Tag Archives: ACOE Army Corp of Engineers

“We Have A Dream,” St Lucie River/Indin River Lagoon

Pensacola High School 1993, English Class. (Photo courtesy of photography teacher at PHS.)
With “my kids” at Pensacola High School, 1993, 9th grade English Class. (Photo courtesy of photography teacher at PHS.)

History shows that “things can change.” This doesn’t mean it will be easy, or perfect,  but things can change.

Today is Martin Luther King Day, and as a former middle and high school English teacher, I have read Dr King’s speech “I Have a Dream,” many times together with my students, and each time, my eyes filled with tears at the prospect that these words could one day come true in spite of the pain and difficulty of “getting there.”

This held especially true when I was teaching in Pensacola, in Escambia County, which at the time was one on the very poorest counties in the state of Florida and may still be… I had two classes of  “at risk” kids and my observation was basically that many of my students were “locked in the past” in their thought processes often quoting the Civil War and why things were as they were in their world.

Approaching Martin Luther King Day, we would read aloud Dr King’s speech, and I would tell them that although things are bad, they must remember, that years ago, things were worse, and most of all with the power of collective thinking, THINGS COULD CHANGE. And for that to occur, they had to believe it, live it, and be part of that of change.

I also taught my students some hard facts, noting that if they didn’t know their history, they would not have the tools, fire, or respect to create change in their world.

I believe that this lesson applies to river advocacy for the St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon as well. To make our advocacy work, we must know the history of Florida, the the Army Corp of Engineers, the South Florida Water Management District, agriculture, the EAA, development, and ourselves:  then we must believe in change for the river, and we must be a part of that change.

Below are statistics of the history of the St Lucie River and releases from Lake Okeechobee,  from 1931 to 2013. In 2014 there were no releases. Right now, in 2015, the ACOE has started again.

Thank you, to Dr Gary Goforth (http://garygoforth.netfor providing these numbers and an explanation of how he achieved them. The two columns are: “Estimated Releases to the River” (SLSR/IRL) and “Estimated Flow from Lake O to C-44 Canal.” Both are in acre feet. I use the first column often to compare and understand how much water has helped destroy our estuary over the years; ; I hope it becomes useful to you as well. And may we have a dream that things will get even better.

1931-2013 numbers for release from Lake Okeechobee to the St Lucie River. (Courtesy of Dr Gary Goforth, 2014.)
1931-2013 numbers for release from Lake Okeechobee to the St Lucie River. (Courtesy of Dr Gary Goforth, 2014.)
19-----
1931-1960
1931=1960
1961-1995
1900
1995-2013. (2014 = 0 to SLR)

Below is history and explanation from Dr Goforth:

History:

A state-authority – the Everglades Drainage District – constructed the St. Lucie Canal (later known as C-44) between May 28, 1915 and 1928. During this time they also built a lock and spillway at the Lake end of the canal and a lock and spillway at the present location of S-80. On June 13, 1923, water from Lake Okeechobee began flowing through the canal into the St. Lucie River.

In the 1930s and in the late 1940s the Corps enlarged the St. Lucie Canal, and it was then known as C-44.

In the 1940s the Corps completed S-80 – the St. Lucie Lock and Spillway – at the site of the original lock on the east end of the Canal. Flow data beginning 10/1/1952 for S-80 are reported by SFWMD.

In the 1970s the Corps constructed S-308 – Port Mayaca Lock and Spillway – west of the site of the original lock on the west end of the Canal.

Flow estimates:

I cannot find flow data for Lake releases to the Canal prior to April 1, 1931.

Between April 1, 1931 and September 30, 1952, Lake releases to the C-44 are reported by U.S. Geological Service.

I cannot find flow data for Lake releases to the C-44 between October 1, 1952 and December 31, 1964. However, flow data is available for S-80 beginning 10/1/1952, so I estimated Lake flows to the Canal for this period based on the S-80 flows and the correlation between concurrent observed flows at S-80 and S-308 (1965-2013).

