I read late into the night, and recognized early in chapter one, that author, Lamar Johnson’s childhood account of the 1921 Everglades was absolutely captivating and included an event that I had attended “100 years later,” -through the South Florida Water Management District in 2021.Lamar Johnson tells many incredible stories. The one that follows his dog, Lassie, getting dragged down deep to her death in the Miami Canal by a giant alligator includes his boyhood account of the murder of G.C. Douglas, the first Deputy Sheriff in Lake Harbor, once near Bare Beach, in Palm Beach County. As alluded to, I had been exposed to this story of the Deputy – and invited in August of 2021, to the 100 year later – memorial – by my parent’s dear friend, Chappy Young, GCY INC.
-Group shot -SFWMD Board Members, Ben Butler, JTL, and Exec. Dir. Drew Bartlett-Photos from the area, Lake Harbor, just east of Clewiston along Lake Okeechobee. -The old Miami Locks. Lake Okeechobee met the canal here in 1921. -Location of event as shown on Google Maps, easy to see how the lake once reached this area and beyond during wet season, then flowed south through the River of Grass.-This Google Map close up shows the Old Miami Locks from above at Azalea Court and Weaver Lane; note width of original canal compared to today. Thankfully this has been preserved as a state historic site. -Arriving with Regional Rep. Sherry McCorkle -The Riderless Horse awaits its que-Getting ready to start the ceremony -Looking around-People begin to gather -Family of Deputy Douglas-JTL -Ben Butler, Chappy Young, and JTL -Chappy and members of Douglas Family-Libby Pigman, Regional Rep. SFWMD -The ceremony begins -Dog belonging to a member of the crowd, left its owner during gunshots, hiding in next to Ben Butler. So cute! -Sheriffs/organizers with Chappy Young -Old Miami Locks – far right
Lake Worth Lagoon Tour with ERM Director, Deborah Drum
December 14th, 2020. What a beautiful day!
Deborah Drum, Director of Palm Beach County’s Environmental Resource Management Department, ERM, invited me in my capacity as a SFWMD Governing Board member, to tour the Lake Worth Lagoon. I first met “Deb” when she was the ecosystems manager for Martin County. Today she oversees a much larger piece of the water pie. Palm Beach is Florida’s third largest county and has over 1.4 million people! Martin County? Ranking, I’m unsure, but we have just over 161,000 people…
After a quick Covid greeting elbow-bump at Bryant Park, of course we abided by social distancing rules, Deb introduced me to five of her 140 person staff. They were delightful and they informed me of the mission of ERM: to establish, maintain, and implement programs for the protection, preservation, and enhancement of the land and water resources of Palm Beach County.
This philosophy really translates into building restoration projects and is a shift from what I’m used to for the St Lucie River where the focus is more on managing and advocating against the ongoing crisis of poor water quality. Today I will give an overview of some of the hundreds of projects that have been constructed costing millions of dollars. This is a complicated generational feat and today occurs with the coordination of Palm Beach County’s Deb Drum and Staff, and the complex help of hundreds of hands-on volunteers and members of the business community. See “mission” link above for more information on the history of this program.
So how does it work in Palm Beach County?
FOCUS ON PROJECTS
Since the 1990s, the Palm Beach County environmental resources department has implemented hundreds of projects. In order to achieve this, relationships have been forged with the business and development community that in turn, indirectly, provide millions of dollars in materials for creating habit and other environmental projects in Palm Beach County.
As an example, Jennifer, Baez, Environmental Program Supervisor explained that it is more cost effective for developers to share such materials for island or reef building, than to dispose of such items. Wow. Developers helping the environment? Now that’s a paradigm shift for my thinking!
~This cooperation has been forged over decades and is now ingrained in Palm Beach County culture.
For example, if FDOT is building a new bridge, they save and coordinate with the county for the best pieces of throw-away cement to be used for an inland or offshore reef. Or say a new marina is being built, or expanded, by Rybovich Super Yacht Marina, and there is tons of sand and rock that have been excavated- well rather than throw it away or haul it to the dump, the business contacts the county and this material is put to work for the environment! I guess one could say it is “give and take.” In any case, for Palm Beach County this model is working.
