Category Archives: Guest writer

Chasing Tarpon! SLR/IRL

Chase with a tarpon he recently caught and released, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon region. Photos courtesy of  Chase’s iPhone, 5-24-17.

Happy 17th Birthday to Chase! If you don’t already know him, Chase is one of Stuart’s leading sports fishermen, in any age category. This photo is of a recent catch of my favorite fish, the beautiful and unforgettable, “Silver King Tarpon.”

Since Chase was thirteen years old, when we ran into each other, he would share photos of his fishing expeditions. I always stood there, mouth wide open…”Are you kidding me?” I would ask. He would just smile with his wide, blue eyes saying it all:” THIS IS NO FISH STORY…

In 2015, Chase and I,  together with many others tried to save a pigmy whale that had beached at Stuart. Chase loves the outdoors and has respect for all of the water’s creatures.

Yesterday,  in Jensen, I ran into Chase celebrating his 17th birthday with family and friends.

Perhaps it is his mother’s wonderful name, “Cobia,”  that inspires her son! 🙂

If you are a reader of my blog you know, the ancient, acrobatic, and historic tarpon is my favorite fish as it was the original sports fish of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, until its numbers were destroyed by canals, C-44, C-23, C-25 and C-25. Had these canals not been allowed to decimate our river, Tarpon would still be King, not the famous off-shore Sailfish….

Thank you Chase for sharing and inspiring us all! We know you have a great future ahead of you!!!! I can’t wait ’til you have your own show!!!!!!

Chase w/Tarpon . What a beautiful fish!
Chase w/Tarpon!
Tarpon Fishing in the St Lucie River/S. Indian River Lagoon ~ by famed artist or the time, Kent Hagerman, 1893-1978. Image courtesy, Sandra Henderson Thurlow archives.

Former Blog post explaining the story of  Stuart’s focus from “Tarpon to Sailfish: “He Shall Be King Again! The Silver King of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, by Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch: https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/tag/st-lucie-river-tarpon-club/

Tarpon Links:

Fishing Stuart,Tarpon: http://www.fishingstuart.com/floridafish/tarpon.php

FWC, Tarpon:http://myfwc.com/research/saltwater/tarpon/information/facts/

Tarpon Facts:Tarpon:https://www.tarponfish.com/tarpon-facts/

Florida Museum, Tarpon: https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/fish/discover/species-profiles/megalops-atlanticus/

Bonefish/Tarpon Trust: https://www.bonefishtarpontrust.org

CANALS:

Canals in Martin and St Lucie Co.: C-23, C-24, C-25 constructed in the 50s and 60s. C-44 connected to Lake Okeechobee, the worst,  constructed in the 1920s. These canals, assisting agriculture and development, destroyed the “fishing grounds of presidents” from the early 1900s, the famed St Lucie River. In the 30s and 40s the offshore Sailfish was marketed and Stuart became known as the “Sailfish Capital of the World” as so many of the tarpon and other fish of the river had declined. The tarpon was forgotten as the original main game fish of the St Lucie River. May he rise again! JTL

The Stuart Middle School Pond That “Was Made to Disappear…” SLR/IRL

Left, 1947 photo of Stuart High School that today is the location of the Martin County School Board Administrative Buildings. Right, “The Log Cabin,” that is now located at Langford Park in Jensen Beach/Rio. Today’s Stuart Middle School along East Ocean Blvd. is located exactly where this pond used to be. Photo shared by historian Alice Luckhardt from Clyde Counant, Thurlow/Collection.
Google Earth (from opposite direction) shows 2017 image of today’s Stuart Middle School (large roof in middle of photo, marked as #102 East Ocean, Stuart) at corner of Georgia Ave and East Ocean Blvd.  The school is built IN the area where large pond once was located that you see in the 1947 black and white photo above . Notice the small depression to the right of the building. That is what is left of the pond.

This week, with a short reprieve from politics, I have been sharing historic photos and videos of the once wetlands and ponds of East Ocean Boulevard. Land use changes interest me as land use is of course directly connected to the water quality and health of our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.

After reading yesterday’s blog, historian and family friend Alice Luckhardt, shared the remarkable 1947 photo above. I wanted to make sure everyone saw it as well! Look at the size of that pond that once was at Stuart Middle School! I remember it; do you? Now it’s gone.

The question posed to Alice in a conversation thread on Facebook was “why was the school board allowed to drain and build over the pond?”

It appears “the powers that be” had been eyeing the land under the pond for some time…

Alice has included two old news articles, featured below, explaining how students, two different times, did save the pond from destruction in both 1964 and 1971, but no one spoke up during the real estate boom era of the 2000s when the “new Stuart Middle School” was built. Why didn’t the adults save it?

Now I must state that I love Stuart Middle School as I attended there as a student and taught there as a teacher, but this disappearing pond act is incredible and should be noted. At the time I saw it happening, I did write a personal note of concern and disbelief to the current principal who did not write me back. Now that I am a “politico” person, I understand the principal does not make these decisions.

Many locals who grew up here still have memories of the pond. My Dad does as he went to hight school here in the 50s. Generational Stuart resident Boo Lowery  says:”Jay Davey and I fished in that pond a lot 1949-53, we caught a lot of bream.. there were two  islands then, –they later connected them to shore; I guess to make mowing easier.”

Yes, the goal is always to make it “easier,” for we humans, unfortunately over time this adds to the desolation of our St Lucie River…Easier is not the answer.

Well enjoy Alice’s articles below! Thanks, everyone; see you at the fishin’ pond.

Jacqui

P.S. Go Jaguars!

 

Center JTL 6ht grade at SMS. Nice hair doo.
Full page SMS 1975-76, recognize anyone? 🙂

_____________________________________

Photo Stuart, Florida, in 1947. Source: Clyde Coutant Photography, Thurlow/Collection. An aerial with Stuart High School on left and the pond and Log Cabin on right.

By Alice Luckhardt
Alice can be reached and her Historical Vignettes are available at: http://www.stuartheritagemuseum.com

JULY 16, 1964, THE STUART NEWS, SCHOOL POND IS TO BE ‘SAVED’ BY CONSERVATIONIST GROUPS
The pond at Stuart Junior High School will not be filled. Instead, its water level will be restored, its banks will be graded to stop erosion and it will again be the habitat of water lilies and fresh water fish. Martin County School Board Monday night approved a plan advanced by six local conservation groups: Garden Club of Stuart, Izaak Walton League, St. Lucie-Indian Rivers Restoration League, the Historical Society, Junior Conservation Club and U. S. Soil Conservation Service. Charles Kindred, president of the Isaak Walton League, detailed the plan, which involves grading of the banks with county equipment, stabilizing them with Bahia grass and other plantings, installation of a well and one and a quarter-inch pump, operated by the city, to maintain the water level at three or four feet during drought periods and the planting of bream and bass.

JAN 10, 1971, THE STUART NEWS JUNIOR HIGH POND IS DUG OUT

The pond on the campus of the Stuart Seventh and Eighth School is in the final stages of renovation. Assistant Superintendent of Schools Jack Smouse said that the pond is somewhat of a landmark in the community and that it has been here “as long as I can remember.” School officials have intended to update the pond for some time, Smouse said and with the cooperation of the city and the county the work has been done. The county donated a dragline and the city provided fill for the project. The pond was originally designed with two separate islands in the center. Smouse said the design made maintenance difficult. Transporting mowers and other equipment from one island to the other was virtually impossible without a boat. With the fill which the city provided, the two islands have been connected. Smouse said the pond was originally dug to provide fill for other areas and that the spoil taken from the recent work will be used on the campus. Moves to fill in the pond in the past were blocked by local conservationists, Smouse said. They felt that if the pond is eliminated the city will lose one of its areas of beauty. The digging is now completed and the next step is to clear the area of cattails and other debris. When this work is complete the area will be planted and stocked with fish. Smouse said it will provide a fresh water pond for the area and will be used primarily as a “classroom” by the science department at the school. The pond is filled by surface water from the campus. In the past, storm sewer drainage went into the pond, but with the present drainage system this is impossible, Smouse explained. With the present low water table the surface water will be the only method of fill in the pond. Smouse said that eventually the school hopes to erect a flagpole at either end of the island with a school sign.

2000s: “quiet as a mouse”….pave it over!

Stuart Middle School along East Ocean Blvd. 2017. Photo courtesy of website.
The remaining pond at Stuart Middle School. Photo courtesy of website.