Beginning January 1, 1965, Lake releases to the C-44 are reported by SFWMD.

I’ve also provided estimates of Lake releases to the St. Lucie River.

Lake releases are currently made to the C-44 Canal for two reasons:
1. Irrigation demand for agriculture in the C-44 Basin. This Lake water enters the Canal at S-308 but does not leave the Canal at S-80.
2. Regulatory releases from the Lake to the St. Lucie River.

Historically, some Lake water was sent to the St. Lucie River for perceived beneficial purposes – however today both Mark Perry and Deb Drum insist that Lake releases provide NO beneficial purpose to the River.

To calculate the Lake releases to the St. Lucie River, you need to compare the flow that enters the Canal at S-308 with the flow that passes through S-80. The minimum of the two flows is estimated to be the Lake flow to the River.

As an example, say 1000 gallons entered the Canal from the Lake on Day 1. The same day, no water passed through S-80. So for Day 1, the estimated Lake flow to the River is the minimum of (1000, 0) or 0 gallons.

As another example, say 1000 gallons entered the Canal from the Lake on Day 2. The same day, 500 gallons passed through S-80. So for Day 2, the estimated Lake flow to the River is the minimum of (1000, 500) or 500 gallons.

Using this method, we can estimate Lake flows to the St. Lucie River (Figure 2 and Table 2). Because flows were not available at both S-308 and S-80 for the period 1931-1964, I estimated these flows based on the correlation between concurrent observed flows at S-80 and S-308 during the period 1965-2013. Other folks (SFWMD or Corps) may estimate the flows differently based on different assumptions. —-Dr Gary Goforth 

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Dr Martin Luther King’s speech: I Have a Dream: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Have_a_Dream)

Dredge/Fill, “Changing History,” Frances Langford’s Outrigger Resort, Indian River Lagoon

Aerial of Francis Langford's Outrigger Resort's marina, ca. 1955. Visible is the dredge and fill it took to accomplish this project. (Photo courtesy of Thurlow archives.)
Aerial of Frances Langford’s Outrigger Resort’s marina, restaurant, and compound, built in Jensen/Sewall’s Point ca. 1955. Visible is the dredge and fill it took to accomplish this project. (Photo courtesy of Thurlow archives.)

 

"Mt Pisgah," the area contiguous with north Sewall's Point that was her home. (Photo ca. 1950s, courtesy of Thurlow Archives.)  Note cleared lands and orange groves.)
“Mt Pisgah,” the area of Rio, contiguous with north Sewall’s Point, that was Mrs Langford’s home. (Photo ca. 1950s, courtesy of Thurlow Archives.)

At last week’s Everglades Coalition Conference, (http://evergladescoalition.org), one of my favorite quotes was repeated by respected Martin County resident, and nationally renowned environmentalist, Mr Nathaniel Reed:

“Not knowing your history, is like walking into the middle of the movie.”

For us to be effective advocates for the now impaired St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/southeast/ecosum/ecosums/SLE_Impairment_Narrative_ver_3.7.pdf), it is important to know our history, especially the history of ourselves.

Prior to the 1970s, the passage of the Clean Water Act, and the national environmental movement, “dredge and fill”was commonplace. Dredge and fill includes the dredging of canals that have created our Atlantic Inter-coastal Waterway; the dreaded Okeechobee Waterway; canals draining South Florida below and around Lake Okeechobee; the Everglades Agricultural Area; as well as  many prominent subdivisions and commercial centers that we relish today.

Postcard photo of Francis Langford's Outrigger Resort ca. 1960s)
Postcard photo of Frances Langford’s Outrigger Resort ca. 1960s)

After people realized the environmental degradation that unfortunately went along with these projects, (some include: turbidity in the water column, destruction of seagrass and wildlife habitat, and sometimes the release of heavy metals and other pollutants harbored in the bottom sands and sediments,) getting permits to “do such” became much harder.

