Documenting the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, 2021
Dr Scott Kuhns sent me aerials he took from the St Lucie Inlet this morning, July 28, 2021, at 10am from 2500 feet. Although due to rain there is local basin runoff and C-23/24 dumping into the St Lucie River, there is not Lake Okeechobee discharge mostly due to the presence of algae. So we have been fortunate and our waters have been looking great. So blue! Beechcraft Baron
The second batch of photos I already shared on Facebook. My husband Ed took these photos Saturday, July 24, 2021, from about 1500 feet. Seagrass is budding back! One sees the darker colored runoff water inside the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, but again, there is no Lake Okeechobee water thus still blue out over the nearshore reefs and closer to the St Lucie Inlet/Atlantic Ocean. Last, I will share Ed’s aerials inland of Lake Okeechobee taken on July 24, 2021 as well. The lake aerials show algae along the shoreline, but not so much further out. We must heal all our waters including this lake!
Hopefully there will not be a hurricane this season, and the waters of the St Lucie can continue to recover from previous long-lasting Lake Okeechobee discharges. In any case, Scott, Ed, and I will continue to document.
Thank you pilots!
In closing, I must admit that for my whole life, my favorite color has been green, but I love when it’s blue!
Learn all you need to know on my brother Todd’s website eyeonlakeo Click on image to see Lake O and C-44 discharges so far in 2021.
I’ve had so many calls and reactions to my recent post “Keeping Alive the Power of the Public Voice,” that I’m going to keep sharing my photo archives of the “Riverlution.” Yes, today’s modern Florida water advocacy all started here in Martin County.
This next set of archived photos is dated August 10, 2013, Lost Summer (only seven days after the Rally at the Locks,) and labeled “Beach Rally for the River.” Photos reveal a large crowd at Stuart Beach and aerials of a black coffee/green algae St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Terrible!
For me, one of the all time most inspirational photos is in this collection. I am displaying it as the first one. It shows a little boy raising his arms in glee towards the sky as Ed’s original River Warrior -the yellow Cub- plane passes overhead and the flag flies! Save Our River! We are working not just for ourselves but for the future. Please keep the power of the public voice alive for all our Everglades’ rivers during the optimization of LOSOM. The voice of the people must direct policy and we must continue to lead the way!
(Email to comment: LakeOComments@usace.army.mil)
Beach Rally for the River, August 10, 2013, Stuart, Florida (Thurlow archives)
Ed’s family came to visit. I was thankful the water was in good enough shape that Ed and I could take everyone out to enjoy the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. The highlight for me was after a boat ride to Peck’s Lake, building a sandcastle with Capri (7) and Cole (5) at St Luice Inlet State Park.
With my hands in the earth at the side of the sea in a place of my childhood, it was as if nothing had changed. Except building the castle out of re-nourished beach sand maybe. But Capri and Cole did not notice.
Ours became a wonderful sandcastle, and together we cheered “We will not retreat” and kept building and adapting as the ocean moved ever-forward. I did not say a word, but thought perhaps I was preparing them for sea-level-rise. In the end, Cole took a shell to the wall and informed Capri and me that a “dinosaur had arrived to destroy the castle!” Capri was not happy; but I assured that it was “OK” as the nesting sea turtles preferred flat sand and would appreciate the tear down.
-Capri (7) Aunt Jacqui (57) and Cole (5)The next day, Ed took the family up for a flight.
It was Capri’s first time and although I was nervous due to temperature and turbulence, she was brave and her parents supportive. All was wonderful, but it did feel a little weird saying: “Capri, don’t be surprised when the giant Lake Okeechobee is bright green.” At seven years old, she gave me the largest of smiles and I smiled back. Then I turned to Ed saying “Babe, you may needed to talk about cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) when up in the plane.”
Ed nodded concentrating on the flight.
Never in a million years would I think to myself that this would be the conversation. In any case, Ben and Capri had a great flight! Kelli and Cole stayed behind with me.
