Category Archives: Everglades

Field Trip of a Lifetime: EAA Reservoir/STA

At 8am on Friday, July 29, 2022, a group of realtors, environmentalists, reporters, and professionals met at SFWMD headquarters in West Palm Beach. The day had finally arrived for our field trip to the EAA Reservoir/Storm Water Treatment Area south of Lake Okeechobee. The Army Corp will be building the reservoir scheduled to be complete in 2029, and the SFWMD is under construction with the storm water treatment area or “STA” to be complete in 2023. The project, became part of CEPP, the Central Everglades Planning Project, and was reborn through public outcry due to toxic summers and the grit and leadership of Martin County’s 2017/18 Senate President, Joe Negron (SB10). And thus today, like a phoenix, the EAA Reservoir and STA is rising, and will one day be the first structure built to encompass sending cleansed Lake O water south to the Everglades. Make no mistake, this reservoir is the greatest hope for the health of the Northern Estuaries that for decades have been subjected to damaging discharges from Lake Okeechobee.

Well located between the Miami and New River Canals, and neighboring the A-1 Flow Equalization Basin, the 6500 acre STA’s gigantic water cleaning marsh and the 10,500 acre, 23 feet deep reservoir, will be a game changer. Listen the videos below by SFWMD Executive Director for insights.

What a day! What an experience!It was sobering to make the long drive from headquarters through the Everglades Agricultural Area and historic City of Belle Glade knowing this is where Marjorie Stoneman Douglas’ “River of Grass” once flowed. Today Taco Bells replace sawgrass. Over an hour later arriving at the construction trailer along Highway 27, SFWMD engineers Tim Harper, Alexis San-Miguel, Jennifer Leeds, Leslye Waugh and Drew Bartlett were available to educate us. Next we returned to the vehicles dodging the hot sun, weaving our way through the sugar cane fields that will soon be replaced with one of the most extensive environmental restoration projects not just in the country, but in the world! For myself, having been visited in 2019 and 2021, it was inspiring to see and compare the EAA Reservoir/STA today -now really coming out of the ground and taking form with the inflow/outflow canal (across the top) and C-640 (between STA and reservoir). Of course, there are controversies as there always are; this is the essence and history of Everglades Restoration. I am confident, that these water and cultural concerns will be ameliorated in friendly fashion, just as SFWMD mascot Freddy the Alligator emphasizes. I for one, am thankful for all who got us here, particularly Joe Negron. Through participation, education, and inspiration, we will continue the work to “rebuild and restore” the waters of South Florida.

Group portrait with SFWMD mascot Freddy the Alligator L-R: Max Chesnes, reporter TCPalm; Jennifer Leeds, SFWMD Bureau Chief-Ecosystem Restoration Planning;  Anne Schmidt (realtor), Deb Drum, Director PBC En. Res. Dept; Todd Thurlow, (website eyeonlakeo); Eve Samples, Exec. Dir. Friends of the Everglades; HB Warren, (realtor); JTL, SFWMD G.B.; Kathy LaMartina, SFWMD Reg. Rep.;  Rob Lord, former President of Martin Health/Clevland Clinic); Crystal Vanderweit, photographer TCPalm;  Alexis San-Miguel, Section Leader EAA Res./STA; John Gonzalez, (realtor); Ike Crumpler, (realtor assoc. consultant /Upstairs Communications; Drew Bartlett, Ex. Dir. SFMWD; Gil Smart, Friends of the Everglades;  Leslye Waugh, SFWMD Eco. Restoration Admin.; Sean Cooley, SFWMD Communications Dir.; Kym Hurchalla, Friends of the Everglades. -SFWMD official group shot 🙂

  • Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Features
  • Reservoir aka “A2 Reservoir”: 10,500 acres with 240,000 acre-foot storage at about 23 feet deep
  • STA aka “A-2 Stormwater Treatment Area”: 6,500 acres
  • Adds 160,000 to CEPP’s 210,000 for a total of 370,000 average annual acre-feet of new water flowing through to the central Everglades ~ ACOE 

Blue line = path from SFWMD Headquarters in West Palm Beach to the EAA R/STA and back-My vehicle: JTL, Alexis, Gil, Max, Crystal, Drew, Todd, John, HB, Kym, Eve.-Construction Manager Principal, Tim Harper, shares maps, information and answers questions.-SFWMD Exec. Dir Drew Bartlett explains videos 1&2 -extremely helpful!

VIDEO #1 DREW BARLETT

#VIDEO 2 DREW BARTLETT

 

-Exec. Dir. Drew Bartlett and JTL arrive on site: smile and wave to Freddy the Alligator! “Freddy the Alligator has come to say hello!” Freddy helps other animals during drought and he and his friends need more and clean water! -Reviewing the site is overwhelming; the reservoir and STA by vehicle cover over eight miles!-Dyno-mite! C-640 Canal divides the STA and the Reservoir. We were treated to a blast during lunchtime. Guest, Eric Eichenberg, CEO Everglades Foundation, and I prepare. We have been waiting for this a long, long time! 