Today the FDEP, Florida Department of Environmental Protection,(http://www.dep.state.fl.us/water/wetlands/erp/dffact.htm), and the EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, together with the Army Corp of Engineers, (http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/guidance/cwa/dredgdis/primarily oversee such projects; many are not granted or take so long people give up. 

Another aerial of the completed  marina in 1965. (Photo courtesy of Thurlow Archives.)
Another aerial of the completed marina in 1965. (Photo courtesy of Thurlow Archives.) Note healthy looking seagrasses right off shore.

Mrs. Frances Langford  (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frances_Langford), who built the well-known “Outrigger Resort and Marina, “in the 1950s, just north of Sewall’s Point, became an “environmentalist” in her later days, bestowing tremendous monies toward the Florida Oceanographic Society on Hutchinson Island, (http://www.floridaocean.org).

And yes, she gave to just about every charity in town! The point is, she loved helping “create” Florida Oceanographic in her later years, and in the 1940s and 50s people really did not realize the true extent of the destruction their dredge and fill projects were causing to the world that they loved. I believe this even holds true with some of the worst offenders of the agriculture and development industry who have, in essence, destroyed Florida and its waters. 

But times change, and people change. I believe there is a movement of change right now to “send water south” again…to fix our state, and yet to allow businesses that came into being, during earlier times of our history, to survive and adapt.

Frances Langford 1940s. (Public photo.)
Frances Langford 1940s. (Public photo.)
Singing to the troops with Bob Hope. "The favorite time of her life..." (Public photo.)
Singing to the troops with Bob Hope. “The favorite time of her life…” (Public photo.)

As I mentioned, to be able to change the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, we first must learn to look around, to be aware, and to be able to recognize the history of our own area as we try to change the bigger state picture as well.

Once you start looking, you will see that “dredge and fill” is all around us.

You may ask yourself:

“How is a huge boat, going through the IRL that on average is three feet deep?”

“How are those boats coming from Ft Meyers across Lake Okeechobee into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon?”

“Am I living on what used to be a spoil island or the edge of a coastal community of fish and birds?”

“Am I living in a former wetland?”

I know, that although I do not live on the river, “I am;” I live in a coastal hammock in Sewall’s Point, a bird sanctuary.

There is no turning back, but we can change how we create a new history in the future.

By knowing history, there is a way to “rebuild”and “reeducate.” Whether it is starting in your yard, or changing state policy…

So look around you. Learn your history, view the “full movie”…And may the great waters of Florida flow again with life, beauty, and all the generosity of the late Frances Langford.

Francis Langford in her later years stands before photos decorating the Francis Langford Outrigger Resort. (Public photo>)
Francis Langford in her later years stands before photos decorating the Francis Langford Outrigger Resort, Rio, Florida. (Public photo.)

 

Caloosahatchee River, A Cub Club Fly-In, St Lucie River, Indian River Lagoon

Caloosahatchee River.
Caloosahatchee River, courtesy of the CRCA.

THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN FOR MR LARRY ROBINSON AND HIS “CUB CLUB” THAT WILL BE FLYING INTO HISTORIC BUCKINGHAM FIELD AIRPORT CLOSE TO THE CALOOSAHATCHEE RIVER IN LEE COUNTY; I THOUGHT THIS MIGHT BE OF INTERESTS TO ALL.

Cub Club
Cub Club of Florida

When flying into Buckingham Airport near Ft Meyers, one will surely get a view of the beautiful Caloosahatchee River that runs from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico.

The river, named after the warlike Calusa Indians,  has a great history and is unfortunately under great pressure due to man-made changes in its surrounding hydrology. The original lands of the watershed allowed for the waters of the Kissimmee Valley,  near Orlando, to move south through the then winding Kissimmee River, into Lake Okeechobee,  and then slowly make their way to the Florida Everglades. 

Historic flow of Lake Okeechobee
Historic flow of Lake Okeechobee. (Map courtesy of Everglades Foundation.)

Before the late 1880s, the Caloosahatchee was not truly connected to Lake Okeechobee; its headwaters started at Lake Hicpochee, west of today’s Clewiston. Marshlands filled from Lake Hicpochee to Lake Okeechobee in times of heavy rain “connecting” the waterway but this was not lasting.