Stuart Middle School:http://sms.martinschools.org/pages/Stuart_Middle_School

The Old Drained Ponds of Downtown Stuart, Now Poison the St Lucie River, ~Time Capsule Flight, Todd Thurlow, SLR/IRL

Today’s blog post, created by my brother, Todd Thurlow, just totally blows my mind. His time-capsule flight through images of Google Earth, historic maps from 1850 and 1940, and an aerial from 1958, takes us on a journey through the extensive pond-land/wetland that used to be the area of Downtown Stuart and beyond. Today we all live here, most of us not even realizing what the land once was…this wetland now “magically” drains into the St Lucie River.

In Todd’s video you can see that Stuart Middle School actually is now sitting where an old pond used to be; there were ponds expanding and contracting with the rains in today’s Memorial Park; there were ponds in the areas of today’s County Courthouse; there were ponds scattered over today’s airport, Witham Field; there were extensive ponds along East Ocean Boulevard and  Dolphin as featured in last Friday’s popular blog post. Yes, there little ponds just about everywhere!

Sometimes we think the wetlands are “out west” and they are, but years ago they were also here. I have to say am guilty of this too. When I came home after university in 1986 and just about everything was developed, once again, amnesia! Look, after you watch Todd’s video, and notice the drainage canals around Monterey Blvd., St Lucie Blvd, back by Kingswoods Condo, and on the edges of Witham Field and there are many more. Of course like the grates and drains in every parking lot, these canals drain into our ailing St Lucie River. Lake Okeechobee is the big toxic hammer but there is local destruction too…

Thank you Todd and please watch the video!

Jacqui

Link to East Ocean Blvd and Dolphin Drive 1885, 1949 and 1958 video: (https://youtu.be/RCA47UsrmAc)

BY TODD THURLOW

The video is a follow-up to my sister’s 5/19/2017 blog post “The Long Forgotten Wetlands of East Ocean Boulevard, SLR/IRL” (https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/201…)

She describes a 1958 aerial photograph that hangs in my law office. The photo is from my parent’s “Thurlow/Ruhnke” collection. I had used the photo for a Google Earth presentation for Stuart Heritage on May 8, 2012. http://www.stuartheritagemuseum.com/

This is a recording of maps and photographs used for part of that presentation: 1850s Government Land Office Plats, 1940 USDA aerials and the 1958 Thurlow/Ruhnke photo.

There is no sound or text overlays but here are a few features to note:

0:50 –What was called the “Stuart Middle School Pond”. We jumped in that pond on the last day of school to celebrate graduating from 8th grade. A few years ago the pond was filled in to make room for a new building.

1:00 – The end of Fourth Street (what is now called East Ocean Blvd). East Ocean Blvd. ended at the intersection of St. Lucie Blvd/ Oriole Ave. on the left (north) side and Dolphin Drive on the right (south) before it was extended to the “Bridges to the Sea”.

1:14 – The oblique aerial described in Jacqui’s blog. Note the building in the bottom right corner. That is the Broadway Service Center which still stands today. See https://goo.gl/iODQwU

1:47 –The Evan’s Crary Bridge (aka the Ten Cent Bridge) under construction in the background

2:24 – 1940 flyover of Dolphin Drive. Note the single building in the middle of nowhere. That residence is still standing on the corner of SE 6th Street and Flamingo Ave. According to the Martin County Property Appraiser, it was built in 1925, years before the photo was taken.

2:30 –The 1940 view before our current airport. The previous Krueger Airport was off of East Ocean Blvd. Dolphin Drive continued all the way from East Ocean Blvd. to St. Lucie Blvd. by the river. If you have ever taken the “back exit” from the Stuart Air Show onto St. Lucie Blvd, that still existing right-of-way is what used to be the other end of Dolphin Drive.

~Todd Thurlow

Thomas H. Thurlow III

“Time Capsule Flights,” created by my brother, Todd Thurlow, has been a shared favorite on my blog since 2014. In these remarkable videos, Todd uses his legal and historical knowledge to create a living collage juxtaposing historic and modern-day images to achieve dramatic insights into watershed and land use changes in Florida over the past hundred years. These videos are a must for anyone wishing to understand our state’s history or working to restore its waters and lands in the future. You can access all of Todd’s videos here: http://maps.thethurlows.com.

1940s Dept. of Ag. aerials Martin Co. Dark areas are ponds/wetlands.

Thurlow and Thurlow PA: http://www.thurlowpa.com​

 

Lake Okeechobee Blue-Green Bacterial Blooms in Florida: Lessons From Lake Erie, Prof. Geoff Norris, SLR/IRL

 

Blue-green algae bloom St Lucie River, 2016, JTL

Today I am again honored to feature the writing of Professor Geoff Norris. This most recent work is a tremendous achievement of time, research, and puzzle piecing. Professor Norris’ past shared articles “Blue Green Algal Blooms in the Lakes, Rivers, and Marine Waters of South Florida Surrounding Lake Okeechobee,” and “Sugarcane and Indians” were extremely popular with many of my readers. Professor Norris has a way of communicating complex topics in an easy and interesting way so that everyone can understand and make the  connections. In the 1960s Professor Norris  lived and worked as a petroleum exploration geologist in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Subsequently, he spent 40 years at the University of Toronto teaching and performing research in geology. A  geologist by training, Professor Norris  has a specialized knowledge of fossil algae, their ecology, morphology, and distribution.  He has published hundreds of scientific papers on fossil algae and related topics…I encourage you to contact him by email with any questions at rosalex@interlog.com

Thank you Professor Norris. “Together we will create a “better water future!”

Jacqui

 

IMG_1003

Lake Okeechobee blue-green bacterial blooms in Florida: lessons from Lake Erie

By Geoff Norris, PhD

University of Toronto: http://www.es.utoronto.ca/people/faculty/norris-geof/

rosalex@interlog.com

May 2017

 

Preamble

 

In the following article, I have attempted to summarize some of the voluminous literature on Lake Erie and its problem blue-green blooms, and how this might help to understand similar events in Lake Okeechobee.  I have included URL web addresses for some of the topics, which can be used to access further information.

 

Although the blooms are often referred to as blue-green algae, this is quite inaccurate and I can see no further point in perpetuating this misnomer.  The blooms are largely or entirely composed of Cyanobacteria, or blue-green bacteria as I have chosen to call them for this article.  This is not just for precision and to point up their lack of a nucleus and other organelles in each cell, but serves to underline how these organisms earn a living and perpetuate themselves that is quite different compared to nucleated organisms, the latter including algae, fungi, all green plants, and all animals.  This difference is really important.

 

The topic is vast and my review barely scratches the surface – it’s not meant to, because I am not an expert and am still trying to understand the vast complexity of blue-green bacterial bloom formation.  I have tried to unravel and clarify some of the science and scientific investigations that have been important for me, and have used these as examples of the work that is going on or has led to current advances.  For every paper I have cited, however, there could be tens or hundreds more that haven’t been consulted or mentioned.  I apologize in advance to those many talented scientists that I haven’t mentioned or that I am simply unaware of.

 

 

Steel Town

 

I used to live in Hamilton, Ontario, a prosperous city with thriving iron and steel mills, other manufacturing industries, an excellent university and a great football team, a sort of Pittsburg of the North. It sits on the shores of Lake Ontario on a sliver of land – the Niagara Peninsula – that separates Lake Erie from Lake Ontario.  In the early summer after the ice had melted, many of the locals in the mid-1900s would take advantage of the beaches along Lake Ontario to sun themselves and wait until the water was warm enough to swim in.  However, you could get a head start on summer by taking a short drive south (less than an hour) to the beaches along Lake Erie where the water was warmer earlier in the summer, and resorts and tourism thrived.  Fish were abundant and the lake was very productive for commercial fishing and equally attractive for sport fishing. The beaches were superb for tourism and sun lovers.  Lake Erie is large but shallow (average depth about 60ft) and so a baby on a Great Lakes scale from a volumetric point of view (most of the Great Lakes are hundreds of feet deep, the deepest being Superior at more than 1300 ft maximum depth).  However, Lake Erie’s smaller volume and shallow waters helped it to warm up quickly in the spring and summer.

 

The Dead Sea of North America

 

Then something happened to Lake Erie, starting in the 1960s.  The water of Lake Erie became murky and discolored, mass fish kills led to piles of rotting marine life polluting the beaches, the tourists and anglers and sun worshippers stayed away in droves, the resorts closed down, the commercial fisheries were badly hit, and the economy suffered enormously.  Algae were blamed but no one was quite sure why they had become so abundant – “eutrophication” was the buzzword of the time.  Lake Erie was declared “dead”, which was quite inaccurate since it was swarming with life, but the wrong sort of life.  The culprits polluting the environment were a mixture of true green algae (such as Cladophora) and so-called “blue green algae” (such as Microcystis and Aphanizomenon), which in truth are types of bacteria using chlorophyll and other pigments that allow them to live in sunlight (their technical name is Cyanobacteria –called blue-green bacteria in this article), and this is discussed in more detail in my previous blog: https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/tag/dr-geoffrey-norris/).  The plight of the Dead Sea of North America (as Lake Erie became known) was so notorious that one of Dr Seuss’s books for children – The Lorax (1971) – made reference to it in his famous style of doggerel:

 

You’re glumping the pond where the Humming-Fish hummed!

