We have really killed them. A Google Search will bring up practically nothing, although they were probably the most interesting Everglades’ feature of all. Lake Okeechobee’s “Dead Rivers,” entitled as such as they were “perceived not to go anywhere…” but they did…they flowed out of Lake Okeechobee, running through the custard apple forest, and then disappeared into the sawgrass river of grass, today known as the Everglades.
The engineer of Hamilton Disston stated that there were 17 rivers leading out of Lake Okeechobee. Some of the larger ones were named the Dead, Democrat, Dowell, Forked, Hidden, Copper, Hutchinson, Leatherman, Menge, Pelican, and Ritta. Some were miles long, over 100 feet wide, and many feet deep. These rivers flowed curvaceously through the custard apple/pond apple swamp that extended from the lake’s rim as far as four miles south. Today these locations encompass the cities south of the lake especially Pahokee, Belle Glade, South Bay, and Clewiston.
Presently, the south and eastern shores of Lake Okeechobee are devoid of these once very rich-with-life rivers as they have been cut-off, redirected into canals, filled in, or diked. Apparently it was documented that the “dead” rivers could flow north or south depending on rainfall. We found it more efficient to drain the Lake and to eventually erect a dike destroying all of the wildlife highways.
The Boyer Survey: An Archaeological Investigation of Lake Okeechobee, 2011, from which these images and much of the information in this post comes from, show where some of these ancient and now “dead” rivers flowed. One thing is for sure, they were never really dead, until we killed them. I think it is important to, at least for our memories, bring them back to life; we will learn more about them.
My grandfather, J.R. Henderson, was a well-known soil-scientist back in the 1930s for the University of Florida.
I remember him telling me things about cows, plants, and the lands under them when we were driving on the “Sunshine State Parkway,” from Gainesville to Stuart. I think of my grandfather more these days and believe the study of geology and soils are in my blood although I know almost nothing about them.
So to educate ourselves and the those young people of the future we continue our study of the Boyer Survey of Lake Okeechobee, and today we will look at the section entitled Region Geology.
The Lake Flirt Formation is noted to consist of three thin limestone layers the uppermost being caprock. This is often used by landscape companies to beautify our yards. I don’t understand how it is mined without jeopardizing the aquifer, but that’s another blog…
On top of the capstone and limestone layers are sands from the Pamlico Formation. These sands were blown across the state from east to west forming dunes over thousands of years. There is also clay that “resulted from deposit under Holocene ponds and marshlands.”
That’s just a quick review. But might get you interested again.
It is extremely humbling to refresh one’s memory on all this stuff we learned in grade school, as we are living in “the top layer” of millenniums. We in time, will just be another layer of an ancient coral formation we live upon, Florida. Nonetheless, it is important to know what is around us, above us, and under us. 🙂
As I got to “Physiographic Regions,” when reading the Boyer Archaeological Survey, I had to look up the definition of physiographic. My mind kept wandering to Physical Graffiti, the title of an album by Led Zeppelin, and the fun days of Martin County High School skiing the in St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon with my best friends.
In retrospect, Lake Okeechobee and the St Lucie River were already dying by the time I was in high school. Today, I wish I had learned more about our ailing ecosystem when I was younger, and not finally caught on when I was 40 over ten years ago. “Catching-on,” this is my hope for the next generation as there are serious impacts we won’t be able to ignore, happening, and on the way. Knowing what “physiographic regions” means will help us understand what we can do.
Physiographic is defined simply as “the branch of geography dealing with natural features and processes.” So the Figure 5. map above shows what the surrounding ecological communities were before they became developed as today’s counties. These areas are labeled as the Eastern Flatlands; the Everglades; the Western Flatlands; Big Cypress Swamp; and the Mangrove and Coastal Marsh.
As we know the Everglades is one of the largest freshwater marshes in the North America and the world. It starts trickling up in the Kissimmee River Basin above Lake Okeechobee. Unfortunately, this area of the map is always cut off so we think in terms of south.
The open marshes of Lake Okeechobee extended from the southern rim of Lake O and the Loxahatchee Slough south to the mouth of the Shark River Slough at Florida Bay and the former Miami River. Florida Bay is presently, and has been, experiencing extensive algae blooms due to lack of fresh water and the once beautiful Miami River, attached by canal (since 1911) to Lake O? “Dead.”
The eastern and western flatlands to the east and west of Lake Okeechobee (Stuart/Ft Meyers ) were similar in vegetation types and animals. The Boyer Survey notes “both can be described as mosaic landscapes consisting of wet prairie, palmetto and dry prairies, pine forest or flatwoods, cypress forests, mixed swamp forests as well as ponds and sloughs; these areas were low, sandy, and poorly drained.” The Loxahatchee River drained the eastern flatlands into the Atlantic, and the Caloosahatchee River drained the western flatlands into the Gulf of Mexico. Today these waters flow by way of the ACOE/SFWMD Central & Southern Florida project’s water control structures slowly making everything as “dead” as the Miami River.
