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A Fly-over, a Field Trip, and Watching the Governor Activate the C-44 STA

Google Map area of C-44 Reservoir and STA in Indiantown, FL, Martin County.

Work on the C-44 Reservoir and Storm Water Treatment Area started back in 2004 and is one of a few gigantic water projects of the Army Corp of Engineers and South Florida Water Management District. The mammoth construction site is part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, Indian River Lagoon South. In Martin County, the foundation for this was laid back in 1996 and 1998, and then again in 2006 when the public supported environmental land purchases through a sales tax: https://www.martin.fl.us/land-acquisition

There were years of planning and design with stops and starts. Time has gone by and when funding has been in place, the Army Corp of Engineers has been building the reservoir (since 2015) and the South Florida Water Management District has been building the storm water treatment area (since 2014) : https://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Missions/Environmental/Ecosystem-Restoration/Indian-River-Lagoon-South/

Recently, the SFWMD has made great progress for water quality projects with strong backing from the public (fed up with toxic algae blooms), Governor Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature.

Today I will be sharing three things: a flyover with my husband Ed; a field trip led by the SFWMD to C-44 with Florida Sportsman Magazine; and the grand finale, the visit of Governor Ron DeSantis to allow the first waters of the C-44 Canal to flow into the STAs.

Why has everything taken so long? We’ll there are many reasons but we must note the 2008 Great Recession, politics, and most of all, the project’s size!

The map above and below can give you an idea of the project’s 12, 000 acres!

Years ago, I wrote a post about the Minute Maid Groves that were once on this property and shared awesome photos my mother gave me from 1964. Groves to Water, amazing how times change: “A Look Back to the Orange Groves of Today’s ACOE SFWMD C-44 Reservoir/STA, 1964, SLR/IRL” https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/tag/c-44-storm-water-treatment-area-and-reservoir/

Looking at the Google Map, you’ll notice that you can easily see the outline of the former groves. Perusing the map below, you can see the reservoir will be in the north west corner and the six cells of the storm water treatment area on the east. You will also notice that Allapattah Flats, once a gigantic marsh through St Lucie and Martin County, is north of the project along with Troup’s – RB Ranch – upper east. Star Farms is west and grows sugar cane at the present time. There is a long intake canal off the C-44 canal that brings in the polluted water – primarily from local farm runoff. 2/3 of Martin County is agricultural. It is important to keep these lands in agriculture as developed lands would be even harsher on the  wildlife and the environment. We all, coast or inland, must work to clean things up!

 

SFWMD map of site
  1. FLYOVER C-44 RESERVOIR & STA,  ED LIPPISCH and JTL, SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2019.

 

on Sunday, November 10, Ed and I flew over and took aerial photos. Below you can see the airplane over the reservoir looking over the cells of the storm water treatment area. Also note the long intake canal to the C-44 Canal.
Looking over Cell 2 C44 STA

2. FIELD TRIP TO C-44 RESERVOIR & STA WITH FLORIDA SPORTSMAN MAGAZINE, and JTL led by Alan Shirkey, Bureau Chief, Engineering and Construction, SFWMD and Buff Searcy, Lead Engineer and Construction Manager, SFWMD. THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 2019. This was a great opportunity and thank you to Blair Wickstrom for recommending we do such from the ground. This is were one really sees what is going on!

 

Entrance sign along Citrus Road in Indiantown
On Thursday, Blair Wickstrom and Tray Wheeler of Florida Sportsman Magazine and myself took a tour or the property and really got to see it from the ground.  Buff Search, JTL, Blair Wickstrom, Alan Shirkey
Pumps pull in water from below
Buff Searcy, Lead Engineer, Alan Shirkey, Bureau Chief SFWMD, Florida Sportsman publisher, Blair Wickstrom, reporter Tray Wheeler. Large gate strains.
Buff Searcy, Lead Engineer SFWMD with reservoir dike in background.
Buff Searcy, Blair Wickstrom, Tray Wheeler, Alan Searcy discuss…
Indigo Snakes are an endangered species and live in this area
The wildlife was most interesting to me as many types were in the area. We saw numerous deer resting in the grass. I was assured they would move when the reservoir and STA were up and running. It pains me they do not have more wild habitat.
Signs regarding threatened/endangered eastern indigo snake
Alan Shirkey explains the reservoir and STA.

 

3. GOVERNOR DESANTIS ACTIVATES THE C-44 STA, INDIANTOWN, FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 8, 2019. A great day and an honor for me to be there up close to our wonderful new Governor!

