Tag Archives: ACOE Periodic Scientist Calls

Change of Command Ceremony ACOE ~Our River of Interests, SLR/IRL

Col. Andrew Kelly, incoming commander ACOE Jacksonville District, 2018. (ACOE)

Early in my studies of the impairment of the St Lucie River, I came across a book entitled: RIVER OF INTERESTS with its introduction by Jacksonville ACOE Col. Alfred A. Pantano Jr. In 2011, the book had just been republished, the work of Godfrey and Catton Historians. “River of Interests: Water Management in South Florida and the Everglades, 1948-2010,” is a history of the construction of the Central & South Florida Project and its unintended negative impacts on the environment, and the evolution of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). (http://141.232.10.32/docs/river_interest/031512_river_interest_2012_complete.pdf)

This incredibly well written, non-biased book became the basis of my river journey, a journey I am still on. The irony that the best book I ever read on the destruction of the St Lucie River and Everglades was  commissioned by the ACOE is a metaphor for all of us. Through our connection to our past, we have all destroyed our environment, and together we must craft its rebirth.

Over the years I have collected signatures in my River of Interests book. Signatures of many I’ve met along the way, kind of like a yearbook from middle school but one that’s carried over time. When I was invited to the Change of Command for 2018, I decided to add retiring Col.Kirk’s signature to my book and welcome the newest colonel, Andrew Kelly.

In my opinion, this ever three years “changing of the guard” is a double-edged sword. I was told years ago that this keeps fresh eyes on problems. Hmmmm? I begged to differ, noting the constant change makes it difficult to develop relationships and the advocacy community if forever catching new colonels up to speed. In any case, this is the way it works so I decided to go.

After Ed dropped me off in Jacksonville, I got up early and was concerned that somehow I had gotten the time wrong, so I called the ACOE number on the invitation to verify. When I asked if the event stared at 10:30 am or pm since the invitation did not specify, the woman on the phone laughed.” Yes mam, it is 10:30 am; we would not be meeting at 10:30 at night!”

I too laughed, and replied: “Just checking.” I was obviously nervous.

Once I got to the performing arts center there was a flood of people even though I was thirty minutes early.  I made it through security and into the dark, cool theatre. I pushed my way to the front rows asking a distinguished older gentleman if  the seat next to him was free. ” You will have to ask him,”  he calmly replied, pointing to my right.  I cleared my throat, really hoping for this seat so I did not come all this was to sit in the back. “Hello, is this seat free please?”

“Jacqui?”

“Yes.” I replied, very surprised this person  knew my name.

“It’s Andrew Geller, from the Army Corp Periodic Scientist Calls.”

“Andrew” I shouted, “it’s awesome to meet you face to face after seven years!”

So fate would have it, that I met by chance those who are very familiar with our St Lucie River, Lake Okeechobee problems,  the leaders, old and new, from the bi-weekly ACOE periodic scientists call! This in itself made the entire trip worth it.

Pictured: Kandida Bronson, Lan Do, Johnathan Jenkins, Allie Silvestri, and Andrew Geller.

The lights dimmed and the Change of Command began. As the band played, the national anthem was sung, and the colors were exchanged from Col. Kirk to Col Kelly. I realized I was taking part in something very old and symbolic and found myself getting choked up.  I thought about all those who have served our country in places like Afghanistan where Col. Kelly is coming from. Everglades restoration is a different kind war, but a war indeed. Welcome Colonel Kelly to our next chapter of River of Interests. May it be one of environmental honor.