No more can they hum, for their gills are gummed.

So I’m sending them off. Oh, their future is dreary.

They’ll walk on their fins and get woefully weary

In search of some water that isn’t so smeary.

I hear things are just as bad up in Lake Erie.

 

The Fix

 

Very fortunately the mystery of Lake Erie’s “death” was soon solved, thanks to a treaty between the U.S. and Canada dating back to the early 1900s that acknowledged the need to maintain water quality in the Great Lakes’ waters bordering the two countries.
By the middle of the 20th century this had morphed into the International Joint Commission for the Great Lakes. These international efforts were underpinned by government and university-based research in both the U.S. and Canada, which identified phosphorus entering the waters as a major contributor, particularly from agricultural fertilizers on the one hand and from domestic laundry detergents on the other. In 1972 the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLQWA) was signed between the United States and Canada, by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau for Canada and President Richard Nixon for the United States.  They loathed one another personally, but they knew what was the right thing to do for their countries.

Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and President Richard Nixon signing the Agreement.

 

The Agreement emphasized the reduction of phosphorous entering lakes Erie and Ontario, and, in 1977, maximum levels for phosphorous were added to the Agreement. Also, phosphorus in laundry detergents was finally drastically reduced or banned. Coupled with the U.S. and Canadian Clean Water acts, the International Joint Commission did much to reduce the phosphorus levels in Lake Erie.


International Joint Commission (IJC): More than a century of cooperation protecting shared waters.  Canada and the United States each appoint three of the six IJC Commissioners, including one chair from each country. The two chairs serve concurrently.  The Commissioners are appointed by the highest level of government in each country, but once appointed they do not represent the national governments; they operate at arm’s length.  The Commissioners traditionally work by consensus to find solutions that are in the best interest of both countries. The Commissioners are supported by U.S. and Canadian Section offices in Washington, D.C. and Ottawa, Ontario.”

 

So everyone breathed a sigh of relief, phosphorus levels went down, farmers applied fertilizers to their fields differently, consumers chose phosphorus-free detergents, municipalities improved their storm water and sewage treatment facilities, the fish and other wildlife came back to Lake Erie, and Dr Seuss was persuaded to remove the last line in his poem.  Further details can be found in a report by the National Wildlife Federation:

 

https://www.nwf.org/~/media/PDFs/Regional/Great-Lakes/GreatLakes-Feast-and-Famine-Nutrient-Report.ashx

 

The Monster Returns

 

For almost 20 years, Lake Erie was not plagued by the blue-green bacteria problem, but other problems did emerge such as exotic zebra mussels that interfered with the distribution of elements important in nutrition, but they seemed at the time to be unrelated to bacterial infestations.  Then starting in the mid-1990s, the blue-greens reappeared and became progressively worse leading to super-gigantic blooms that choked the western end of Lake Erie with green muck inches thick and hundred of square miles in extent.  Dead zones – biological black holes – reappeared in the Lake as the rotting organic matter sucked the oxygen out of the water, promising certain death to animals that ventured in.

 

http://www.ijc.org/php/publications/html/modsum/fitzpatrick.html

 

In the summer of 2011 the mother of all blue-green bacterial blooms exploded in Lake Erie, the bloom at its peak being more than 1900 square miles in extent.  That is more than 50% greater than the entire state of Rhode Island, or 35% larger than Long Island, or more than six times larger than all of New York City’s five boroughs.  This super-giant bloom had an estimated weight of 40,000 metric tons dry weight. The wet weights of algae and blue-green bacteria are generally at least 10 times the dry weight. So, this supergiant bloom had at least half a billion tons of blue-green bacteria living within it – a true monster.

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/store/10.4319/lo.1963.8.2.0309/asset/lno1963820309.pdf?v=1&t=j1xgd80g&s=6fdbe97550dee9784d101dc1cfb30256a4b0b278

 

MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) satellite Image of Lake Erie on September 3, 2011, overlaid over map of Lake Erie tributaries. This image shows the bloom (in green) about 6 weeks after its initiation in the western basin.  From Michalak et al, 2013.

 

These blooms had a devastating effect on the areas flanking the western end of Lake Erie – Ohio, Michigan, and Ontario – with large agricultural areas and several major cities and industrial towns.  Toxins from the blue-green bacteria polluted the drinking water supplies of large cities, and potable water had to be trucked in for the residents.

 

The “greening” of Lake Erie has been documented by Prof. Tom Bridgeman of the University of Toledo in a presentation:

 

https://www.utoledo.edu/law/academics/ligl/pdf/2013

 

Prof. Tom Bridgman

 

In his presentation Prof. Bridgman showed how increasing phosphorus in the lake water favored the blue-green bacteria and shut out the normal tiny floating plants (true algae), a situation that had culminated in the American Dead Sea catastrophe of the 1960s.  The international agreement on phosphorus reduction in the Great Lakes was a huge success story for Lake Erie, but by the mid 1990s algal biomass was beginning to increase again (eutrophication was returning), and by the early 2000s blue green bacteria such as Microcystis were increasing ten-fold, as the reactive phosphorus in the lake waters increased beyond levels recorded in the 1970s.

 

What the heck was going on here?  Everyone had played their part in reducing phosphorus run-off from agricultural lands, and the municipalities and citizens had cleaned up their act.  So where was the phosphorus coming from?  Well now the plot thickens.

 

Farming and Phosphorus

 

This time, the main problems are thought to be ones that governments have much less direct control over, according to a file posted by Emily Chung of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation News (2014).

 

http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/lake-erie-s-algae-explosion-blamed-on-farmers-1.2729327

 

To some extent, they include the application of fertilizers to lawns and golf courses, growing expanses of pavement in urban areas that cause water to drain more quickly into waterways without being filtered by vegetation, and invasive zebra mussels that release extra nutrients into the water as they feed. But those aren’t thought to be the biggest cause.

 

“We think farming is the major culprit behind the current levels of phosphorus that’s in runoff and the phosphorus loads that are getting dumped into the western basin of Lake Erie,” said Dr. Glenn Benoy (senior water quality specialist and science adviser with the International Joint Commission in Ottawa).

 

Dr Glenn Benoy

 

So why is this?  Well, there are several things going on.  Firstly, corn production is at an all time high because of the push to increase alcohol biofuel production, and soybeans are being produced in gigantic quantities for use as animal feed, oil and protein for human consumption, plastics and biodiesel.  Secondly, the introduction of no-till farming practice in the U.S. has led to increased run-off of fertilizer.  Thirdly, there’s just not enough infrastructure to deliver in the spring the huge amounts of fertilizer that are required by the corn farmers.  Prof. Ivan O’Halloran of Guelph University, Ontario and a specialist in soil fertility and nutrient use commented that the demand by corn farmers is such that there are simply not enough rail cars to satisfy the need.  So companies offer discounts to farmers who are willing to apply fertilizer in the fall, which in turn leads to enhanced run-off of phosphorus during the winter storms.

Prof. Ivan O’Halloran

 

No-till Farming and Glyphosate

 

And then there is the matter of no-till farming. No-till farming (also called zero tillage or direct drilling) is a way of growing crops or pasture from year to year without disturbing the soil through tillage, and in current practice depends on the use of powerful herbicides such as glyphosate (Monsanto’s Roundup brand being the most popular formulation).  Application of glyphosate kills weeds and other vegetation in preparation of the seedbed.  Later in the year, another application of the herbicide is used to reduce weeds that might be harming the crop. However, this is only possible if the farmers use genetically modified seeds that are resistant to glyphosate – often referred to as Roundup Ready seeds.  In 2014 in the U.S. 98% of soybeans and more than half of corn was Roundup Ready.  Advocates of Roundup point out that glyphosate is a compound derived from phosphonic acid in which the phosphorus is strongly bonded to carbon and therefore is not available to plants, unlike fertilizer which contains phosphates (not phosphonates) which has phosphorus bonded less strongly to oxygen, and is therefore more readily available for uptake by plants (often referred to by the acronym DRP – dissolved reactive phosphorus).