-Realtor Anne’s new hat! -John Gonzalez, JTL, HB Warren, Deb Drub, Rob Lord, Eve Samples -Realtors: John Gonzalez, Anne Schmidt, Ike Crumpler, and HB Warren-all worked in Stuart when the horrific harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee destroyed the estuary and home sales in 2013, 2016 and 2018. “We want clean water!” -My brother, Todd Thurlow, author of eyeonlakeo website, stands before the C-640 Canal that divides the STA and the Reservoir is also part of Friends of the Everglades. This photo was for my mother. 🙂-Thank you SFWMD STAFF! -with David Anderson, RYAN inspector, whom I had met on my previous trip. Thanks David! -TCPalm’s photographer, Crystal Vanderweit, JTL, and environmental reporter, Max Chesnes.-Drew Bartlett, E.D. SFWMD and Bradley Watson, Everglades Foundation.Great that Bradley and Eric Eichenberg joined us too! -JTL and Eve Samples, Friends of the Everglades contemplating the future…-Site photographs, Strorm Water Treatment Area.-My favorite photo of the day, Kym Hurchalla, granddaughter of Martin County’s late environmental leader, Maggy Hurchalla, looks over at  what will become the STA. If anything, everglades restoration is generational…-“Black Gold” from the site. Muck, scraped and stored, now used to grow vegetation to protect the levees.-Everything feels big out here! Everything  is big out here! -Sugarcane fields transforming into the EAA Reservoir/STA…

Thank you to SFWMD‘s Flicker and my brother, Todd Thurlow, for photos included in this post – all are public!

Never, Never, Never Give Up!

It is really great to be learning more about Florida’s west coast. My recent girls’ trip with high school friends Nic Mader and Cristina Maldonado was the “best-west” yet! What is so interesting is that no matter where I go, it seems my home town of Martin County follows, or is already there. When I opened the book I took along the trip for reference, Everglades, The Ecosystem and Its Restoration, guess who had written the forward? Martin County’s Nathaniel Reed. His final words after quoting Winston Churchill were “I count on you to never giver up!”

God, it’s hard sometimes isn’t it? In fact, part of the west coast trip was to get our minds off all happening on the east coast. And then there is SB 2508. But Mr Reed is right, we must never give up.

Another important fact is that after Mr Reed’s death, the Big Cypress Visitor’s Center was named in his honor. How awesome is that? The U.S.Hobe Sound Wildlife Refuge on the east coast and Big Cypress on the west. What a man!Mr Reed…

He was almost mythical…attending Rivers Coalition meetings in his 80s standing there speaking to us about the importance of the EAA Reservoir with his eyes partially closed, as in a trance. His arms folded, scarred, and weathered from his hundreds of fishing trips around the globe. At these meetings, he revealed insights from his days working in Tallahassee and Washington D.C. and many of the hurdles encountered.

In 2017, it meant the world  to me, when Mr Reed wrote a letter to the editor of the Stuart News in support of a bill I sponsored, “A Right to a Clean and Healthy Environment.” I was getting hammered by Gunster lawyers during my appointment to the Constitution Revision Commission. Oh such a threat! Even the River Kidz were being humiliated. Mr Reed wrote in his letter:

“As one of the authors of the 1973 Clean Water Act. I attempted late in process to include agricultural pollution in the bill, but the major congressional supporters of the pending bill felt that by adding the controls on agricultural pollution the bill would fail.

Now, 54 years later, fertilizer and dairy waste are the main contributors to the pollution of the waters of our nation. Algal blooms are all too common even on the Great Lakes.

The “usual suspects” may defeat Thurlow -Lippisch’s brave effort, but you are right: The issues won’t go away! “

I never forgot these kind words, it made it all worth while when I felt like crying or walking into a corner. The bill failed. Time moves on but I never forgot. For me to see both Reed’s smiling face at the Big Cypress Visitors’ Center during our girls’ trip, and then ironically when I opened the Davis/Ogden book; it makes me feel like Mr Reed is still alive. He is speaking to us. Yes. Even when we are getting crushed, we cannot give up.

As I stood at Big Cypress something occurred to me that I had not realized before. The west coast is full of lands that were created because Mr Reed and others of his era did not give up even after tremendous disappointment.

  1. Audubon Corkscrew Swamp and Sanctuary (north west off map) est. 1953
  2. Picayune Strand State Forest est. 1995
  3. Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge est. 1989
  4. Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve est. 1974
  5. Big Cypress National Preserve est. 1974
  6. Everglades National Park est. 1947

In 1947, after going through the political blender, Everglades National Park ended up being half the size originally negotiated. Ernest F. Coe, who inspired many and envisioned a national park dedicated to the preservation of the Everglades, almost boycotted the park’s ribbon cutting he was so angry at the reduction in size. In the end, Mr Coe attended, but only after those the likes of Ms Marjory Stoneman Douglas insisted.