Once riding along the beautiful lagoon in the boat, I was fascinated to listen as Deb’s’ staff, TJ Steinhoff, Environmental Technician; Jennifer Baez, Environmental Program Supervisor; Jeremy McByran, Palm Beach County Water Resource Manager; and Mathew Mitchell, Environmental Manager as they told me the story of their years of building Lake Worth Lagoon creations and the measurable benefit to fish, birds and wildlife.
“It must be fun to know you are doing something positive every day. And then seeing those results.” I noted.
All four agreed. They love working for Deb and for Palm Beach County. But let me be clear, just because the focus is one projects, this does not mean there are no water quality issues…
-Bryant Park, Lake Worth Lagoon
-Staff ready for boat tour covered for Covid-19: TJ Steinhoff, Environmental Technician; Jennifer Baez, Environmental Program Supervisor; Jeremy McByran, Palm Beach County Water Resource Manager; and Mathew Mitchell, Environmental Manager
-Rip-rap in from of a hardened shoreline, the beginnings of a Living Seawall project at Bryant Park
-A look at the water of the Lake Worth Lagoon on December 14, 2020
-The 5 photos below are of large human-created Islands, restoration projects, in the Lake Worth Lagoon.
Below: Jennifer Baez, PBC Environmental Project Supervisor points to one of the many mangrove, native vegetation, sand islands built on top of “dead holes.” These areas were once devoid of life because they are so deep, and were the unintended consequences of dredge and fill in the Lake Worth Lagoon that took place many decades before environmental laws regulated such activities.
Jennifer explained how ERM identifies these deep holes, carefully works around muck, and then fills the depression with sand -in turn forming an island- that creates wildlife habit, seagrass beds, and eventually mangrove forests. She says one very obvious benefit of theses projects has been that Palm Beach County now has the most southerly nesting/foraging area of American Oyster Catchers.
In springtime, the bright orange, black and white birds with their fluffy, adorable chicks are attracted to these human made islands near Bryant Park.
Deb Drum, Director ERM and yes she is smiling under that mask! 🙂 -Showing off more project islands!
-The Southern Boulvard Bridge rebuild (below) is an example of materials used for a reef in Lake Worth Lagoon as seen on depth finder screen of Mathew Mitchell below. Mathew said he is very proud to be part of this project and explained that through technology and hands on visits he is documenting how the reef is improving fish habitat.
ISSUES OF WATER QUALITY
As I mentioned, just because Palm Beach County primarily focuses on restoration, doesn’t mean that the Lake Worth Lagoon doesn’t have water issues. Before the late 1800s, Lake Worth was a many miles long fresh water lake with no outlet to the ocean. Today there are two inlets and although the water body is now technically an estuary, salinities can be as high as the ocean due to heavy flushing from its inlets. Also due to fresh water inputs, like the C-51 Canal, salinity can swing up and down.
-The SFWMD measures saqilinties in the LWL
Lake Worth Lagoon Water Quality issues are most affected by canal, area runoff, and sometimes Lake Okeechobee discharge into the lagoon. The C-51 is the canal of that continually drains unfiltered and untreated into the Lake Worth Lagoon. The C-51 carries contaminants and nutrient pollution from agriculture and urban development into the lake-lagoon-estuary. Deb Drum explained that sediment coming from this canal is extremely problematic causing a muck-layer throughout the lagoon. This impedes seagrass development and is a serious issue that is being addressed.
Although the Lake Worth Lagoon was not built as am overflow water outlet for the Central and South Florida Plan, like the St Lucie and Calooshahatee were, Lake Okeechobee discharges are sometimes directed its way through the C-51 canal. This is a controversial issue and of course local advocates of the Lake Worth Lagoon would prefer not to have this excessive polluted fresh water.
-Jennifer and Deb in front of the C-51 Canal structure opening into Lake Worth Lagoon, note look of water. The C-51 basins are tremendous. All this runoff all ends up in the LWL.
C-51 Canal is the long blue line coming from the west connected to other interior canals. It then runs along Southern Boulvard as in the image below. The curve south occurs around the Palm Beach International Airport, then turns east discharging into the LWL. Water Quality is being address methodically through Basin Management Action Plans.