In the late 1800s investor and land owner, Hamilton Disston, following an old Calusa Indian canal, connected the river permanently to Lake Okeechobee by digging a wide canal. This was done in order to drop the level of the lake and drain the surrounding lands for agricultural development.

Disston was not completely successful but he did inspire others to complete his work in the early 1920s.

redirection of the waters of Lake Okeechobee through the Caloosahatchee and St Lucie Estuaries.
Redirection of the waters of Lake Okeechobee through the Caloosahatchee and St Lucie Estuaries. (Map courtesy of Everglades Foundation.)

People had been farming in Florida south of the Lake Okeechobee since the late 1800s as the muck was very rich and produced wonderful crops. But flooding was a constant issue.

After the horrific hurricanes of 1926 and 1928 that completely flooded the area south of the lake and took thousands of lives, the state of Florida begged the federal government for flooding assistance which resulted in the Cross State Canal being built from Ft Meyers to Stuart and the building of the Herbert Hoover Dike around southern Lake Okeechobee.

The canal allowed not only for east west navigation across the state, but also redirected the waters of Lake Okeechobee that traditionally flowed south to be sent east and west through nearby estuaries:  the Caloosahatchee on the west and the St Lucie River/Southern Indian River Lagoon on the east.

After another great storm and flood in 1948, and repeated outcry of the state and public, the Army Corps of Engineers “improved the system” through the Central and South Florida Project by widening and deepening already constructed canals and by building many more. 

By the 1960 the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA), south of the lake, became the number one sugar and vegetable producer of the state and one of the top in the nation; fortunes were made in the post-wartime era.

Simultaneous to the success of the EAA, development exploded along the two estuaries, the Caloosahatchee, and St Lucie/Southern Indian River Lagoon. Both of these areas depended heavily on fishing, tourism, and real estate values for their economies so when Lake Okeechobee would overflow and billions of gallons of fresh water would pour into the estuaries disturbing the brackish balance, killing seagrasses, destroying fishing stock and wildlife, of course these cities along the coasts complained.

Over time, even more people have moved the Caloosahatchee and St Lucie areas, and the massive population of Orlando has complicated the situation as “Orlando’s”  polluted water full of nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilized lawns and farmlands travels south filling Lake Okeechobee. Since the water cannot go south, it is redirected to the estuaries. As a result, the Caloosahatchee and St Lucie estuaries experience toxic algae blooms during heavy destructive discharges. 

This “health and safety” situation came to a head recently during the summer of 2013 when the Army Corps released from Lake Okeechobee for five months straight: May 8th- October 21st. This time became known as the “Lost Sumer” as health departments warned citizens and pets to stay out of the water for months on end.  

 Due to public outcry,  Florida Senator Joe Negron, chair of the Appropriations Committee, organized a “Senate Hearing on the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin” that included studies of both estuaries. Congressman Patrick Murphy invited citizens to Washington DC.

The east and west coasts and many politicians unified during this time, thousands rallied, and news of the toxic waters was told by local, state, national and global media.

The Florida governor, state legislature, US Congress,  along with “water managers,” Army Corp of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District, felt tremendous pressure to find alternative ways to store water and clean water north of the lake and to “send more water south.” 

Under the 2013/14 state legislative sessions the state legislature and federal government designated monies for both estuaries to help abate these issues. Part of the Tamiami Trail was even “opened” to allow more water to flow south and plans are being made to lift and open more areas in the future. University of Florida water experts are studying the issue.

Unfortunately, in spite of what can be done, this  is just the tip of the iceberg as the amount of water that needs to be redirected away from the estuaries is enormous, truly beyond comprehension. This is why many believe Everglades restoration plans are taking entirely too long and that we must find a way to fully restore the Kissimmee River and create a third outlet south of the lake.