“The SFWMD recently completed three of the six cells of the 6,300-acre treatment area and expects to have the entire STA completed next year. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is building a 3,400-acre reservoir next to the STA that is expected to be completed in 2021.
The C-44 Reservoir will store 50,000 acre-feet of water, including local basin runoff and Lake Okeechobee releases. This will reduce harmful releases reaching the St. Lucie Estuary that can fuel harmful algal blooms. The C-44 STA will treat the water stored in the reservoir before it is released into the estuary.
“I can’t help but smile. Water flowing into this treatment area marks a momentous day in the history of the Everglades, the Treasure Coast, and the St. Lucie Estuary,” said SFWMD Governing Board Member Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch. “This is the start of the road to a healthier estuary and Everglades. Under the leadership of Governor DeSantis, progress on Everglades restoration is moving at a rapid pace.”” 

Please see Press Release from the Governor’s Office: Governor Ron DeSantis Activates C-44 Stormwater Treatment Area

Cleaner water coming to St. Lucie River, Indian River Lagoon as SFWMD opens C-44 project, by Tyler Treadway:https://www.tcpalm.com/story/news/local/indian-river-lagoon/health/2019/11/08/water-pumped-into-sta-desantis-celebrates-lake-o-project-indiantown/2506354001/
The Governor hits the button and the first waters flow into the C-44 STA. It can take months for these to slowly fill. Later plants (mostly cattails) will grow and filter water before from the Reservoir before it goes back into the C-44 Canal and St Lucie River.
Water entering the STA
People gather to await the governor!
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Gov. DeSantis speaks, photo Carolyn Timmann
Carolyn Timmann and Alan Shirkey stand before cell 2 of the C-44 STA as water enters for the first time
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Former posts on C-44 Reservoir and STA

October 13, 2014: Seeing Results C-44: https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2014/10/13/seeing-results-c-44-storm-water-treatment-areareservoir-st-lucie-river-indian-river-lagoon/

Sept 15, 2015: Reaching the Finish Line: https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2015/09/15/reaching-the-finish-line-c-44-storm-water-treatment-areareservoir-slrirl/

October 29, 2015: A Look Back to the Orange Groves of Today’s ACOE SFWMD C-44 Reservoir/STA, 1964, SLR/IRL https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/tag/c-44-storm-water-treatment-area-and-reservoir/

Panther Hit and Killed in Martin County

 

Florida Panther, photo FWS.

FWC Florida Panther: https://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/wildlife/panther/

Today is November 6th. On November 4th, friend, Clerk of Court Carolyn Timmann contacted me noting that the Florida Wildlife Commission https://myfwc.com had reported that on November 2, a panther was hit and killed in Martin County.

“The remains of an adult male Florida panther, UCFP368, were recovered on 11/2/2019 in Martin County, Florida (558227, 2984817). The suspected cause of death was vehicle collision.”

FWC: Panther Pulse reporting deaths and births: https://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/wildlife/panther/pulse/

What a tragedy! Here in Martin County?

What: Male panther

When: 11-2-19

Time: approx. 1 am

Where: About two miles south of Indiantown on Highway 710 known as Beeline Highway

Sometimes we do not realize that these spectacular and rare creatures usually associated with West and Central Florida are sometimes also in our eastern Martin County ~ in our presence. While driving (especially through a Wildlife Management Area) we must be looking;  be aware; slow down; and share the road. In this unfortunate instance, Highway 710 (Beeline Highway) cuts right through prime wildlife habitat and is very near Indiantown, Florida. I have written earlier blog post about panthers being reported in western Palm City. They are here…

UCFP 368 PantherMortalityForm

Comments of interests of my conversations with very helpful FWC. Thank you to FWC for all of your work.

1.

“It is not rare for it to be uncollared.  In fact, most panthers are not radiocollared.  Currently we only have 7 panthers radiocollared; the current population range is 120-230.  In years past, we had many more panthers collared.  But our research focus has changed over the years and we don’t need to have as many collared at the moment.

We don’t have many panthers in that part of the state (Martin County) but they can turn up just about anywhere.  We had a couple of recent sightings (trail camera photos) from Corbet (management area south of there) so we knew at least one was in that general area.  There’s no way to know if this was the same one photographed.  Only time will tell if we get any more photos from there.

I’ve attached our data sheet (above) that we fill out when we recover panther carcasses.  Because of the location, this panther never passed through our office so we don’t have much of the information we typically collect (age, weight, etc).  That information will be determined when a necropsy is performed.  An FWC officer recovered the carcass and took it to a nearby field office.  The location information is on here though.”

Mark Lotz, Panther Biologist, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Naples

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2.

Here is what I got from our panther team:

FWC recovered the remains of an adult male Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi), UCFP368, on 2 November 2019 in Martin County, Florida.  The suspected cause of death for UCFP368 is vehicular trauma.   The carcass was recovered at these coordinates: UTM easting 558227, northing 2984817.  The carcass is currently at the FWC Fish Eating Creek Field Office and will be sent to the FWC Research Lab in Gainesville for a complete necropsy. 

 We had received a couple of trail camera photos from the Dupuis WMA back in August so this road kill could possibly be that panther.