-Ed’s relatives. The Linder family: L to R. Ben, (nephew); Capri; Ed; Cole, & Kelli)-Ben, Capri, and Ed up in the airHere are some aerials of their flight, 7-2-21, 12: 57 pm:
-St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon at Sewall’s Point, heavy local rain runoff, but no Lake Okeechobee releases.-S-80 St Lucie Locks and Dam, closed.-S-308 at Port Mayaca, Lake Okeechobee open for agriculture water supply but not going through S-80 to St Lucie River.-S-308, note algae inside structure leading to C-44 Canal.-Ed over Lake Okeechobee note age streaks and location of GPS near Clewiston.-Over western and central area of Lake Okeechobee -note GPS.Once we got home, there was no slowing down. Somehow the kids found Ed’s telescope up in the loft. Laughing, but embarrassed, Ed and I realized we had not taken it out in seventeen years!
We were able to look at a nearby oak tree, but not at the stars when they came out at night. The telescope had seen better days.
Even though we didn’t see the stars, it was adorable watching Ed with his niece and nephew. And I though to myself, “things have changed, but things really are the same and we must show the way to the next generation.”
-Ed works the telescope with Cole (5) and Capri (7) after the kids discovered it. -Capri looks towards the future…
Yesterday, Sunday, 6-27-21 -at 2:15 pm, my husband, Ed, took a flight over the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. In spite of significant local basin runoff, due to local rains, the river looked good.
Flying west -Lake Okeechobee at Port Mayaca showed no visible signs of algae from 1000 feet, however also on 6-27-21, Mike Connor, Indian RiverKeeper reported cyanobacteria within and around Port Mayaca’s S-308 gate; and on June 24, 2021, the Martin County Hearth Dept issued a BLUE-GREEN ALGAE BLOOM ALERT FOR THE WATERS NEAR PORT MAYACA. As expected, The Department of Environmental Protection reports Algae in Lake Okeechobee at this time.
The ACOE reports the lake is at 12.66 feet 6-28-21 and there have been no Lake O discharges since April 10, 2021. Thank God! We continue to advocate for the health of the St Lucie and its residents. #NoLakeO
Enjoy the Flight! Enjoy the Water in the SLR/IRL! Ed and I visited Boy Scout Island on Saturday and the water was beautiful. The way Martin County is supposed to be!
~Thank you Ed for being our Eye in the Sky since 2013~
-Sandbar St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon-Sailfish Point, Sailfish Flats and Sandbar. Seagrasses are few, but there. Hopefully they will grow back if there are no Lake O discharges this year. Photo below is from Boy Scout Iland boat trip very near the Sandbar on 6-26-21.-Another view-Area between Sewall’s and Sailfish Points-Sewall’s Point visible on left-St Lucie Inlet at Sailfish Point- various photos-Great shot of St Lucie Inlet State Park, Jupiter Island looking north to Sailfish Point, Hutchinson Island. Here opens St Lucie Inlet from confluence of St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.-Ed taking a rare selfie! I think his first. “Thanks Ed!” 🙂-Lake Okeechobee at Port Mayaca, raining near Pahokee and south rim of lake. No visible algae but hard to see in this light. In any case, S-308 the gates at Port Mayaca are open only for water supply to agriculture and S-80 at St Lucie Locks and Dam remains closed thanks to the ACOE. Thus no Lake O water to the St Lucie. Hopefully they will remain closed for all 2021 and beyond!
My brother Todd Thurlow’s website EYEONLAKEO will keep you in the know!