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South Florida Water Management District: Caloosahatchee River: (http://www.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/xweb%20protecting%20and%20restoring/caloosahatchee%20strategies)

Dept of Environmental Protection: Caloosahatchee River or C-43: (http://www.protectingourwater.org/watersheds/map/caloosahatchee/)

Caloosahatchee River Citizen’s Association, CRCA: (http://crca.caloosahatchee.org/about/?show=legacy)

Central and South Florida Project: (http://www.evergladesplan.org/about/restudy_csf_devel.aspx)

Images of Toxic Algae Blooms Caloosahatchee River: (http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=toxic+algae+blooms+caloosahatchee+river&qpvt=toxic+algae+blooms+caloosahatchee+river&FORM=IGRE)

ACOE Everglades Restoration: (http://www.evergladesplan.org)

Where Do We Draw the Line on Water? St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

West of the red lines shows the edge of what was once the Everglades in South Florida. Development has crept and continues to creep over this edge. (Photo/map courtesy of Chappy Young,/GCY Surveyors, 2014.)
West of the red line shows the edge of what was once the Everglades in South Florida. Development has crept and continues to creep over this edge. (Photo/map courtesy of Chappy Young,/GCY Inc. Surveyors, 2014.)

We in Martin and St Lucie Counties make up what is referred to as the “Northern Everglades.”  Before the Army Corp of  Engineers, (ACOE), changed the course of Lake Okeechobee’s waters in the 1920s and directed it to go east and west through canals to the estuaries, Lake Okeechobee’s water would slowly crest over the southern edge of the lake and flow south. For many, myself included, the long term goal of saving our St Lucie/IRL and Caloosahatchee estuaries  includes recreating  a type of “flow way, or floodway south” to Everglades National Park. The parched park needs our water just as Nature intended.

There are many challenges to this scenario but the most visual are the following.

The first is the Everglades Agricultural Area, (EAA), 700,000 acres located just south of the lake; the second is east coast development that has crept in over the years “into the Everglades.”

The red colored blocks south of Lake O. are the EAA-700,000 acres of sugar lands and vegetables. South of the EAA are the water conservation areas.(SFWMD map, 2012.)
The red colored blocks south of Lake O. are the EAA,700,000 acres of sugar lands, vegetables, small historic agricultural communities, and infrastructure. South of the EAA are the water conservation areas in purple and green. (SFWMD map, 2012.)
The red line shows the designated "Everglades." As we can see humankind has filled a lot of it in. (SFWMD map, 2012.)
The red line surrounding Lake O. shows the Everglades wetlands that historically filtered the water before it got to Florida Bay. As we can see humankind has “filled in” a lot of this. (SFWMD map, 2012.)

I have written before about the “seepage barrier” an underground permeable wall  that runs along the east coast to keep the water out of these developed areas through pumps that send the seeping water back inside the Everglades. Crazy. If needed, the EAA also pumps its ground water and surface water off its lands to keep the level as needed for the crops. They are assisted by the SFWMD. This is a historic relationship. It is how our state was “built.”

This satellite photo shows water on lands in 2005. One can see the lands in the EAA are devoid of water. This water has been pumped off the lands into the Water Conservation Areas, sometimes back pumped into the lake, and also stored in other canals. (Captiva Conservation 2005.)
This satellite photo shows in blue the water on lands in 2005. One can see the lands in the EAA just south of the lake are devoid of water. This water has been pumped off the lands into the water conservation areas, sometimes back pumped into the lake, and also stored in other canals. The water would flood the crops if it were on the lands. (2004-2005 SFWMD aerial photography.)

The above photo shows the EAA dry while surrounding lands are wet.

I really do not have an answer of how to build a flow way through all this agriculture, infrastructure, and development as I am not a scientist. But I have not given up the idea. I have faith one day there will not be another choice.

What I confidently can say is that we all know water is valuable, “the new oil.”  Water issues whether they be pollution or the need for water usage in a growing state demand attention and we know with  the future coming we should not build anything else inside those red lines. No port, no windmill farms, no more development, no more agriculture.