[The identifier UCFP368 stands for Uncollared Florida Panther Number 368]

Kipp Frohlich, Director, Division of Habitat and Species Conservation, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Tallahassee

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Like Facebook page for Panther Refuge:
https://www.facebook.com/FloridaPantherNWR/

Wildlife underpasses, the best alternative: https://www.bradenton.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/article159037664.html; https://www.fwfonline.org/site/Articles/ArticleId/27/letter-to-the-editor-august-2018;

Remembering the Scrub Jays of Our Childhood Backyard

A Florida Scrub Jay: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Florida_Scrub-Jay/id

When I was a kid, my brother, sister and I lived on Edgewood Drive in Stuart. My parents were great about teaching us to appreciate, respect and love wildlife. Today, many of our actions would be frowned upon. We fed the animals, and at one time or another, had wild pets. It was wonderful!

This weekend unable to garden trapped inside by relentless rain, I started thinking to myself “what did the ecosystem of my childhood backyard really look like?” That was the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Could I find anything that looked like it today? Does my yard, today, resemble it at all? 

So I took a drive to the old neighborhood.

St Lucie Estates looks a lot the same but our family house has been knocked down and replaced by one much larger. Also every lot is developed. When I was growing up, our house was surrounded by a number of empty lots and as kids we roamed freely.  These undeveloped lots allowed my siblings and I to have native nature right in our “backyard.” 

I racked my brain to think of where I might find a comparable lot to the ones in St Lucie Estates. I wanted to see what plants were on it. What trees. The color of the sand.

I drove east on East Ocean Boulevard.

Near Kingswood Condominium I found one lot that looked a lot like the ones I ran around in as a kid. Although drained and full of invasives, the space held a few recognizables: a sand pine, a stand of sand oaks, yucca, palmettos, prickly pear cactus, and other flowering plants and grasses whose names I never learned.  

Seeing the Kingwood lot brought back a lot of memories and I thought about how this once familiar habitat is basically gone. This rare Florida Scrub has  been covered with shopping malls and subdivisions most sporting heavily fertilized floratam along with a variety of ornamentals.

I wondered why developers just cleared the natives. I am realizing that my childhood home must have been a Florida Scrub environment. For goodness sake, one of our favorite wild friends was the very smart Scrub Jay! We never thought  that our house may have destroyed their favorite bushes. We just smiled and lifted our arms strong and high -palms perfectly flat balancing one nut. Always, they came. So smart! So consistent!

Of course Scrub Jays are now a threatened species whose habitat is considered to be one of the most endangered in the world…

~The location of my childhood backyard.

After getting the photos from Kingwood, I decided to drive north to Jensen to visit Hawk’s Bluff off of Savannah Road. Here I could walk and remember the some of the sights of my childhood. This is one of the few places the Florida Scrub Ecosystem has been saved.

~The wind whistled through the trees. I felt timeless. The rain had brightened the usually muted colors. I sat on the bench. Lake Henderson’s grey and purple reflection resembled a Monet. It was beautiful!

I was alone in my childhood backyard…

I raised my arms above my head, hands upright bent -perfectly flat.

Would a Scrub Jay come to visit?

I held my arms up until I could no longer -putting them down- I got up to walk my adult path.

My little sister, Jenny, proudly feeds a neighborhood Scrub Jay, St Lucie Estates, Edgewood Drive, Stuart, ca.1972. (Family Album)
Cousin Drew Hudson and I feed the Scrub Jays 1972, St Lucie Estates, Stuart, FL (Family Album)

Visit #1 one of the last undeveloped lots near Kingswood Condominium, East Ocean Drive, Stuart, Florida, still reveals native scrub vegetation:

Somehow this cactus garden has grown and survived! Prickly pear is a common scrub plant and a favorite of gopher turtles.
Prickly pear.. Ouch!
Scrub oak and palmetto in a remaining lot off East Ocean Blvd.
A rare sand pine of the Florida Scrub was once prolific requiring fire for pine cones to open and take seed.
Flower of the scrub
Prickly pear in sandy soil with other ground cover

Florida Scrub:

http://www.sfrc.ufl.edu/Extension/florida_forestry_information/forest_resources/scrub.html

https://www.worldwildlife.org/ecoregions/na0513

Scrub Jays:

https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/florida-scrub-jay

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florida_scrub_jay

 

Visit #2 Hawk’s Bluff in Savannas Preserve Park is rare gem of the Florida Scrub landscape and it’s wildlife:

New signs including Scrub Jay and Florida Scrub Habitat signs, Florida Park Service, photo album below from Hawk’s Bluff, 11-3-19

 

 

 

Breaking Ground ~Caloosahatchee River’s C-43 Reservoir

Construction site at the C-43 Reservoir, Hendry County, morning October 25, 2019

The sun’s first light rose over a gigantic crane that was displaying both the American and Florida flags. Gusts burst through the C-43 construction site as the earth slowly warmed, the giant banners flapping loudly in the wind. I smiled to myself thinking, “it really is a new day for the Caloosahatchee.”