KEEP ON RESTORING!
So in the meantime, Lake Worth Lagoon’s water quality ails, but Palm Beach County keeps restoring…
Below shows a recent island restoration project near Southern Boulvard. This project addresses resiliency by protecting a nearby neighborhood seawall. In time, native plants will grow in and wildlife will arrive. People are allowed on beach area but if OysterCatchers are nesting, the area is taped off by FWF so the birds can nest in peace.
-Jeremy McBryan, Palm Beach County Water Resource Manager.
Well, I could go on and on but the bottom line is that Palm Beach County is proactive. I am impressed! I learned so much about the mission of ERM and the Lake Worth Lagoon. I really had no idea about all of the amazing restoration work being done by Palm Beach County. Now for us all to push the state on Water Quality and to do our own part in our own backyards by avoiding fertilizer and chemicals that run right off into the water. This would actually be a huge start.
Very impressive Deb! Thank you to you and to your amazing ERM staff!
These transverse glades would have been moist in the dry season and could be totally inundated during the wet season as they allowed the waters of the Everglades Basin to slowly seep/flow out.
Following Nature’s hand, the first canals built to Lake Okeechobee from the coast were started or ended in these areas. The early settlers used the canals not just for drainage, but also for transportation to and from the Lake and surrounding areas.
The first canals constructed were the North New River Canal (1906-1912) connecting to today’s Ft Lauderdale in the area where the peat transverse glades were located; and the Maimi Canal (1910-1913), in the area where the marl transverse glades were located. Both the New River and Maimi River were neighbors of the transverse glades. Makes sense doesn’t it?
One would never even guess the transverse glades ever existed thinking all the water flowed out of Shark River Slough and Taylor Slough. Not the case when we look back far enough; we can see Mother Nature’s design. Interesting isn’t it?
“Eager salesman from the Florida Fruit Lands Company crossed the country, promoting the Everglades as a “Garden of Eden”, a “Tropical Paradise,” “The Promised Land”. These “swamp boomers” enticed potential buyers with sales literature quoting government officials who extolled the possibilities of the Everglades…”
For years, Ed and I have flown over the Bolles Canal, just south of Lake Okeechobee in the Everglades Agricultural Area, and for years, I wondered who the east/west canal in the EAA was named for…
Just goes to show, even if you become famous, or even “infamous,” over time, chances are, even people who should know your name may not have a clue…
Like Hamilton Disston, Richard “Dicky” J. Bolles was a millionaire of the late 1800s and early 1900s set up to help Florida get out of debt and grow an empire out of this “swamp.”
We get the picture here:
“Bolles founded the first of his Florida enterprises, the Florida Fruit Lands Company, to dispose of 180,000 acres in Dade and Palm Beach Counties. The company divided the lands into 12,000 farms of varying size and designated a townsite, ‘Progreso’, with plans for streets, factories, schools, churches, and public buildings. For the price of $240, a buyer could purchase a contract from Florida Fruit Lands Company, entitling them to bid on a farm and town lot through a scheduled auction. This same scheme was employed by other sales ventures pitching swamp land in Florida, including Okeechobee Fruit Lands Company, which dealt in Bolles’ remaining 428,000 acres around the shores of Lake Okeechobee….
Eventually, Federal prosecutors initiated a case against Bolles and his cohorts, producing a 122-page indictment and more than 100 witnesses from across the country. Bolles was arrested on December 18, 1913 and tried the following March — he was found to be “an honest man”… ~Library of Congress, http://everglades.fiu.edu/reclaim/bios/bolles.htm
It’s fascinating to look at the Okeechobee Fruit lands map and imagine what would have happened, what could have happened, if Dicky J. Bolles had been successful in his underwater private swampland “scheme.” Look at his plan for this multicolored plat map!
Instead over time, the Great Depression set in, and the Federal Government, ACOE, came in just over a couple of decades later to help save us from Mother Nature and from ourselves, creating unified protections of the EAA under the 1848 Central and Southern Florida Plan, House Document 643.