 

https://www.no-tillfarmer.com/articles/5793-scientists-glyphosate-contributes-to-phosphorus-runoff-in-lake-erie?v=preview

 

http://sustainablepulse.com/2016/07/04/glyphosate-herbicides-cause-tragic-phosphorus-poisoning-of-lake-erie/#.V4ZaaleufYI

 

Prof. Chris Spiese is a chemist at Ohio Northern University and he decided to test the contribution that glyphosate might make to the amount of dissolved reactive phosphorus running off of cultivated fields.  He found that glyphosate acts on the soil to allow the phosphorus bonded to the soil (either being naturally present or due to fertilizer use) to be released by the chemical process known as desorption.  He also found that soils richer in both iron oxides and iron hydroxides tend to release by desorption more phosphorus, as do soils that are more acidic.  Overall, he calculated that glyphosate is responsible for releasing 20-25% of the dissolved reactive phosphorus in the Maumee watershed, a river discharging into the western end of Lake Erie.  Prof. Spiese calculated that for every acre of Roundup Ready soybeans, one-third of a pound of phosphorus comes down the Maumee River.  In 2010, according to the Ohio Soybean Council, 4.6 million acres were planted in soybeans, of which about 2 million acres of soybean fields drain into Lake Erie.

 

http://www.circleofblue.org/cpx/great-lakes-algae/infographics-effect-of-northern-ohios-cropland-and-land-use-on-maumee-river-and-lake-erie/

Prof. Chris Spiese

 

If Prof. Spiese’s calculation for the Maumee watershed hold true for all the soybean acreage in Ohio draining into Lake Erie, this would suggest that each year hundreds of tons of dissolved reactive phosphorus are entering the Lake from this source alone.  And then there are the other states and provinces bordering Lake Erie that are also involved in soybean production:  Ontario 2 million acres; Michigan 1.5 million acres; NW New York, 1/3 million acres; Pennsylvania 1/2 million acres.  Of course, not all these agricultural lands drain into Lake Erie but these numbers give some idea of potential dissolved reactive phosphorus input related to soybean production alone.

 

The Monster Revisited

 

The super-giant blue-green bacterial bloom of 2011 in Lake Erie required a concerted response from the scientific community to understand just why this had happened.  There was no doubt in scientists’ minds that dissolved reactive phosphorus as run-off from agricultural land was a major factor.  But why should a super-giant bloom happen in 2011 and not in 2012 when the same agricultural land and its phosphorus run-off were still flanking the Lake and continued to be a constant factor?  Something else was involved.  So an elite team of scientists from universities, government laboratories, and industrial laboratories got together to investigate, headed up by Prof. Anna Michalak of Stanford University.

Prof. Anna Michalak

 

In 2013 this team of 29 scientists came up with their report, which was published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3631662/

 

The team concluded that long-term trends in agricultural practices (e.g. no-till farming) plus increased acreage under intense cultivation (notably soybeans and corn) led to a major pulse of phosphorus into Lake Erie during some unusually intense spring rainstorms in 2011.  Then in the late spring and summer unusually quiet but warm weather conditions provided just the right conditions to seed, incubate and grow the bloom in the waters of Lake Erie.  The team stated  If a scientifically guided management plan to mitigate these impacts is not implemented, we can therefore expect this [super-giant blue-green bacterial] bloom to be a harbinger of future blooms in Lake Erie.” – because unusual weather events, lower wind speeds, warmer waters, and higher rainfalls are becoming more common and can be expected in the future.

 

Glyphosate and Blue Green Bacteria

 

Recent work by scientists at Bowling Green State University has reported the presence of glyphosate in Lake Erie.  It is evidently washing out of the no-till crop fields, and reaches a maximum in the summer months.  Also it has been found in water treatment plants, peaking in the summer months.  Prof. McKay and his colleagues raised the possibility in 2010 that the presence of glyphosate in Lake Erie together with phosphates from fertilizers tend to stimulate the growth of blue-green bacteria, whereas phosphates alone do not do this but favor diatoms, a normal algal component of Lake Erie.  It seems that blue-green bacteria can utilize the phosphorus in the glyphosate, which was believed to be otherwise not normally bio-available.  Many questions remain to be answered but the intense use of glyphosate in the area around Lake Erie demands rapid action in the very near future to establish just how much glyphosate is involved in blue-green bacterial blooms.

 

http://www.lemn.org/LEMN2010_files/Presentations/McKay_LEMN__April2010_Phosphonate_26April.pdf

Prof. Robert McKay

 

An even more disturbing piece of microbiological and genetic research was done by Prof. Victoria López-Rodas in Madrid together with other Spanish colleagues in 2007.  They studied Microcystis, one of the bad boys of the blue-green bacteria family.  They found that rare mutations during growth and division of cells could clone a glyphosate-resistant strain that could survive in glyphosate polluted waters.  In other words, Microcystis has the potential to develop into a “superbug” unaffected by glyphosate.  The odds of a mutation like this occurring were calculated to be a few times in 10 million by Prof. Lopez-Rodas’ team.  That’s better than the odds for winning the Jackpot in the Florida Power Ball Lottery (1 in 292 million), but still not great.  If you bought hundreds of millions of ticket in the lottery, you would have a good chance of winning at least once, perhaps several times (but at $2 a ticket you financial advisor might have some things to say to you about your investment strategy).  However, given a little phosphorus and nitrogen, Microcystis can keep on dividing trillions and trillions of time to form blooms in warm water.  With such astronomical numbers, a rare mutation becomes a virtual certainty at some point during cloning, and in the presence of an antibiotic such as glyphosate, a superbug is born.

Prof. Victoria Lopez-Rodas

 

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10682-006-9134-8

 

 

The Nitrogen Mystery

 

So far the emphasis has been on phosphorus and how it is important in blue-green bacterial bloom formation.  But nitrogen is also very important as a nutritional component for blue-greens and indeed for all life.  Green plants need nitrogen to synthesize proteins and other important components in their cells.  Although nitrogen is abundant in the atmosphere, it is an inert gas and simply unavailable as a nutrient for many green plants.  It needs to be combined with hydrogen (as an ammonia compound) or with oxygen (as a nitrate compound) to be absorbed by the plant.  These nitrogen compounds may be naturally occurring in soil, but in agricultural land they need to be added frequently as fertilizer for crops to thrive.

 

Blue-green bacteria have an advantage over green algae and other green plants because some blue-greens have the ability to synthesize nitrogen compounds directly from gaseous nitrogen – they are said to be able to “fix” the nitrogen.  But some other blue-green bacteria are unable to fix the nitrogen and have to depend on another source.  Microcystis is a case in point (the blue-green bacteria that are often dominant in the giant blooms in Lake Erie and Lake Okeechobee).  Microcystis is highly dependant on a source of nitrogen to thrive.  This can of course be provided by run-off from crop fertilizer, but it does not always explain the fluctuations of this and other blue-green bacteria that have or do not have nitrogen fixation ability in Lake Erie, in spite of the fact that the experts all agree that phosphorus – not nitrogen – is the principal limiting factor.

 

Lucas Beversdorf and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin decided in 2010 to try and solve the problem and improve predictability of toxic blue-green episodes in a beautifully designed and detailed study of Lake Mendota, Wisconsin a much smaller lake (15 square miles) than Lake Erie but about the same depth and with similar temperate seasonal weather patterns.

Dr. Lucas Beversdorf

 

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0056103

 

They found that Microcystis (blue-green non-nitrogen fixer) rode on the back of Aphanizomenon  (blue-green nitrogen fixer) in a nutritional sense.  Without the nitrogen fixer doing its work first in the spring, Microcystis as a non-nitrogen fixer could not attain dominance and pollute the water with toxic microcystin in the summer.  This could be relevant to understanding how the blooms that occurred in the mid-20th century in Lake Erie came about, both Microcystis and Aphanizomenon being important contributors to large blue-green blooms at that time.  It could also be important in predicting when blooms can be expected.

 

Prof. Karl Havens, a biologist at the University of Florida (and formerly of the South Florida Water Management District) has discussed the implications of nitrogen and phosphorus as nutrients for blue-green bacteria in Lake Okeechobee, and the need to reduce both given the physical and biological complexities in a shallow lake.

 

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/216768923_Controlling_Eutrophication_Nitrogen_and_Phosphorus

 

Prof. Karl Havens

 

It has been known for some time that non-nitrogen fixing bacteria are highly competitive when it comes to ammonium compounds in freshwater lakes, possibly explaining why Microcystis and similar blue-green bacteria do achieve dominance in the blue-green blooms when in proximity to agricultural run-off.

 

http://ci.nii.ac.jp/naid/10011533602/

 

Blue-greens from Space

 

Researchers are looking for ways to monitor assess and predict algal blooms of all types.  This can be done by sampling the lake waters and analyzing them for various organisms and chemical compounds, such as Dr Beversdorf did for his detailed study of Lake Mendota.  However, in very large lakes such as Lake Erie the shear size of the lake makes rapid response to a growing giant algal bloom impossible.