About the Periodic Scientist Call, JTL:https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2014/03/06/the-acoes-periodic-scientists-call-and-the-indian-river-lagoon/

We are very fortunate that Brigadier General Diana M. Holland has asked LTC Jennifer Reynolds to stay on one more year. Otherwise she would be leaving at this time as well. This will very much assist with Col. Kelly’s transition. http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/About/Leadership/Bio-Article-View/Article/600382/lieutenant-colonel-jennifer-a-reynolds/

Is it Time to Address South Florida’s Greatest Taboo? “Shared Adversity,” SLR/IRL

LAKE OKEECHOBEE REGULATION SCHEDULE (LORS) http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Portals/44/docs/h2omgmt/LORSdocs/2008_LORS_WCP_mar2008.pdf

The second she said it, I was at full attention. This past Tuesday, Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation Director, Ms. Rae Ann Wessel, spoke on the Army Corps of Engineers Periodic Scientists Call. In seven years of listening, in seven years of agency and public comment, I had never heard, seriously, and scientifically, someone address South Florida’s greatest taboo.

Ms Wessel said something like this:

Part of the LORS (Lake Okeechobee Release Schedule 2008)  addresses “shared adversity.” Lake Okeechobee is approximately 470,000 acres. Would it be possible to put the water the Corps plans  to release from the lake over approximately 484,000 acres of  crop lands just south of the lake, rather than into estuaries? The Caloosahatchee algae situation is already at its absolute worst…

You could hear a pin drop…

Wessel was recommending options to the Army Corps and stakeholders regarding the ACOE restarting discharges to the estuaries. Since the previous week’s call, due to NOAA images showing 90% of the lake covered in cyanobacteria blooms, and crisis of algae in both estuaries, the Governor and other powerful politicians asked the federal agency to temporarily stop discharges considering all options before discharging, once again.

Just the previous day, before Wessel’s comment, after viewing the putrid algal mess in the Caloosahatchee, Gov. Rick Scott called for a State of Emergency encompassing seven counties.

Some history, earlier this year, the Caloosahatchee was almost begging the South Florida Water Management District and ACOE for water, but was denied. Now the Caloosahatchee is receiving so much water, with algae to boot, that they are experiencing a toxic summer similar to what the St Lucie experienced in 2016. The Caloosahatchee has had it especially tough this year.

The elephant in the room, or perhaps better described as the Tyrannosaurus rex in the room, is that with Lake Okeechobee over 14 feet, and the fact that we are now approaching the most turbulent part of hurricane season, the ACOE “has to start releasing again,” like now! And everybody knows this.

Therefore, Rae Ann was looking for options, for sharing adversity, and this was fair as the Calloosahatchee has bore most of the adversity this year. She wasn’t talking about flooding the cities in the EAA, she was inquiring about flooding the fields, by less than a foot of water that would evaporate quickly at that extension and depth, maybe stressing but not killing the crops. Sugarcane in particular, is a hardy and durable crop for intermittent periods of water.

Shared adversity… Certainly, the estuaries have have their “fair” share…

So why does the ACOEhave to dump to the estuaries? Why is it taboo to talk about flooding the fields? Because although the 2008 LORS talks about shared adversity the EAA is federally protected by an older and more important document. 

The ACOE in not a teacher picking favorites, they are the military taking orders from Congress.

The federal “law,” connected to the Central and South Florida Project (http://141.232.10.32/about/restudy_csf_devel.aspx) is complex, but perhaps best explained by sharing an excerpt from the book, River of Interests, by the Army Corp of Engineers. Page 35, discusses the 1948 Central and South Florida Project, what it did, and requires of the ACOE.(http://sccf.org/downloadable-files/5b465bf85f38152b048d1cce.pdf)

First, the Corps would build a levee from northwest Palm Beach County to the south of Dade County along the east coast, thereby preventing flooding from the Everglades to the coastal communities. Second, the Corps would modify control facilities and levees around Lake Okeechobee in order to create more water storage, and it would increase the discharge capacity from the lake in order to prevent flooding. Third, the Corps would create three water conservation areas in Palm Beach, Broward and Dade counties for water storage. Fourth, the Corps would construct canals, levees, and pumping stations to protect 700,000 acres of agriculture south of Lake Okeechobee in Palm Beach, Hendry, and Glades counties, known as the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA). Fifth, the Corps would build canals and water control structures to handle drainage in Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Martin, and St. Lucie counties.