Press Release SFWMD awards contract C-43 Reservoir: https://www.sfwmd.gov/news/sfwmds-governing-board-awards-contract-build-caloosahatchee-c-43-west-basin-storage-reservoir

Governor Ron DeSantis would be coming for the groundbreaking of the C-43 Reservoir…

SFWMD C-43 Reservoir (https://www.sfwmd.gov/sites/default/files/documents/lass_portfolio_westcoast_c43res.pdf)

~Confusing for those of us on the east coast, unlike the St Lucie, the Caloosahatchee sometimes needs water. The idea of the C-43 Reservoir is to both reduce the amount of water released from Lake Okeechobee that makes it to the estuary during the wet season and to store water to be released during dry season in order to help maintain an ideal salinity in the upper estuary. Right now, it is often the case that the Caloosahatchee has to “compete” with other interests for water.

With this in mind, on his second day in office, Governor DeSantis called for expediting the important long-awaited reservoir as well as adding a water quality component. People on the west coast are bold to say that DeSantis has done great things for the Caloosahatchee since day one.

Executive Order 19-12 calls for expediting the C-43 Reservoir and calls for a water quality component: (Sec. 1 E & F) https://www.flgov.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/EO-19-12-.pdf

SFWMD C-43 West Basin Storage Reservoir: http://www.hendryfla.net/SFWMD%20Hendry%20BOCC%20January%202019.pdf

Knowing  I would be traveling in lands unfamiliar, I drove a day early to the C-43 site with Sean Cooley, Communications Director, South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD)  and his assisting, Mr. Carter. Thus I was able to tour before and during Governor DeSantis’ visit. It was rare opportunity to learn more about Florida’s west coast.

How would I describe the expericence?

“Emense!”

Let me explain…

Video of going driving up the 45 foot mound to view the site of the C-43 Caloosahatchee Reservoir, 10-25-19.  

Mr Flood points to the construction site outside of the footprint.

 

On Thursday, Mr Phil Flood -SFWMD West Coast Regional Representative – was the first to give me a tour. We drove a truck up a huge mound that was weighing down clay to be used in the reservoir’s surrounding dike. When we got to the top of the 45 foot hill, Mr Flood pointed in every direction: “See that tree line? See the horizon? See the edge of that old packing house? All this all will include the reservoir…”

The wind whipped by; I held my hair out of my face, eyes squinting. I thought about the once natural flow of water from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay. I though about how much things have changed in a hundred years.

“Just like my friend Mr Haddad told me,” I shouted across the way,” we spent a hundred years taking the water off the land and we’ll spend the next hundred years putting it back on…”

Mr Flood broke into his wonderful smile directing my eyes, again, to the horizon.

“The C-43 will be huge!  The lands consists of 10, 500 square acres of former orange groves, will have 19 miles of dam embankment, 15 miles of perimeter canal, 14 major water control structures, 3 pump stations, and 3 bridges.”

“And most important, it will help save the Caloosahatchee!” I replied. We drove back down the giant mound watching the excitement as all prepared for the Governor’s arrival.

Caloosahatchee River: (http://www.sccf.org/water-quality/caloosahatchee-condition-reports)

Footprint

These photos in this post are from both Thursday, October 24 and Friday, October 25, 2019. They were taken as SFWMD staff along with Lane Construction Corporation, a U.S. subsidiary of Salini Impregilo prepared for the groundbreaking ceremony. The was great fanfare! We all know it’s time to fix the water!

JTL with Sean Cooley, Comm. Dir. and Carter Comm. SFWMD. 10-24-19
C-43 location
Welcome!
The construction site was buzzing with energy and excitement
One of many mounds
View of C-43 site from the top of the 45 foot mound. Photo Phil Flood 10-24-19
Looking west 10-24-19
Looking east 10-24-19
Looking in north with construction site below. This area will is not in reservoir’s footprint10-24-19.
Executive Director Drew Bartlett speaks to Phil Flood and others. This shot is looking southerly 10-25-19.

It’s now October 25th, waiting for the Governor and First Lady to arrive!

People gather waiting for the Governor and First Lady
It’s almost time!
Get ready!
Is everything just right?!
Look Governor!
JTL, Shannon Estenoz, Ellin Goetz, Daniel Andrews

Governor DeSantis speaks!

Governor and First Lady DeSantis surrounded by guests

 

Office of Gov. DeSantis: https://www.flgov.com/2019/10/25/governor-ron-desantis-breaks-ground-on-embankments-and-canals-to-complete-caloosahatchee-c-43-west-basin-storage-reservoir/

Getting to the EAA Reservoir

At the end of a long journey, SFWMD Jennifer Leeds, Interim Division Director Ecosystems Restoration & Capital Projects, and JTL stand before the future location of the EAA Reservoir’s Storm Water Treatment Area, 10-18-19.

