Tag Archives: agriculture runoff

Florida’s Population Growth and the Difficulty of Achieving Clean Water, SLR/IRL

Pipe from home along Indian River Drive directly disposing of sewage into IRL. Photo historian Sandra Thurlow. ca 1950s.
A pipe into the Indian River Lagoon from a cottage along the Indian River Drive goes directly into the river disposing of sewage. In our Treasure Coast’s regions’ early days there were no laws prohibiting this. Photo archives of historian Sandra Thurlow. ca late 1950/60s.

It’s been a tough week for river lovers.

It was reported by the Stuart News and others that a gentleman died suddenly after being “stuck by a fish.” He had put in his line in the Indian River Lagoon, near Harbor Branch, in St Lucie County. Just a few days later, the headlines noted the experience of Mr Bruce Osborn whose “knee and leg turned black, swelled up, and became hot to the touch after he dove into the confluence of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Mr Osborn was boating near the Sandbar which is located within sight of the St Lucie Inlet…

Mr Osborn had an open sore….he recovered with prompt, emergency-room, antibiotic-treatment and a good wife.

Today in Stuart New’s “Letters to the Editor” a retired New York sheriff is of the opinion that the news of the fisherman had been “sensationalized” noting that “no autopsy had been performed on the man– who died…..”

Who is right? Who is wrong? Or does “truth” lie somewhere in between?

Who knows…But it is all certainly worth thinking about.

Interestingly enough, in this river or near-ocean story, the culprit would not be a shark or anything scary like that, but rather a microscopic bacteria or virus that cannot even be seen….

Bacteria is everywhere. In soil and in water. On our skin and in our bodies. For humans there is “good” and “bad” bacteria.

How do we know where there “bad” bacteria is in the river?

Canal and basin map SLR/IRL. (Public)
Canal and basin map SLR/IRL. (Public) The basin has been expanded at least 5x its natural size since 1920.

I don’t know, but I do know numbers of bacteria everywhere in water communities are highest in the sediment.  Sediment is the sand, clay and other soil types that build up on the bottom of the river  in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon and all estuaries of the world.

(http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2015/06/14/new-tool-to-monitor-harmful-bacteria-at-beaches/)

Muck from the bottom of the Indian River Lagoon.
Muck from the bottom of the Indian River Lagoon. (Public photo)

In our area, the most recent hundred years of sediment, this “muck,” has been heavily affected by human alteration of the environment, especially by drainage canals, like C-44, the drainage of Lake Okeechobee, C-23, C-24, and C-25,  as well as shoreline development’s tear down of native vegetation along the shoreline. (That can no longer filter runoff.)

Giant, mile-long canals drain mostly agricultural lands from out west. Many if not most of these lands never even drained into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon in the first place. Not by God. Not by Nature. Just by “us” since around 1920.

So now literally thousands of pounds of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, metals, oils from cars and roads, septic effluent…..the list goes on and on….so these pollutants run into our waterways building up in the sediments of the river, —-to be re-suspended with every storm, with every boat that races by……as the sediment builds and flocculates, bacteria grows–especially if it is warm..many fish live on the bottom of the river….

Estuary depiction public photo.
Estuary depiction public photo.

On the positive side, as far as water, many things have changed for the better since my childhood.

During  my lifetime, in the early 60s, sewage was directly dumped into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon from homes and boats….I swam and skied  in this water every weekend….Not many people lived here. As kids, we did not know or notice although we used to make jokes about “logs passing by…”

🙂

And yes, since the 1960s and 70s tremendous improvements in sewage treatment plants, packaging plants, septic systems, “Best Management Practices” for Agriculture to lower runoff, etc…have been made. This is fantastic.

Ag runoff DEP photo.
Ag runoff DEP photo.

But we can never catch up….We are always chasing our tail….Because we keep putting more pollution into the system than we can clean up. Like putting too many fish in a fish tank, and not cleaning your gravel often enough…our relatively closed lagoon system has met its limit…

The chart below just goes to  the year 2000. Florida is now the third most populated state in the nation with over 19 million people. 19 million people’s’ waste….19 million people’s yards, and not just small time farmers anymore, but agribusiness– hundred of thousands of acres of fields and chemicals….a huge portion seeping into our water. Best Management Practices. That’s just not enough…Oh. Let’s not forget what runs down from Orlando….

What’s the truth? The truth is there are too many fish in our fish tank. And we whether we know the cause or not, until we stop draining  so much of our personal and agricultural waste into our waterways, we will continue to “drown in our own filth.”

Population of Florida....chart from Census
Population of Florida….chart from Census

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New Tool to Monitor Harmful Bacteria on Beaches: (http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2015/06/14/new-tool-to-monitor-harmful-bacteria-at-beaches/)

Estuaries/Closed systems: (http://microbewiki.kenyon.edu/index.php/Estuaries)

This blog post goes into Vibrio V. the bacteria that can kill that has been documented in the IRL by Harbor Branch: (https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2014/11/12/vibrio-vulnificus-flesh-eating-or-not-st-lucie-riverindian-river-lagoon/)

Bacteria: (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bacteria)

The National Academy’s “Clean Coastal Waters” and the Irony of “More Studies” for the Indian River Lagoon

 

Toxic Algae bloom washes up  along the shoreline, St Lucie River, Riverside Drive, Stuart, Florida. (Photo Jenny Flaugh, 7-13)
Toxic Algae bloom washes up along the shoreline. St Lucie River, Riverside Drive, Stuart, Florida. (Photo Jenny Flaugh, summer 2013.)