The photograph above is one of those rare images that tells you everything even without a caption. This photo, shared by my mother, historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow, (http://www.sandrathurlow.com) was given to her by Mrs. Elizabeth Early, a pioneer of Stuart, “Stuart on the St Lucie.” The photo is entitled “Mosquito Ditch Digging,” and the subjects are unidentified. My mother believes the photo was taken in our region around 1920.
Mosquitos…such an integral part of Florida ~as is our war against them. Some have even gone as far to call the mosquito our “state bird.” As a kid, growing up in Sewall’s Point, in the 1970s, I remember having to run in place at the bus stop so as not to be attacked. Forever it seemed, I had white scars covering my tan scrawny legs. Another classic mosquito tale is gleefully riding my bike, along with my friends, behind the fog of the mosquito trucks. When we heard the trucks coming we ran from our houses, meeting in the street, quickly negotiating who got to be first behind the blower.
In any case, the mosquito ditches, the mosquito control districts, and the small green and white metal markers along Indian River Drive reading “MC” for Mosquito Control are not something we think too much about anymore, but for the old timers, mosquitos, and our war against them, and thus against Nature, defines this place.
My mother’s photos from her “Mosquito Control” file tell part of our local Martin County tale below. The lands are almost unrecognizable. In 1948 when the “Bridges to the Sea” were constructed over the Indian River Lagoon onto Hutchinson Island’s beaches – everything changed. The wetlands, the scrublands, and the old bean farms from early pioneers were ditched and diked, laced through and through like a pearl necklace. The government and owners organized with the goal to control those pesky mosquitos so the land would be fit for fill and for sale.
Over time, the mosquitoes lessened, and more and more people came to replace them.
According to my mother, some of the very early mosquito control worked by allowing fish into ditches to eat the larva; this not-so-intense mode was later replaced by other more stringent methods, including chemical means using DDT. As so often is the case in Florida, we are “successful,” successful at the expense of the environment.
Today we drive over the the Indian River Lagoon and forget the wars we’ve waged to live here, and instead, we wage a war to put our environment back into place.
Hurricane Irma may be gone, but her waters are not. Our now black river and the giant plume off the St Lucie Inlet attest to this. Clean rain that fell in our region during the hurricane is now filthy “stormwater” discharging, unfiltered, through manmade canals C-23, C-24, C-25, and C-44. Nature did not design the river to directly take this much water; this much water kills.
Every plume looks different, and this one is multilayered with no clear border. Sediment soup, black-brown in color, yesterday it extended out about 2/3 of a mile into a stirred up Atlantic and flowed south, in the rough waves not quite having made it to Peck’s Lake.
Since Hurricane Irma’s rains, area canals dug with no environmental foresight in the 1920s and 50s for flood control, and to facilitate agriculture and development, have been flowing straight into the river. On top of this, in anticipation of the hurricane, three days prior to IRMA the Army Corp of Engineers began discharging from Lake Okeechobee. During the hurricane they halted, and then started up again at high discharge levels reaching over (4000 cfs +/-) this past Friday, September 15th. As Lake Okeechobee rises and inflow water pours in from the north, and is blocked by the Everglades Agricultural Area in the south, we can expect more Lake O discharge on top of the canal releases themselves.
As advocates for the St Lucie River we continue the fight to expedite the building of the EAA reservoir and to create a culture to “send more water south.” In the meantime, we, and the fish and wildlife, and the once “most bio diverse estuary in North America,” suffer…
In recent years we along the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon have been screaming because the ACOE and SFWMD have been discharging water from Lake Okeechobee and the C-44 basin into our waterways causing destructive toxic algae blooms and other issues to our area …
This year some are screaming because C-44 basin runoff water in southern Martin County is being pumped back into Lake Okeechobee. Yes, C-44 is “running backwards.” It’s a crazy world here in South Florida even through the water managers are working hard at “getting the water right…”
So two odd things are going on right now. First, water is being sent into Lake O from the C-44 canal as we were in a long-time drought, and also, now, water is being back-pumped into the lake from the south to help alleviate flooding in the Water Conservation Areas— as it has rained so much recently “down there.” This whole situation is exacerbated because the EAA, in the middle, “is kept dry to protect the property of the agricultural industry and safety of communities south of the dike.”