This bolded section is the key, this is why Rae Ann Wessel’s question rung so loudly in the silence of the ACOE call. For the ACOE, it is “understood,” that no matter the case, even with LORS, and in spite of “shared adversity,” that 700,000 acres of agriculture fields, south of Lake Okeechobee is to be protected from flooding destruction.

But as we all know, nothing lasts forever.

Just like other laws of our great county, some do, indeed over time, become outdated for the times. Things change. Among other issues, in 1950, when the Central and South Flood Project law was structured and voted upon to protect the crops in the EAA as part of flood control  2.81 million people lived in Florida. Today, 20 million people reside here. In the old days, the discharges did not have the impact as they do today, the rivers were healthier, and the Lake, it wasn’t so polluted. But now, seventy years later, water quality, pollution, and human health issues have risen to a point of question. “In emergency situations”, is discharging cyanobacteria water from Lake Okeechobee into the now heavily populated areas along the estuaries to prevent flooding of the Everglades Agricultural Area in the state’s best interest, or is it archaic, like the T-Rex in the room?

It might be time to re-evaluate South Florida’s greatest taboo.

s.wordpress.com/2018/07/img_2525.jpg”> Caloosahatchee algae bloom 7-6-18, photo courtesy Dave Stone.

[/caption]Links:

What is the Everglades Agricultural Area: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Everglades_Agricultural_Area

Gov.Rick Scott State of Emergency proclamation: https://www.flgov.com/2018/07/09/gov-scott-issues-emergency-order-to-combat-algal-blooms-in-south-florida/

SCCF: (https://fortmyersbeach.news/rae-anne-wessel-of-sanibel-captiva-conservation-foundation/)

What are the ACOE Periodic Scientists Calls? Former blog post 2014: https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2014/03/06/the-acoes-periodic-scientists-call-and-the-indian-river-lagoon/

600 acres of Seagrass is Dead in “One of the most Biodiverse Estuaries in North America,” SLR/IRL

I was on the Army Corp of Engineers Periodic Scientist Call this past Tuesday. These are excellent calls and one learns quickly the difficulties and the burdens of water management for our state and federal agencies in the state of Florida. I have participated in the calls as an elected official for the Town of Sewall’s Point since 2012.

This past Tuesday, something was said that struck me. Mark Perry, of Florida Oceanographic, reported something to the effect that over 600 acres of seagrasses inside the St Lucie Inlet are now “sand bottom.”  Six hundred acres….

I went home and asked my husband that night at dinner…”Ed could it really be six-hundred acres? The seagrasses dead?”

“Easy.” He replied. “Just think of when I lived at the house at 22 South Sewall’s Point road when we first got married in 2005, and we’d walk out with the kayaks and there was lush seagrass  all the way out ….well that’s gone–its gone all around the peninsula–you can see this from the air.”

Ed took some aerial photos the day after this conversation. Yesterday. I am including them today.

—-So it’s true, 600 acres of seagrasses are dead in one of the most bio-diverse estuaries in North America, the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon or southern IRL —for many years, as many of us know, confidently cited as not “one of,” but rather, “the most diverse…”

The Army Corp has been releasing from Lake Okeechobee this year since January 29th, 2016. We are only in June and there is more to come. Yes there is…there is “more to come” from us. There has to be. Because we are losing or have lost —everything.

Please compare the 1977 photo and then the 2012 map to photos taken yesterday. Please  don’t give up the fight to bring back life to this estuary.

Aerial of seagrasses in 1977 in and around Sailfish and Sewall's Point.
Aerial of seagrasses in 1977 in and around Sailfish and Sewall’s Point displaying rich seagrass beds. FOS
map of seagrasses in area
Seagrass map of seagrasses in area from SFWMD/MC ca. 2012. JTL

 

Aerial photos taken by Ed Lippisch, 5-25-16. St Lucie Inlet area, the Crossroads and Sailfish Flats between and around Sailfish Point and Sewall's Point in the confluence of the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.
All aerial photos taken by Ed Lippisch, 5-25-16. St Lucie Inlet area, the Crossroads and Sailfish Flats between and around Sailfish Point and Sewall’s Point in the confluence of the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon near the St Lucie Inlet. This area has been inundated by release from Lake Okeechobee and area canals for many years most recently particularly Lake O during 2013 and 2016.

