Greetings to my blog readers! Hope your new year is off to a good start.
For me, 2020 started with the Everglades Coalition (EVCO) Conference January 9-11 at South Seas Island Resort in Captiva Island, Florida. The theme for the conference was “All Hands on Deck,” and I would certainly say that the inspirational event achieved such! (https://www.evergladescoalition.org)
As a member of the South Florida Water Management District, (https://www.sfwmd.gov), I was asked by EVCO Co-Chair Mark Perry, to sit on the panel “Lake Okeechobee Management, The Big Water.” Other panelist were: Dr Dale Gawlik, Director and Professor, Environmental Science Program, Florida Atlantic University; Dr Paul Gray, Everglades Science Coordinator Audubon Florida; David E. Hazellief, Okeechobee County Board of County Commissioners; and Col. Andrew Kelly, Jacksonville District Commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Thank you to long time River Warrior, Gayle Ryan, for taping and you can find the entire panel video taped on her Facebook page dated January 10, 2:07pm. To say the least, I felt very privilege to sit with such a group. Today, I would like to share my slides and the 13 minute recorded talk below. Thank the Everglades Coalition for the opportunity to share and the SFWMD for helping me prepare.
I am ready. Both of my hands are on deck!
Historic Phytogeography of South Florida with Present Day SFWMD Features Map, 2019
From the air, one really notices that Florida is like a lake filled sponge! This past weekend, Ed and I flew to Gainesville in Alachua County, and then to Titusville, in Brevard County. This time, I was looking at lakes more than rivers. From the air, Florida is a patchwork of ponds and lakes reflecting like mirrors in the sun, a strange and beautiful landscape, or shall I say “waterscape?”
During the flight, I started thinking that if water bodies could talk, it would be the lakes that would have the strongest lobby. According to a 2006 article by Sherry Boas of the Sun Sentinel, the state of Florida has over 30,000 lakes! Many like Lake Apopka, in Orange County, historically, were altered because shoreline wetlands supported successful agricultural endeavors, kind of a smaller version of Lake Okeechobee; and again, just like Lake Okeechobee, although a great industry arose, this led to the demise of the lake. But like the Indian River Lagoon, and Caloosahatchee, people rose up to “Save Lake Apopka” and continue to work on this today: Orlando Sentinel Article 2018, shared by Janet Alford: (https://www.clickorlando.com/water/how-lake-apopka-went-from-floridas-most-polluted-lake-to-the-promising)
Yes indeed, Florida appears to float like a sponge in a sea of water. How we could think that our agriculture fertilizers and human sewage issues would not catch up with us on a broader level was naive. Excessive nutrients coming from humans on land are polluting waterbodies throughout the state which in turn also drain to pollute more waterbodies. Whether it be ponds, lakes, estuaries, or the Everglades, we must wipe up our mess, clean out our sponge!
Yesterday, I called in for the final conference call of Governor-elect Ron DeSantis’ Transition Advisory Committee on the Environment, chaired by our own, Congressman Brian Mast. It was very, very interesting. Highlights of the call were recorded by TC Palm’s Ali Schmitz:
As a member of the public, I was able to listen-in on the call ~this one focusing on Agriculture, and make my recommendation.
Having served on the Constitution Revision Commission in 2018, I am especially drawn to the importance of government structure. DeSantis’ originally posted environmental policy statement listed Accountability for Water Quality. Right now, many Floridians wonder “who is charge,” who answers for our present lack of water quality? Some even think, understandably so, that it is the Army Corp of Engineers. It is not. Under the law, the state of Florida is responsible for water quality, but with “three cooks in the kitchen,” (DEP, Water Management Districts, and Dept of Agriculture) this is difficult. So with my time on the call, I asked for centralization of enforcement of water quality standards and a strong Lead Agency:
CENTRALIZE THE ENFORCEMENT OF WATER QUALITY STANDARDS. A Majority of water quality regulation is currently housed at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). However, certain water quality standards and monitoring reside within the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) which is overseen by the Commission of Agriculture. DeSantis will work with the Florida legislature to move all components of water quality regulation within the Executive Branch to DEP. This will increase uniformity and ensure that the Secretary of DEP, who is accountable to the Governor, has the tools necessary to meet the water quality standards that Floridians deserve. ~DeSantis for Governor website Sept. 2018.
As we all know, the inauguration is January 8th, 2019. Very exciting! Congratulations Governor DeSantis! And awesome that Congressman Mast is by your side!!
Before we get too excited, let’s not forget…
Today, I will post the website of Governor-Elect Ron DeSantis on the environment so we can remember what was promised and hold the governor and all members of the Transition Advisory Committee on the Environment accountable for next four years. Looking forward to a governor who will protect the environment on day one!
Documenting the discharges, is critical whether by air, on the ground, or from outer space.
The two videos above were taken by me over S-308 at Port Mayaca, the opening from Lake Okeechobee to the St Lucie River, and over S-80 at St Lucie Locks and Dam on Friday, July 20th, 2018. The satellite images below, my brother Todd Thurlow provided, were taken the same day.
It is clear that the blue-green algae/cyanobacteria, covering, at its height, 90% of Lake Okeechobee, has run its course and bloomed. Now, as the “flower falls,” we see what’s left.
As seen in the aerials, and what the satellite images cannot portray, is that the algae is still there just lessened. Flying out over the lake a light green algae film remains over the water, a pastel shadow of its once flourescent self.
The seven aerials at the end of this blog post were taken by my husband, Ed, this afternoon, July 22, 2018 around 4pm. The tremendous green shock is gone, but squiggly lines of nutrient bubbles remain, and blue-green algae visibly lines the eastern shoreline to be sucked into the gates…
Will another gigantic bloom arise? Another flower to replace the dropped blooms of yesterday? Only time shall tell…
One thing is certain. Nutrient pollution (Phosphorus and Nitrogen) is destroying Florida’s waters, and unless non-point pollution, especially fertilizer runoff from the agriculture community, is addressed, faster than Florida’s Basin Management Action Plan requires- pushed out 30 or more years, we are will be living with reoccurring blooms indefinitely.
Timely quote for thought by the late Mr Nathaniel Reed 1933-2018
“…The fact that the Department of Environmental Protection and the Everglades Foundation have at last identified every polluter in the vast Okeechobee headwaters is an astonishing feat. The sheer number of polluters is mind-boggling.
The failure to enforce the possibly unenforceable standard (best management practices) shines through the research as testament to the carelessness of our state governmental agencies about enforcing strict water quality standards within the watershed.
There is not a lake, river nor estuary in Florida that is not adversely impacted by agricultural pollution.
As one of the authors of the 1973 Clean Water Act, I attempted late in the process to include agricultural pollution in the bill, but the major congressional supporters of the pending bill felt that by adding controls on agricultural pollution the bill would fail.
Now, 54 years later, fertilizer and dairy wastes are the main contributors to the pollution of the waters of our nation. Algal blooms are all too common even on the Great Lakes.”
Last Thursday on November 16, the ACOE reported they will reduce the amount of water they are releasing from Lake Okeechobee. The Corp had been releasing at a high rate, on and off, since September 20th. New targets are 2800 cfs east and 6500 cfs west.
Photos below were taken yesterday, 11-19-17 by my husband, Ed Lippisch. We will continue to document the discharges from Lake O, and area canals.
As Thanksgiving approaches, we are thankful the discharges are lessened and that the SFWMD and the public are working hard to plan the EAA Reservoir Senator Negron fought for… We the people of Martin County, will not be satisfied until these discharge stop. The river has its hands full with unfiltered discharges draining agriculture and developed lands from C-23, C-24, C-25 and C-44. All must be addressed.
“And where the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes…” Ezekiel
A new day could dawn for Florida, should Constitution Revision Commission proposal #24 go on the 2018 ballot. This ballot initiative would allow the electorate to vote for a “Commissioner of Environmental Protection.”
I sponsored this idea, an idea brought to the CRC’s attention by two speakers during the public hearing process, as well as by public proposal #700012, submitted by Mr. Gamez.
Formally expressed Proposal #24 reads:
“A proposal to amend Sections 3 and 4 of Article IV and create a new section in Article XII of the State Constitution to establish the office of Commissioner of Environmental Protection as a statewide elected officer, to provide duties of the commissioner, and to include the commissioner as a member of the Cabinet.”
Why do I support this idea? Because it is my job as a commissioner to get some of the thousands of public ideas before the CRC, and because I believe the “time is now” for the Environment to have a seat at the table with other cabinet positions.
Yes, environmental protection of natural resources must rise to the top of state priorities just as the state’s oldest and number two economic driver, agriculture, has. Our Natural Resources must be represented in the Florida Cabinet. This year, the Florida Chamber reports that Florida’s population, now at 20,000,000 will reach 26,000,000 by 2030, in just twelve years! It is tourism that is Florida’s number one economic driver. Much of this success is based on the beauty and quality of our beaches, rivers, and springs, and natural lands. We all know, growing incidences of algae blooms in lakes, springs, and rivers, some in areas of natural lands, is not good for tourism.
Let’s look at Florida government’s present hierarchy having to do with natural resources and discuss why it should be changed. The state’s present organizational chart shows a Commissioner of Agriculture as a cabinet position just under and to the right the Governor; a Fish and Wildlife Commission, and a Department of Environmental Protection, as executive agencies under the executive branch of the Governor; and the Water Management Districts in the lowest tier as local government. Interestingly, the Water Management Districts are attached by a dotted line to the Department of Environmental Protection noting at “unique relationship.” This is qualified by the following sentence: “Water management districts have individual governing boards but the Department of Environmental Protection may exercise general supervisory authority over water management districts (s. 373.026(7), Florida Statutes).”
The Fish and Wildlife Commission much more independent, but the Water Management Districts are not. Because Water Management Districts levy taxes from citizens as a special district one must be cognizant so that they not become “arm of the state.” But what would be even worse would be if the Water Management Districts were not answering to the people they tax…
It is time to have a “lead agency.” An agency that can answer to the people.
Let’s discuss leadership. Right now there is no clear environmental protection leader. For instance, in my opinion, for a citizen trying to get answers about why our environment is falling apart the Water Management Districts are pointing in one direction; the Department of Water Quality for the Commissioner of Agriculture’s Best Management Practices is pointing in another; and because the present Department of Environmental Protection is at the whim of politics of every new administration; they are weak, and afraid to lead. With every new governor the pendulum swings. The DEP is unable to fulfill its mission as the state’s lead agency of environmental protection.