The initial goal of my South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) field trip was to tour Storm Water Treatment Area (STA) 3/4 and the A1 Flow Equalization Basin (FEB). When I saw the location, I asked if it would be possible to also see the A-2 lands to the west that will become the EAA Reservoir.

Later on, I realized that although the future site of the EAA Reservoir “wasn’t that far away,” it certainly wasn’t easy to get to!

After a long and bumpy truck ride atop levees and back roads we arrived. I was led by two talented South Florida Water Management staff: Ms. Jennifer Leeds, Interim Division Director of Ecosystem Restoration, and Mr. LeRoy Rodgers, Lead Invasive Species Biologist both respected experts in their fields.

After leaving SFWMD Headquarters in West Palm Beach, our first stop was STA 3/4. Tracey Piccone, Chief Consulting Engineer of Water Quality, and Nathan Ralph, STA 3/4 Site Coordinator provided an airboat tour through open areas that were once cattails. Since 2007, the cattails in the northern part of the STA are slowly dying off. This is of great concern to Tracy and Nathan as the cattails are what clean the nutrient rich water leaving the Everglades Agricultural Area. Under certain circumstances, water from Lake Okeechobee is also sent through this STA as well. Strict laws 1994 Everglades Forever Act laws require the exiting water to meet water quality standards before being sent south to Everglades National Park. The scientists spoke to me about resting, replanting, and diversifying the vegetation. I asked how we can send more water south…

It’s complicated. STAs are living systems, not machines. In fact, this 16,300 acres in western Palm Beach County is the largest constructed wetland in the world!

STA 3/4: https://www.sfwmd.gov/our-work/wq-stas
A1 FEB: https://www.sfwmd.gov/recreation-site/a1-flow-equalization-basin
Rotenberger and Hoely Land Wildlife Management Areas/Invasive Species: https://bugwoodcloud.org/mura/ECISMA/assets/File/summit10/7A-SFWMD_FWC.pdf
EAA Reservoir: https://www.sfwmd.gov/our-work/cerp-project-planning/eaa-reservoir

Tracey Piccone, Chief Consulting Engineer Water Quality, JTL, and LeRoy Rodgers Lead Invasive Species Biologist STA 3/4.
Map of STA 3/4 showing where vegetation is absent and present.
Nathan Ralph, STA 3/4 Site Coordinator provided an airboat tour

Airboat video:

STA 3/4

Video Mr Rodgers speaks on STA vegetation:

LeRoy Rodgers show bullrush a plant that can root in deeper waters
Tracy Piccone discussed water quality standards
Poster inside pump house G-370
Inside pump house G-370. It was cleaner than my house!

After the tour of STA 3/4, we focused north and I could see the glistening 15,000 acres of plants and shallow waters known as the A1 FEB,  a “giant triangle” always easy to locate on a map. Once the Tailsman Sugar Company, this land now functions as a Flow Equalization Basin stabilizing the waters coming in from the Everglades Agricultural Area before they go through STA 3/4.

As we drove, I tried to note the markings of multiple bird species.  I was so happy to see birdlife in spite of how drastically humankind has altered this once pristine landscape. It is said that today’s wading bird population is down 90% from the days this wetland was an unobstructed “River of Grass.” As we approached, birds flew off in every direction and I thought about Marjorie Stoneman Douglas and others who forged this restoration path.

A1 FEB

After the STA 3/4 and A1 FEB tour, we drove north. Sprawling Holey Land Wildlife Management Area was on our left and the A1 FEB on our right. I asked why it was so flat and treeless. “Over the years the tree islands have washed away and been damaged,” was the reply.

We drove in silence.

Size here is Grand Canyon like and it was difficult for me to judge where we were.  Suddenly, we took a sharp left. Jennifer Leeds smiled saying: “We’re here…” I climbed out of the truck.

Standing on a levee looking over both fallow and producing sugarcane fields, I stared out to the horizon. I felt my eyes tear over as it hit me that this was the land. The land that one day soon will become the EAA Reservoir.

“This was Senate President Joe Negron’s fight, this is our fight…” I thought to myself. Getting to the EAA Reservoir…

Though my husband Ed has flown me over the A2 lands multiple times, seeing them from the ground was much more convincing. If I’d had a River Warrior Flag I would have staked it in the ground. Instead, I smiled and took a picture. 🙂

Red=approximate EAA Reservoir STA; Yellow=EAA Reservoir ~ future location
Future area of the EAA Reservoir

Video – A2 lands growing sugarcane that are to become the EAA Reservoir

Jennifer Leeds, Interim Division Director Ecosystems Restoration & Capital Projects, and JTL stand before the future area of the EAA Reservoir’s Storm Water Treatment Area. This will be the first dirt turned! 10-18-19.