The graph and short write-up below are from friend and engineer Dr Gary Goforth. The graph “shows” the C-44 basin runoff (see image above) being sent to Lake Okeechobee in 2017 compared to other years since 1980 (other than ’81) “is at 100%.”
I have also included some articles and images on the other “back into Lake O” subject. Back-pumping was made illegal in the 1990s, but is allowed under certain circumstances such as endangering communities and agriculture in the EAA, and danger to wildlife in the conservation areas due to flooding…All of this is “back-pumping” not good for the health of the lake. In all cases, it is helping one thing while hurting another…
One day we will have to truly get the water right. Images below may help explain things.
ISSUE OF BACK-PUMPING:
ISSUE OF C-44 CANAL BASIN WATER BEING SENT INTO LAKE O RAHTER THAN TO SLR:
” For the period 1980-2016, about 32% of the C-44 Basin runoff was sent to the Lake, while 68% was sent to the St. Lucie River and Estuary. Historically (i.e., before 1923) virtually none of the C-44 Basin runoff went to the St. Lucie River and Estuary: some went to the Lake, some went to the Loxahatchee River and some went north to the St. John’s River. So far in 2017, virtually all of the basin runoff has been sent to the Lake.”
There is incredible footage of the 2016 toxic algae event caused primarily by forced discharges by the ACOE and SFWMD from Lake Okeechobee into the estuaries, St Lucie and Caloosahatchee. South Florida locals such as Mary Radabaugh, Dr Edie Widder, Dr Brian LaPointe, Mark Perry, Phil Norman, Dr Larry Brand, Dr Steve Davis, and Col. Jennifer Reynolds are prominently featured. Edie Widder’s political commentary at the end is priceless.
CHANGING SEAS Toxic Algae: Complex Sources and Solutions. Aired: 06/21/2017
Water releases from Lake Okeechobee periodically create putrid mats of blue-green algae. Scientists think water pollution is to blame, and if something isn’t done about it there could be irreparable damage to the environment, the local economy and people’s health.
You can Like Changing Seas on Facebook and attend their DIVE IN Summer series on this topic June 28th, 2017. See link:
This remarkable 1952 historic aerial photograph shows Poppleton Creek and what were once pioneer Hubert Bessey’s lands near Downtown Stuart. Within the bucolic photograph early stages of C-23’s white sands, as seen piled on the land in the upper right hand corner of the photograph, foreshadow the river’s future. This canal divides Martin and St Lucie County and is considered the “most polluting,” excluding C-44 when open for Lake Okeechobee.
Looking across the beautiful St Lucie River we see in the distance the virgin pinelands and wetlands of parts of today’s Palm City. Interestingly, if one continues west one will stumble upon the proposed lands to be developed by the Kiplinger Family, Pineland Prairie.
Go west young man, go west?
Time shall tell…
If we do, we may have more regard for the land than we did in 1952 and bring relief to the river that brought development and love of our area here in the first place.
I am adding additional photos to this blog post for reference to questions posed. The Fairchild photos below are dated 1925 and in them you can see the white sands of the C-44 piled on the land connecting to the South Fork of the St Lucie River. The C-44 canal was built between 1915 and is documented to have opened in 1923. Dates vary by a few years depending on sources and it too was enlarged/deepened in the 40s and thereafter.
“What is that huge white stripe on the horizon??” I said. It’s looks like a giant 20-mile-long spaceship runway.
Well, it’s the spoil from the freshly-dug Okeechobee waterway. See it in the attached comparison from Google Earth.” Todd Thurlow
TCPalm’s Elliott Jones reported this morning that Stuart has received a whopping 11.30 inches of rain just so far this month! (The average being 7.14.)
Although due to the recent drought, the ACOE/SFWMD are not dumping Lake Okeechobee through Canal C-44, canals C-23, C-24, C-25, and areas along C-44, as well as our own basin, are draining right into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Very little of this water is cleansed before it enters and thus is damaging to the eco system. Next time you see water draining through a grate in a parking lot, think about this. Remember too that before the major canals were constructed the 1900s, the river received less than half the water it gets every time it rains today.