And all the while our environment keeps falling apart…
On a personal note, for years, here in South Florida, I complained about the demise of our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon and surrounding environment and pushed for more action on behalf of the South Florida Water Management District. After years of head nods, I was finally told by a Governing Board member that the District’s number one priority is not water quality, but flood control and that I should be speaking to DEP.
“Why didn’t you tell me that earlier,” I exclaimed.
When I contacted Department of Environmental Protection their response was lackadaisical noting that many entities of the state oversee water quality and environmental issues. For instance, Best Management Practices for Agriculture, and the complicated DEP Basin Management Action Plans/Total Maximal Daily Loads in coordination with the Water Management Districts, and all local governments including cities, counties, villages…
“But who is in charge?” I asked? “The St Lucie River has been labeled “impaired” by your agency since 2002. Why was it allowed to get that bad in the first place and why is it continuing to get worse?”
Again I asked, ” Who is in charge?”
There was silence…
I thought to myself, “No wonder the Department of Environmental Protection is sometimes referred to as the agency of “Don’t Expect Protection.” No wonder every year more of the state’s waters are reported as “impaired.” No wonder D.E.P., Agriculture, and the Water Districts collude to extend the Basin Management Action Plan deadlines instead of getting more serious about the detrimental ramifications of non-point pollution for the people.
Enough is enough. The time is now to give voters the opportunity to vote for a Commissioner of Environmental Protection and finally have a seat at the table.
The commissioner of environmental protection shall have
63 supervision of matters pertaining to environmental protection
64 that the Department of Environmental Protection or its successor
65 agency and water management districts are required or authorized
66 by law to implement and administer.
Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch is a commissioner on the 2017/18 Constitution Revision Commissioner; *this proposal will go before the Executive Committee sometime in December or January. If it gets through that committee it will have to make it through both General Provisions and Ethics and Elections. You can support or voice concerns about this proposal by first writing the Executive here: https://flcrc.gov/Committees/EX/
In 1998 the Constitutional Revision Commission proposed a rewrite of Article IV, Section IV of the Florida Constitution that reduced the Florida Cabinet from six elected officials to three. Effective January 7, 2003, the Florida Cabinet consists of the Attorney General, the Chief Financial Officer and the Commissioner of Agriculture. The Cabinet offices of Secretary of State and Commissioner of Education became appointed offices and their respective agencies became the responsibility of the Governor. The revised constitution also created a new State Board of Education with seven members appointed by the Governor to oversee the Department of Education. The Cabinet offices of Treasurer and Comptroller were merged into the new position of Chief Financial Officer who serves as agency head for the newly created Department of Financial Services.
As the possibility of a direct hit from Hurricane Irma approaches, I can’t help but reflect.
Looking back, we see that it was the severe flooding and the hurricane season of 1947 that led Florida and the U.S. Government down the track to where we are today through the creation of the Florida Central and South Florida Flood Project, (CSFP).
In 1947, during the United States’ post World War II boom, Florida had a very active and destructive hurricane season. This slightly edited excerpt from the ACOE’s book River of Interest does a good job giving a short overview of that year:
“…Rain began falling on the Everglades in large amounts. On 1 March, a storm dropped six inches of rain, while April and May also saw above average totals. The situation became severe in the summer…
As September approached and the rains continued, the ground in the Everglades became waterlogged and lake levels reached dangerous heights. Then, on 17 September, a hurricane hit Florida on the southwest coast, passing Lake Okeechobee on the west and dumping large amounts of rain on the upper Everglades, flooding most of the agricultural land south of Lake Okeechobee.
George Wedgworth, who would later become president of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida and whose parents were vegetable growers in the Everglades, related that his mother called him during the storm and told him, “ this is the last call I’ll make from this telephone because I’m leaving. . . . “We’ve got an inch or two of water over our oak floors and they’re taking me out on a row boat.”
Such conditions were prevalent throughout the region. Before the area had a chance to recover from the devastation, another hurricane developed, moving into South Florida and the Atlantic Ocean by way of Fort Lauderdale. Coastal cities received rain in large quantities, including six inches in two hours at Hialeah and nearly 15 inches at Fort Lauderdale in less than 24 hours.
The Everglades Drainage District kept its drainage canals open to discharge to the ocean as much of the floodwater in the agricultural area as it could, exacerbating coastal flooding. East coast residents charged the District with endangering their lives in order to please ag- ricultural interests, but this was vehemently denied…
Whoever was to blame, the hurricanes had devastating effects. Although the levee around Lake Okeechobee held, preventing the large numbers of deaths that occurred in 1926 and 1928, over 2,000 square miles of land south of the lake was covered by, in the words of U.S. Senator Spessard Holland, “an endless sheet of water anywhere from 6 to 7 feet deep down to a lesser depth.” The Corps estimated that the storms caused $59 million in property damage throughout southern Florida, but Holland believed that the agency had “under- stated the actual figures.” The destruction shocked citizens of South Florida, both in the upper Everglades and in the coastal cities, and they demanded that something be done.”
Well, what was done was the Central and South Florida Flood Project.
Key Florida politicians, and the public demanded the Federal Government assist, and as both the resources and will were present, the project was authorized in 1948 with massive additional components making way not only for flood protection, but for even more agriculture and development. In Martin County and St Lucie County this happened by the controversial building of canals C-23, C-24, C-25 and “improving” the infamous C-44 canal that connects to Lake Okeechobee. This construction was basically the nail in the coffin for the St Lucie River and Southern Indian River Lagoon.
But before the death of the environment was clear, the Corps developed a plan that would include 1,000 miles of levees, 720 miles of canals, and almost 200 water control structures. Flooding in coastal cities and in the agricultural lands south of Lake Okeechobee would be minimized and more controllable.
Yes, a goal of the program was to provide conservation areas for water storage, protecting fish and wildlife habitat. Although water conservation areas were constructed, conservation of wildlife did not work out so well, and has caused extreme habitat degradation of the Everglades system, Lake Okeechobee, the southern and northern estuaries, the Kissimmee chain of lakes, and Florida Bay. Nonetheless, this project made possible for over five million people to now live and work in the 18,000 square mile area that extends from south of Orlando to Florida Bay “protected from flooding” but in 2017 living with serious water quality issues.
With problems apparent, in 1992 the Central and South Florida Project was “re-studied” and we continue to work on that today both for people and for wildlife…
Irma many be the system’s greatest test yet…
Yesterday’s Army Corp of Engineer Periodic Scientist Call was focused on saving people’s lives and safety. After the built-system was discussed, Mr Tyler Beck of the Florida Wildlife Commission, and Mr Steve Schubert of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported on the endangered Everglades Snail Kites and their nests at Lake Okeechobee. Like most birds, pairs mate for life. There are presently fifty-five active nests, thirty-three in incubation, and twenty-three with baby chicks…
In the coming days, as the waters rise on Lake Okeechobee, and the winds scream through an empty void that was once a cathedral of colossal cypress trees, Mother Nature will again change the lives of Florida’s wildlife and its people, just as she did in 1947. Perhaps this time, she will give us vision for a future where nature and humankind can live in greater harmony…
It is a journey the state, federal, and local agencies don’t always wish to take–a journey to face the numbers of our watershed…
Today, Dr Gary Goforth (http://garygoforth.net) shares his most recent report, “Water Quality Assessment of the St Lucie River Watershed, For Water Year 2017, DRAFT.”
Mind you, for non-scientist people like myself, a “water year” is reported from May of one year, through April the next year, as opposed to a calendar year.
The full report is linked at the bottom of the post and contains numerous helpful charts. I have just included the key findings below.
Dr Goforth wanted to get the draft assessment out before the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Basin Management Action Plan workshop scheduled for this Friday Aug. 25th at 10:00 am at Martin County Building Permits Office, 900 Southeast Ruhnke Street, Stuart, FL 34994, Conference Rooms A & B because this is where the rubber hits the road! FDEP: (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/central/Home/Watershed/BMAP.htm)
Water Quality Assessment of the St. Lucie River Watershed –Water Year 2017 – DRAFT Gary Goforth, P.E., Ph.D.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who watches the Watchers?)
1. Over the last water year (May 2016 – April 2017), the surface water entering the St. Lucie River and Estuary (SLRE) in general was of poor water quality. The best water quality entering the SLRE was from the highly urbanized Tidal Basins. The largest source of phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment pollution to the SLRE was Lake Okeechobee discharges. The C-44 Canal Basin contributed poor water quality, and was the only basin demonstrating a worsening in water quality over the last ten years.
2. It was estimated that stormwater runoff from agricultural land use contributed more flow and nutrient pollution than any other land use, even contributing more flow than Lake Okeechobee discharges.
3. The annual Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) progress reports produced by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection continue to indicate water quality conditions in the tributaries of the SLRE are better than they actually are. Examples of flaws in the BMAP assessment process include the omission of Lake Okeechobee pollution loads, the use of simulated data instead of observed data, the inability to account for hydrologic variability, and the inability to assess individually each of the major basins contributing to the SLRE.
4. An alternative to the assessment approach presented in the BMAP progress reports was developed and used to evaluate water quality conditions of major inflows to the SLRE and to assess progress towards achieving the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) load reduction goals. This alternative approach uses observed data, includes Lake discharges, accounts for hydrologic variability, and is applied to each of the major basins contributing pollution loads to the SLRE. For WY2017, observed nitrogen loads to the SLRE exceeded the Phase 1 BMAP target loads (adjusted for hydrologic variability) by 77 percent. Observed phosphorus loads exceeded the Phase 1 BMAP target loads (adjusted for hydrologic variability) by 53 percent.
5. The largest single source of total nitrogen, total phosphorus and sediment load to the SLRE was Lake Okeechobee discharges. In addition, total phosphorus concentrations in Lake Okeechobee discharges to the SLRE remained almost four times the lake’s TMDL in-lake target concentration of 40 parts per billion (ppb). In 2017, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) reported that phosphorus loading to the lake from surrounding watersheds was almost 5 times the Lake’s TMDL of 105 metric tons, yet staff acknowledged the agency does not enforce permits that set numeric limits on phosphorus discharges to the lake (SFWMD 2016, SFWMD 2017). Unfortunately, despite the continued and well-publicized pollution of the lake, the Florida legislature in 2016 enacted a water bill that pushed back deadlines for achieving the lake’s TMDL by decades (Ch. 2016-1).