Changing of the…Lieutenant Colonel, ACOE

Left to Right: Lt Col Todd Polk, Lt Col Jennifer Reynolds, Col. Andrew Kelly, ACOE, SFWMD lunch time, Sept 2019. Photo JTL

When I took this photo recently at a South Florida Water Management District meeting, I thought to myself “score!” It is a rare thing to see all in one place, the latest changing of the ACOE guard.

As we know, the Army Corp of Engineers, Jacksonville District, changes out its leadership top positions, almost like clock-work, every three years. I say “almost” because Lt. Col. Jennifer Reynolds stayed for four years during a time of change and controversial issues like toxic algae being discharged into the St Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers and the beginnings of the updating of LORS (Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule) to LOSOM (Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual: https://www.saj.usace.army.mil/LOSOM/) . Acronyms aside — “how Lake Okeechobee is operated” being updated –now to possibly include considerations for cyanobacteria and human health.

Today we set our issues aside to welcome Lt. Col. Todd Polk who has now officially  replaced Lt. Col. Jennifer Reynolds. (Col. Kelly has another two years.)

In case you have not met him already, as he has been being phased-in for a couple of months now,  we welcome Lieutenant Colonel, US Army Deputy District Commander, South Floria, Todd F. Polk, PMP!

You can read his impressive bio below. HIs email is todd.f.polk@usace.army.mil should you like to welcome him too!

Lt Col Todd Polk, ACOEO website 2019

Lieutenant Colonel Todd F. Polk

Lt. Col. Todd Polk joined the Jacksonville District as the Deputy District Commander for South Florida, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in August 2019. He oversees the planning, construction, and operations of Corps projects in central and south Florida.  Polk joins the Corps from the U.S. Army Garrison at Fort Drum, New York.  While at Fort Drum he served in two positions, most recently as the Chief of Engineering and Design Branch for the Department of Public Works, and Chief of strategic and community planning for the Plans, Analysis, and Integration Office.  In 2016-2017, Polk deployed in support of the U.S. Military Observation Group previously serving on the Force Headquarters Staff for the United Nations’ Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Prior to his deployment to Africa, Polk was a Project Manager for Military Construction and Sustainment and Restoration projects with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Alaska District, 2015-2016.  His previous assignments include the Executive Officer for the 6th Brigade Engineer Battalion (Airborne), 4th Infantry Brigade, 25th Infantry Division (A), Fort Richardson, Alaska from 2014-2015; and, Brigade Engineer and Chief of Plans, 4th Inf. Bde., 25th Inf. Div. (A), Fort Richardson, Alaska from 2013-2014.

Polk’s earlier assignments include Battalion Operations Officer, Executive Officer, and Observer-Controller/Trainer for the Sidewinder Team, Operations Group, National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California from 2010-2012.  Brigade Engineer for the 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT), 10th Mountain Division (Light) in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) 10, and A Troop Commander, 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry in Logar Province, Afghanistan, OEF 9-10, in 2009, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop Commander, 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry, 3rd IBCT, in OEF 6-7, Kunar Province from 2006-2007.  G-3/5/7 Operations Officer 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, New York, from 2004-2005.  Battalion Maintenance Officer, Headquarters and Headquarters Company Executive Officer and C Company Platoon Leader, 65th Engineer Battalion, 25th Infantry Division (L), Schofield Barracks, Hawaii from 2000-2003.

Polk was commissioned as an Engineer Officer in 1999 from the University of Kentucky.  He holds a Bachelors of Arts in Communications from the University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky, and a Masters of Arts in Public Administration from Webster University, Saint Louis, Missouri.  His military Education includes the Engineer Officer Basic and Captains’ Career courses; Combined Arms Services and Staff School; Army Command and General Staff College; Airborne, Air Assault and Ranger courses; and, Joint Planner and Joint Fire Power courses.  He is a registered Project Management Professional.

His military awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster (OLC), the Meritorious Service Medal (3 OLC), the Joint Commendation Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, the Army Achievement Medal (5 OLC), Meritorious Unit Citation (1 OLC), Army Superior Unit Award, Airborne Badge, Air Assault Badge, Combat Action Badge, Ranger Tab, and the Bronze Order of the de Fleury Medal.

Polk is a native of Cincinnati, Ohio.  He is married and has two children.

 

Sunrise Rotary’s 2nd Annual Water Forum, Public Health as it Relates to the River

Thank you to Rotarians Mr Larry Lavargna and Ms Elmira Gainey for co-chairing Stuart-Sunrise Rotary’s 2nd Annual Water Forum, Public Health as it Relates to the St Lucie River. There are few instances where so many influential water voices come together to speak on the river as it relates to public health and for a question/answer period after each to boot. A excellent public forum!

I noticed that of all the speakers, Dr Gary Goforth had written out his talk, thus in case you were unable to attend,  I asked if he would share. His words are included below. You can also find many of the presentations recorded and posted at Treasure Coast on Facebook.