And years later as the list above shows, Corkscrew, Picayune, the Panther Refuge, Fakahatchee, and Big Cypress were established to a patchwork of pieces near or contiguous with Everglades National Park. The “titles”are different, but to the wildlife and our waters its all the same whether private, state forest, national wildlife refuge, national preserve, or national park…

My recent trip with childhood friends Nic and Cristina really brought Mr Reed’s message home! We must work on saving Florida a piece at a time, a drop of water at a time.  Heads up! Even when the “usual suspects” get you down, get up, brush yourself off, hold your head high and keep walking. Go visit one of these treasured places. May we never, never, never give up!   -Nic Mader, Cristina Maldonado, and JTL – Girls’ Trip 2022 -With the only panther we saw at the Nathaniel Reed Big Cypress Visitors’ Center! “Never give up!” We’ll be back! -Mr Reed’s Forward to EVERGLADES, by Davis and Ogden below-Timeline outside of Nathaniel Reed Big Cypress Visitors’ Center-Mr Reed, Everglades Coalition 2012. Photo JTL 

Old Growth Cypress, Old Friends-Corkscrew Swamp

~Old growth cypress trees, Audubon Corkscrew Swamp SanctuaryLong before our waters were impaired, our state’s most stately trees were cut for timber. But in Collier County a portion of Florida’s original old growth bald cypress forest remains. Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary  boardwalk allows access into this majestic place considered the world’s largest old growth bald cypress forest. Amazing! 

On Saturday, February 26, 2022, two of my “oldest” friends, Nic Mader, and Cristina Maldonado, and I, drove south below Lake Okeechobee and then west. This tour includes other destinations, but for this post, I will focus on Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. The sanctuary includes wet prairie, pond cypress, bald cypress and a sprawling central marsh. These photos are from the bald cypress section. The giants were just growing their fernlike, delicate leaves, some were bare.

As mentioned, Florida’s once glorious forests were raped and pillaged mostly in the years after the Civil War, the 30s, and post World War II. These ancient natural resources built the county at the expense of lost habitat, displaced wildlife, and certainly laid the groundwork for the the degradation of our waters. I can’t image seeing what was done then today!

Collier County Historic Photos

Thankfully, some small portions are remaining. Corkscrew is one of them. Although bald cypress are dated to live 1700 years or older,  the remaining trees in Corkscrew are estimated to be a “mere” 500 to 700 years old! Looking up Nic, Cristina and I almost toppled over, the trees’ branches reaching to Heaven, beautifully decorated by Mother Nature’s ornaments: bromeliads, lichens, mosses, and strangely shaped, draping strangler-figs.

“I feel young here!” noted Cristina. We laughed!

Young or old, unfortunately, the story of this swamp gets even bloodier. The plume trade also existed in this region. Local rookeries, because of the money attached to the trade of ladies hats, led ruthless plume hunters deep into the swamp. Hundreds of thousands of gorgeous wading birds, often with chicks, were slaughtered.  This of course is what brought Audubon to action. Audubon realized that even thought so much was already lost; they must now fight not just to save the birds, but also the birds’ habitat. And thus today, we have Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. Ending with more good news, Nic, Cristina and I saw an incredible number of birds in the sanctuary! Great Egrets, Blue Herons, Night Herons, Little Blue Herons, White Herons, Red Tail Hawks, Tri-Colored Herons, Pileated Woodpeckers and even a non-forgettable fast, circle-flying, click-sounding, Kingfisher that flew inches over the alligators!

My favorite part was when Nic said incredulously: “Is this like an old Florida post card or what?” She was spot on. Like an old Florida post card come alive!

#therealFlorida still lives!-Old growth bald cypress tree, Corkscrew-Old friends, JTL, Nic, and Cristina in an old growth forest!-On the boardwalk-Nic found a ghost orchid, though not yet in bloom!

FIU Libraries: logging in region of Big Cypress/Naples

Thank you to my old-friends Cristina and Nic for sharing their photos for this post and for a wonderful trip! Next? Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk and Fakahatchee Strand!

Everglades Coalition Conference #EVCO22

The 37th Annual Everglades Coalition Conference took place at Hawk’s Cay in Duck’s Key, January 6-8 2022. I’ve attended almost all of the conferences since 2012 and this year’s was another one for the history books: Everglades Restoration: “Investing in a Climate Resilient Future.”

I am sharing all pages that include the program schedule and award winners. You can reference full program from above link. I will also include various photographs, and a my phone’s video of legend, Mr Dick Pettigrew’s acceptance speech – He was awarded the “Hall of Fame” award. He is 92 years old and still going strong! What a wonderful conference. 

It was impressive to see almost the entire SFWMD board and executive staff in attendance and the ACOE’s Col. Jamie Booth, and LTC Todd Polk – along with ACOE staff. So many participants from so many perspectives! We are listening and all have the same goal: to adapt and restore America’s Everglades.

-Martin County legend  Mark Perry, was awarded the Conservation Award (Ed and JTL, Nancy and Mark Perry, Eve Samples)

Historic look at EVCO through the years! 

-Rev. Houston Cypress was awarded the Grassroots Award (w/Eva Velez USACOE)Dr Evelyn Gaiser was awarded the Public Service Award

-Various photo gallery, sorry I have not named all, will try later!

-Photos of presentation slides and gallery photos