6. The best water quality entering the SLRE during WY2017 was observed in the highly urbanized Tidal Basins, with concentrations of 97 ppb and 819 ppb for TP and TN, respectively. Each of the remaining source basins, except the C-44 Canal Basin, exhibited a slight improvement in nutrient levels compared to their base periods, however, collectively these WY2017 loads did not achieve the alternative BMAP Phase 1 load target (Figures ES-1 and ES-2). The C-23 and Tidal Basins met the alternative BMAP Phase 1 target for TP, while the C-23, C-24 and Tidal Basins met the alternative BMAP Phase 1 target for TN. The predominantly agricultural C-44 Canal Basin exhibited poor nutrient conditions, and in fact, continued a trend of deteriorating nutrient conditions compared to its 1996-2005 base period. As a whole, the water quality entering the SLRE remains poor, although a slight improvement over the 1996-2005 period was observed.
In recent years we along the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon have been screaming because the ACOE and SFWMD have been discharging water from Lake Okeechobee and the C-44 basin into our waterways causing destructive toxic algae blooms and other issues to our area …
This year some are screaming because C-44 basin runoff water in southern Martin County is being pumped back into Lake Okeechobee. Yes, C-44 is “running backwards.” It’s a crazy world here in South Florida even through the water managers are working hard at “getting the water right…”
So two odd things are going on right now. First, water is being sent into Lake O from the C-44 canal as we were in a long-time drought, and also, now, water is being back-pumped into the lake from the south to help alleviate flooding in the Water Conservation Areas— as it has rained so much recently “down there.” This whole situation is exacerbated because the EAA, in the middle, “is kept dry to protect the property of the agricultural industry and safety of communities south of the dike.”
The graph and short write-up below are from friend and engineer Dr Gary Goforth. The graph “shows” the C-44 basin runoff (see image above) being sent to Lake Okeechobee in 2017 compared to other years since 1980 (other than ’81) “is at 100%.”
I have also included some articles and images on the other “back into Lake O” subject. Back-pumping was made illegal in the 1990s, but is allowed under certain circumstances such as endangering communities and agriculture in the EAA, and danger to wildlife in the conservation areas due to flooding…All of this is “back-pumping” not good for the health of the lake. In all cases, it is helping one thing while hurting another…
One day we will have to truly get the water right. Images below may help explain things.
ISSUE OF BACK-PUMPING:
ISSUE OF C-44 CANAL BASIN WATER BEING SENT INTO LAKE O RAHTER THAN TO SLR:
” For the period 1980-2016, about 32% of the C-44 Basin runoff was sent to the Lake, while 68% was sent to the St. Lucie River and Estuary. Historically (i.e., before 1923) virtually none of the C-44 Basin runoff went to the St. Lucie River and Estuary: some went to the Lake, some went to the Loxahatchee River and some went north to the St. John’s River. So far in 2017, virtually all of the basin runoff has been sent to the Lake.”
There is incredible footage of the 2016 toxic algae event caused primarily by forced discharges by the ACOE and SFWMD from Lake Okeechobee into the estuaries, St Lucie and Caloosahatchee. South Florida locals such as Mary Radabaugh, Dr Edie Widder, Dr Brian LaPointe, Mark Perry, Phil Norman, Dr Larry Brand, Dr Steve Davis, and Col. Jennifer Reynolds are prominently featured. Edie Widder’s political commentary at the end is priceless.
CHANGING SEAS Toxic Algae: Complex Sources and Solutions. Aired: 06/21/2017
Water releases from Lake Okeechobee periodically create putrid mats of blue-green algae. Scientists think water pollution is to blame, and if something isn’t done about it there could be irreparable damage to the environment, the local economy and people’s health.
You can Like Changing Seas on Facebook and attend their DIVE IN Summer series on this topic June 28th, 2017. See link:
My brother, Todd, wrote to me on June 8th noting that the C-44 canal was flowing westwards into Lake Okeechobee rather than dumping eastwards into the St Lucie as is standard operating procedure after a big rain…
Yes this canal, as most of the others, can “flow” in either direction, seemly “backwards.”
So how can this happen? This backwards flow?
Dr Gary Goforth says the following:
“Yes this is normal operations; generally when the Lake level is below 14 ft the Corps leaves the locks at S-308 wide open which allows any local runoff to flow into the lake.”
Another way Lake Okeechobee can receive water in an unusual way is if the water is pumped into it–back pumped. This has recently been done from the EAA. Back pumping into Lake O has been outlawed, but it is allowed if communities or farmland would flood.
According to an exchange yesterday on Facebook, with Audubon’s Dr Paul Grey:
“St Lucie (C-44) backflows are just one of many southern inflows now, S-2 is backpumping, three other southern outlets are flowing backward into the low lake (L-8, S354, S-352) the Caloosahatchee was backflowing but appears equalized today. More water is flowing into the lake from downstream areas than upstream right now. Not the end of the world but not desirable either, it is very polluted water. http://w3.saj.usace.army.mil/h2o/reports/r-oke.html “
When I asked Dr Grey if this was being done to gather water in the lake as we’ve recently been in a drought, or to keep the farmlands in the EAA and surrounding areas dry, this was his response:
“Both, they want to fill the lake this summer, and so do I, in concept, but much of this backpumping and flowing is because the farmers have been pumping water so rapdily off their own lands they have made the canals too deep, and risk fooding the communities. And rather than tell the farmers the canal its too deep and they have to modererate their pumping, the SFWMD backpumps/flow it to the lake.”
In any case, when I visited yesterday during my trip to Belle Glade, S-308 was closed at Port Mayaca and no more water was entering Lake O from C-44. I’m not sure about S-2.
The water looks dark and full of sediment. The once beautiful beach is full of gritty rocks. Maybe the lake is healthy in the shallows south, near the islands, but by Port Mayaca it looks terrible. Algae has been reported by S-308 a few weeks ago according to a report from Martin County at the River’s Coalition meeting. But thankfully there is not algae reported in C-44 right now.
We have really made a mess of it. For our rivers and for Lake Okeechobee, the reservoir must be built and we must continue to advocate for sending cleaned water south and re -plumb this outdated system. Forward flow or backwards flow, just say NO.
Todd Thurlow notes 6-8-17
Interesting note: if this data is correct, C-44 has poured 10.7 billion gallons (aka 13.82 Stuart Feet) of water into Lake Okeechobee in the last three days. With all the recent “local” runoff into the canal, they have opened S-308, sending the water west to the Lake to help get the low lake level up.
48.5 million gallons passed through S-80 to the St. Lucie on June 5th…
Today I am again honored to feature the writing of Professor Geoff Norris. This most recent work is a tremendous achievement of time, research, and puzzle piecing. Professor Norris’ past shared articles “Blue Green Algal Blooms in the Lakes, Rivers, and Marine Waters of South Florida Surrounding Lake Okeechobee,” and “Sugarcane and Indians” were extremely popular with many of my readers. Professor Norris has a way of communicating complex topics in an easy and interesting way so that everyone can understand and make the connections. In the 1960s Professor Norris lived and worked as a petroleum exploration geologist in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Subsequently, he spent 40 years at the University of Toronto teaching and performing research in geology. A geologist by training, Professor Norris has a specialized knowledge of fossil algae, their ecology, morphology, and distribution. He has published hundreds of scientific papers on fossil algae and related topics…I encourage you to contact him by email with any questions at email@example.com
Thank you Professor Norris. “Together we will create a “better water future!”
Lake Okeechobee blue-green bacterial blooms in Florida: lessons from Lake Erie
In the following article, I have attempted to summarize some of the voluminous literature on Lake Erie and its problem blue-green blooms, and how this might help to understand similar events in Lake Okeechobee. I have included URL web addresses for some of the topics, which can be used to access further information.
Although the blooms are often referred to as blue-green algae, this is quite inaccurate and I can see no further point in perpetuating this misnomer. The blooms are largely or entirely composed of Cyanobacteria, or blue-green bacteria as I have chosen to call them for this article. This is not just for precision and to point up their lack of a nucleus and other organelles in each cell, but serves to underline how these organisms earn a living and perpetuate themselves that is quite different compared to nucleated organisms, the latter including algae, fungi, all green plants, and all animals. This difference is really important.
The topic is vast and my review barely scratches the surface – it’s not meant to, because I am not an expert and am still trying to understand the vast complexity of blue-green bacterial bloom formation. I have tried to unravel and clarify some of the science and scientific investigations that have been important for me, and have used these as examples of the work that is going on or has led to current advances. For every paper I have cited, however, there could be tens or hundreds more that haven’t been consulted or mentioned. I apologize in advance to those many talented scientists that I haven’t mentioned or that I am simply unaware of.
I used to live in Hamilton, Ontario, a prosperous city with thriving iron and steel mills, other manufacturing industries, an excellent university and a great football team, a sort of Pittsburg of the North. It sits on the shores of Lake Ontario on a sliver of land – the Niagara Peninsula – that separates Lake Erie from Lake Ontario. In the early summer after the ice had melted, many of the locals in the mid-1900s would take advantage of the beaches along Lake Ontario to sun themselves and wait until the water was warm enough to swim in. However, you could get a head start on summer by taking a short drive south (less than an hour) to the beaches along Lake Erie where the water was warmer earlier in the summer, and resorts and tourism thrived. Fish were abundant and the lake was very productive for commercial fishing and equally attractive for sport fishing. The beaches were superb for tourism and sun lovers. Lake Erie is large but shallow (average depth about 60ft) and so a baby on a Great Lakes scale from a volumetric point of view (most of the Great Lakes are hundreds of feet deep, the deepest being Superior at more than 1300 ft maximum depth). However, Lake Erie’s smaller volume and shallow waters helped it to warm up quickly in the spring and summer.
The Dead Sea of North America
Then something happened to Lake Erie, starting in the 1960s. The water of Lake Erie became murky and discolored, mass fish kills led to piles of rotting marine life polluting the beaches, the tourists and anglers and sun worshippers stayed away in droves, the resorts closed down, the commercial fisheries were badly hit, and the economy suffered enormously. Algae were blamed but no one was quite sure why they had become so abundant – “eutrophication” was the buzzword of the time. Lake Erie was declared “dead”, which was quite inaccurate since it was swarming with life, but the wrong sort of life. The culprits polluting the environment were a mixture of true green algae (such as Cladophora) and so-called “blue green algae” (such as Microcystis and Aphanizomenon), which in truth are types of bacteria using chlorophyll and other pigments that allow them to live in sunlight (their technical name is Cyanobacteria –called blue-green bacteria in this article), and this is discussed in more detail in my previous blog: https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/tag/dr-geoffrey-norris/). The plight of the Dead Sea of North America (as Lake Erie became known) was so notorious that one of Dr Seuss’s books for children – The Lorax (1971) – made reference to it in his famous style of doggerel:
You’re glumping the pond where the Humming-Fish hummed!
