This year, the Army Corp of Engineers– with input from the South Florida Water Management District, and other stakeholders— has been discharging from Lake Okeechobee into the St Lucie River and southern Indian River Lagoon since January 29th, 2016. Today will review an April update.
We as citizens must pay attention and know what is happening to the river so that we can intelligently fight for its future.
Dr Goforth’s chart above gives a good visual comparison of 2016’s discharges, thus far, compared to those of 1997/98, another El Nino year with fish lesions, fish kills, and toxic algae reports. This chart also compares 2013, our recent “Lost Summer,” when toxic algae blooms filled the river, on and off, for about three out of five dumping months. (–Running May through October, 2013.)
One can see, that Lake Okeechobee’s 2016 discharge amounts are quickly approaching the total numbers released in 2013— although well below those of 1997/98.
Although discharges have been lessened lately, with the Army Corp of Engineers reporting a possible La Nina indications for the 2016 Hurricane season, (4-26-16 ACOE Periodic Scientist Call) considerably more rain could be on the way.
With the lake sitting at 14.29 today, —a high level going into “wet season,” starting June 1st—we should all be watching the situation very closely. Hopefully 2016’s total Lake O release numbers will be nowhere close to 1997/98.
We must continue to advocate hard for a third outlet, and land purchase south of the Lake Okeechobee, as this is the only way to spare our rivers’ repeated total destruction.
Thank you to Dr Goforth for his contribution today.
The following is from an email dated from Dr Gary Goforth on April 26, 2016 including the slide used for today’s blog and others of interest. Click on image to enlarge.
1. Summary of the 2016 Lake discharge event to the St. Lucie River and Estuary.
2. Preliminary Water Year 2016 (May 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016 – missing April 2016) summary, including a. Inflows to Lake Okeechobee by basin, with comparison to last year b. Outflows from Lake Okeechobee by region, with comparison to last year c. Flow diagram for Lake releases, with comparison to last year d. Lake releases to STAs, with comparison to last year e. Nutrient and TSS load from Lake discharges to the St Lucie and Caloosahatchee Estuary f. The graphs are shown for both acre feet and billion gallons
I hope you and your family had a happy Father’s Day. The water was beautiful this weekend, so I thought today I would compare some aerial photos my husband Ed and I took this weekend to some we took in June of 2013 during the “Lost Summer.” No wonder we all fight for clean water and fewer discharges from Lake Okeechobee and area canals. What a difference!
Of course other than “history,” rain has a lot to do with discharges into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, and it has not been raining too much lately— thus the blue waters rather than the ugly dark brown plumes. It is important for all of us to understand why our paradise sometimes turns into a disgusting toxic mess so we can keep working for policy to change this problem.
The first and worst part of the problem lies in southern Martin County—the C-44 canal built by the Flood Control District of the era and later the Army Corp of Engineers to connect Lake Okeechobee to the South Fork of the St Lucie River. This canal was connected in 1923 for agriculture and transportation. So now, not only is there the agricultural lands’ runoff from the C-44 basin that pours into the river, but also the periodic often huge releases from Lake Okeechobee. In spite of claims that this lake water is “only 30%” of total discharge water coming into the estuary, when it comes it is tremendous, filthy, and always a killer.
I think a decent metaphor would be that one could drink alcohol all time (from the C-23, C-24, C-25) and have problems like an alcoholic but function, however, if one downed two bottles of gin in a short period of time, one would kill oneself. Lake Okeechobee and its periodic huge slugs are death each time for our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
Next we must recognize the other problem-part of our canal system in the northern region…
After a tremendous hurricane/storm and flooding (because we are a swamp….) in 1947 the state of Florida and the federal government worked to appropriate monies for the Central and South Florida Flood Project which created the plumbing system we know today for all South Florida.
The part “we got” was the building of canals C-25, C-24 and C-23. The state and federal government acted like this was “just for flooding” but it wasn’t. It was also to allow for more agriculture and development in the region by draining the lands. (Mostly citrus and development of Port St Lucie). These canals were built and “improved” throughout the 50s and 60s and expanded the water being drained into the St Lucie River by about five times!
So now water from Okeechobee and St Lucie counties, and even water that had been flowing north into the St Johns River, through Indian River County and beyond— drains into the St Lucie River! (The headwaters of the St Johns River started flowing north in the marshes west of Sebastian and Vero—they have been directed to the SLR…)
Crazy isn’t it?
You know these “guys” —these politicians and business people, knew they were killing the river. They were just so driven by the pay-off of citrus/agriculture and cheap lands to sell….that they didn’t care…The river dies slowly so many of them did not see the “close to total death” —what we see today…but they knew what they were doing.