Words of Dr Mark Cook, Wildlife Ecologist | Restoration Scientist | Wildlife & Scientific Photographer | Public Speaker | Science Communicator/SFWMD
“As the rainy season finally kicks in after a late start, and the wading bird nesting now draws to a close, it’s time to reflect on a very successful nesting season. Final nest numbers and fledging rates are yet to be calculated but in general we can say this was the second largest nesting event (over 80k nests!) since the pre-drainage period in the 1940s, and very likely the most successful year in terms of the number of young birds produced! The photo here shows just one of the large flocks of young wood storks (note the yellow beaks not the black beaks of the adults) that recently fledged and are now recruited into the population. The late start of the wet season was certainly helpful because it allowed the vast majority of late hatching birds to fledge before the rains started and lost their food supply. It also extended the period of excellent foraging habitat which increases the probability of survival for these young, naive birds. It’s likely that all wading bird species nesting in the Everglades experienced a significant boost to their populations this year.” –Dr Mark Cook, 6-24-21, Facebook
Today I share photos of a helicopter tour taken June 18, 2021 under the direction of South Water Management Districts‘ Dr MarkCook. Twenty-seven year veteran, JK Wells served as pilot, and Mr Sean Scully, Bureau Chief, Applied Science -Kissimmee River was a guest -just like me.
JK flew us “everywhere. This post will focus on Water Conservation Areas 1, 2, and 3. (WCA) and Everglades National Park. This flight was taken so that Dr Cook could document one of his final bird counts for the year. Most juvenile birds had fledged their nests. This is fantastic news. So we did not see the “super colonies,” some with up to thirty thousand birds, that were present just a few weeks ago -but we did see fledgling birds and parents and the Everglades landscape itself. Spectacular! I want to share these photos today.
~And kudos to the birds of 2021! So happy you had a great year! Thank you Dr Cook for letting me tag along!
-Pilot JK Wells, Mr Sean Sculley, JTL, and Dr Mark CookAt 7:00 am the machine rose like a dragonfly and West Palm Beach came into view. Within a short time we were over Water Conservation Area 1, also known as “Aurthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.” This area is famous for its tree islands. -West Palm Beach below1. Water Conservation Area 1
-Tree island with remaining wading bird colony-Amazing tree islands in WCA1. “Tree islands are important centers of biodiversity in the Florida Everglades; they have two to three times the plant and animal diversity of the surrounding wetlands. This high diversity is due primarily to their higher elevation relative to the adjacent wetlands. In the natural Everglades system, water levels fluctuated seasonally with rainfall, and tree islands were the only sites that escaped flooding during the wet season. These seasonally dry sites provided refugia and nesting sites for animals and allowed tree and shrub communities to flourish.“USGS -Another view of this remarkable habitat! -Large tree island amongst smaller ones. The difference has to do with soil type and topography. Aren’t they spectacular? Biodiversity reigns here. -Note dead Lygodium or Old World Climbing Fern below that has been treated, now dead hanging in tree islands.Below: “Loxahatchee Impoundment Landscape Assessment,” LILA, -“human-made tree islands.” This research will eventually help recreate the many areas that have lost their tree islands. 2. Water Conservation Area 2
WCA 2 has experienced high phosphors and nitrogen levels going back to the 1960s. We could see the impaired landscape as we entered WCA2. The vegetation really started to change. The tree islands were no longer visible as the nutrient pollution has altered the flora and fauna. This is what happens when loads of phosphorus and nitrogen from agriculture and developed areas flows through pristine areas. They are lost, but there is hope…
-Leaving Water Conservation Area 1, going over the Hillsboro Canal into Water Conservation Area 2. Note vegetation changes compared to WCA1. -Hillsboro Canal-Note lack of tree islands. The vegetation has gotten so thick and tight Mark Cook says even an alligator cannot push though. There are many plants but mostly cattail, sawgrass, and willow. Dr Cook explained a program entitled “Cattail Habitat Improvement Project” or CHIP.
He showed us -large rectangles-cut into the thick vegetation. This was done a an experiment and is showing to be quite successful. Mark said just a few weeks prior, the birds were “going crazy” feeding here. These cuts-outs become “pools of life!” You can see them below.
-Thick vegetation WCA2 -CHIP- the wildlife and birds do return to these areas were vegetation has been cut out and improved. This gives hope for the future of WCA 2.3. Water Conservation Area 3
Next we crossed the North New River Canal entering gigantic Water Conservation Area 3.