No more can they hum, for their gills are gummed.
So I’m sending them off. Oh, their future is dreary.
They’ll walk on their fins and get woefully weary
In search of some water that isn’t so smeary.
I hear things are just as bad up in Lake Erie.
Very fortunately the mystery of Lake Erie’s “death” was soon solved, thanks to a treaty between the U.S. and Canada dating back to the early 1900s that acknowledged the need to maintain water quality in the Great Lakes’ waters bordering the two countries.
By the middle of the 20th century this had morphed into the International Joint Commission for the Great Lakes. These international efforts were underpinned by government and university-based research in both the U.S. and Canada, which identified phosphorus entering the waters as a major contributor, particularly from agricultural fertilizers on the one hand and from domestic laundry detergents on the other. In 1972 the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLQWA) was signed between the United States and Canada, by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau for Canada and President Richard Nixon for the United States. They loathed one another personally, but they knew what was the right thing to do for their countries.
Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and President Richard Nixon signing the Agreement.
The Agreement emphasized the reduction of phosphorous entering lakes Erie and Ontario, and, in 1977, maximum levels for phosphorous were added to the Agreement. Also, phosphorus in laundry detergents was finally drastically reduced or banned. Coupled with the U.S. and Canadian Clean Water acts, the International Joint Commission did much to reduce the phosphorus levels in Lake Erie.
International Joint Commission (IJC): “More than a century of cooperation protecting shared waters. Canada and the United States each appoint three of the six IJC Commissioners, including one chair from each country. The two chairs serve concurrently.The Commissioners are appointed by the highest level of government in each country, but once appointed they do not represent the national governments; they operate at arm’s length.The Commissioners traditionally work by consensus to find solutions that are in the best interest of both countries. The Commissioners are supported by U.S. and Canadian Section offices in Washington, D.C. and Ottawa, Ontario.”
So everyone breathed a sigh of relief, phosphorus levels went down, farmers applied fertilizers to their fields differently, consumers chose phosphorus-free detergents, municipalities improved their storm water and sewage treatment facilities, the fish and other wildlife came back to Lake Erie, and Dr Seuss was persuaded to remove the last line in his poem. Further details can be found in a report by the National Wildlife Federation:
For almost 20 years, Lake Erie was not plagued by the blue-green bacteria problem, but other problems did emerge such as exotic zebra mussels that interfered with the distribution of elements important in nutrition, but they seemed at the time to be unrelated to bacterial infestations. Then starting in the mid-1990s, the blue-greens reappeared and became progressively worse leading to super-gigantic blooms that choked the western end of Lake Erie with green muck inches thick and hundred of square miles in extent. Dead zones – biological black holes – reappeared in the Lake as the rotting organic matter sucked the oxygen out of the water, promising certain death to animals that ventured in.
In the summer of 2011 the mother of all blue-green bacterial blooms exploded in Lake Erie, the bloom at its peak being more than 1900 square miles in extent. That is more than 50% greater than the entire state of Rhode Island, or 35% larger than Long Island, or more than six times larger than all of New York City’s five boroughs. This super-giant bloom had an estimated weight of 40,000 metric tons dry weight. The wet weights of algae and blue-green bacteria are generally at least 10 times the dry weight. So, this supergiant bloom had at least half a billion tons of blue-green bacteria living within it – a true monster.
MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) satellite Image of Lake Erie on September 3, 2011, overlaid over map of Lake Erie tributaries. This image shows the bloom (in green) about 6 weeks after its initiation in the western basin. From Michalak et al, 2013.
These blooms had a devastating effect on the areas flanking the western end of Lake Erie – Ohio, Michigan, and Ontario – with large agricultural areas and several major cities and industrial towns. Toxins from the blue-green bacteria polluted the drinking water supplies of large cities, and potable water had to be trucked in for the residents.
The “greening” of Lake Erie has been documented by Prof. Tom Bridgeman of the University of Toledo in a presentation:
In his presentation Prof. Bridgman showed how increasing phosphorus in the lake water favored the blue-green bacteria and shut out the normal tiny floating plants (true algae), a situation that had culminated in the American Dead Sea catastrophe of the 1960s. The international agreement on phosphorus reduction in the Great Lakes was a huge success story for Lake Erie, but by the mid 1990s algal biomass was beginning to increase again (eutrophication was returning), and by the early 2000s blue green bacteria such as Microcystis were increasing ten-fold, as the reactive phosphorus in the lake waters increased beyond levels recorded in the 1970s.
What the heck was going on here? Everyone had played their part in reducing phosphorus run-off from agricultural lands, and the municipalities and citizens had cleaned up their act. So where was the phosphorus coming from? Well now the plot thickens.
Farming and Phosphorus
This time, the main problems are thought to be ones that governments have much less direct control over, according to a file posted by Emily Chung of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation News (2014).
To some extent, they include the application of fertilizers to lawns and golf courses, growing expanses of pavement in urban areas that cause water to drain more quickly into waterways without being filtered by vegetation, and invasive zebra mussels that release extra nutrients into the water as they feed. But those aren’t thought to be the biggest cause.
“We think farming is the major culprit behind the current levels of phosphorus that’s in runoff and the phosphorus loads that are getting dumped into the western basin of Lake Erie,” said Dr. Glenn Benoy (senior water quality specialist and science adviser with the International Joint Commission in Ottawa).
Dr Glenn Benoy
So why is this? Well, there are several things going on. Firstly, corn production is at an all time high because of the push to increase alcohol biofuel production, and soybeans are being produced in gigantic quantities for use as animal feed, oil and protein for human consumption, plastics and biodiesel. Secondly, the introduction of no-till farming practice in the U.S. has led to increased run-off of fertilizer. Thirdly, there’s just not enough infrastructure to deliver in the spring the huge amounts of fertilizer that are required by the corn farmers. Prof. Ivan O’Halloran of Guelph University, Ontario and a specialist in soil fertility and nutrient use commented that the demand by corn farmers is such that there are simply not enough rail cars to satisfy the need. So companies offer discounts to farmers who are willing to apply fertilizer in the fall, which in turn leads to enhanced run-off of phosphorus during the winter storms.
Prof. Ivan O’Halloran
No-till Farming and Glyphosate
And then there is the matter of no-till farming. No-till farming (also called zero tillage or direct drilling) is a way of growing crops or pasture from year to year without disturbing the soil through tillage, and in current practice depends on the use of powerful herbicides such as glyphosate (Monsanto’s Roundup brand being the most popular formulation). Application of glyphosate kills weeds and other vegetation in preparation of the seedbed. Later in the year, another application of the herbicide is used to reduce weeds that might be harming the crop. However, this is only possible if the farmers use genetically modified seeds that are resistant to glyphosate – often referred to as Roundup Ready seeds. In 2014 in the U.S. 98% of soybeans and more than half of corn was Roundup Ready. Advocates of Roundup point out that glyphosate is a compound derived from phosphonic acid in which the phosphorus is strongly bonded to carbon and therefore is not available to plants, unlike fertilizer which contains phosphates (not phosphonates) which has phosphorus bonded less strongly to oxygen, and is therefore more readily available for uptake by plants (often referred to by the acronym DRP – dissolved reactive phosphorus).
Prof. Chris Spiese is a chemist at Ohio Northern University and he decided to test the contribution that glyphosate might make to the amount of dissolved reactive phosphorus running off of cultivated fields. He found that glyphosate acts on the soil to allow the phosphorus bonded to the soil (either being naturally present or due to fertilizer use) to be released by the chemical process known as desorption. He also found that soils richer in both iron oxides and iron hydroxides tend to release by desorption more phosphorus, as do soils that are more acidic. Overall, he calculated that glyphosate is responsible for releasing 20-25% of the dissolved reactive phosphorus in the Maumee watershed, a river discharging into the western end of Lake Erie. Prof. Spiese calculated that for every acre of Roundup Ready soybeans, one-third of a pound of phosphorus comes down the Maumee River. In 2010, according to the Ohio Soybean Council, 4.6 million acres were planted in soybeans, of which about 2 million acres of soybean fields drain into Lake Erie.
If Prof. Spiese’s calculation for the Maumee watershed hold true for all the soybean acreage in Ohio draining into Lake Erie, this would suggest that each year hundreds of tons of dissolved reactive phosphorus are entering the Lake from this source alone. And then there are the other states and provinces bordering Lake Erie that are also involved in soybean production: Ontario 2 million acres; Michigan 1.5 million acres; NW New York, 1/3 million acres; Pennsylvania 1/2 million acres. Of course, not all these agricultural lands drain into Lake Erie but these numbers give some idea of potential dissolved reactive phosphorus input related to soybean production alone.
The Monster Revisited
The super-giant blue-green bacterial bloom of 2011 in Lake Erie required a concerted response from the scientific community to understand just why this had happened. There was no doubt in scientists’ minds that dissolved reactive phosphorus as run-off from agricultural land was a major factor. But why should a super-giant bloom happen in 2011 and not in 2012 when the same agricultural land and its phosphorus run-off were still flanking the Lake and continued to be a constant factor? Something else was involved. So an elite team of scientists from universities, government laboratories, and industrial laboratories got together to investigate, headed up by Prof. Anna Michalak of Stanford University.
Prof. Anna Michalak
In 2013 this team of 29 scientists came up with their report, which was published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The team concluded that long-term trends in agricultural practices (e.g. no-till farming) plus increased acreage under intense cultivation (notably soybeans and corn) led to a major pulse of phosphorus into Lake Erie during some unusually intense spring rainstorms in 2011. Then in the late spring and summer unusually quiet but warm weather conditions provided just the right conditions to seed, incubate and grow the bloom in the waters of Lake Erie. The team stated “If a scientifically guided management plan to mitigate these impacts is not implemented, we can therefore expect this [super-giant blue-green bacterial] bloom to be a harbinger of future blooms in Lake Erie.” – because unusual weather events, lower wind speeds, warmer waters, and higher rainfalls are becoming more common and can be expected in the future.
Glyphosate and Blue Green Bacteria
Recent work by scientists at Bowling Green State University has reported the presence of glyphosate in Lake Erie. It is evidently washing out of the no-till crop fields, and reaches a maximum in the summer months. Also it has been found in water treatment plants, peaking in the summer months. Prof. McKay and his colleagues raised the possibility in 2010 that the presence of glyphosate in Lake Erie together with phosphates from fertilizers tend to stimulate the growth of blue-green bacteria, whereas phosphates alone do not do this but favor diatoms, a normal algal component of Lake Erie. It seems that blue-green bacteria can utilize the phosphorus in the glyphosate, which was believed to be otherwise not normally bio-available. Many questions remain to be answered but the intense use of glyphosate in the area around Lake Erie demands rapid action in the very near future to establish just how much glyphosate is involved in blue-green bacterial blooms.