The most powerful things happen when we all get involved and include others! Thank you Sunshine-Rotary!

2019 SSRC OUR WATER 2019 Booklet

2nd Annual Rotary Water Forum – October 5, 2019

Public Health as it Relates to the River

Gary Goforth

We are so blessed to live in Paradise!  Like you I love this river, its estuary, its mangroves, its beaches, its near-shore reefs. But as many of you know, it is a Paradise with a tragic problem. Below the surface of this serene river lies poison.

Ms. Sandra Thurlow recently provided the following treasure: In 1885, Homer Hine Stuart, Jr. for whom Stuart is named carried around a small woodcutting representing the confluence of the North Fork and South Fork of the St Lucie Rivers.  This carving showed the river as 20 feet deep at the location of the future Roosevelt Bridge.  Imagine that!

Thirty years later Ernie Lyons described looking down into the River 15-20 ft through clear tea-colored water to a sandy bottom below.

The area behind us was known worldwide as “Giant Tarpon Kingdom” with regular catches of silver kings above 175 pounds. The world record was reported as 220 pounds, caught just up river.

In 1913, the State of Florida decided to construct a canal connecting Lake Okeechobee with the Atlantic Ocean. The primary intent was to divert the overflow of Lake Okeechobee away from its natural course south through the Everglades, thereby allowing the sawgrass plains south of the lake to be developed for agriculture. A secondary benefit was to provide cross-Florida transportation of produce and other commerce.

On June 15, 1923, the first recorded discharges from Lake Okeechobee passed through the newly constructed St. Lucie Canal, which connected the St. Lucie Estuary to the Lake.  But an unintended consequence was the discharge of countless tons of muck and dirty freshwater from the Lake that forever changed the landscape of the St Lucie River and Estuary.

Within 10 years the Martin County Commissioners had asked the State to stop the discharges “for the reason that the continued discharge of a large volume of dirty freshwater has killed all the shell fish, driven all salt water fish from the river, filled the river with hyacinths and so polluted the St Lucie River as to completely take away the attractive features and ruin its commercial value to the community.” (December 15, 1930 MCBCC)

The lake discharges drove out the king tarpons – the 150-200 pounders – and the small city of Stuart recast itself as the “Sailfish Capital of the World.”

Ernie Lyons described the damage in this way:

“We turned our good, sweet water into a cup of poison and changed a laughing little river into a reeking abomination – in the latter part of an ordinary lifetime.  Clean rivers are not “forever and forever” like the sunrise.” (from The Last Cracker Barrel (1976) p 62)

 

As a professional engineer I’ve had the honor of working to protect the environment of south Florida for more than three decades – in the Everglades, in Lake Okeechobee, along the Kissimmee River and its headwaters, and in the magnificent estuaries –the St Lucie and Caloosahatchee. My wife and I raised three kids here along the St Lucie River and I’ve taught my two grandsons to fish and appreciate the incredible biological diversity throughout the river and estuary and near shore reefs.  But unfortunately, we don’t eat the fish we catch in the River because of the public health risk.

  1. I recently had the misfortune of being in the emergency room of our local hospital. One of the very first questions I was asked was if I had had any recent contact with the St Lucie River.
  2. During the 2016 discharges I walked along Stuart Beach with Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch and we collected the names and stories of over 100 people who had gotten sick after coming in contact with the water.
  3. A beautiful dog, Finn, died that summer after morning frolic in the water. Several other dogs suffered acute liver failure, and suffer to this day.

 

2016 was a watershed year in understanding the relationship between the discharge of polluted water from the Lake and public health. The media began to focus on toxic blue green algae – particularly the microcystis form.   While parts of our beloved estuary were covered in foul smelling neon green guacamole, the media began reporting on the effects of microcystis and human health.  An Ohio State University study reported that those of us in Martin and St Lucie County have twice the national average rate of death for non-alcoholic liver disease.  They correlated this high rate with one thing – discharge of polluted water carrying blue green algae from Lake Okeechobee. This particular form of blue-green algae – microcystis – carries a dangerous toxin that can cause serious liver disease which can lead to death.  Additional human health risks have also been identified – Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease.

In the last year – thanks to the efforts of Congressman Brian Mast – the Corps of Engineers acknowledged for the first time that Lake discharges to the estuaries carrying microcystis are toxic to humans, and the US Government makes these discharges knowingly and with the understanding that they are poisoning us – the public that they serve.

Numerous public health advisories have been issued in our region in association with lake discharges – warnings to the public to avoid contact with the water.  But none have ever been issued when Lake water is sent south – the environmental conditions south of the lake are not advantageous for sustaining toxic blooms.  So the alternative to knowingly poisoning the public are clear – send the water south.