IMG_1587 IMG_1598 IMG_1591 IMG_1602 IMG_1597 IMG_1584 IMG_1583 IMG_1604 IMG_1589 IMG_1605 IMG_1595 IMG_1576 IMG_1578 IMG_1585 IMG_1586 IMG_1582 IMG_1588 IMG_1603 IMG_1601 IMG_1590

Harbor Branch IRL: https://www.fau.edu/hboi/meh/IRL.Fact.Sheet.pdf

IRL Smithsonian/IRL: http://www.sms.si.edu/irlspec/Maps.htm

“Life in Seagrasses” UF: https://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/southflorida/habitats/seagrasses/life/

Former JTL blog on ACOE Periodic Scientist calls: https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2014/03/06/the-acoes-periodic-scientists-call-and-the-indian-river-lagoon/

Preparing for 2016’s Possible “El Nino/Lake O Destruction,” SLR/IRL

El Nino means rain.
El Nino means possible heavy rains for our SLR/IRL region during the coming winter.

I woke up this morning to the percussion of hard, fast rains hitting our tin roof… In my foggy state of slumber,  I bumped Ed’s shoulder, “How are you going to take out the dogs?”

Rolling over, I started thinking about what I’d  heard on Tuesday’s Army Corp of Engineer Periodic Scientist Call: “…How are we going to prepare if NOAA’s El Nino rain predictions are right? What if there is up to seven feet of water that fills the lake?….”

Seven feet? That would mean releases from Lake Okeechobee this Florida winter.

NOAA reports this El Niño as among the strongest on record: (http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2015/101515-noaa-strong-el-nino-sets-the-stage-for-2015-2016-winter-weather.html)

Remember 2008 and Tropical Storm Fay? For reference, that storm raised Lake Okeechobee by more than three feet in no more than few weeks. The lake fills up six times faster than it can be “drained”….and as we all know, we are the drainage pipe.

It’s an odd thing how the flow of water going south to the Everglades is blocked by the EAA (Everglades Agricultural Area) so now the over-flow is directed to the St Lucie River and Caloosahatchee. But it’s a reality. A reality that one day must be changed.

According to CERP, Moving water south requires storage in the EAA
We must restore the flow of water to the Everglades and halt releases to the SLR/IRL. This requires land purchases and reservoirs.

Remember–too much fresh water, as during releases from Lake Okeechobee,  is a pollutant to our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon— altering salinity, destroying spawning/fisheries, wiping out seagrasses and food throughout the food chain, lowering property values and the right of residents and their children to have “peaceful enjoyment” of their property…Yes, I can clearly state that toxic algae blooms and fish lesions do not precipitate peace for the Town of Sewall’s Point, nor for Martin and St Lucie Counties.

So how do we prepare?  We must educate ourselves ahead of time; we shouldn’t over fertilize; we should get our septic tanks checked;  and we should contact our legislators now saying we want to see a plan. We want to know ahead of time what may happen if indeed seven feet of water fills the lake between December and this coming May. How will we adapt to knowns and unknowns? We can’t just wait. Not when it’s this clear…we must be  proactive on every level.

Legislative delegation Senate President Negron, Representative Harrell and Magar, what are we doing now to deal with all this water and what are we going to do in the future? The C-44 Reservoir/STA is great but it does not address Lake Okeechobee…. Why are we wasting the valuable water? What about Amendment 1 and the purchase of lands?

President of the Senate to be, Joe Negron: (https://www.flsenate.gov/senators/s32)
Rep. Harrell and Magar: (http://www.myfloridahouse.gov)

If indeed we do have a rough SLR/IRL winter, don’t forget the most important thing of all. After every rain, there is a rainbow.