There were those who objected trying to protect the river’s fishing industry and wildlife….But their voices were not enough to stop the train….sound familiar?
The map above shows the “expanded watershed” in yellow and pink going into the St Lucie River. This is why I very much object also when I hear “how 70-80%” of the water polluting the St Lucie “is from our local watershed.”
Like we are supposed to feel responsible? Most of it’s not local!!!!! Plus it is the SFWMD’s job to oversee these canals. FIX THEM!
The moral of the story though is that the “local watershed” does not exist anymore….
“Wealth (agriculture and development) at the expense of the environment….” The story of our state.
Of course the grand irony is that we all came here for the “environment” ….the water, the fishing, the wildlife, the beauty…..
So here we are in Martin County living in a world where the pendulum swings between “paradise and hell.”
Paradise is not what it used to be, but it is still here. We saw some of it this past weekend…And we could bring back more if we really tried….If we want it, our job is to get more of the water coming into the St Lucie River/IRL back onto the land, going south, and returned or held north, and not draining or being released into our watershed.
There is alway hope we could do it faster. We must make hope a reality….all of us.
As newspaper man and famed environmentalist Ernie Lyons said: “What men do, they can undo…..and the hope for our river is in the hundreds of men and women in our communities who are resolved to save the St Lucie…” (Ernest Lyons, Editor and reporter, Stuart News)
Under tremendous political pressure, and intense time limitations, the Water Institute of the University of Florida (http://waterinstitute.ufl.edu) has created a professional, “arm’s-length” document, reporting on “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.”
Kudos to Senator Joe Negron and the Senate Committee who put forth the $250,000 for this study after the “Lost Summer” of 2013! Write him, thank him and ask him to support the EAA option land purchase! (http://www.flsenate.gov/Senators/s32)
Kudos to the people who demanded something be done to save the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon that suffers from terrible “local runoff” and then is periodically murdered by the tremendous releases from Lake Okeechobee that are a tipping point, causing the river to go into a toxic state as we saw in 1998, 2004-5, and most recently in 2013!
The UF Water Institute’s report came out yesterday. The study clearly states, as pointed out to me by Dr Gary Goforth, (http://garygoforth.net) who is reviewing the document:
” Achieving substantial reduction in lake-triggered discharges to the estuaries and substantial improvement toward the dry season Everglades demand target will require additional land between the lake and the EAA, e.g., the current U.S. Sugar land purchase option, lands from other willing sellers, and/or use of existing state-owned land (e.g., Holey Land and Rotenberger Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs)).”
Friend, environmental icon, and 20 year county commissioner, Maggy Hurchalla, pointed out this section as we tried to review the 143 page document in quick time:
p102: “Currently, the state of Florida has an option to purchase approximately 46,000 acres in the EAA(Figure V-8). The option is set to expire in October 2015. Thus, the state has a limited window of opportunity to purchase this land at market prices. Given the limited opportunity and the uncertainty of any future similar opportunities to purchase large acreages of lands in the EAA,the state should consider this time-limited option. The particular 46,000 acres at issue may be useful for additional storage and treatment or may serve as lands that the state could trade with other agricultural interests in the area if land in different locations are needed.”
…. the Technical Review Team concludes that relief to the estuaries and the ability to move more water south of Lake Okeechobee can be accomplished using existing technology. The solution is enormous increases in storage and treatment of water both north and south of the lake. Existing and currently authorized storage and treatment projects are insufficient to achieve these goals. The path forward requires significant long-term investment in the infrastructure of the South Florida hydrologic system. Options to Reduce High Volume Freshwater Flows to the Estuaries and Move More Water South from Lake Okeechobee to the Southern Everglades To reduce damage to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries freshwater inflow and nutrient loads from both Lake Okeechobee and the local basins must be reduced. On average, 70-80% of the freshwater discharge and 65-80% of the nutrient load to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries originates in the local basins, with the remaining balance contributed from Lake Okeechobee. Previous CERP, NEEPP and ROG planning exercises have all identified that providing large volumes of regional storage is essential to reduce freshwater discharges to the estuaries. The most recent estimates of required storage include: 400,000 acre-feet of water storage within the Caloosahatchee River watershed, 200,000 acre-feet of water storage within the St. Lucie River watershed, and approximately 1,000,000 acre-ft of water storage distributed north and south of Lake Okeechobee. …..
Many opinions will evolve out of this UF document. Fingers will be pointed….
Nonetheless, if we are adaptable, determined, and consistent, like a gator in the swamp, we will be able to “ride” this UF study to achieve the purchase of option lands in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA).