Until we treat waterway funding like roads, (FDOT:http://www.fdot.gov/transit/functionsgrantsadministration.shtm) Mother Nature’s water highways will become even more of a backed-up, misdirected, putrid mess. We must stop trying to direct her like a God, and let more of her natural features return. After all, Nature is a House of the Holy and we never know when the Rain Song will begin…
I hope everyone had a happy Mother’s Day yesterday! One of our “around the table” family discussions went like this:
Jacqui:” I’m getting a new headshot this week because now my hair is gray.”
Sister Jenny: “Why? Are you running for office?”
Jacqui:” No, not now. But I want my blog photo to look like me.”
Sister Jenny: “Why!” 🙂
Whether it’s my hair, or our natural landscape, things are always changing! I think it’s important to let young people, like my niece Evie, Jenny’s daughter, almost 18 and entering the world, know what our natural landscape looked like “before,” as they will be dealing with water issues we can’t even imagine.
One of the least documented changes of Florida is the demolition of the pond apple belt of Lake Okeechobee. I hope in time, the younger generation finds a way to recreate its original natural purpose that was to strain, slow down, and clean the lake water flowing south into the sawgrass plains of the Everglades. Another benefit was flood protection. Nature’s adapted protections out-do mankind’s every time…
In pre-drainage times, the original features of Lake Okeechobee helped contain it. There was the Okeechobee Sand Ridge; the Southern Ridge; the Spillover Lands; and the fossilized coral ridge.
The Sand Ridge extended from Martin County to Palm Beach County ~just north of Pahokee. There was a cut in this ridge where water could more easily escape east at today’s historic village of Sand Cut along the eastern shoreline. Archaeologists believe this Sand Ridge running along the lake was an old shoreline. It is stated in the research of the Boyer Survey, An Archaeological Investigation of Lake Okeechobee, by Christian Davenport, Gregory Mount and George Boyer Jr., that only the eastern shore of Lake Okeechobee was “defined by a sand shore.” Today the Army Corp has built a dike along and over this sand shore with the addition of extra boulders for protection. Very unattractive. The original pond apple forest would not just have been more lovely, but would have helped in times of storms ~ similar to how mangroves, even in front of a seawall, do today.
The Southern Ridge was a high muck ridge that had formed at the southern end of the lake and was located in a “massive belt of pond apple trees.” This forest was completely mowed-down to access the deep muck for agricultural purposes. It was 32,000 acres! (Lawrence E. Will) The towns of *Port Mayaca, Pahokee, Belle Glade, South Bay, and Clewiston south today’s Lake Okeechobee are located in what was once the pond apple forest. Surreal, isn’t it?
These trees grow closely together and can get very large. They have weird roots kind of like mangroves. My husband Ed and I bought a lot along Overlook Drive in Stuart and oddly or interestingly enough in this area there are pond apple trees. According to the study, the original lands of Lake Okeechobee sloped towards the lake, meaning the lake would have been as much as two miles wider during periods of high water. (The forest and the shape of the land held the water in the lake.) Along the southern edge “dead rivers” cut through this muck ridge and were the primary outlet during times of high waters. (Boyer Survey)
Spillover Lands was the archeological term for the lower-sawgrass plains extending beyond the southern side of the pond apple forest. Here sheet flow was created that moved and melded into the Everglades, basically a littoral marsh.
By the way the “dead rivers” were anything but dead, some very deep and very long. The word “dead” was applied as some of the original explores could not find “the end,” and I believe this word suits today’s powers well as the word “dead” makes one think they had no life. The complete opposite is the truth. They were full of life! All the animals of the Everglades, including hundreds of birds colonies lived in these areas that were completely DESTROYED.
The final formation mentioned in the Boyer Survey is an ancient Fossilized Coral Ridge (Reef) that runs from approximately Okeelanta to Immokalee. In pre-drainage times, this muck covered reef caused a higher elevation that is thought to have helped retain some of the water within the Spillover Lands during times of low water. Hmmm? Another Nature feature that works better than our manmade ideas for drought protection today – deep well injection, and other brilliant ideas….
Well, I hope you enjoyed today’s lesson! And I hope some young people like my niece Evie in the photo at the beginning of this blog read this post some day. Gray hair can be dyed or glorified, but the natural features of Lake Okeechobee in the heart of Florida, they must be rebuilt as part of today’s modern eco-system.
I recently took trip with my husband; I accompanied him on business to Santa Fe, New Mexico. While I was there, I visited the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. The museum focused on the remarkable Pueblo people that had originally settled along the Santa Fe River because of its water and transportation. The museum was gifted telling stories, and it got me thinking about the native people who lived around Lake Okeechobee, and how their story is not so well told.