FWC map for 2060 projected population growth, state of Florida, 2011.
FWC map for 2060 projected population growth, state of Florida, 2011.

If the the Florida Wildlife Commission’s map is right and Florida’s population in 2060 is around 36 million,  (today it is 19 million), we are going to need more fresh water.  Also if we are to save the northern estuaries and the Everglades so our children have some semblance of what the planet once was, we must redirect more water to go to where it once did, south.

Let’s draw a new line for water. A line that clearly shows we know its value not just to agriculture and development, but to the environment, and the children of the future. 

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1000 Friends of Florida 2060 Population: (http://archive.tallahassee.com/assets/pdf/CD52924126.PDF)
Northern Everglades DEP: (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/everglades/neepp.htm)
SFWMD/Natural Systems Model: NSM-4.5 (http://www.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/xrepository/sfwmd_repository_pdf/nsm45.pdf)

What’s the Difference Between C-44 Basin Runoff and Lake Okeechobee Releases along the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon?

The S-80 structure at St Lucie Locks and Dam. C-44 canal in background goes to Lake Okeechobee. (Photo Scott Kuhns, 2013)
The S-80 structure at St Lucie Locks and Dam. C-44 canal in background goes miles to Lake Okeechobee where the S-308 structure is located at the eastern edge of Lake O. (Photo Scott Kuhns, 2013)
Basins whose water runoff flows into the St Lucie River, note C-44 south. (SFWMD, 1999.)
Drainage basins into the St Lucie River, note C-44 south. (SFWMD, 1999.)

The locks are back in the news again. WPTV, “hard working for the river reporter,” Jana Eschbach, broke the story yesterday, that the Army Corp of Engineers did not alert the public that they would be releasing polluted canal, C-44 basin water through the S-80 structure into the St Lucie River. Jana, like most people, feels that the public should be alerted when polluted water will be coming into the estuary in that we swim and fish. She is also concerned the water in the area of Palm City and the Roosevelt Bridge, which has been reported to have high levels of bacteria, will be pushed to the popular Sandbar area.

Video WPTV: (http://www.cbs12.com/news/top-stories/stories/vid_16935.shtml?fb_action_ids=10204339758793609&fb_action_types=og.comments&fb_source=aggregation&fb_aggregation_id=288381481237582)

This can be confusing. Don’t we just care about lake water? Also, if the locks are open, doesn’t that mean the ACOE is releasing Lake Okeechobee water? Not necessarily, and the basin water can be just as damaging to the estuary and the public. So how does releasing basin or lake water work? 

There are two structures along the C-44 canal which runs along the side of Highway 76 from the South Fork of the St Lucie River, to Lake Okeechobee: S-308 at the edge of  Lake Okeechobee, and S-80, 20 miles or so, east, at the St Lucie Locks and Dam.

This ACOE canal and structure map shows S-308 at Lake O. and S-80 20 miles east.
This ACOE canal and structure map shows S-308 at Lake O. and S-80 along the C-44 inland.

S-80 serves duel purposes. First to release water through Lake Okeechobee, but only if S-308, at the lake, is open first, allowing water into the C-44 canal. Then S-80 lets the water pour into the St Lucie River.

Second, S-80 can be opened just to allow water from the C-44  to flow into the St Lucie River, as the C-44 canal is surrounded by a 185 square mile basin, mostly agriculture, that has been directed to flow into the canal when it rains. Agriculture also uses this water in the C-44 canal to water their crops. To make things more confusing, C-44 can “deliver” local basin runoff in both directions: to Lake Okeechobee and to the St Lucie Estuary. The ACOE decides where the water “needs” to go by opening  and closing the structures of S-308 and S-80.

It must be noted that the  water from the C-44 basin is polluted, as is the water from Lake Okeechobee. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection writes: “…the construction of the C-44 canal has had the greatest impact of the St Lucie Estuary–and nearly all of that impact has been bad, FDEP 2001.) The charts below show how much nitrogen and phosphorus come into the river from the C-44 and other basins. C-44 is the highest.  Phosphorus and nitrogen mostly from fertilizer, feed toxic algae blooms in the hot summer months.