An even more disturbing piece of microbiological and genetic research was done by Prof. Victoria López-Rodas in Madrid together with other Spanish colleagues in 2007. They studied Microcystis, one of the bad boys of the blue-green bacteria family. They found that rare mutations during growth and division of cells could clone a glyphosate-resistant strain that could survive in glyphosate polluted waters. In other words, Microcystis has the potential to develop into a “superbug” unaffected by glyphosate. The odds of a mutation like this occurring were calculated to be a few times in 10 million by Prof. Lopez-Rodas’ team. That’s better than the odds for winning the Jackpot in the Florida Power Ball Lottery (1 in 292 million), but still not great. If you bought hundreds of millions of ticket in the lottery, you would have a good chance of winning at least once, perhaps several times (but at $2 a ticket you financial advisor might have some things to say to you about your investment strategy). However, given a little phosphorus and nitrogen, Microcystis can keep on dividing trillions and trillions of time to form blooms in warm water. With such astronomical numbers, a rare mutation becomes a virtual certainty at some point during cloning, and in the presence of an antibiotic such as glyphosate, a superbug is born.
So far the emphasis has been on phosphorus and how it is important in blue-green bacterial bloom formation. But nitrogen is also very important as a nutritional component for blue-greens and indeed for all life. Green plants need nitrogen to synthesize proteins and other important components in their cells. Although nitrogen is abundant in the atmosphere, it is an inert gas and simply unavailable as a nutrient for many green plants. It needs to be combined with hydrogen (as an ammonia compound) or with oxygen (as a nitrate compound) to be absorbed by the plant. These nitrogen compounds may be naturally occurring in soil, but in agricultural land they need to be added frequently as fertilizer for crops to thrive.
Blue-green bacteria have an advantage over green algae and other green plants because some blue-greens have the ability to synthesize nitrogen compounds directly from gaseous nitrogen – they are said to be able to “fix” the nitrogen. But some other blue-green bacteria are unable to fix the nitrogen and have to depend on another source. Microcystis is a case in point (the blue-green bacteria that are often dominant in the giant blooms in Lake Erie and Lake Okeechobee). Microcystis is highly dependant on a source of nitrogen to thrive. This can of course be provided by run-off from crop fertilizer, but it does not always explain the fluctuations of this and other blue-green bacteria that have or do not have nitrogen fixation ability in Lake Erie, in spite of the fact that the experts all agree that phosphorus – not nitrogen – is the principal limiting factor.
Lucas Beversdorf and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin decided in 2010 to try and solve the problem and improve predictability of toxic blue-green episodes in a beautifully designed and detailed study of Lake Mendota, Wisconsin a much smaller lake (15 square miles) than Lake Erie but about the same depth and with similar temperate seasonal weather patterns.
They found that Microcystis (blue-green non-nitrogen fixer) rode on the back of Aphanizomenon (blue-green nitrogen fixer) in a nutritional sense. Without the nitrogen fixer doing its work first in the spring, Microcystis as a non-nitrogen fixer could not attain dominance and pollute the water with toxic microcystin in the summer. This could be relevant to understanding how the blooms that occurred in the mid-20th century in Lake Erie came about, both Microcystis and Aphanizomenon being important contributors to large blue-green blooms at that time. It could also be important in predicting when blooms can be expected.
Prof. Karl Havens, a biologist at the University of Florida (and formerly of the South Florida Water Management District) has discussed the implications of nitrogen and phosphorus as nutrients for blue-green bacteria in Lake Okeechobee, and the need to reduce both given the physical and biological complexities in a shallow lake.
It has been known for some time that non-nitrogen fixing bacteria are highly competitive when it comes to ammonium compounds in freshwater lakes, possibly explaining why Microcystis and similar blue-green bacteria do achieve dominance in the blue-green blooms when in proximity to agricultural run-off.
Researchers are looking for ways to monitor assess and predict algal blooms of all types. This can be done by sampling the lake waters and analyzing them for various organisms and chemical compounds, such as Dr Beversdorf did for his detailed study of Lake Mendota. However, in very large lakes such as Lake Erie the shear size of the lake makes rapid response to a growing giant algal bloom impossible.
Prof. Joseph Ortiz of Kent State University, Ohio has been actively involved in developing new ways to gather information on giant blue-green bacterial blooms using an instrument on board the International Space Station. From space it can image all of Lake Erie in two days – remember Lake Erie is about 9,900 square miles (241 miles long, 57 miles wide). He uses a technique called hyperspectral visible derivative spectroscopy, quite a mouthful but very important. The hyperspectral imager works in orbit about 220 miles above the Earth’s surface and transmit the results to Dr Ortiz who uses sophisticated analytical methods to identify various types of algae and bacteria in the lake water.
This and related techniques are now being used to forecast blue-green bacterial blooms, in cooperative ventures between NASA and NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration). For example this was their forecast summary for 2014:
“This year’s forecast is for a western basin Lake Erie cyanobacteria bloom of 22,000 metric tons dry weight (MT), with a 95% predictive interval of 11,000 to 33,000 MT. The bloom size over the last decade (2004-2013) has averaged 14,000 MT, such that this year’s bloom will likely be above average. However, the 2014 bloom is expected to be less than the record bloom of 40,000 MT, which occurred in 2011.”
In August of 2014 the City of Toledo shut down its water supply because of contamination by blue-green bacterial toxins (microcystin), which made it undrinkable for 400,000 residents, confirming the astonishing power of this predictive method.
A Florida Mismanagement Plan for Niagara Falls
Just imagine if the same planning “logic” had been applied to Lake Erie as has happened with Lake Okeechobee. In the case of Lake Okeechobee, agricultural interests took over an Everglades river and associated sawgrass wetlands to drain them for use as sugar plantations. To do this the ancient course of an Everglades river was disrupted by damming its 25-mile wide outflow from Lake Okeechobee, upstream from the Everglades Agricultural Area. In so doing the lake level rose because it had no other natural outlet. Therefore higher shoreline dike construction was needed (the Herbert Hoover Dike) to impound the water to prevent flooding of the adjacent land. All this destroyed a large part of the Everglades, a natural wonder of the world designated an International Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a Wetland of International Importance. The “river of grass” in the Everglades became starved for water.
Everglades River of Grass
Meanwhile, the Kissimmee River feeding into Lake Okeechobee and draining another agricultural area was straightened and canalized to remove those annoying meanders that characterize river systems as they approach local base level (the lowest point to which a river can flow). The straightened channels thus allowed rapid fertilizer run-off from the fields, preventing filtering and bio-cleansing in the natural wetland vegetation of the flood plain meanders that would otherwise exist, further contributing to heavy phosphorus loading in Lake Okeechobee and the consequent blue-green bacterial blooms. The straightened channels also contributed voluminous extra water that the lake could not handle. Therefore, the lake managers and flood controllers (the Army Corps of Engineers) directed the overflow waters down a number of canals with outlets to the highly populated Atlantic and Gulf coastlines and the sea, the overflow water being heavily polluted with blue-green bacteria from the giant blooms that grew in the lake.
So let’s work this through for our imaginary Niagara Gorge Agricultural Area, a 7-mile stretch that would be ideal land for growing grapes and other fruits in a valley just below Niagara Falls. Once drained, the imaginary agricultural area would eventually develop lime-rich soils, which would be perfect for high quality wine grapes, and would be similar to the soils in the adjacent Niagara Wine Country. The fruit would be sheltered from the worst of the Canadian winter that might otherwise be unfavorable for growing and ripening the grapes. There would be one big problem: there is too much water in the Niagara Gorge, which transports the Great Lakes waters through the Niagara River into Lake Ontario.
So, the imaginary managers deemed that a dam would be necessary across the Niagara River upstream from Niagara Falls to divert the water elsewhere, and help to drain the Gorge. They knew this would be entirely possible because the Army Corps of Engineers had dammed the Niagara River once before to make repairs to the Falls, back in 1969. Of course, the magnificent Niagara Falls, a real wonder of the world, would cease to exist. Meanwhile, the Lake Erie water level would start to rise and bigger and better dikes would be needed, particularly around population centers such as Buffalo, Cleveland, Toledo, and Detroit, to prevent flooding. This in turn would raise the base level of the inflowing rivers and they would back up and tend to flood more frequently. The imaginary managers decided to straighten the meander channels of the rivers to allow quicker drainage, but this in turn sent a high discharge of agricultural phosphorus run-off into the Lake. The higher loading of phosphorus triggered gigantic blue-green bacterial blooms.
Clearly an outlet would be needed for the imaginary re-engineered Lake Erie high-level water, so the imaginary lake managers decided to discharge the lake water somewhere else. Very fortunately, an older structure – the Erie Canal – still existed and would be ideally suited for modification to act as a spillway or overflow channel. The Erie Canal in turn would channel the water from Niagara into the Hudson River and out into the Atlantic Ocean near New York City. Unfortunately the voluminous discharge of polluted freshwater from the Lake would do two things. First, the blue green bacteria would thrive as the discharge water slowed and became semi-stagnant in the estuaries and coastal regions around Manhattan during the summer. Secondly, the marine wildlife would be severely impacted due to the drastic reduction in salinities by mixing with freshwater. This would lead to the mass death of marine life, together with animals and plants that thrive in marginal marine and brackish environments such as oysters and clams. Millions of New Yorkers and those in adjacent areas would become enraged because the grape and fruit growers in the Niagara Gorge Agricultural Area have caused all this in the first place, due to their insistence on the change of land usage. Meanwhile, the farmers in the newly established Niagara Gorge Agricultural Area are thriving and unaffected by these changes, and blame the towns and cities for inadequate sewage treatment and leaky septic tanks.
Of course, all this is nonsense and absurd – a figment of my imagination. It wouldn’t happen in real life, would it? No one could be that inept or uncaring – or could they?
The chances of such a catastrophe happening in real life are very slim in the Niagara region. Any move by a special interest group planning to monopolize a Great Lakes’ resource would come under the immediate scrutiny the International Joint Commission. In all likelihood they would jump on such a rapacious scheme like a ton of bricks and it would never see the light of day.