(Adapted from, The Boyer Survey: An Archaeological Investigation of Lake Okeechobee, 2011)
In the fall of 2006, the South Florida Water Management District lowered Lake Okeechobee as a hurricane was expected, but it not come. Much to the District’s dismay, severe drought came instead. As the water in Lake Okeechobee evaporated, its depth went from a normal (at the time) of 18-20 feet to a recorded low of 8.8 feet. Although this was a negative for the ecosystem, it allowed human remains and artifacts of what is referred to as the “Belle Glade Culture” to be exposed. Artifacts and bones began to comprehensively reveal their stories of *pre-Columbian (*before the arrival of Columbus to the New World) times. These native americans over a period of 2,700 years built extensive earthworks and canals, adapting the surrounding wetlands to be suitable for their people to live. The Lake, of course at that time, more than supported their hunter-gatherer-fisher lifestyle and complex culture. The Belle Glade Culture was part of a greater exchange network and traded with other groups from distant locations.
These Native Americans living around Lake Okeechobee were the descendants of people who migrated to the peninsula approximately 12,000 years before. Out of that small group of prehistoric nomads developed an array of cultures that spread across Florida that eventually contained hundreds of thousands of inhabitants. Like Santa Fe’s Pueblo, they were a remarkable culture. However, unlike the Indian cultures of the west, many of the Florida native people, and especially the Belle Glade people, are not well-known.
These ancient people of the water are the muffled voice of Lake Okeechobee ~just as the voice of the lake itself that is now dammed, diked and controlled. May the Belle Glade people, and the heart spirit of Lake O be revealed…
Although we do not know what these people looked like a visit to the Lawrence E. Will Museum of Glades (https://www.museumoftheglades.org) by appointment is a great place to start. Also artist Theodore Morris, has spent his life trying to recreate these related people:
I walked out of the hotel and asked the staff person by the door if he could point me in the direction of the Santa Fe River.
“It’s just on the other side of the road,” he said pointing to Alameda Street.
The man’s name was Ben, and he told me he grew up in the area. “When I was a kid the river was higher and flowed, but now it’s not much more than a trickle.”
I asked him if there was any wildlife in the river. He looked down. “No, not since long ago when they dammed it creating a reservoir back in the 1943.”
Before Ed and I left Santa Fe, New Mexico we decided to drive up and see the reservoir located near the Randall Davey Audubon Center at 1800 Canyon Road. When we got there it was closed, and had been since 1932, in order to protect this precious watershed.
When I pulled up information on the Nichols Reservoir, it said the City of Santa Fe through the Nichols Reservoir and the McClure Reservoir, further up the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range, have the right to store up to 4000 acre-feet combined for their city’s use. However, the Rio Grand Compact controls 2,939 acre-feet of the capacity depending on the water levels in the Elephant Butte Reservoir…so if Butte is low, the city is obligated to release water from the Nichols Reservoir to supply Colorado and Texas…
I turned to Ed and said, “if I’m not mistaken, over many years the Army Corp has easily discharged over up to 5000 cubic feet per second and that is that is over 9000 acre feet a day- for months at a time- of fresh water Lake Okeechobee discharges into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. In 2013, it was over 5700 cubic feet per second for weeks and weeks, and S-80 can release up to 16,900 CFS or 33,520 acre feet per day if necessary.”
What a waste! And those people in New Mexico are fighting over “crumbs.”
When in Washington D.C. last week, the Everglades Foundation and various groups met with both Republicans and Democrats, with new members of Congress and “old.” During the visits I asked what was the best way for the people of Florida to influence members of Congress to “vote for the EAA Reservoir.”
The answer? A handwritten note. ~And yes, it takes two weeks to be thoughtfully and carefully processed for safety reasons, making it even more “valuable.”
I have written about hand-written influencing before: Advocacy has many faces, but none perhaps more powerful than a handwritten note or letter. Why? Because it takes effort; because it is thoughtful; and because it is old-fashioned, rare, and special. My mother taught me this… In a world where furious Tweets and Facebook posts, or better yet, Snapchat allows one to “live in the moment and then erase it,” we are surrounded by communication that holds impermanence. The hand written note leaves a lasting impression… especially in the “rough and tumble,” yet traditionally based world of politics.
Mind you, your note or letter need not be long; it must just be sincere…
Politicians often get thousands of emails and if they are a “canned” this can almost become a nuisance. But when the hand written note comes in, the politician takes notice.
Below are the committees that hold the fate of the EAA Reservoir in their hands. Please consider writing a note, postcard, or letter. Look through the lists of members, who do you know? If none chose one to write to anyway. Your letter need not be technical, just sincere with the spirit of asking for Congress to “Save Our Northern Estuaries, Our Everglades.” 🙂