Here the lands are also impaired due to pollution but not as much as Water Conservation Area 2. One can still view here the Ridge and Slough that made up just about all south of the sawgrass prairie that today is the Everglades Agricultural Area.
-Note the small white specks – birds on giant tree island-A side view-Further west in WCA 3 – very clear Ridge and Slough pattern -Further Southwest above the Tamiami Trail – cypress domes and cypress forest. So pretty! -Juvenile birds feeding away from their nests
4. Everglades National Park – below the Tamaimi Trail. Dr Cook said the green in the water is water lettuce.
-This handout from earlier in the year shows the areas of the greatest bird nesting (red ovals and stars). Look at the numbers!
Final words of Dr Mark Cook
“This morning I completed my last survey of the breeding season and I’m excited to report that pretty much every nest in the Everglades (all 80k of them) has now fledged. Despite the start of the rains and the increased water levels there are still thousands of foraging birds in the freshwater marshes and along the coast meaning that the Everglades is still affording the young birds plenty of foraging opportunities which is critical at this early stage of life. The photo is part of a large flock of ibis in the western marl prairies of #evergladesnationalpark -“
My husband Ed took up the Baron today. His aerials are a potent reminder that even though the water has been looking “great” near the Sandbar in the St Lucie River/IndianRiver Lagoon, there is algae literally at “our front door.”
-Structure 308 at Port Mayaca, Lake Okeechobee 6-15-21, 1:18 pm -all photos Ed Lippisch-Just west of S-308 at Port Mayaca, Lake Okeechobee-North of S-308 at Port Mayaca, Lake Okeechobee along Rim Canal-Lake Okeechobee north of Port MayacaSt Luice River/Indian River Lagoon residents have been fortunate that the ACOE, due to the presence of algae, made decisions this 2021 not to discharge as much to the St Lucie. This began on April 19, 2021 when the ACOE S-308 “Sediment Study” was postponed due to high levels of cyanobacteria in the toxic blue-green algae at the S-308 gate. The HAB DEVIATION the ACOE had put in place made this possible.
Looking broadly, my brother Todd’s website EyeOnLakeO shows that although cloudiness has made satellite images difficult, the majority of the algae in Lake Okeechobee is presently on the west side, and the Caloosahatchee, unlike the St Lucie, has to take water to to maintain salinity levels. Thus they have algae in their river system right now.
As I sit here, rain is pouring down. We know dry season is over and rainy season has begun. What is critical is that the ACOE does not open S-308 and S-80 this year as our seagrass beds are just starting to recover after years of Lake O discharges. S-80 is the gatekeeper for the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. For now, S-80 is closed. In order to keep it closed for 2021 please write the ACOE at: PublicMail.CESAJ-CC@usace.army.mil
-S-80, St Lucie Locks and Dam now closedI am very pleased that Lake Okeechobee’s level is down to 12.50 feet; however, we know that could change quickly due to hurricane season. We must remain vigilant.
In closing, I want to share one cool thing that happened during Ed’s flight the thad nothing to do with algae. He saw the Goodyear Blimp!
Thank you Ed for continuing to be our “eye in the sky” since 2013! To view the SFWMD’s most recent comprehensive Ecological Report click here. There is a lot more to the system than us! 🙂
-Ed and Jacqui walking the bridge over the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, 2021. Working for the betterment of the SLR/IRL ’til the end of time!
Port Mayaca, Structure S-308 at Lake Okeechobee opens to Canal-44 into St Lucie River. S-308 is open for water supply for agriculture but is not going through S-80 into the St Lucie River/ Indian River Lagoon. Aerial, Ed Lippisch, 5-5-21.
River Warrior Times 5-16-21. This piece is written specially for Lake Okeechobee.
It was my intension to write a summary water piece every two weeks. I last wrote on April 25, 2021.Today, I will try to catch up.