It’s a great pity that the people of Florida don’t have an equivalent body with overarching responsibility for maintaining the quality of Florida waters for all Floridians. Unfortunately, sensible planning initiatives over the decades have been circumvented, and most state politicians have been incapable or reluctant to fund policies directed towards protecting Florida’s water resources. It is a dismal story of failure to protect Florida’s natural resources, and continues to be fueled by campaign contributions from Big Sugar to Tallahassee. The more-than-century-long story has been insightfully summarized recently by Jaclyn Blair, a law student at Florida Coastal Law School, Jacksonville, graduating this year (2017) as Juris Doctor. It is recommended reading for anyone wanting to understand the various parts played by corporate interests, citizens concerns, politicians, policies, legalities, and constitutional amendments regarding the destruction of Florida’s natural resources.
I didn’t think up this sub-header, but thanks to PBS for producing a video of that name. In 2007 PBS published this synopsis of their program:
“During the past 125 years, a series of well-intentioned decisions, actions and policies have turned what should have been one of Florida’s greatest natural treasures into an environmental villain. Six thousand years later after if was formed, residents and agencies across the state are now raising the questions: Is it too late for Lake O?”
In 2017 the question is still valid.
Let’s start with the Manager of Lake Okeechobee, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), which describes itself as follows in its mission statement:
“OUR MISSION: To manage and protect water resources of the region by balancing and improving flood control, water supply, water quality and natural systems.
The South Florida Water Management District is a regional governmental agency that manages the water resources in the southern half of the state, covering 16 counties from Orlando to the Florida Keys and serving a population of 8.1 million residents. It is the oldest and largest of the state’s five water management districts. Created in 1949, the agency is responsible for managing and protecting water resources of South Florida by balancing and improving flood control, water supply, water quality and natural systems.
A key initiative is restoration of the Everglades – the largest environmental restoration project in the nation’s history. The District is also working to improve the Kissimmee River and its floodplain, Lake Okeechobee and South Florida’s coastal estuaries.”
Now, let’s take a look at Lake Okeechobee’s basic statistics. It is 730 square miles in area (about 36×29 miles in longest dimensions), very shallow with an average depth of about 9 feet, varies from about 12 ft to 18 ft above sea level, and has a total volume of water of about 1 cubic mile (for comparison, Lake Erie is more than 100 times greater in volume but only about 13 times larger in water surface area). Lake Okeechobee is the largest lake in the contiguous United States, outside the Great Lakes.
Until about 1930, the lake had a natural outflow about 25 miles wide on its south side allowing water to enter the Everglades system. From about 1930 to 1960 a dirt dam was progressively built, 143 miles in length, and extended all around the Lake as the Herbert Hoover Dike. This converted Lake Okeechobee from a dynamic system of seasonal inflow and outflow into a semi-stagnant reservoir, with emergency releases of overflow water into canals discharging east and west into the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, along heavily populated coastal areas.
SFWMD has scientists and engineers working on various aspects of water quality in south Florida, including Lake Okeechobee. For more than half a century, the Lake Managers have been collecting information on water quality such as water chemistry, amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen, temperature, turbidity, and so on. That, of course, is their job as a management agency, and each year they and their contractors collect more than a quarter million samples for analysis, many from Lake Okeechobee. In addition, NOAA has a weather station on the southern rim of the lake and these meteorological data can be integrated with the Managers’ observations on lake water. This is really important information. However, their attention to details of biological data seems to be less precise. Their definitions of bloom formation is based, generally, on the amount of a particular type of chlorophyll extracted from water samples, rather than information on the number and concentration of particular types of bacteria or algae. Nevertheless their information is important, and the Lake Manager’s scientific staff have produced many significant reports analyzing these data to try to explain why bacterial blooms form in the waters of Lake Okeechobee.
Of first rank importance was the assessment by the Lake Manager’s scientists that Lake Okeechobee was eutrophicating, that is becoming enriched in dissolved nutrients (such as phosphates) that stimulate the growth of aquatic plant life usually resulting in the depletion of dissolved oxygen.
Another report by the Lake Manager’s scientists documented the continuing increase and doubling of total phosphorus in the Lake between 1973 and 1984. Fluctuating lake levels and/or resuspension of soft bottom muds my have been involved in the increase. However other studies drew attention to the burgeoning intensive dairy and beef cattle industries to the north, starting in the 1950s, providing nutrients from agricultural run-off flowing down the Kissimmee River into Lake Okeechobee, together with nutrients entering the Lake system from the sugar cane industry to the south of the Lake, often by back-pumping.
Other scientists employed by the Lake Manager attempted calculations to balance the amount of phosphorus flowing from the Kissimmee River into the Lake from the cattle farms to the north, compared with the amount being discharged principally through the St Lucie and Caloosahatchee Canals to the east and west. Their numbers suggested that between 1973 and 2002, each year on average almost 300 tons of phosphorus ended up sinking to the bottom of the Lake. In the early 2000s the situation had reached crisis proportions because the bottom sediments in the Lake had become thoroughly saturated with phosphorus. Any further phosphorus would not have bonded firmly to the bottom sediments but would be available in the lake water for biological activity. In other words, eutrophication was predicted to become much worse, which meant more organisms growing in the lake waters.
Other studies by the Lake Manager’s scientists looked at meteorological information from NOAA and discerned a complex inter-relationship between wind speed, rainfall, inflow from the Kissimmee River, and lake levels, apparently related to “algal” (i.e. bacterial) bloom formation (that is as judged by the amount of chlorophyll extracted from water samples). They also noted a steady increase in lake levels between 1972 and 1978. The maximum amount of algal/bacterial material occurred between May and September in calm summer months when the water temperature typically reaches into the mid-80s.
So the Lake Manager’s scientists had come up with some interesting possibilities as to what conditions promote blue-green bacterial bloom formation, but not everything matched and not everyone agreed. This was a real tough nut to crack. Something seemed to be missing in the puzzle. But some scientists were concerned enough to state in 2009 “that the [Lake Okeechobee] ecosystem is at risk for continued and perhaps worsened eutrophication symptoms under current P [phosphorus] loading conditions.”
Descending the Murky Depths
In 1994 Dr. P. Moore, a soil science researcher attached to the University of Arkansas and Prof. K.R. Reddy of the University of Florida came up with a new idea. It might not be just the lake water that was involved in bloom formation, but the sediments on the bottom of the lake might be implicated in promoting higher phosphorus levels, and particularly the extent of acidity and oxidation or reduction near the sediment-water interface. They arranged for scuba divers to swim down to the lake bottom with special plastic tubes to be pushed into the mud. The divers brought back several cores of the mud for analysis in the laboratory. What they found was that phosphorus can be released from the lake muds when the water mixing with the mud is reducing (i.e. little or no oxygen) and/or acidic, and particularly if iron oxides and iron hydroxides are also present. This is important in a shallow lake where wind can cause the water column to be mixed, bringing oxygen down to greater depths, which assists in retaining phosphorus in sediments. However, in the case of Lake Okeechobee, winds in the calm summer months tend to be minimal, and oxygen concentrations diminish at the lake bottom. Therefore, the reducing conditions help to release phosphorus in the water, just as the water temperatures increase optimally to 75-80 degrees F favoring the growth of bacteria.
Prof. Ramesh Reddy
Glyphosate in Lake Okeechobee
It’s interesting that Dr. Moore’s and Prof. Reddy’s observations about phosphorus release being favored by acid conditions and iron oxides/hydroxides parallels Prof. Spiese’s work on glyphosate in Ohio, which also implicates acidity and iron oxides and hydroxides in the release of phosphorus from cultivated fields and the growth of blue-green bacterial blooms in lakes. Maybe something similar is happening in Lake Okeechobee and surrounding cultivated land.
Well, is glyphosate really present in Lake Okeechobee? I searched the Lake Manager’s website and noted that as early as 2000 glyphosate was being used to exterminate several thousand acres of cattails in and around the lake by aerial spraying.
In addition, the agricultural areas around Lake Okeechobee and in the Kissimmee River watershed are awash with glyphosate, and the farmers appear to have been enthusiastic users since the early 1990s according to the U.S. Geological Survey, whose maps are reproduced below (one for 1992 and another for 2014, but there are others for the in between years).
But the strongest evidence of all for recent years comes from the website of the US Army Corps of Engineers. They head up the Lake Okeechobee Aquatic Plant Management Interagency Task Force, which has this mission statement:
The Corps of Engineers shall chair, and actively solicit participation in the Lake Okeechobee Aquatic Plant Management Interagency Task Force. The Task Force members will represent State of Florida agencies (including the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the South Florida Water Management District), state Universities, the Corps of Engineers, and other Federal agencies. The Task Force will serve in an advisory capacity, providing multi-disciplinary technical and scientific data from which the Corps’ aquatic plant management strategy, methodology, and research planning and operational efforts will evolve. The focus of the aquatic plant effort will be to benefit the overall ecological health of Lake Okeechobee.
So now it seems that there are two lake managers: The US army Corps of Engineers on the one hand, and the South Florida Water Management District on the other. The Army Corps of Engineers, as well as having absolute authority to open the floodgates for Lake Okeechobee whenever it deems this necessary, has also now got control of the program to exterminate various aquatic plant species by use of powerful herbicides. Is this a matter of too many chiefs and not enough Indians? The Mission of the Army Corps of Engineers is clear: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s mission is to provide vital public engineering services in peace and war to strengthen our Nation’s security, energize the economy, and reduce risks from disasters. Their Vision is equally clear “Engineering solutions for our Nation’s toughest challenges.” Their Motto is clear “Building Strong”. The potential conflict between the two Managers (ACE on the one hand, SFWMD on the other) needs to be rationalized and sorted out to achieve sensible results.
So what can ACE tell us about glyphosate? From time to time the Army Corps of Engineers posts their schedule for spraying programs to control aquatic plants in Lake Okeechobee. For example, they used glyphosate in July 2016 for extermination of cattails in Lake Okeechobee and again in March 2017. So glyphosate is present in Lake Okeechobee, definitely from Army Corps of Engineers’ activities and the SFWMD, starting as early as 1988:
The presence of glyphosate is highly probable from farming activities around and upstream from Lake Okeechobee. It has already been noted that glyphosate may stimulate blue-green bacterial growth, and that the cloning by natural selection of glyphosate-resistant strains is also possible. The Lake Managers have yet to come up with an up-to-date, complete analysis of Lake Okeechobee waters, showing how much herbicide is present – at least I have not been able to find it on their websites or other relevant publications – and how many toxins such as microcystin have been detected on a routine basis. Surely the public has a right to know this vital information.
Where has all the Water Gone?