Col. Kelly is now in charge, and we are truly grateful for his leadership.  As the Corps revises its operation schedule of the Lake, I am sure that Col. Kelly will ensure that the public health, economies and environment of our region are given equal weight as the public health, economies and environment of the area south of the Lake.  Hundreds of millions of dollars in economic loss are felt by the regions around the estuaries during years of heavy lake discharges. Public health is adversely affected. There is no acceptable level of lake discharges.  There is no level of Lake releases to the St Lucie Estuary that is beneficial.

Lake discharges contain pollutants include toxic blue green algae, sediment (muck), low salinity water, and nutrients.  However, even if all the Lake water was sent south, our beloved St Lucie would still be in trouble.  Our local watershed has its challenges – particularly high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in agricultural runoff.  Our watershed suffers from the same lack of pollution regulation as the Lake Okeechobee watershed: landowners are not held accountable for pollution from their property.

But the problem is not just ag runoff – WE ALL ARE RESPONSIBLE.  For the St Lucie Estuary, approximately 5-10% of the total nitrogen loading is from our septic tanks.  If you have a tank – have it inspected and maintained.  Water quality data show an improvement in nitrogen levels due to positive actions taken by the City of Stuart, Martin County, Port St. Lucie and homeowners – conversion of more than 8,000 septic tanks to centralized sewer.  The City of Stuart has one of the best programs for converting septic tanks to sewers: a voluntary system that allows homeowners the option of waiting until their tanks or drainfields need replacing before hooking up.  But converting septic to sewer doesn’t solve the problem of nutrient overload – it just moves the problem to other areas.  The majority of the residuals from wastewater treatment plants are returned to our watersheds as “biosolids” that contain high concentrations of phosphorus and nitrogen.  An article in this morning’s Stuart News documented the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in dolphins, and the researchers attribute much of the problem to pharmaceuticals that pass generally untreated through centralized sewers and are returned to the watershed through biosolids.     We still need a better strategy for managing biosolids.  Sen. Harrell – we look to you for leadership in the Legislature to require additional oversight and regulation of the application of all biosolids in our watershed.

The Florida Legislature is the single most influential group that can positively affect the public health in the state of Florida.  The Legislature has an obligation to understand that allowing continued pollution of Lake Okeechobee and the estuaries will directly and adversely impact the health of the public you represent.  Unless the State begins holding landowners accountable for the pollution they generate, there is absolutely no reason to believe that our water quality will improve and as a result, our public health will continue to decline.  No matter if the Corps and SFWMD implement all the projects on the books – there will still be Lake discharges of toxic water to our estuaries – and unless the Legislature reverses its direction, the water quality and public health problems will persist.

I ask Sen. Harrell to work with the Legislature to hold the state’s Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) accountable for protecting our environment.  Their current program for improving water quality going into the Lake is terribly broken.  Pollution loading to the lake reached an all-time high in 2017.  And compounding this problem is that annual DEP reports to the Governor and legislature and public are misleading – as they allege that pollution loads are decreasing – when the reality – as documented by the SFWMD – is that average pollution loads are higher than the Starting Period.  For 2017 the measured phosphorus loads to the Lake were 60% greater than they reported in their annual report.  For 2018, the measured loads were 40% greater than they reported.  Who holds the DEP accountable for transparency and accuracy in reporting to the Governor, the Legislature and the public?  Sen. Harrell – please demand accountability on the part of DEP.

USEPA recently established draft guidelines for microcystin in water. We urge the legislature to direct DEP to expeditiously embrace and adopt those guidelines to protect human health. We support Col. Kelly’s efforts to prevent Lake discharges to our estuary that contain blue green algae, and urge him to adopt the microcystin guideline into the new version of the Lake operating manual.

I want to thank Ms. Thurlow-Lippisch on behalf of the SFWMD – for exploring more ways to sending Lake water south through the STAs, into the Everglades and on to Florida Bay. The SFWMD is also the agency responsible for collecting water quality data documenting the state of the water.  Thanks to the leadership of Ms. Thurlow-Lippisch, they are initiating steps to establish a regulatory program that if done properly will hold landowners accountable for reducing nutrient pollution.  The SFWMD will need our support as they develop an effective program – and we the public need to turn out and support them in their efforts.

We’ve heard Col. Kelly and others describe projects to be completed in the next 2-3 years.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first discharges from the Lake with a promise to stop the toxic discharges?!

I’d like to end with a challenge for all of us from an idol of mine – Timer Powers – Timer was a former Martin County commissioner and water management board member and Executive Director:

“The greatest challenge in front of us is to take the steps that are necessary to assure that our younger generation has the rivers, the creeks and the critters that are at the heart of our whole society.  There’s not many people representing the critters, and if we fail to represent those who can’t represent themselves, either nature or people, then we have failed.”

So to my fellow clean water advocates – let’s rise up to meet this challenge!  We can do this people!

Thank you all, and to the Rotary for bringing us all together on this beautiful day along side this beautiful estuary!