 

Prof. Joseph Ortiz of Kent State University, Ohio has been actively involved in developing new ways to gather information on giant blue-green bacterial blooms using an instrument on board the International Space Station.  From space it can image all of Lake Erie in two days – remember Lake Erie is about 9,900 square miles (241 miles long, 57 miles wide).  He uses a technique called hyperspectral visible derivative spectroscopy, quite a mouthful but very important.  The hyperspectral imager works in orbit about 220 miles above the Earth’s surface and transmit the results to Dr Ortiz who uses sophisticated analytical methods to identify various types of algae and bacteria in the lake water.

Prof. Joseph Ortiz

 

https://www.kent.edu/research/joseph-ortiz

 

https://hyspiri.jpl.nasa.gov/downloads/2014_Workshop/day3/1_Ortiz_2014_HyspIRI_JPL_Science_Team_talk.pdf

 

This and related techniques are now being used to forecast blue-green bacterial blooms, in cooperative ventures between NASA and NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration).  For example this was their forecast summary for 2014:

 

“This year’s forecast is for a western basin Lake Erie cyanobacteria bloom of 22,000 metric tons dry weight (MT), with a 95% predictive interval of 11,000 to 33,000 MT. The bloom size over the last decade (2004-2013) has averaged 14,000 MT, such that this year’s bloom will likely be above average. However, the 2014 bloom is expected to be less than the record bloom of 40,000 MT, which occurred in 2011.”

 

https://www.glerl.noaa.gov/res/HABs_and_Hypoxia/docs/LakeErieBloomForecastRelease071514.pdf

 

 

In August of 2014 the City of Toledo shut down its water supply because of contamination by blue-green bacterial toxins (microcystin), which made it undrinkable for 400,000 residents, confirming the astonishing power of this predictive method.

 

A Florida Mismanagement Plan for Niagara Falls

 

Just imagine if the same planning “logic” had been applied to Lake Erie as has happened with Lake Okeechobee.  In the case of Lake Okeechobee, agricultural interests took over an Everglades river and associated sawgrass wetlands to drain them for use as sugar plantations.  To do this the ancient course of an Everglades river was disrupted by damming its 25-mile wide outflow from Lake Okeechobee, upstream from the Everglades Agricultural Area.  In so doing the lake level rose because it had no other natural outlet. Therefore higher shoreline dike construction was needed (the Herbert Hoover Dike) to impound the water to prevent flooding of the adjacent land.  All this destroyed a large part of the Everglades, a natural wonder of the world designated an International Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a Wetland of International Importance. The “river of grass” in the Everglades became starved for water.

Everglades River of Grass

Meanwhile, the Kissimmee River feeding into Lake Okeechobee and draining another agricultural area was straightened and canalized to remove those annoying meanders that characterize river systems as they approach local base level (the lowest point to which a river can flow).  The straightened channels thus allowed rapid fertilizer run-off from the fields, preventing filtering and bio-cleansing in the natural wetland vegetation of the flood plain meanders that would otherwise exist, further contributing to heavy phosphorus loading in Lake Okeechobee and the consequent blue-green bacterial blooms. The straightened channels also contributed voluminous extra water that the lake could not handle.  Therefore, the lake managers and flood controllers (the Army Corps of Engineers) directed the overflow waters down a number of canals with outlets to the highly populated Atlantic and Gulf coastlines and the sea, the overflow water being heavily polluted with blue-green bacteria from the giant blooms that grew in the lake.

 

So let’s work this through for our imaginary Niagara Gorge Agricultural Area, a 7-mile stretch that would be ideal land for growing grapes and other fruits in a valley just below Niagara Falls.  Once drained, the imaginary agricultural area would eventually develop lime-rich soils, which would be perfect for high quality wine grapes, and would be similar to the soils in the adjacent Niagara Wine Country.  The fruit would be sheltered from the worst of the Canadian winter that might otherwise be unfavorable for growing and ripening the grapes.  There would be one big problem:  there is too much water in the Niagara Gorge, which transports the Great Lakes waters through the Niagara River into Lake Ontario.

 

So, the imaginary managers deemed that a dam would be necessary across the Niagara River upstream from Niagara Falls to divert the water elsewhere, and help to drain the Gorge.  They knew this would be entirely possible because the Army Corps of Engineers had dammed the Niagara River once before to make repairs to the Falls, back in 1969.  Of course, the magnificent Niagara Falls, a real wonder of the world, would cease to exist.  Meanwhile, the Lake Erie water level would start to rise and bigger and better dikes would be needed, particularly around population centers such as Buffalo, Cleveland, Toledo, and Detroit, to prevent flooding.  This in turn would raise the base level of the inflowing rivers and they would back up and tend to flood more frequently.  The imaginary managers decided to straighten the meander channels of the rivers to allow quicker drainage, but this in turn sent a high discharge of agricultural phosphorus run-off into the Lake.  The higher loading of phosphorus triggered gigantic blue-green bacterial blooms.

 

Clearly an outlet would be needed for the imaginary re-engineered Lake Erie high-level water, so the imaginary lake managers decided to discharge the lake water somewhere else.  Very fortunately, an older structure – the Erie Canal – still existed and would be ideally suited for modification to act as a spillway or overflow channel.  The Erie Canal in turn would channel the water from Niagara into the Hudson River and out into the Atlantic Ocean near New York City.  Unfortunately the voluminous discharge of polluted freshwater from the Lake would do two things.  First, the blue green bacteria would thrive as the discharge water slowed and became semi-stagnant in the estuaries and coastal regions around Manhattan during the summer.  Secondly, the marine wildlife would be severely impacted due to the drastic reduction in salinities by mixing with freshwater. This would lead to the mass death of marine life, together with animals and plants that thrive in marginal marine and brackish environments such as oysters and clams.  Millions of New Yorkers and those in adjacent areas would become enraged because the grape and fruit growers in the Niagara Gorge Agricultural Area have caused all this in the first place, due to their insistence on the change of land usage.  Meanwhile, the farmers in the newly established Niagara Gorge Agricultural Area are thriving and unaffected by these changes, and blame the towns and cities for inadequate sewage treatment and leaky septic tanks.

 

Of course, all this is nonsense and absurd – a figment of my imagination. It wouldn’t happen in real life, would it?  No one could be that inept or uncaring – or could they?

 

The chances of such a catastrophe happening in real life are very slim in the Niagara region.  Any move by a special interest group planning to monopolize a Great Lakes’ resource would come under the immediate scrutiny the International Joint Commission.  In all likelihood they would jump on such a rapacious scheme like a ton of bricks and it would never see the light of day.

 

It’s a great pity that the people of Florida don’t have an equivalent body with overarching responsibility for maintaining the quality of Florida waters for all Floridians.  Unfortunately, sensible planning initiatives over the decades have been circumvented, and most state politicians have been incapable or reluctant to fund policies directed towards protecting Florida’s water resources.  It is a dismal story of failure to protect Florida’s natural resources, and continues to be fueled by campaign contributions from Big Sugar to Tallahassee.  The more-than-century-long story has been insightfully summarized recently by Jaclyn Blair, a law student at Florida Coastal Law School, Jacksonville, graduating this year (2017) as Juris Doctor.  It is recommended reading for anyone wanting to understand the various parts played by corporate interests, citizens concerns, politicians, policies, legalities, and constitutional amendments regarding the destruction of Florida’s natural resources.

 

https://litigation-essentials.lexisnexis.com/webcd/app?action=DocumentDisplay&crawlid=1&doctype=cite&docid=18+Fl.+Coastal+L.+Rev.+89&srctype=smi&srcid=3B15&key=fe52d3a01a3a36e7263670a16a26ea3a

 

https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2017/05/02/florida-coastal-law-reviews-sugar-politics-and-the-destruction-of-floridas-natural-resources-by-jaclyn-blair/

 

Jaclyn Blair (Candidate 2017, Juris Doctor)

 

Lake Okeechobee – Big Water, Big Trouble

 

I didn’t think up this sub-header, but thanks to PBS for producing a video of that name.  In 2007 PBS published this synopsis of their program:

 

“During the past 125 years, a series of well-intentioned decisions, actions and policies have turned what should have been one of Florida’s greatest natural treasures into an environmental villain. Six thousand years later after if was formed, residents and agencies across the state are now raising the questions: Is it too late for Lake O?”

 

In 2017 the question is still valid.

 

Let’s start with the Manager of Lake Okeechobee, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), which describes itself as follows in its mission statement:

 

“OUR MISSION: To manage and protect water resources of the region by balancing and improving flood control, water supply, water quality and natural systems.