 

Rainbow by John Whiticar, 2014.
“Rainbow” by John Whiticar, 2014.
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ACOE slide. “A” and dark green mean above average forecast by NOAA.
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“Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn Days” of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon…

The Tom Sawyer Days of the Indian River Lagoon, SRL, IRL
Local boys under the Ernie Lyons Bridge, Indian River Lagoon. (Jeff Burkey, Theron Gibson, and Todd Thurlow, photo Sandy Thurlow, 1981.)

I love this old photo! Isn’t it great? Young adventurers right here along the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon!

The young boys in the photograph include my little brother, Todd, (far right) and his two best friends just “livin’ it” on a homemade raft sometime in the early 80s. I remember my sister Jenny and I used to yell: “Where’s Todd?” And my mother would be peeling potatoes and just shrug her shoulders–“at the river?”  We knew he was somewhere exploring and or fishing with his friends. What a beautiful time and place…

 

St Lucie Inlet earlier photo, date unknown, ca 1980's. Promotional Water Pointe Realty Group achieves.
St Lucie Inlet an earlier photo, (Photo, Chris Perry, ca 1983.) Promotional photo, Water Pointe Realty Group archives.

I read a great book a few years back by Bahamian actor, Sidney Poitier, “The Measure of a Man.” Poitier is the handsome, black actor who broke ground and starred in the controversial 1964 film, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” In his autobiography, Poitier says he learned everything he needed to know about navigating the hot racial politics of Hollywood by being a kid growing up in Cat Island because his parents gave him full reign to make decisions in the elements of nature …

A certain degree of freedom during childhood allows for great character building, critical thinking skills, and self-esteem. These traits of course translate into adulthood…

For me, “this” is perhaps the primary reason why we must fight hard today for our rivers. We must give the children of today and the future a place where kids can go and “just be kids”…..and learn….It may never agin be like it was in 1880, or 1930, or 1970 but something happens when a kid gets to play—to imagine….we must support and encourage this freedom of development.

The Army Corp of Engineers this week has kindly decided to lower the releases into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon at the request of Martin County to fulfill bacteria testing that cannot be accomplished with the gushing waters of Lake Okeechobee pouring through C-44 into the St Lucie River. This is good news and thank you.

We had tremendous rain yesterday and last night, but maybe, just maybe the waters by the St Lucie Inlet and southern Indian River Lagoon will be bluer and cleaner this weekend and coming week. If so, please do what Mark Perry of Florida Oceanographic (http://www.floridaocean.orgcharged us all to do at the Rivers Coalition (http://riverscoalition.orgmeeting: “Get out there and enjoy the river!” Take your kids! Take your parents! Let you kids be Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn for a day! 🙂

I will include below some of the latest data from the ACOE and SFWMD but you know, one day, I dream of not having to study this stuff so much, and just enjoying “our good nature” while watching the kids run around and  play by a clean, healthy river…

Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn (On line photo.)
Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn (On-line image.)
ACOE slide from Periodic Scientists Conference Call. 3-13-14 basins of SLR.
ACOE slides from Periodic Scientists Conference Call, 3-13-14 (Basins of SLR.)
Slide shows discharges from Lake O into SRL/IRL in blue. Not much area canal runoff last week. The lake is now at 14.27, going down but sill "high'" for this time of year.
Slide shows discharges from Lake O into SRL/IRL in blue. Not much area canal runoff last week. The lake is now at 14.27, going down but sill “high'” for this time of year.
Salinity went very low but since release have lightened up a bit, it is going up. The ACOE should be lowing levels again this coming week if they can based on rain or no rain.
Salinity went very low but since release have lightened up a bit, it is going up. The ACOE should be lowing levels again this coming week if they can based on rain or no rain. Thanks!
The SFWMD is to be thanked and commended for the over 500,000 Acre Feet of water that has been send south through the Storm Water Treatment Areas in 2015. Dr Gary Goforth has helped a lot in promoting this.
The SFWMD is to be thanked and commended for the over 500,000 Acre Feet of water that has been send south through the Storm Water Treatment Areas in 2015. Dr Gary Goforth has helped a lot in promoting this. More water getting cleaned and going south is less water destroying the estuaries. The water is not cleaned when dumped into the SLR/IRL and too much fresh water is bad for an estuary…
ACOE Release Guidance
ACOE Release Guidance.
ACOE Lake Okeechobee Release Schedule would allow up to 1140 cfs dumped into SLR/IRL. Discusting....
ACOE Lake Okeechobee Release Schedule (LORS) would allow up to 1170 cfs dumped into SLR/IRL. Disgusting….this does not allow children to have healthy fun in our rivers.