The blue-green algae bloom at Pahokee Marina, I wrote about last time, was cleaned up through a cooperative of the South Florida Water Management District and the Department of Environmental Protection. This is a first as globs of purple, blue, green, and grey cyanobacteria -blue green algae- sat in marinas and inside canal communities in 2016, and 2018 until they rotted and fell to the bottom. This time, under Governor DeSantis of which DEP and the SFMWD sit organizationally, it was determined (under Section 1 part I of 19-12) to remove the toxic algae via vacuum and chemical treatment, relocating what Palm Beach County could not take safely, far away to District lands away from people and wildlife.
Keith W. Babb, Mayor of Payhokee, attend the May 13 SFWMD Governing Board meeting and was very grateful. You can listen to his comments at 39.00 the beginning of the meeting. Congressman Brian Mast, who led Governor DeSantis’ transition committee, also provided fiery commentary.
Although it is definitely a positive that the toxic algae was removed, we must ask ourselves a question. How are we going to pay for this again, and again, and again? A precedent has been set. Is vacuuming each time sustainable? With Lake Okeechobee in its present condition this is a very relevant question.
As Mark Perry, the Executive Director of Florida Oceanographic has repeatedly stated: “Unless we address the source of the problem in the upper watershed of Lake Okeechobee, we will never reach the 105 metric tons at 40 ppb.” Translated, that means the pollution numbers coming into the lake are high, in some basins over 600 parts per billion phosphorus. You can’t vacuum away as an avalanche of pollution pours in!
The situation is complex. However, the handling of Pahokee Marina is symbolic of a larger problem. I would have liked not only DEP and SFWMD to be in the spotlight at the Pahokee Marina, but also FDASCs the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Why? Because the lake did not get sick overnight, and the history of Lake Okeechobee is an agricultural one. This is reflected in “who” is in charge of water quality.
First, back-pumping fertilized and chemical-leaden water into Lake Okeechobee was common practice and allowed by the by the state. The sugar industry/EAA imparticularly partook of this practice for decades. It almost killed the lake. In the 1970s and 1980s lawsuits forced water that was once back-pumped into Lake Okeechobee to flow south, sparing the lake, but creating a new issue of destroying the Everglades. This in turn spurred other lawsuits so that today Everglades Agriculture Area (EAA) runoff must first be filtered through Storm Water Treatment Areas, south of Lake Okeechobee before it can enter the Everglades Protection Areas or Everglades National Park. Most of this was paid for by taxpayers, just like the clean up at Pahokee Marina.
Lake Okeechobee, though in a better position than in 1970 continues to be fed high concentrations of phosphorus and nitrogen mostly from agriculture areas north of Lake Okeechobee. Thus destruction already done from the early years is locked up in sediments, and the new destruction that continues makes for a hyper-eutropic lake that now blooms every year.
Not a good situation. So how is fixing our waters supposed to work? Who is in charge of water quality?
No one agency is in charge of water quality. Like it or not, in Florida, three agencies have this responsibility. As Florida Statue requires, we must all work together to turn Florida’s organizational chart from a line into a triangle. Until FDEP, SFWMD & FACS are truly working together, there will not be improvement to Lake Okeechobee’s water quality and Florida’s tax payers will be on the hook.
–Organizational chart State of Florida. Note the members of The Triangle (circled) responsible of water quality. The Dept. of Ag is a cabinet position. DEP and SFWMD are lower agencies but fall under the top tier, the governor. The governor is doing a great job but he can not do it alone!
-St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon March 27, 2021. Photos Dr Scott Kuhns.As we all know, the ACOE began discharging 500 cubic feet per second of Lake Okeechobee water to the St Lucie River on March 6, 2021. At this time the lake was at 15.23 feet. There were/are great concern as wet season is rapidly approaching…
Since March 6th, Ed and I have been documenting the discharges for 2021 so that visually we have a record of changes as time goes on. We have been doing this since 2013’s Lost Summer that spurred a River Movement that turned over the tables, has evolved in many directions, and continues to work on changing Florida water policy today.