The South Florida Water Management District is a regional governmental agency that manages the water resources in the southern half of the state, covering 16 counties from Orlando to the Florida Keys and serving a population of 8.1 million residents. It is the oldest and largest of the state’s five water management districts. Created in 1949, the agency is responsible for managing and protecting water resources of South Florida by balancing and improving flood control, water supply, water quality and natural systems.

A key initiative is restoration of the Everglades – the largest environmental restoration project in the nation’s history. The District is also working to improve the Kissimmee River and its floodplain, Lake Okeechobee and South Florida’s coastal estuaries.”

 

 

Now, let’s take a look at Lake Okeechobee’s basic statistics.  It is 730 square miles in area (about 36×29 miles in longest dimensions), very shallow with an average depth of about 9 feet, varies from about 12 ft to 18 ft above sea level, and has a total volume of water of about 1 cubic mile (for comparison, Lake Erie is more than 100 times greater in volume but only about 13 times larger in water surface area).  Lake Okeechobee is the largest lake in the contiguous United States, outside the Great Lakes.

 

Until about 1930, the lake had a natural outflow about 25 miles wide on its south side allowing water to enter the Everglades system.  From about 1930 to 1960 a dirt dam was progressively built, 143 miles in length, and extended all around the Lake as the Herbert Hoover Dike.  This converted Lake Okeechobee from a dynamic system of seasonal inflow and outflow into a semi-stagnant reservoir, with emergency releases of overflow water into canals discharging east and west into the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, along heavily populated coastal areas.

 

Muddy Waters

 

SFWMD has scientists and engineers working on various aspects of water quality in south Florida, including Lake Okeechobee.  For more than half a century, the Lake Managers have been collecting information on water quality such as water chemistry, amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen, temperature, turbidity, and so on.  That, of course, is their job as a management agency, and each year they and their contractors collect more than a quarter million samples for analysis, many from Lake Okeechobee.  In addition, NOAA has a weather station on the southern rim of the lake and these meteorological data can be integrated with the Managers’ observations on lake water.  This is really important information.  However, their attention to details of biological data seems to be less precise. Their definitions of bloom formation is based, generally, on the amount of a particular type of chlorophyll extracted from water samples, rather than information on the number and concentration of particular types of bacteria or algae.  Nevertheless their information is important, and the Lake Manager’s scientific staff have produced many significant reports analyzing these data to try to explain why bacterial blooms form in the waters of Lake Okeechobee.

 

 

Of first rank importance was the assessment by the Lake Manager’s scientists that Lake Okeechobee was eutrophicating, that is becoming enriched in dissolved nutrients (such as phosphates) that stimulate the growth of aquatic plant life usually resulting in the depletion of dissolved oxygen.

.

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07438148809354817

 

Another report by the Lake Manager’s scientists documented the continuing increase and doubling of total phosphorus in the Lake between 1973 and 1984.  Fluctuating lake levels and/or resuspension of soft bottom muds my have been involved in the increase.  However other studies drew attention to the burgeoning intensive dairy and beef cattle industries to the north, starting in the 1950s, providing nutrients from agricultural run-off flowing down the Kissimmee River into Lake Okeechobee, together with nutrients entering the Lake system from the sugar cane industry to the south of the Lake, often by back-pumping.

 

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07438149509354200?src=recsys

 

Other scientists employed by the Lake Manager attempted calculations to balance the amount of phosphorus flowing from the Kissimmee River into the Lake from the cattle farms to the north, compared with the amount being discharged principally through the St Lucie and Caloosahatchee Canals to the east and west.  Their numbers suggested that between 1973 and 2002, each year on average almost 300 tons of phosphorus ended up sinking to the bottom of the Lake.  In the early 2000s the situation had reached crisis proportions because the bottom sediments in the Lake had become thoroughly saturated with phosphorus.  Any further phosphorus would not have bonded firmly to the bottom sediments but would be available in the lake water for biological activity.  In other words, eutrophication was predicted to become much worse, which meant more organisms growing in the lake waters.

 

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07438140509354423?src=recsys

 

Other studies by the Lake Manager’s scientists looked at meteorological information from NOAA and discerned a complex inter-relationship between wind speed, rainfall, inflow from the Kissimmee River, and lake levels, apparently related to “algal” (i.e. bacterial) bloom formation (that is as judged by the amount of chlorophyll extracted from water samples).  They also noted a steady increase in lake levels between 1972 and 1978.  The maximum amount of algal/bacterial material occurred between May and September in calm summer months when the water temperature typically reaches into the mid-80s.

 

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07438149009354699

 

So the Lake Manager’s scientists had come up with some interesting possibilities as to what conditions promote blue-green bacterial bloom formation, but not everything matched and not everyone agreed.  This was a real tough nut to crack.  Something seemed to be missing in the puzzle.  But some scientists were concerned enough to state in 2009 that the [Lake Okeechobee] ecosystem is at risk for continued and perhaps worsened eutrophication symptoms under current P [phosphorus] loading conditions.”

 

Descending the Murky Depths

 

In 1994 Dr. P. Moore, a soil science researcher attached to the University of Arkansas and Prof. K.R. Reddy of the University of Florida came up with a new idea.  It might not be just the lake water that was involved in bloom formation, but the sediments on the bottom of the lake might be implicated in promoting higher phosphorus levels, and particularly the extent of acidity and oxidation or reduction near the sediment-water interface.  They arranged for scuba divers to swim down to the lake bottom with special plastic tubes to be pushed into the mud.  The divers brought back several cores of the mud for analysis in the laboratory.  What they found was that phosphorus can be released from the lake muds when the water mixing with the mud is reducing (i.e. little or no oxygen) and/or acidic, and particularly if iron oxides and iron hydroxides are also present.  This is important in a shallow lake where wind can cause the water column to be mixed, bringing oxygen down to greater depths, which assists in retaining phosphorus in sediments.  However, in the case of Lake Okeechobee, winds in the calm summer months tend to be minimal, and oxygen concentrations diminish at the lake bottom.  Therefore, the reducing conditions help to release phosphorus in the water, just as the water temperatures increase optimally to 75-80 degrees F favoring the growth of bacteria.

Prof. Ramesh Reddy

 

Glyphosate in Lake Okeechobee

 

It’s interesting that Dr. Moore’s and Prof. Reddy’s observations about phosphorus release being favored by acid conditions and iron oxides/hydroxides parallels Prof. Spiese’s work on glyphosate in Ohio, which also implicates acidity and iron oxides and hydroxides in the release of phosphorus from cultivated fields and the growth of blue-green bacterial blooms in lakes.  Maybe something similar is happening in Lake Okeechobee and surrounding cultivated land.

 

Well, is glyphosate really present in Lake Okeechobee?  I searched the Lake Manager’s website and noted that as early as 2000 glyphosate was being used to exterminate several thousand acres of cattails in and around the lake by aerial spraying.

 

https://www.sfwmd.gov/sites/default/files/documents/lakeoprimaryexoticcontrolspecies.pdf

 

In addition, the agricultural areas around Lake Okeechobee and in the Kissimmee River watershed are awash with glyphosate, and the farmers appear to have been enthusiastic users since the early 1990s according to the U.S. Geological Survey, whose maps are reproduced below (one for 1992 and another for 2014, but there are others for the in between years).

https://water.usgs.gov/nawqa/pnsp/usage/maps/show_map.php?year=2013&map=GLYPHOSATE&hilo=L&disp=Glyphosate

But the strongest evidence of all for recent years comes from the website of the US Army Corps of Engineers.  They head up the Lake Okeechobee Aquatic Plant Management Interagency Task Force, which has this mission statement:

 

The Corps of Engineers shall chair, and actively solicit participation in the Lake Okeechobee Aquatic Plant Management Interagency Task Force. The Task Force members will represent State of Florida agencies (including the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the South Florida Water Management District), state Universities, the Corps of Engineers, and other Federal agencies. The Task Force will serve in an advisory capacity, providing multi-disciplinary technical and scientific data from which the Corps’ aquatic plant management strategy, methodology, and research planning and operational efforts will evolve. The focus of the aquatic plant effort will be to benefit the overall ecological health of Lake Okeechobee.