 

 

How Can We Know How Much Water the ACOE/SFWMD are Sending South or to the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon?

System Status Update is a presentation slide from the ACOE periodic scientist calls. It shows how much water is going east/west and south to the Everglades.
System Status Update is a presentation slide from the ACOE periodic scientist calls. It shows how much water is going east/west and south, in this slide, from the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) to the Everglades.

Today I am going to share an entire 25 piece slide presentation from the Army Corp of Engineers’ Periodic Scientists Call, 7-25-14. It’s a lot of slides, but I think you’ll enjoy trying to interpret them, and I’ll help the best I can. These presentations include a lot of information and show how the ACOE decides how much Lake Okeechobee water is going to go the estuaries, south, to the Everglades, and held, or released, to other places.  This information is UNCLASSIFIED so I can share it.

I first was invited to sit in on these calls in 2012, as I was former mayor and continued commissioner, as today, for the Town of Sewall’s Point. I have talked about this before in my blog but I will restate. I felt like a complete idiot for the first  six months as the ACOE kind of speaks in their own language. A military language.

Eventually, I started to catch on, and even gained the confidence to comment. Although not a scientist, as an elected official I am allowed to give succinct perspective.

These calls take place approximately every two weeks depending on the circumstances. During the terrible 2013 releases from Lake Okeechobee into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon and the Caloosahatchee, calls took place every week.  “Stakeholders” from the lakes south of Orlando to the  Everglades participate in these calls. Representatives from agriculture, the state agencies, counties and others are present.

Here is the entire presentation from the last call on July 25, 2014.

7-25-14 Periodic Scientists Call, ACOE. UNCLASSIFIED.
7-25-14 Periodic Scientists Call, ACOE. UNCLASSIFIED.

In the slides one sees weather outlooks; inflows/outflows (west, east, south) from Lake Okeechobee and/or the southern flow of water from the EAA or Storm Water Treatment Areas into the Water Conservation Areas and Everglades;  position/historical analysis of water levels in the lake; Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS) guidance for releases; estuary salinities; basin and lake runoff/releases into the estuaries; ongoing emergency storage of water…

In all honesty, it’s a lot for me. I mostly pay attention to the level of Lake Okeechobee and how much they may or may not decide to release into the St Lucie River/IRL. Here the LORS guidance said they could release 1170 cfs cubic feet per second into the SLR/IRL but the ACOE chose not to. Yes, many times the ACOE actually cuts us a break. But when the lake is really high, over 15 feet or so,  there is no break.

I also pay more attention to how much water is going south, as this would help alleviate our situation. It appears to me that usually the water “going south” is from the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA), not from the lake, as in this presentation, the canals just south of the lake are not noted or say “0.” Understandably, the agriculture people like to hold the water in the lake, in case a drought comes, as they need water for their crops.

I will never interpret these calls like a scientist and some the scientist may cringe when I make my non-scientific statements. But that’s OK. I am “trying.”

I think the ACOE and shared South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) slides have gotten better and show more information than when I first started attending. I think they know the people and some politicians of Martin and St Lucie Counties, really all over the state now,  are watching like hawks and demanding more disclosure and transparency in how the ACOE and SFWMD decide to manage Lake Okeechobee and surrounding areas.

I do hope you find this information interesting and not overwhelming. You can find some of it on the ACOE Facebook page (Jacksonville District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) or on their website (http://www.saj.usace.army.mil).

(http://w3.saj.usace.army.mil/h2o/reports.htm) is also a great website but very technical.