Well the problem is that the water in Lake Okeechobee generally does not go anywhere, or not where it is meant to be, that is into the southern Everglades. The various planning decisions and missteps over the years have converted Lake Okeechobee into a vast semi-static reservoir. From time to time it gets overfull, even with an enlarged dike, and great volumes of water have to be released by the Army Corps of Engineers to the St Lucie River and the Caloosahatchee Rivers with dire results.
An impressive report appeared in 2015 by a team of experts headed up Prof. Wendy Graham of the Water Institute of the University of Florida. The title of the report says it all: “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”.
Prof. Wendy Graham
It is a very detailed and comprehensive report and well worth reading because it was produced independently at arm’s length from the politicians, and it is for the most part written in plain and comprehensible language. It discusses many options to solve the problem and to start getting the lake water back down to the southern Everglades.
To my mind, the key thing is to include bio-cleaning and remediation of the lake water before it passes south too far down the Everglades system. Constructed wetlands for water treatment have been in use since the mid-1950s, including several system using cattails, reeds, and other aquatic plants to remove such things as nitrogen, phosphorus, and other pollutants from waste water. Such systems could be utilized to good effect in the reservoirs anticipated in areas south of Lake Okeechobee, in effect being “reconstructed wetlands” in place of the former sawgrass plains.
To its credit, the South Florida Water Management District has constructed several large wetlands called Stormwater Treatment Areas, which are designed to remove excess phosphorus and other nutrients from waters immediately north of the Everglades Protection Area. One of them in western Palm Beach County STA-3/4) is the largest constructed wetland in the world.
If the overflow water from Lake Okeechobee is not cleaned to rigorous standards, it will fail to reach the high standards of purity required by federal regulators of the Miccosukee Indian tribal lands in the Everglades south of Alligator Alley (see my blog “Sugar and Indians”):
Well, all the above makes for pretty dismal reading for the most part. But there are several rays of sunshine cutting through the mess that has been created to suggest that all is not lost. Up in Lake Erie there’s a lot of activity on both sides of the border in reconstructing wetlands to replace those lost to drainage and infill schemes over the last century. New treatments are being invented to remove phosphorus and other pollutants from the run-off water before it hits the lake. Some of the links below will lead you to more details.
Down in Lake Okeechobee, the South Florida Water Management District is showing the world how to build gigantic constructed wetlands as a start to cleaning up the Okeechobee water ultimately destined for the southern Everglades. And Florida’s politicians are now making major inroads into passing legislation to fund these schemes, such as Senator Joe Negron’s continuing efforts to get the state House and Senate to agree.
Today we continue our road trip in the Glades atop the Herbert Hoover Dike.
In the short video below you can see my Glades tour-guide, former mayor JP Sasser, driving, –in his hometown of which he knows so much about–Pahokee. On the right lies the city, and on the left is Lake Okeechobee. A precarious position indeed!
Pahokee is actually unusual in that this little town is “high-ground.” According to JP, about 13 feet above ground. This is not the case for most of the Glades.
Interestingly, in the video, JP discusses how the Army Corp recently decided where to strengthen the dike in Pahokee, because if they had extended it out 500 feet as was done along the rest of the eastern shore, the town of Pahokee would have been covered up as it is located right beside the dike.
Lake Okeechobee’s dike and its history are fascinating just as is all our area of the Northern Everglades including the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon that in 1923 became the primary exit point for waters that could no longer flow south after the Herbert Hoover Dike was built.
According to historian and Gladesman Lawrence E. Will:
“…following the floods of 1923 and 1924 water stood over farm lands nearly the entire winter. To protect the farms, the state of Florida had then constructed an earthen dike along the whole south shore. It was some five to eight feet above ground level but this dike was never intended to withstand a hurricane.”
Regarding the expansion of the dike, as the “Herbert Hoover,”after the horrific hurricanes of 1926, ’28 and again in again in ’49, Mr. Nathaniel Reed notes in his writing “Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades: “The Corps of Engineers studied the average size of Lake Okeechobee and designed a dike around it…”
Now this is where things get very interesting.
“The average size of the lake….” what’s that?
Now if we look at this slide taken from a 2016, presented by Jeff Sumner, who was at the time Office Chief State and Agricultural Policy, SFWMD, it shows the size of the lake pre-development. One can see it was about once about 1000 square miles in size and today it is 750.
Of course the size expanded and contracted based on rainfall, but one still gets the point…this lower area was nature’s shoreline, a boggy marsh with rivers leading into a sawgrass “river of grass” bordered by a forest of over 30,000 acres of Custard Apple trees that functioned like mangroves extending up to five miles or more south into what is today’s Belle Glade. As Mr Lawrence Will would have said: “Who wudda thought!” (http://museumoftheglades.org)
Recently, at Rivers Coalition Defense Fund meeting, president Kevin Henderson brought along the old River League’s briefcase. It had been stored away for many decades in an aging house in Stuart. In case you have not heard of them, “The River League” worked tirelessly in the 50s and 60s to stop the expanding destruction of our rivers by the Florida Flood Control District (today’s South Florid Water Management District) and the Army Corp of Engineers.
I couldn’t believe the old brief case—a beautiful sight–aged leather, and rusted metal with the sweat of those who carried it unwashed from its handle…
Kevin placed the briefcase on the table and opened it. It had not been opened in almost 50 years! No pun intended, but the sound of the locks “clicked”and suddenly it was open…
I held my breath.
I swore for a second that I saw the spirit of Ernie Lyons come out of the old briefcase like a genie. He had a giant cigar in his mouth and dark rimmed glasses. His hair was greased back and he sat at a floating desk from the old Stuart News…He was leaning back in his chair with his hands behind his head smiling from ear to ear. His teeth were stained with tobacco juice and he looked happy as a clam.
“Ernie here….Ha! Good to see you workin’ so hard! Those bastards are still killing it aren’t they? The river that is! Don’t you for a moment have despair. As you know this war has been going on for a long, long time. All of us, who have passed, are on your side. We are here. All of us who worked so hard to save the paradise of this place. You’ve probably caught on. Good versus evil is not a game. And I got a secret to tell ya. —I know the end—and good wins. Don’t give up! And know we’re here working the magic behind the scenes to help you save the St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon.”
Then he looked away and started furiously typing…the words he was writing could be seen above his head:
Today’s column, 1968
HOW THROATS OF OUR RIVERS WERE CUT BY CANALS
“There was never anything more beautiful than a natural South Florida river, like the North and South Fork of the St Lucie…
A bank of cabbage palms and live oaks draped with Spanish moss and studded with crimson-flowered air-plants and delicate wild orchids– were scenes of tropical wonder, reflected back from the mirror-like onyx surface of the water….”
When I looked up, Ernie was gone and our meeting was in full discussion…
As a reflection from the mirror of the St Lucie’s onyx-like water–I know that Ernie is here…
From what I’m told, the last water story the Discovery Channel did was on Flint Michigan….perhaps the next will be on the Lake Okeechobee and the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon….
Discovery reporter Katie Carpenter visited Stuart yesterday just for a tour. She visited Florida Oceanographic speaking to Mark Perry, others, and then met with me at the Town of Sewall’s Point for a tour of the area. She is just doing preliminaries–groundwork, seeing if there is a story.
I did my usual spiel trying to be a good hostess; I’ve done this before for high level government officials and reporters, and I am happy to do it—-it’s how we are going to change this mess–by sharing our story, putting it out for the world. So I put my smile on, got out my history books, maps, photographs, and river advocacy educational materials from 2013 and offered a road tour.
I figured we’d hit a few places and maybe there would be some algae blooms to show her. Maybe they’d look toxic–
Not only did I see particulate algae in the water off Sewall’s Point but mats of it awaited us at Sandsprit Park, The Harborage Marina under the Roosevelt Bridge in Stuart, and most dramatically at St Lucie Locks and Dam where the waters of Lake Okeechobee are released by the ACOE along C-44 through Structure-80 into the South Fork of the St Lucie River.
Today I will share some photos and videos from the trip to continue documenting this 2016 Lake O Event that started January 29th, 2016.
It’s a crazy story isn’t it? From most biodiverse estuary in North America to a health hazard.
I wish there were a better story to Discover.
Katie was brought to our area through locals who referred her here. We have many connections. Yes, the world is Discovering what is happening here, and this exposure will help facilitate change because we definitely have a story.
#1 SL Locks algae coming from C-44 west side through S-80 into SLR
As many of us have read in Ed Killer’ excellent TCPalm article, the discharges from Lake Okeechobee have surpassed the level of 2013, the “Lost Summer.” As my husband Ed and I go up fairly regularly in the Cub, I will attempt to share shorter more frequent posts with more aerial photos of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon in order to document this year’s continued destruction.
This destruction is not expected to stop anytime soon as Lake Okeechobee yesterday was reported at 14.77–very high for hurricane season. Last year, on 6-10-15, the lake stood at a “comfortable” 12.58. As we know, the entire reason we are being dumped on is because the water cannot go south as Mother Nature intended.
The photos below were taken 6-15-16. The ACOE has been releasing since January 29th, 2016. Today is June 17th, 2016. All charts below showing basin water inputs of area agricultural canals and tidal runoff are courtesy of the South Florida Water Management District and Army Corp of Engineers’ Periodic Scientists Call.
Aerial photos taken by Ed Lippisch at the confluence of the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon around Sewall’s Point, Sailfish Point, Manatee Pocket and St Lucie Inlet 6-15-16, formerly the richest seagrass beds in the county as well as North America.
My earliest memories of Stuart include stairs…stairs leading to the river…
Walking in Shepherd’s Park as a child, I would ask, “Where did those stairs go Mom?” Her answer may have gone something like this…
“Jacqui, those stairs led to a great house, one of Stuart’s first, built by pioneer, Hubert Bessey. It later became the residence of William and Lucy Ann Shepherd who first came to Stuart in the early 1900s. They came, like so many did at that time, for the fishing. Stuart, you know, was “the fishing grounds of presidents” and known as “the greatest waters in America” for this sport. Mr Shepherd was president and owner of T.H. Brooks and Company, a steel corporation in Cleveland. He and his wife were generous citizens of our community. In 1947 the house was almost demolished by a hurricane, but repaired. Then in 1949, disaster struck. Right in the middle of the winter season, the house mysteriously burned to the ground, but the stairs still stand today…” (Adapted from “History of Martin County”)
Yesterday, with these 50-year-old lessons ringing in my ears, I approached the remains of the old Shepherd residence that became today’s Shepherd’s Park. I was here on Memorial Day to meet reporter Jana Eschbach, from CBS affiliate Channel 12 News in West Palm Beach. It was Jana who had alerted me to a large fluorescent green algae bloom-more than likely toxic.