 

http://www.floridainvasives.org/okeechobee/

 

http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Missions/Environmental/Invasive-Species/Aquatic-Plant-Control-Program/

 

So now it seems that there are two lake managers: The US army Corps of Engineers on the one hand, and the South Florida Water Management District on the other.  The Army Corps of Engineers, as well as having absolute authority to open the floodgates for Lake Okeechobee whenever it deems this necessary, has also now got control of the program to exterminate various aquatic plant species by use of powerful herbicides.  Is this a matter of too many chiefs and not enough Indians?  The Mission of the Army Corps of Engineers is clear: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s mission is to provide vital public engineering services in peace and war to strengthen our Nation’s security, energize the economy, and reduce risks from disasters.  Their Vision is equally clear “Engineering solutions for our Nation’s toughest challenges.”  Their Motto is clear “Building Strong”.  The potential conflict between the two Managers (ACE on the one hand, SFWMD on the other) needs to be rationalized and sorted out to achieve sensible results.

 

So what can ACE tell us about glyphosate?  From time to time the Army Corps of Engineers posts their schedule for spraying programs to control aquatic plants in Lake Okeechobee.  For example, they used glyphosate in July 2016 for extermination of cattails in Lake Okeechobee and again in March 2017.  So glyphosate is present in Lake Okeechobee, definitely from Army Corps of Engineers’ activities and the SFWMD, starting as early as 1988:

 

https://my.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/pg_grp_tech_pubs/PORTLET_tech_pubs/dre-249.pdf

 

http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Missions/Environmental/Invasive-Species/Operations-Spray-Schedules/

 

The presence of glyphosate is highly probable from farming activities around and upstream from Lake Okeechobee.  It has already been noted that glyphosate may stimulate blue-green bacterial growth, and that the cloning by natural selection of glyphosate-resistant strains is also possible.  The Lake Managers have yet to come up with an up-to-date, complete analysis of Lake Okeechobee waters, showing how much herbicide is present – at least I have not been able to find it on their websites or other relevant publications – and how many toxins such as microcystin have been detected on a routine basis.  Surely the public has a right to know this vital information.

 

Where has all the Water Gone?

 

Well the problem is that the water in Lake Okeechobee generally does not go anywhere, or not where it is meant to be, that is into the southern Everglades.  The various planning decisions and missteps over the years have converted Lake Okeechobee into a vast semi-static reservoir.  From time to time it gets overfull, even with an enlarged dike, and great volumes of water have to be released by the Army Corps of Engineers to the St Lucie River and the Caloosahatchee Rivers with dire results.

 

An impressive report appeared in 2015 by a team of experts headed up Prof. Wendy Graham of the Water Institute of the University of Florida.  The title of the report says it all:  “Options to Reduce High Volume Freshwater Flows to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Estuaries and Move More Water from Lake Okeechobee to the Southern Everglades. An Independent Technical Review by the University of Florida Water Institute”.

 

http://waterinstitute.ufl.edu/research/downloads/contract95139/UF%20Water%20Institute%20Final%20Report%20March%202015.pdf

 

Prof. Wendy Graham

 

It is a very detailed and comprehensive report and well worth reading because it was produced independently at arm’s length from the politicians, and it is for the most part written in plain and comprehensible language.  It discusses many options to solve the problem and to start getting the lake water back down to the southern Everglades.

 

To my mind, the key thing is to include bio-cleaning and remediation of the lake water before it passes south too far down the Everglades system.  Constructed wetlands for water treatment have been in use since the mid-1950s, including several system using cattails, reeds, and other aquatic plants to remove such things as nitrogen, phosphorus, and other pollutants from waste water.  Such systems could be utilized to good effect in the reservoirs anticipated in areas south of Lake Okeechobee, in effect being “reconstructed wetlands” in place of the former sawgrass plains.

 

https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/GC/article/viewFile/3880/4394

 

To its credit, the South Florida Water Management District has constructed several large wetlands called Stormwater Treatment Areas, which are designed to remove excess phosphorus and other nutrients from waters immediately north of the Everglades Protection Area.  One of them in western Palm Beach County STA-3/4) is the largest constructed wetland in the world.

 

https://www.sfwmd.gov/our-work/wq-stas

 

If the overflow water from Lake Okeechobee is not cleaned to rigorous standards, it will fail to reach the high standards of purity required by federal regulators of the Miccosukee Indian tribal lands in the Everglades south of Alligator Alley (see my blog “Sugar and Indians”):

 

https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2017/03/24/roundup-sugarcane-indians-professor-geoffrey-norris-slrirl/

 

 

The Last Word

 

Well, all the above makes for pretty dismal reading for the most part.  But there are several rays of sunshine cutting through the mess that has been created to suggest that all is not lost.  Up in Lake Erie there’s a lot of activity on both sides of the border in reconstructing wetlands to replace those lost to drainage and infill schemes over the last century.  New treatments are being invented to remove phosphorus and other pollutants from the run-off water before it hits the lake. Some of the links below will lead you to more details.

 

http://www.ijc.org/en_/blog/2014/10/28/coastal_wetlands_lake_erie_tnc/

 

http://watercanada.net/2016/addressing-phosphorus-in-lake-erie-with-canadian-technologies/

http://ian.umces.edu/pdfs/ian_report_card_396.pdf

 

http://www.sailingbreezes.com/sailing_breezes_current/articles/jan14/restoring-lake-eries-largest-wetland.html

 

Down in Lake Okeechobee, the South Florida Water Management District is showing the world how to build gigantic constructed wetlands as a start to cleaning up the Okeechobee water ultimately destined for the southern Everglades.  And Florida’s politicians are now making major inroads into passing legislation to fund these schemes, such as Senator Joe Negron’s continuing efforts to get the state House and Senate to agree.

 

https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2017/04/26/thank-you-to-the-the-man-in-the-arena-joe-negron-slrirl/

 

Keep up the good work, Joe!

 

“The more that you read, the more things you will know.

The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

 

Theodor Seuss Geisel (in I Can Read with My Eyes Shut, 1978)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sugarcane, Indians, and Roundup, Professor Geoffrey Norris, SLR/IRL

Today I share the second paper of guest, Geoffrey Norris Ph.D. I recently shared Blue-green algal blooms in the lakes, rivers, and marine waters of south Florida surrounding Lake Okeechobee.

I must admit, I hesitated publishing this second paper, “Sugarcane and Indians,”  as I  am sure some may interpret it as “politically incorrect.” I apologize to anyone who may, but I decided to print Dr Norris’ paper because the main message is important.

The message is:

“Is Sugar’s use of ripening stalks with “Roundup” feeding toxic algae blooms and why are lands/waters south of Lake Okeechobee “protected” while ours of the northern estuaries are not? “

You will learn something about this in Dr Norris’ paper below, and I thank him for sharing his work.

In closing, I believe we have something important to learn from history and the Native People of North America; I admire them. They are great warriors and respect Nature, the gift of our Creator. And in the case of the Miccosukee, they “never surrendered” and if I have anything to do with it, neither will we.

Jacqui

(http://www.miccosukee.com/tribe/)

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JTL 2015 Miccosukee Reservation, Tamiami Trail

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This blog is the work and opinion of Professor Geoffrey Norris

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 By

Geoffrey Norris Ph.D. FRSC

http://www.es.utoronto.ca/people/faculty/norris-geof/

..”In the 1960s, I lived and worked as a petroleum exploration geologist in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Subsequently, I spent almost 40 years at the University of Toronto in teaching and research in geology…A geologist by training, I have a specialized knowledge of fossil algae, their ecology, morphology, and distribution. I have published hundreds of scientific papers on fossil algae and related topics.”  ~Geoffrey Norris Ph.D.

rosalex@interlog.com

unknown.jpgSugarcane and Indians

Executive summary

  • The area around Lake Okeechobee accounts for almost half the total production of sugarcane in the United States.
  • Sugarcane in south Florida is very needy of phosphorus and potassium fertilizers, but nitrogen fixed in the muck soils largely eliminates the need for extra nitrogen fertilizers.
  • Sugarcane also demands the use of the phosphorus-rich herbicide “Roundup” (glyphosate) several times each year. Firstly, in the fallow season (approximately May-September) to control weeds and allow the sugarcane underground rhizomes to regenerate.  Secondly, as the new shoots come through in the Fall to continue weed control.  Thirdly, during maturation and harvesting (October through March) glyphosate is applied to “chemically ripen” the sugarcane and improve sugar yields.
  • Land south of Lake Okeechobee could be used for storage and bio-cleansing of excess lake water. However, the 1997 water quality agreement between the Environmental Protection Agency and the Miccosukee Indians (aka Mikasuki, Miccosuki) states that phosphorus shall not be present in quantities greater than 10 parts per billion, and that no substance shall be present to stimulate algal growth and produce objectionable algal densities in the 300,000 acres of tribal lands in the Everglades south of Alligator Alley.
  • This legal agreement would suggest that Lake Okeechobee waters destined for southern storage must be cleaned to rigorous standards before discharge into southward flowing streams feeding the Everglades, at least near the Miccosukee tribal lands.
  • A case could be made for the sugar industry and related agriculture to “clean up its act” to mitigate the effects of heavy fertilizer and herbicide usage on the environment in general and on lake and stream waters in particular.