The aerials below were taken 6-13-17 by my husband Ed Lippisch and pilot Dave Stone. It is important to monitor the river all of the time so we can view changes.
“Rain stained” we are; please remember not to fertilize during the rainy season. The birds on Bird Island will appreciate it! (http://befloridian.org)
Canals draining water into SLR/IRL after rain events:
This weekend a series of coincidences allowed me to personalize and learn the story of Ft Lauderdale’s New River, a neighbor in the water system of the Everglades and the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. It is good to know about your neighbors, as you know, we are all in this water quandary together.
So my husband’s friend Dr Juan Savelli organized an evening at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. We went to see the former lead singer of Men at Work, Colin Hay. After dinner along Los Olas, we walked across the street to the show.
And there I saw her, the river. Seawalled and controlled, no longer able to freely form a “new river” what made her reputation as told by some of the state’s earliest surveyors; her brown waters were no longer clear and teaming with wildlife as noted in some of the earliest accounts by pioneers and Seminoles; the river had been connected to canals and drainage waters of Lake Okeechobee long ago; nonetheless, she certainly remained beautiful, staring back at me with the city lights of mankind, her lion-tamer, shining behind her.
I stared at the water daydreaming, putting my day of coincidences or “serendipity,” as my mother calls it, together. I had spent the day reading UM student Zach Cosner’s incredible thesis paper, and one part came to mind:
“The trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund… would use this money to build five major canals-the North New River, South New River, Miami, Hillsboro, and Caloosahatchee, all connecting from the southern portion of Lake Okeechobee to the Atlantic Ocean…these canals reached completion towards the end of the 1910s…
Also this day I had visited my neighbor, Mrs Kelso, who was amazingly celebrating her 107 birthday! Remarkable. “Sharp as tack,” as they say. Half way through our conversation I asked,”So you were born in…”
“1910” she replied smiling…
“Wow,” I thought to myself, looking at the river. “Mrs Kelso is exactly as old as some of these first Florida Canals! Impressive.”
“Jacqui!” my friends called. “Let’s go! ”
I tuned and at looked at my friends. I turned and looked at the river…”
“Can I get a picture?” I asked.
Ed and I posed.
A flash in time of a river and a story. Hopefully a story that in the future will consist of men and women even more diligently at work for the New River’s complete and full restoration, and that of the entire Everglades system.
The New River was one of the earliest rivers to be connected to Lake Okeechobee. Highway 27 runs parallel to the canal all the way from the lake to 175. The North Fork of the New River is attached to the New River Canal; and the South Fork of the New River is connected to the Miami Canal. (see above map) Today it is almost impossible to see the connection of the canals to the river amongst the tangle of development surrounding the river.
According to a legend attributed in 1940 to the Seminoles by writers working in the Florida Writers’ Program of the Work Projects Administration, New River had appeared suddenly after a night of strong winds, loud noises, and shaking ground, resulting in the Seminoles calling the river Himmarshee, meaning “new water”. The report of the Writers’ Project attributed the noise and shaking to an earthquake which collapsed the roof of an underground river. Folk historian Lawrence Will relates that the Seminole name for the river was Coontie-Hatchee, for the coontie (Zamia integrifolia) that grew along the river, and that the chamber of commerce tried to change the name of the river to Himmarshee-Hatchee during the Florida land boom of the 1920s.
The English name is derived from early explorer’s maps. The mouth of the river was noted for its tendency to continuously change its entry point into the Atlantic Ocean through the shifting sand of the barrier island. Each time the coast was surveyed and charted the entry point would have shifted. So the location of the mouth would not be on any previous maps, and from off the coast would appear as if it had just developed. With each charting, the location would be recorded with the notation “new river”. Since that was the name used on the maps, that was the name by which the first settlers came to know it, so the name stayed.
From Broward County.org, “The River’s Decline”
Today the New River is in desperate need of repair. This once crystalline waterway has deteriorated under the strains of immense growth. Water quality has been adversely affected from debris, sedimentation, storm water runoff, and other pollutants. Inappropriate land uses near the water have also contributed to the decline of the River and its tributaries. This degradation of water quality and habitat represent a negative impact on the environment, health, and economy of the Broward County metropolitan area.