In today’s blog post it not Ed and I, but friend Dr Scott Kuhns who is documenting the discharges. Unlike me addicted to my iPhone, Scott uses a professional level camera. Wow!
Presently, Ed’s plane is in the shop so I am very grateful to pilot Steve Schimming and pilot/photographer Kuhns, for filling in and taking these excellent aerials yesterday, March 27, 2021 around 10:30 am. It was a full incoming tide with full moon rising today, March 28th. The water looks beautiful. The photos even reveal the near shore reefs!
Such conditions can push back against 500cfs coming from S-80 as presently there are no discharges from canals C-23 and C-24 because it is bone dry right now. Lake Okeechobee is evaporating and is now at 14.56 feet. This remains high. Please view the information I have included at the end of this blog for details of conditions from Florida Oceanographic as well as SFWMD & ACOE content. No discharges are good discharges but it is wonderful to see these blue aerial photographs as Spring is sprung and wildlife is procreating! Hopefully oysters, fish, and bird life will have a good season and mature before summer storms are arrive.
In closing, thank you Scott and Steve for a classic view from the Cub also known as the “River Warrior II;” so good to see her! She was and remains the “original!”
~Documentation St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, March 27, 2021. Scott Kuhns & Steve Schimming reporting from the Piper Super Cub.
-Over nearshore reefs off Peck’s Lake, all photos by Dr Scott Kuhns.-Wide views St Lucie Inlet State Park and St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.-Sailfish Point and St Lucie Inlet note near shore reef! Beautiful! Also damaged by discharges as documented by Harbor Branch. -Great shot of nearshore reefs off the St Lucie Inlet.-Looking towards Stuart and the Crossroads over St Lucie Inlet.-Part of Sandbar area. Could that be seagrass coming up?-Opening to Jupiter Narrows. Note dredge.-Sailfish Flats still devoid of seagrass.-Sewall’s Point between St Lucie River on west and Indian River Lagoon on east-Over south Sewall’s Point looking towards Stuart -Hell’s Gate, bottleneck between Stuart and Sewall’s Point, St Lucie River.-Witham Field, Stuart and looking west.-Below: Over Langford Landing that still looks like an atom bomb hit after five years of development-after they tore down all of Francis Langford’s beautiful trees and flattened the historic bluff that pirates used to use for an outlook. I hope they plant some vegetation soon! Aggg!-Roosevelt Bride over St Lucie River.-Looking west towards the Roosevelt Bridge, Palm City and Rio in foreground. South Fork and Beginning of North Fork visible-Another view of Langford Landing with no trees after five years, the former home of the famous and generous Frances Langford.-Langford Landing marina is filling up and is located at the merging point of north Sewall’s Point and Rio. This would look a lot better with some stately trees.-Here we see the Harborage Marina near the Roosevelt Bridge in Stuart/Rio. River water is not blue here as flushing is poor compared to St Lucie Inlet. The St Lucie has been ravaged by discharges from C-44, Lake O, C-23 and C-24 beginning in the 1920s.-Looking west over the Roosevelt Bridge note C-23 Canal in distance that separates Martin and St Luice County. Over-drainage is the root of Florida’s water problems today. As a farmer once told me, “We spent 100 years taking the water off the land, and we’ll spend 100 years putting it back on…”
Ed and I continue to document the discharges by air – “a picture speaks 1000 words…” ACOE continues discharging from Lake Okeechobee at 500 cubic feet per second as reported last week and week before. Lake Okeechobee is going down, and today, 3-22-21, sits at 14.79 feet.
Aerials taken over St Lucie River/Southern Indian River Lagoon on 3-21-21, 12.30 pm, incoming tide, over St Lucie Inlet and Sailfish Flats between Sewall’s Point and Hutchinson Island, Martin County, Florida. One can see the effects with sediment cloud discharging into Atlantic Ocean and darkening waters. Nonetheless, salinity conditions are safe for oysters and Florida Oceanographic has water quality at a B-. Please read information section above for details.