We must also “ride” the UF report for funding projects to clean up and divert area runoff from area canals C-23, C-24, C-25, and C-44 that are also an ongoing man-made pollution disaster to the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Together, Lake O and our area canals are killing our rivers and Lake O is always the “tipping point…”
Keep your eye on the prize, don’t take “no” for an answer…
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
*This Everglades Trust website allows you to find and contact your elected officials and write them about purchasing option lands in the EAA and saving the everglades; see here for information: (http://www.evergladestrust.org)
“Let us throw off everything that hinders, and run with perseverance, the race marked out for us…” Hebrews
We might still be a long way from the finish line, but no one can say that the Indian River Lagoon hasn’t hasn’t been “heard.” In 2012, few state legislators, not even the Governor, sitting in his chair in Tallahassee knew what, or even where, the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon was… Today literally, “everyone” in Tallahassee knows about the, dying manatees, sick dolphins, toxic waters, the disappearing seagrasses, and deadly releases from Lake Okeechobee. On top of that “Tally” is watching the IRL positioned to walk away with a large chunk of the pie, a pie that others wanted too. Others who had been fighting longer than the IRL and were very much know by name… Remarkable.
(Specifics of Negron’s Senate/House negotiated IRL/L.O. 3-year budget for 231.9 million dollars. This “recommendation” must still go before the Governor’s pen.)
How did this happen? How did the Indian River Lagoon get so well known so quickly?
This happened because the the people, River Kidz, and local officials of Stuart, Port St Lucie, eventually all eight counties along the lagoon, rose up, demanded change, exposed health, safety, and moral issues, and then the local press, Scripps, took that flame of the people, threw kerosine on it, and has continued to keep the fire going. State and Congressional politicians along with state and federal agencies, usually free to do whatever they pleased, were taken off guard, suddenly their constituency was watching where officials got their money, how they were voting, and if they were supporting the lagoon.
Senator Joe Negron listened and made the Indian River Lagoon his first priority creating the budget list above, held a Senate Hearing that took the topic “viral,” possibly under-cutting his Senate presidency because of his outspoken support, and then proceeded to tell the ACOE they needed to give up their control of the lake and that they were “killing us;” Rep. Gayle Harrell made a memorial in DC her “top”priority; newcomer Rep. Larry Lee voted against party line for the sake of the lagoon; and freshman Rep. Mary Lynn Magar passed out bottles of muck ridden toxic river water and aerial photo booklets to her colleagues, Rep. Debbie Mayfield called her closest contacts… At the federal level, Congressman Patrick Murphy did every single thing possible to familiarize the ACOE leaders with the C-44 IRL project, and even invited the public to DC for a special meeting. In walks Nancy Pelosi, and then this bipartisan group helps get the WRDA (Water Resources Development Act) bill passed in the US House of Representatives where usually people can’t make a decision to save their lives. Holy Cow!
OK, let’s pull back for a moment, because I come from a group of erudite and very skeptical river supporters. And although I am excited, I am not wearing rose colored glasses and never have. I know politicians can dance like marionettes when they need to; I know that a lot more has to be done, like a flow way south; I know that if it starts raining intensely tomorrow and doesn’t stop, a repeat of the “Lost Summer” will happen all over again. But Karl…Michael….the others….even you, the harshest, most honest critics, have to admit that the end of 2013, and so far 2014, has been one remarkable year. Less than a year actually…
Just May 8th of last year, the releases from Lake Okeechobee began releasing for 5 months, and set off a series of events that galvanized public outcry. Thousands of people rallied at the locks and shoreline; social media whipped the situation to a frenzy, and today we are still today talking about it, fighting for it, and defining ourselves and our children by it. There are no social, age or economic boundaries. It is all of us. We are making history.
Yes, a great disappointment, the ACOE’s recent denial of CEPP (Central Everglades Planning Project) into the WRDA Bill last week is a huge setback, but the Army Corp of Engineers has forgotten something. When passions are repressed, they only get stronger.
This Saturday at 9 AM, locals have organized a “Funeral Services for the Lagoon” at St Lucie Locks and Dam in response to the ACOE’s inaction. (Go to Facebook for information.) Here again locals will plead their case to “send the water south.”
When I reminisce about the past year and even present, I am reminded of Dr Suess’ famous children’s book, Horton Hears a Who. The story is about the miniature city of people who live on the speck of dust. After being lost, Horton the elephant and the other animals hear the screaming “We’re here!” “We’re here!” of the tiny people of Who-ville, and agree to protect them. But they wouldn’t have protected them if they did not hear them. Remember?
Like the story, the Indian River Lagoon has finally been heard! Be proud of this. It is a huge accomplishment. We are certainly not yet at the finish line, but let’s be happy that 2013/14 has been, “The Year of the Indian River Lagoon,” and that everyone knows our name!