Personally, I still find the info for the SLR/IRL hard to find. I wish the ACOE  would devote a special area on their website to us like the SRWMD has because the more we as citizens can easily learn and pay attention, the better chance we have, one day, for a healthier St Lucie River Indian River Lagoon for our children.  

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The ACOE’s “Periodic Scientists Call” and the Indian River Lagoon

S-80, Connecting Lake Okeechobee to the St Lucie Canal or C-44
S-80  connecting Lake Okeechobee to the St Lucie Canal or C-44 controlled by the ACOE. (Photo JTL)

“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” George Orwell 

I used to think it was the Colonel of the Army Corp of Engineers who single handedly had control to open the gates at S-80 and S-308 to allow the waters  of Lake Okeechobee to flow into the St Lucie River, Indian River Lagoon. (http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Missions/CivilWorks/LakeOkeechobee.aspx)

But since February of last year,  I have gotten more insight.

As an elected official, I am allowed to sit in on the Army Corp of Engineers “Periodic Scientists Call” that occurs about once every two weeks.  Last year I was invited to sit in with Martin County and I have attend ever since.

No experience has helped me understand the south Florida water process as much as  consistently sitting in on these calls.

The call is a meeting of the scientific stakeholders to give their input to the ACOE before the Corp makes  its “guidance” for Lake Okeechobee, and usually the following Thursday, after, meeting with the SFWMD,  a “recommendation.”

As you can imagine,  the call is run by the US Army, so it  is very systematic and the language is filled with acronyms and science jargon. For the first six months, I was basically a silent  idiot listening to a foreign language. But slowly I have been catching on.

Thankfully some things are totally predicable. For instance, every call the first thing that is accomplished after reading the rules of the call, is that  the roll call is taken. I like to listen to who is there: ACOE? Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission? City of Sanibel? Ft Meyers? Martin County? St Lucie County? NOAA? Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection?  Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services? SFWMD? Broward County? Highlands County? Osceola County? Tribal Nations? Lee County? Ding Darling? Congressmen and other elected representatives? Members of the public? Other?

Then a leader from the ACOE  gives a short power point presentation that reviews rainfall; precipitation outlooks by the SFWMD and NOAA; Lake Okeechobee inflows and outflows;  operational band standing; SFWMD position analysis; Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS); and then finally a “guidance” for a “decision.”(http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Media/NewsReleases/tabid/6071/Tag/2128/lake-okeechobee-regulation-schedule.aspx)

Next, each stakeholder, one at a time, gives an update on their specialty and makes their case for their interest. Public members are then allowed to speak and and the again the ACOE leader goes through everyone one more time to see if if anyone has  new comments based on the other just shared.

The calls are scientific and unemotional. However, there times of tension and difficulty like last year when the ACOE began releasing to the St Lucie River, Indian River Lagoon and Caloosahatchee on May 8th and continued steadily, then intensely, through September 21, 2013. This tension may start up again soon, as the lake is higher than they wish for this time of year and it has been a wet winter. The “decision” should become public today.

I have to say that after sitting in on all these calls, the Army Corp often holds back when the LORS chart, and maybe even the SFWMD, says to “release.” But in the end, the inevitable occurs.

Although I appreciative of the hard working men and women who run the ACOE, I do think the overall system fails to take into account the long term survival needs of the natural system which includes “us,” and favors the security of resources of the sugar industry and agriculture south of the lake.  It is easy to fall back on  “flood control” each time the lake rises, and dump east and west, but the system is more far reaching and has greater demands than just that. The water they are dumping, 1.7 billion gallons on average a day, is simply wasted due to an outdated system. (FOS, Mark Perry)

On a deeper level, the intertwined culture of the SFWMD, the ACOE and agriculture, especially the sugar industry, is one going back over 100  years. Their connection runs deep and is a cultural one, one that has allowed them to control water and politics for their own interests in South  Florida, past and present.

But times change and world views evolve. Personally, I am pushing for a future  a little less Orwellian, and a little more respectful, of our natural resources and Mother Nature.