Tag Archives: basins

“Paradise and Hell,” June 2015/June 2013, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Contrast June 21, 2015 and June 28, 2013. St Lucie Inlet, Martin County, Fl. (Photos JTL and EL)
Contrast June 21, 2015 and June 28, 2013. St Lucie Inlet, Martin County, Fl. (Photos JTL and EL)

I hope you and your family had a happy Father’s Day. The water was beautiful this weekend,  so I thought today I would compare some aerial photos my husband Ed and I took this weekend to some we took in June of 2013 during the “Lost Summer.” No wonder we all fight for clean water and fewer discharges from Lake Okeechobee and area canals. What a difference!

Of course other than “history,” rain has a lot to do with discharges into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, and it has not been raining too much lately— thus the blue waters rather than the ugly dark brown plumes. It is important for all of us to understand why our paradise sometimes turns into a disgusting toxic mess so we can keep working for policy to change this problem.

The first and worst part of the problem lies in southern Martin County—the C-44 canal built by the Flood Control District of the era and later the Army Corp of Engineers to connect Lake Okeechobee to the South Fork of the St Lucie River. This canal was connected in 1923 for agriculture and transportation. So now, not only is there the agricultural lands’ runoff from the C-44 basin that pours into the river, but also the periodic often huge releases from Lake Okeechobee. In spite of claims that this lake water is “only 30%” of total discharge water coming into the estuary, when it comes it is tremendous, filthy, and always a killer.

I think a decent metaphor would be that one could drink alcohol all time (from the C-23, C-24, C-25) and have problems like an alcoholic but function, however, if one downed two bottles of gin in a short period of time, one would kill oneself. Lake Okeechobee and its periodic huge slugs are death each time for our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.

Canals in Stuart, C-23, C-24, C-25 built in the 50s and 60s. C-44 connected to Lake Okeechobee constructed in the 1920s.
Canals in Stuart, C-23, C-24, C-25 built in the 40s, 50s and 60s. C-44 connected to Lake Okeechobee constructed in the 1920s.

Next we must recognize the other problem-part of our canal system in the northern region…

After a tremendous hurricane/storm and flooding (because we are a swamp….)  in 1947 the state of Florida and the federal government worked to appropriate monies for the Central and South Florida Flood Project  which created the plumbing system we know today for all South Florida.

The part “we got” was the building of canals C-25, C-24 and C-23. The state and federal government acted like this was “just for flooding” but it wasn’t. It was also to allow for more agriculture and development in the region by draining the lands. (Mostly citrus and development of Port St Lucie).  These canals were built and “improved” throughout the 50s and 60s and expanded the water being drained into the St Lucie River by about five times!

So now water from Okeechobee and St Lucie counties, and even water that had been flowing north into the St Johns River, through Indian River County and beyond— drains into the St Lucie River! (The headwaters of the St Johns River started flowing north in the marshes west of Sebastian and Vero—they have been directed to the SLR…)

Crazy isn’t it?

You know these “guys” —these politicians and business people, knew they were killing the river. They were just so driven by the pay-off of citrus/agriculture and cheap lands to sell….that they didn’t care…The river dies slowly so many of them did not see the “close to total death” —what we see today…but they knew what they were doing.

There were those who objected trying to protect the river’s  fishing industry and wildlife….But their voices were not enough to stop the train….sound familiar?

Drainage changes to the SLR.
Drainage changes to the SLR. Green is the original, natural, watershed,. Yellow and pink show the expanded drainage to the SLR/IRL. St Lucie River Initiative, Letter to Congress 1994.

The map above shows the “expanded watershed” in yellow and pink going into the St Lucie River. This is why I very much object also when I hear “how 70-80%” of the water polluting the St Lucie “is from our local watershed.”

Like we are supposed to feel responsible?  Most of it’s  not local!!!!! Plus it is the SFWMD’s job to oversee these canals. FIX THEM!

The moral of the story though is that the “local watershed” does not exist anymore….

“Wealth (agriculture and development) at the expense of the environment….” The story of our state.

Of course the grand irony is that we all came here for the “environment” ….the water, the fishing, the wildlife, the beauty…..

So here we are in Martin County living in a world where the pendulum swings between “paradise and hell.”

Paradise is not what it used to be, but it is still here. We saw some of it this past weekend…And we could bring back more if we really tried….If we want it, our job is to get more of the water coming into the St Lucie River/IRL back onto the land, going south, and returned or held north, and not draining or being released  into our watershed.

Sounds reasonable doesn’t it? Well, the problem is we don’t have 30 years….or 50 years….like “the plan” (CERP) calls for now….(http://www.evergladesrestoration.gov)

There is alway hope we could do it faster. We must make hope a reality….all of us.

As newspaper man and famed environmentalist Ernie Lyons said: “What men do, they can undo…..and the hope for our river is in the hundreds of men and women in our communities who are resolved to save the St Lucie…” (Ernest Lyons, Editor and reporter, Stuart News)

This weekend I think we were all inspired! 🙂

Comparison 2015 and 2013 Atlantic shoreline with nearshore reefs, Jupiter Island south of St Lucie Inlet. (JTL)
Comparison 2015 and 2013 Atlantic shoreline with nearshore reefs, Jupiter Island south of St Lucie Inlet. (JTL)

_____________________________

September 2013
September 2013–plume as it exits St Lucie Inlet.
Another aerial 2013- plume along Jupiter Island.
Another aerial from September 2013- plume along Jupiter Island that had exited the St Lucie Inlet.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo 3

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

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

________________________________________________

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

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