic water to our estuaries – and unless the Legislature reverses its direction, the water quality and public health problems will persist.
I ask Sen. Harrell to work with the Legislature to hold the state’s Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) accountable for protecting our environment. Their current program for improving water quality going into the Lake is terribly broken. Pollution loading to the lake reached an all-time high in 2017. And compounding this problem is that annual DEP reports to the Governor and legislature and public are misleading – as they allege that pollution loads are decreasing – when the reality – as documented by the SFWMD – is that average pollution loads are higher than the Starting Period. For 2017 the measured phosphorus loads to the Lake were 60% greater than they reported in their annual report. For 2018, the measured loads were 40% greater than they reported. Who holds the DEP accountable for transparency and accuracy in reporting to the Governor, the Legislature and the public? Sen. Harrell – please demand accountability on the part of DEP.
USEPA recently established draft guidelines for microcystin in water. We urge the legislature to direct DEP to expeditiously embrace and adopt those guidelines to protect human health. We support Col. Kelly’s efforts to prevent Lake discharges to our estuary that contain blue green algae, and urge him to adopt the microcystin guideline into the new version of the Lake operating manual.
I want to thank Ms. Thurlow-Lippisch on behalf of the SFWMD – for exploring more ways to sending Lake water south through the STAs, into the Everglades and on to Florida Bay. The SFWMD is also the agency responsible for collecting water quality data documenting the state of the water. Thanks to the leadership of Ms. Thurlow-Lippisch, they are initiating steps to establish a regulatory program that if done properly will hold landowners accountable for reducing nutrient pollution. The SFWMD will need our support as they develop an effective program – and we the public need to turn out and support them in their efforts.
We’ve heard Col. Kelly and others describe projects to be completed in the next 2-3 years. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first discharges from the Lake with a promise to stop the toxic discharges?!
I’d like to end with a challenge for all of us from an idol of mine – Timer Powers – Timer was a former Martin County commissioner and water management board member and Executive Director:
“The greatest challenge in front of us is to take the steps that are necessary to assure that our younger generation has the rivers, the creeks and the critters that are at the heart of our whole society. There’s not many people representing the critters, and if we fail to represent those who can’t represent themselves, either nature or people, then we have failed.”
So to my fellow clean water advocates – let’s rise up to meet this challenge! We can do this people!
Thank you all, and to the Rotary for bringing us all together on this beautiful day along side this beautiful estuary!
This weekend I had the honor of being asked by the Citrus County Historical Society to speak on the final day of the county’s “Save Our Waters Week.” The theme “Make a Difference!” Citrus County houses multiple springs, three holding the title of “first magnitude.” These once “pellucid” waters form Crystal River and then flow out to the the Gulf of Mexico.
Although my most recent title is Governing Board, SFWMD, I was clear to say the presentation was my own words and that I have been acting and speaking out as a water advocate for eleven years.
Although I cannot share my words, I think it is important to share my presentation. See if you can add the words yourself…What do Florida’s Springs and the Everglades’ Northern Estuaries have in common? How can we work together to be an even more powerful political force?
Thank you to Florida nature photographer, John Moran, for sharing his aerial photographs of the Crystal River region and for his documentation of the deterioration of Florida Springs. As with the St Lucie River, we must look below the surface to see what is really going on…and we must speak out to stop it!