RECENT HEADLINE: “FUNDING FOR  82 Million in NEW RESEARCH/CAUSES/CONTROL OF ALGAE BLOOMS IN US AND IRL– SPONSORED BY U.S. SENATOR BILL NELSON D-FL”

As much as I am thankful for the politicians and policy makers who have recently gotten monies allotted to fight the “toxic algae in Florida’s waterways,” I am slightly miffed. From what I understand, and have learned over the past years,  much of the research to understand these problems has already been accomplished, particularly by the National Research Council.

In 2008, when I was just beginning to really plow in and try to understand why the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon issues were happening and basically at the time being ignored publicly and politically, I was recommended to read “Clean Coastal Water, Understanding and Reducing the Effects of Nutrient Pollution,” published by the National Research Council in 2000.

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is a non-profit organization in the United States. Members serve pro bono as “advisers to the nation on science, engineering, and medicine”. Election to the National Academy is one of the highest honors in U.S. science. The academy was signed into law under the presidency of Abraham Lincoln in 1863. These public documents are available to all and these agencies give presentations to the US House and Senate and have done such on “algae blooms in coastal waters.”

The National Academy of Sciences is part of the National Academies, which also includes:the National Academy of Engineering (NAE); the Institute of Medicine (IOM); and the National Research Council (NRC).

It is an honor to be a member or to do research for a member and nearly 200 members have won nobel prizes. These scientists and their affilliatoins are the “best of the best.”

Locally, Dr Brian LaPoint working in St Lucie County, helped with the publication. He is from Harbor Branch/FAU. Also  Dr Margaret Leinen, the Executive Director of Harbor Branch at the time, now of Scripps Oceanography in California, was invited to speak before Congress on the subject.

Toxic algae, photo by Mary Radabaugh of St Lucie Marina, July 2013.)
Toxic algae, photo by Mary Radabaugh of St Lucie Marina, summer months of 2013.)

So, in 2000, the National Research Council’s book Clean Coastal Waters, Understanding and Reducing the Effects of Nutrient Pollution, was published and it is very clear in its studies, and recommendations. I will quote from the executive summary:

“What common thread ties together such seemingly diverse coastal problems as red tides, fish kills, some marine mammal deaths,  outbreaks of shellfish poisonings, loss of seagrass habitats, coral reef destruction, and the Gulf of Mexico’s dead zone? Over the past 20 years, scientists, coastal managers, and public decision makers have come to recognize that coastal ecosystems suffer a number of environmental problems that can, at times, be attributed to the introduction of excess nutrients from upstream watersheds…the driving force is the accumulation of nitrogen and phosphorus in fresh water on its way to the sea. For instance, runoff form agricultural land, animal feeding operations, and urban areas, plus discharge from water water treatment plants and atmospheric deposition of compound releases during fossil fuel combustion all add nutrients to fresh water before it reaches the sea.”

On page 34 the writers note:

” Inorganic fertilizer accounts for more than half of the human alteration of the nitrogen  cycle. Approximately half of the inorganic nitrogen fertilizer ever used on the planet has been  used in the last 15 years… The increased use of commercial fertilizer over the last 50 years has contributed to dramatic increases in per acre crop yields. But it has also brought problems, (e.g., adverse changes in soil properties and offsite environmental problems caused by runoff.)

Later in the book nutrient pollution is recognized as an enormous, complex and difficult issue but the NAS’s advice is to implement policies in a coordinated effort, locally, state and nationally to control nutrient pollution at its sources. Guidance for this is provided in chapter 9 “Source Reduction and Control.”

For me as a  Sewall’s Point commissioner, our commission fought and passed a strong  fertilizer ordinance in 2010, and since that time many others have as well along the Indian River Lagoon.  This is just a start and local governments will have to do more in the future.

NAS states nutrient pollution problems come from “agricultural land, animal feeding operations, and urban areas plus discharge from water water treatment plants and atmospheric deposition of compound releases during fossil fuel combustion all add nutrients to fresh water before it reaches the sea.” We along the coast in cities, etc..qualify as the “urban areas.” And locally that is all we have the jurisdiction to control. The rest, particularly  agriculture issues of “best management practices” and more, has to come from the state and federal governments. 

So back to Senator Bill Nelson, who I admire very much, and who grew up in the Melbourne area along the IRL, spearheaded a recent bill by the US Senate that will “fund research into the causes and control of large algae blooms.” This is terrific, but guess what? “We” basically already know the causes.

Let’s get some nerve politicians, and use this money to help and demand those who are not making fast enough efforts to lower their output of nitrogen and phosphorus. Let’s break the wall of not being allowed to implements restrictive laws on the agriculture industry that is protected by the “”right to farm act;” and let’s assist them in the funding they need to make these changes and find other ways to grow crops or different crops to grow…

Lets continue dealing, moving and helping dairies and animal operations close to waterbodies; let’s implement even stricter laws  on water treatment plants like the one along the Banana River in the Coca Beach area, in the northern central lagoon, where all the Unusual Mortality Events (UME) occurred last year of manatee, dolphin, and pelican deaths, and the majority of the 60% seagrass loss in the IRL since 2009 has occurred.

Atmospheric compounds? Perhaps require /inspire higher emission standards for cars in our Treasure Coast and continue the fight for clean air on a National/Global level through are Congressional representatives. Learn to “make money” for people from this problem rather than limiting people.  No easy task…

“Invasion of government,” you may say. “Yes it is.” And I don’t like it either, but at this point in order to to save the SLR/IRL, is their any other way?

If  we need the local data, then lets get it, but I do believe we already know where to start and I do believe we already know what to do.

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National Academies Press: (http://nap.edu)

National Academies of Science: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_National_Academy_of_Sciences)

Sunshine State News: (http://www.sunshinestatenews.com/story/bill-nelson-and-bill-posey-team-pass-bill-fighting-algae-outbreaks)