Sugarcane and Indians

First about nutrients and farm land and how much is planted in sugarcane.

Here are three maps that graphically answer the question about the extent of sugarcane plantations:unknown.jpg

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A couple of years ago I had the opportunity the fly over the area south of Lake Okeechobee in a light plane at about 1000ft altitude.  The extent of the sugarcane is truly mind-boggling. Its plantations surround the entire southern perimeter of the Lake and reach to the horizon.  Smaller plantations occur elsewhere around the Lake.  It is a very big operation.

Now to the nutrients themselves.  I had a great deal of difficulty finding precise information on how much fertilizer is applied per unit area.  There were general articles that confirmed that sugarcane is very needy of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium fertilizers together with other elements. It is after all a giant grass, so just think how much stuff you have to put on your own lawn to make it grow green!  Apparently, in the south Florida area the need to apply nitrogen fertilizer to sugar cane is not so critical because the mucky soils generate their own nitrates through soil microbial activity.  However, phosphates must be applied as  fertilizer for sugarcane at various times of the year together with potassium etc.  But actual numbers were hard to come by, other than that sugarcane is voracious for fertilizers.  This is when I stumbled upon some marvellous work that the U.S. Geological Survey has been doing on the extent and the total quantitates of pesticides being applied to farmland across USA.  I used their maps of glyphosate (Roundup) as what I thought might be a reasonable proxy for phosphate fertilizer.  In other words, if you use Roundup as a weedkiller on crops, then very likely you will be using fertilizer as well.  It turns out I was right and I was wrong!  First take a look at this summary map for two separate years, 1992 being the earliest year available in this USGS study:

Details are difficult to see in these summary maps but the originals are much clearer.  The area around Lake Okeechobee was already in 1992 applying large amounts of glyphosate, and this intensified in succeeding years.  What I didn’t understand was why the sugarcane fields should be so needy of weedkiller – fertilizers OK, but why so much weedkiller?  It would seem that 25% of the cost of sugar production is due to heavy nutrient need (up to 75 lbs phosphate per acre, with 400,000 acres in sugarcane in south Florida).  But weedkiller.  Then I dug deeper following your email comments and found out why.  Indeed glyphosate is used at least three ways on sugarcane as follows:

Firstly, during the fallow season (approx. May-September 2016) following harvesting, glyphosate is applied to control weeds which would otherwise grow up and choke out the underground cane sugar rhizomes left in the ground to regenerate as the next crop.

Secondly, glyphosate application continues in different amounts as the new shoots come through in the Fall.  This is tricky because glyphosate kills just about anything that is green, but careful control can kill the young weeds while not harming – at least not very much – the young sugarcane shoots.  Other herbicides are also involved but glyphosate is the big one.

Thirdly, the sugarcane matures and is harvested in the winter months at various times from October through March.  During this time the stem of the sugarcane ripens and becomes rich in sugar (sucrose) prior to going to the mill.  Astonishingly (to me anyway) it has been found that about a month or two prior to harvesting, another application of glyphosate will help ripen and enrich the crop with significantly more sugar.  This process is called “chemical ripening”.  Other chemicals can be involved but glyphosate is a popular choice (it got cheaper once Monsanto’s patent expired in the year 2000).

So yes, I think cane sugar farming is being pursued intensively, but I’m not sure how it can be stopped.  Its effects on Lake O could be mitigated as discussed in my previous document but stopping an entire industry would be almost impossible to my mind.  Cleaning up the sugar industry might be a more realistic aim.
Change of land usage and water flow.

It would be nice to think that Lake Okeechobee water could be redirected southwards along its original historic course on its way to the Everglades.  Here’s a graphic of how things used to be:
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For thousands of years, water drained from Lake O through a wide series of shallow tributaries and interconnected lakes to the Everglades.  It’s unlikely that this could be recreated but certainly use of land south of the Lake for water transport and storage and bio-cleansing of some sort or another would be an improvement.  However, it would seem that this is unlikely given the actions of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its agreement in 1997 re the  Clean Water Act with the Miccosukee Indians, a tribe which occupies part of the Everglades.

https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-12/documents/miccosukee.pdf

This agreement set out comprehensively water quality standards for the Tribes drinking water, wildlife habitat water, and recreational water (boating, swimming etc).  In particular, Section 3 reads:
MICCOSUKEE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION CODE
SECTION 3. Tribal Water Quality Standards

The following minimum water quality criteria shall apply to all surface waters of the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida unless those water bodies are designated with higher or stricter water quality standards. Stricter standards for a given water body shall supersede these general Water Quality Standards. These standards shall provide a legal basis for including whole effluent toxicity requirements in all federally issued permits.

(there follows a list of 16 physical, biological, and toxicological conditions of which these two are particularly germane):

E. NUISANCE CONDITIONS: Plant nutrients or other substances stimulating algal growth, from other than natural causes, shall not be present in concentrations that produce objectionable algal densities or nuisance aquatic vegetation, or that result in a dominance of nuisance species instream, or that cause nuisance conditions in any other fashion. Phosphorus and nitrogen concentrations shall not be permitted to reach levels which result in man-induced eutrophication problems. Total phosphorus shall not exceed 10 parts per billion in Class III-A waters. In Class III-B waters, total phosphorous discharges shall not be made which result in undesirable aquatic life effects or which result in chronic or acute toxicity to aquatic life.

N. NUTRIENTS: In no case shall nutrient concentrations of Tribal Class I or Class III-A surface waters be altered so as to cause an imbalance in natural populations of aquatic flora or fauna. Total phosphorus concentrations shall not exceed 10 parts per billion in Class III-A waters. In Class III-B waters, nutrients shall not be discharged which result in undesirable aquatic life effects or which result in chronic or acute toxicity to aquatic life.

So what this and other sections of agreement mean is that nutrient-rich water from Lake Okeechobee must be cleaned to rigorous standards before discharge into southward flowing streams feeding the Everglades.  So bio-cleansing within the Everglades – or at least near the Miccosukee tribal lands (about 300,000 acres in the vicinity of the Tamiami Trail and Alligator Alley) is not a possibility within this legal framework.

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However what’s good for the goose is surely good for the gander.  I looked into the history  of the Miccosukee Indians, and it would seem they are only fairly recent arrivals in Florida, arriving about the same time as Stuart was being settled.  The Miccosukee appear to have originated in what is now Georgia and then migrated south to north Florida where they became entwined with the Seminoles.  After the Seminole wars of the 19th century they migrated to central Florida in the late 1800’s and then decided to disentwine themselves from the Seminoles as a culturally distinct society.  They appear to have seen an opportunity during the construction of the Tamiami Trail in the first quarter of the 20th century and migrated further south and became embedded in the adjacent Everglades. First  Florida (1957) then federally (1962) they became recognized as a tribe distinct from the Seminoles.

Meanwhile in th early 20th century, as the migrant Miccosuki Indians were settling down in their new home in the Everglades as “Trail Indians”, Stuart was incorporated as a town (1914) then a city (1925) after being settled by migrant northerners about half a century earlier.  Total population of Stuart is now about 16,000.

640 migrant Indians – how many are fishing  and frogging?  16,000 migrant non-Indian northerners – how many lives and livings are being disrupted by ruined beaches and waterfronts?
the Indians pushed for a great deal from EPA and got it.  So now a total of about 640 Miccosukee (Mikasuki) Indians (some now  living in Miami-Dade and not the Everglades) can pursue their supposedly traditional way of life (fishing, frogging, subsistence agriculture) plus gaming resorts and casinos and tobacco shops – while many of the 151,000 citizens of Martin County are prevented from pursuing their traditional way of life.  Surely our waters (habitat, recreational, drinking) should be subject to the same rigorous standards as laid down by the EPA/Clean Water Act for the people living in the Everglades.

We are all equal – as George Orwell said – but some are more equal than others.  Well, so it seems.  What do you think?
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River of Interest, ACOE, The Ultimate Hammer, chapter about the lawsuit http://141.232.10.32/docs/river_interest/031512_river_interests_2012_chap_12.pdf

Alligators and Litigators: Keith Rizzardi http://www.floridabar.org/DIVCOM/JN/JNJournal01.nsf/76d28aa8f2ee03e185256aa9005d8d9a/d0fe7ce69afa102885256adb005d635e?OpenDocument

Previous blog post, Norris: Blue-green algal blooms in the lakes, rivers, and marine waters of south Florida surrounding Lake Okeechobee: https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/tag/dr-norris/