Chart shows amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus runoff into the SLR. Note C-44 basin is the highest. (SFWMD, 1995.)
Similar charts shows amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus runoff into the SLR. Note C-44 basin is the highest. (SFWMD, 1995.)

photo 3

Fortunately, there is good news due to the help of our local, state and federal governments. The almost 3 billion dollar “C-44 Storm Water Treatment Area/Reservoir” has received first stage fundings and is under construction in Indiantown. It has been since 2011. This reservoir will hold the release water from the C-44 basin and clean it before it is returned to the St Lucie River. This is a huge positive, although it will not stop the releases from Lake Okeechobee.

An educated public is the best defense against the continued destruction of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Thank you for being part of the solution and hopefully, next time, the ACOE opens any structure for any reason, they will alert the public, because here in Martin and St Lucie counties, we want to know!

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Cool video SFWMD C-44 STA/R. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BsC0BoIPJ4)SFWMD (http://www.hdrinc.com/portfolio/c-44-reservoir-stormwater-treatment-area-project)

FDEP C-44 Canal: (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/southeast/ecosum/ecosums/C-44%20Canal%20.pdf)

Understanding the Water Resources Development Act, (WRDA), and the Indian River Lagoon

Congressman Patrick Murphy speaking, Kiwanis luncheon, 4/15/14, 2014.
Congressman Patrick Murphy speaking, Kiwanis luncheon, 4/15/14, 2014. (Photo by Jacqui Thurlow-Lippsich)

One of the nicest things lately is spending time with my father. He is a long time member of Kiwanis and has invited me to be a guest three times this year. Yesterday, he invited me because Congressman Murphy was speaking, and my dad  knows I like politics, especially “river politics,” of which Congressman Murphy has been very supportive.

In the relatively small group I had the opportunity to ask a direct question. One thing I am very aware of is that even though I study this water “stuff” all the time, I literally understand the only “tip of the iceberg.” This is confusing and I know if I don’t know, there  are plenty of others who don’t know either.

So today, I am going to try to explain what I think I know, and what Congressman Murphy explained yesterday about the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) that we keep hearing so much about.

First of all, the federal government is a black hole and just because they vote on something does not insure it will happen. As in “authorizing”–or agreeing to spend money on projects. Let’s keep this in the back of our minds….

So WRDA is a bill that is only passed ever so often, in which Congress “authorizes” (kind of promises to give money, over time) to the Army Corp of Engineers, so the Army Corp can do their work. So far, there have been a number WRDA acts since 1974-2007, but none lately. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_Resources_Development_Act)

The proposed WRDA bill that is being worked on right now, for 2014, (it was  2013), “promotes critical investment in the nations water infrastructure:”,  (http://www.epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Files.View&FileStore_id=1db8714f-ac01-4253-8c9f-367d09d6f573). The projects referred to in this bill are mostly structural and not environmental, as in improving ports and the moving agricultural product. Nonetheless, we can benefit from this bill.

From what I understand CEPP, or the Central Everglades Planning Project, that the South Florida Water Management District just voted 5-0 last week to “recommend,” (a big deal), can now go to the Army Corp of Engineers to be included the Corps “final report,”  to hopefully be included in WRDA 2014. CEPP is the first part of “moving more water south” from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades and is critical to the beginning betterment of the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.

(http://www.evergladesplan.org/pm/projects/proj_51_cepp.aspx)

So this was my question to Congressman Murphy yesterday: ” You just now said WRDA passed, but whenever I hear the ACOE talking about it, it sounds like they are still waiting  for it and hoping to “tag on,” as it is possible to still “get in…?”

Congressman Murphy explained that WRDA passed the US HOUSE with flying colors, (he serves in the House), and then later passed the US Senate, but that the language although similar was not the same, so the bills, together, had to go “to committee” and are still being hashed out–blending House and Senate language and goals for a final bill.