I arrived early and walked around. Lots of memories. Seeing the old stairs, I thought about how they used to lead to “the fishing grounds of presidents and the greatest fishing grounds in America.” And today, less than 100 years later, they are leading to toxic algae blooms. Never in my wildest dreams would I have foreseen this as a child.
Walking around the breakwater, I thought to myself:
“I will not give up on this place–this former paradise. It could recover if given the chance. History can repeat itself in some form here for the positive. Yes, and I will remember the words of Ernest Lyons who my mother taught me about too—the writer and editor of Stuart’s early paper–a leader and inspiration in fighting against the digging of the excessive agricultural canals that have destroyed our St Lucie River.
I mused for a second and remembered his inspirational quote:
“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.”
The recovery of this river is in the people, for no government can exist in today’s age knowingly bringing this upon its people…It continues to be our time to change history.
If you ever drive the easterly location of Indian Street in Martin County, you are in the historic subdivision for the proposed Town of Port Sewall. According to the “History of Martin County,” in 1910, Hugh Willoughby and Captain Henry Sewall established the Sewall’s Point Land Company which developed Port Sewall–of which Golden Gate is part.
I was taken by these old aerials from 1954 showing the straight roads of the Golden Gate section of the development with Sewall’s Point and St Lucie Inlet in the distance; I wanted to compare the photo to a cool old plat map and a Google map of today.
I love this old area of Martin County. So much history. It is fun to drive along Old St Lucie Boulevard and through Golden Gate. There are still remnants of the past. To visit the old Golden Gate building on Dixie Highway now getting a new life as the office of House of Hope—that was once a real estate office…..an awesome old Whiticar Boatworks from a bit later…
One of the long forgotten thing about this area is that Sewall and Willoughby’s vision for this development was a deepwater port off of Sewall’s Point. According to historian Sandra Thurlow, “The port was to be established at the junction of the waterways known today as the Crossroads. It would be called “Port Santa Lucia” and would handle the vast amounts of produce that would be shipped out of the interior of Florida via the cross state canal.”
The cross-state canal in this reference? Yes, the cross state canal of the 1920s was the dreaded St Lucie Canal or more lovingly know today as C-44…the canal that connects Lake Okeechobee to the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
Willoughby and Sewall’s development and the Port of Santa Lucia never succeeded as the Great Depression of the 1920s killed that dream. But unfortunately part of the dream of that era lived on. Today the cross state canal or since named “Okeechobee Waterway” (C-44 in Martin County) does not transport vast amounts of fresh produce, but rather is used to “manage” the waters of Lake Okeechobee and to send sediment and nutrient filled Agricultural run off to feed algae blooms and destroy the property values of Sewall’s Point, Port Sewall, Golden Gate, and the rest of Martin County.
The following was written by Dr Gary Goforth as a response to U.S. Sugar Corporation’s months long ad campaign in the Stuart News. http://garygoforth.net
· The health and economies of the St. Lucie River and Estuary, the Caloosahatchee Estuary, and Florida Bay have been sacrificed for decades by the management of Lake Okeechobee for the protection of US Sugar and other agricultural lands south of the Lake.
The recent ad blitz by US Sugar appears to be an attempt to divert the public’s attention away from this preferential treatment and from an egregious betrayal of south Florida taxpayers perpetrated by US Sugar, the Florida legislature and the Governor’s administration – the failure to exercise the willing seller contract to purchase US Sugar land south of the lake. Failure to secure needed land south of the Lake is the single biggest obstacle to long-term protection of the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries from destructive Lake discharges, and providing Florida Bay and lower east coast wellfields with needed water.
· Water storage necessary to reduce high flows to the estuaries by about 90% will require about 10% of the land in the EAA – not complete elimination of farming in the area. The recent UF Water Institute study reconfirmed what scientists have been saying for decades – additional storage and treatment beyond what is currently planned in CERP and CEPP is needed south of the Lake: “If this required storage were to be provided strictly though deep 12-ft reservoirs, new land area between approximately 11,000 and 43,000 acres would be required south of Lake Okeechobee.” The upper limit – 43,000 acres – is less than ¼ of the amount of land US Sugar was willing to sell to the state (187,000 acres).
· Regarding the numbers in the ads – some are accurate, some are completely fictitious (e.g., the distribution of water from Lake Okeechobee), and many critical numbers are missing, e.g.,
-millions of pounds of nitrogen and phosphorus from lake Okeechobee that feed algal blooms and wreak havoc on the ecology of the river, estuary, lagoon and near-shore reefs. (million off pounds of nutrients that the State of Florida ignores in their BMAP progress reports for the St Lucie River.) – the hundreds of millions of pounds of Lake Okeechobee sediment that turned a once sand-bottom clear water estuary into a muck-filled lagoon that belches blackwater every time it rains. – the hundreds of millions of dollars of economic impact to local businesses, tourism and real estate values attributable to poor water quality If you’re interested go to the SFWMD’s (or my) website.
· Most of the area that the ads calls “local waterways” did not flow into the St. Lucie River (SLR) until after the major agricultural drainage canals (C-23, C-24, C-25 and C-44) were dug, connecting more than 250,000 acres to the SLR. Historically these areas flowed north into the St. Johns River watershed, south into the Loxahatchee and Everglades watersheds, evaporated or recharged the groundwater.
· The ads ignore the fact that more than half of the “local watershed” is agriculture, and that more than half of the flows and nutrient loads to the St. Lucie River and Estuary come from agricultural land use.
· Nutrient loads from septic tanks along the Indian River Lagoon need to be addressed in cost-effective ways based on good science. Nevertheless, nutrient loading and sediment from Lake Okeechobee and agricultural runoff constitute a far greater threat to the health of the St. Lucie Estuary than does loading from Martin County septic tanks. The loading from septic tanks in Martin County have been overstated by upwards of 200-300%.
· The 2016 Florida Legislature was an unmitigated disaster for the environment of Florida, with misappropriations of Amendment 1 funds for the second year in a row and the passage of a water bill that rolled back environmental protection for the benefit of agricultural interests. What role did lobbyists for US Sugar and other agricultural interests play in this debacle? —–Dr. Gary Goforth
*Dr. Goforth has more than 30 years of experience in water resources engineering encompassing strategic planning, design, permitting, construction, operation and program management. For the last 25 years, his focus has been on large-scale environmental restoration programs in the Kissimmee-Okeechobee-Everglades ecosystem. He was the Chief Consulting Engineer during the design, construction and operation of the $700 million Everglades Construction Project, containing over 41,000 acres of constructed wetlands. He is experienced in public education, water quality treatment design and evaluation, engineering design and peer review, systems ecology, statistical hydrology, hydrologic modeling, hydrodynamic modeling, water quality modeling, environmental permit acquisition and administration, hydrologic and water quality performance analyses. (Website: http://garygoforth.net)
The first time I ever laid eyes on Lake Okeechobee, I was eleven years old. I remember thinking that I must be looking at the ocean because I could not see across to the other side. Just enormous!
In spite of its magnificent size, over the past century, Lake Okeechobee has been made smaller–around thirty percent smaller– as its shallow waters have been modified for human use–pushed back, tilled, planted, diked, and controlled. Today, it is managed by the South Florida Water Management District and the Army Corp of Engineers. Sprawling sugar fields, the Everglades Agricultural Area, (EAA), canals, highways, telephone poles, train tracks, processing facilities, a FPL power plant, and small cites surround it.
S-308, (the “S” standing for “structure), opens easterly into the St Lucie Canal, also known as C-44, (Canal 44). About twenty miles east is another structure, S-80, at the St Lucie Locks and Dam. It is S-80 that is usually photographed with its “seven gates of hell,” the waters roaring towards the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, and the City of Stuart, but it is actually S-308 that allows the waters of Lake Okeechobee “in” from the lake in the first place.
Such a fragile looking structure to be the welcome matt of so much destruction…a sliver unto an ocean. So strange…
Today I will share some aerial photos that my husband took on Friday, May 13th, 2016 at about 700 feet above the lake. I asked Ed if from that height he could see the algae bloom so much in the news last week even though over time blooms migrate, “bloom” and then sink into the water column, becoming less visible but still lurking.
“Yes.” He replied.
” It’s harder to see from that altitude, and it depends on the light, but it’s still visible. It’s green in the brown water. The lighting shows were it is. You can see a difference in texture about 100 yards west of S-308. It is not right up against the structure, but further out. Boats are driving through it leaving a trail. It’s appears that is slowly being sucked in to the opening of the S-308 structure , like when you pull the drain out of the sink….”
TC Palm’s Tyler Treadway reported on 5-13-16: “The lake bloom was spread over 33 square miles near Pahokee, the South Florida Water Management District said Thursday. The Florida Department of Health reported Friday the bloom contains the toxin microcystin, but at a level less than half what the World Health Organization says can cause “adverse health impacts” from recreational exposure.”
Pahokee is south and west of Port Maraca and S-308. (Florida Trails)
It clearly allows us to see “where we have come from,” and “how we got to where we are today”–especially in regards to our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon region.
In the early decades of the 1900s, Chapter 298 of Florida Statues allowed for Drainage Districts to be created, (most still exist today), by early settlers across the state so they could begin the hard work of “settlement.” These early Floridians often chose areas around rivers for their location, riches and soils.
Nonetheless, “drain baby, drain!” was the mantra.
Drainage of small tributaries of the forks of the rivers such as the St Lucie created rich farmlands and the ability to develop the lands. This was expected of settlers. During this same era, giant public works projects such as the St Lucie Canal, (C-44), linking Lake Okeechobee to the South Fork of the St Lucie River, were dug through the cooperation of state and federal governments to create what would become the Everglades Agricultural Area, or EAA, south of Lake Okeechobee.
“The rest is history…”
As we sit here today with news of a substantial blue-green algae bloom in Lake Okeechobee, and cringe as the ACOE dumps it into our estuary, I find this small booklet my mother came across recently “a through looking-glass” —–of the mentality of the times when all this over-drainage was the goal and the repercussions were not understood.
Counties all over our state had such little booklets. As you can read, this one is from St Lucie County connected to the North Fork of the St Lucie River. These hard-working people of the day dug their canal around 1936 so it would “veer to the southeast and then east to the St. Lucie River….” certainly they were not thinking about toxic algae blooms or water quality at this time. It did not even cross their radar. But it does ours….What will our little booklets look like for future historians to read ? Well, that’s for us to decide.