So WRDA  2014 is not yet passed or final…

OK….that makes sense but what is confusing to the public and to me is when they say “it passed.” I guess this is not too much different than in municipal government when an ordinance “passes first reading,” but it still has to go through “second reading” to  “really” pass….

It’s  all very confusing, but WRDA is one of our greatest tools to fix the lagoon, so don’t give up. Keep pushing for WRDA and CEPP’s inclusion, and if you really want to help, write Congressman Murphy to thank him for WRDA passing just the House.  Then egg  him on for Easter and Passover to keep pushing for WRDA, and our river, in ways bigger than he already has.  (FLMurphyPatrick@mail.house.gov)

Developing a Habit of Checking Lake Okeechobee’s Level in Light of the Indian River Lagoon

My niece Evie stands at the manicured edge of the east side of Lake Okeechobee at Port Mayaca. (Photo Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch 2013)
My niece, Evie, stands at the manicured, “parking lotted” edge of the east side of Lake Okeechobee, Port Mayaca. (Photo Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch 2013)

Last year, when I was in Clewiston, I thought it was really amazing how everyone, and I mean just about everyone, was aware of the level of Lake Okeechobee. In fact, the local bank on the main drive through town had the lake level flashing on its information screen the way we in Stuart might see temperature. “LAKE OKEECHOBEE 14 FEET” FLASH, FLASH, FLASH…

Of course Clewiston is located at the southern edge of the lake, so for them it is critical to know the lake level as  they are more at risk of flooding and mayhem the higher the lake gets. In fact, according to a Palm Beach Post article last year by Christine Stapelton: “At  15.51 feet, the Corps considers the probability of a breach at about 3 percent; probability rises increasingly faster with each inch. At 16.9 feet it climbs to 10 percent. At 18 feet, to 45 percent. At 21 feet, the dike would fail, causing widespread flooding.”

We here in Stuart, are also affected by the level of lake as when it gets over 15.5 feet the Army Corp’s LORS Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule is getting close or telling them to  “dump” to the estuaries. So if one is watching the “writing is on the wall.” There is no need to be surprised when news comes of the dumping if we’re paying attention….

In a perfect world, residents of Martin County would check and know the level of Lake Okeechobee. Last year I asked my husband if he would consider putting a flashing sign of the lake level on his office building on East Ocean. He smirked, laughed out loud but didn’t say “no,” so I am still waiting.

In the meantime, the easier way to check Lake Okeechobee’s level, to see if it is nearing “dump level”, is to go to the Army Corp of Engineers’ Lake Okeechobee web site: (http://w3.saj.usace.army.mil/h2o/currentLL.shtml)

Today the lake is at 13.3, below 15.5. Although this level seems “good” for  Martin County, it is actually only  a few tenths away from where it was last year at this time. If a huge tropical storm or rain event came it could easily increase the level of the lake  by three to four feet. This has happened many times.

So why isn’t the lake lower? Why don’t “they” let it drain to the Everglades now? Well obviously there are other interests than just “ours.” Agriculture in the EAA likes to insure that there is enough water in the lake, because they know that  just as quickly as a  storm could fill the lake, drought could ensure, and not only would the agriculture community be lacking needed water for crops but some of the utilities on the southeast coast may go short on drinking water.  For the wildlife agencies, they are cognizant of  the need of water, but not too much, for wildlife to survive, especially birds and fish.

It is a delicate balance that really Mother Nature and God should be working out but since the mid 1900s “we” have really completely taken over, or so we think…

So let’s be aware of the “bigger picture” and know how we fit into that picture, and in the meanwhile, get into the habit of regularly checking the lake level. Also take time to write your legislators and insist that more water flow south and be stored, and that Kissimmee River be fully restored to hold more water in its flood plain. If they say, “there’s no place to store or clean the water, and there’s no money,” tell them nicely to “figure it out…”and remind them of the great things this county has done in its past.

And last, if you see my husband around town, would you please ask him if he is ever going to put up the electronic sign outside at his office? I’d appreciate it!