Today, at a Rivers Coalition meeting, Army Corp of Engineers, Lieutenant Colonel Jennifer A. Reynolds, announced unexpected news: the ACOE will stop discharging to the St Lucie River for 9 days and then resume. They have been releasing from S-308 for four days since a past weekend pause…
This halting, considering it appears to be at least partially a response to an almost completely cyanobacteria filled Lake Okeechobee, and though temporary, is a significant federal decision in the documentation of toxic/algae/St Lucie issues.
The meeting began with Martin Health CEO, Rob Lord discussing health concerns of contact with blue-green algae, and ended with LTC Jennifer Reynolds showing herself to be among other things, a gifted communicator. Please watch the videos for details of this day.
The Jacksonville District of the ACOE will be announcing its next three-year positions for Colonel and Lieutenant Colonel in the coming weeks or months. This cycle of short-lived leadership makes developing lasting relationships and, thus change, indeed almost impossible. But days like today, give one hope.
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:
Today I share the second paper of guest, Geoffrey Norris Ph.D. I recently shared Blue-green algal blooms in the lakes, rivers, and marine waters of south Florida surrounding Lake Okeechobee.
I must admit, I hesitated publishing this second paper, “Sugarcane and Indians,” as I am sure some may interpret it as “politically incorrect.” I apologize to anyone who may, but I decided to print Dr Norris’ paper because the main message is important.
The message is:
“Is Sugar’s use of ripening stalks with “Roundup” feeding toxic algae blooms and why are lands/waters south of Lake Okeechobee “protected” while ours of the northern estuaries are not? “
You will learn something about this in Dr Norris’ paper below, and I thank him for sharing his work.
In closing, I believe we have something important to learn from history and the Native People of North America; I admire them. They are great warriors and respect Nature, the gift of our Creator. And in the case of the Miccosukee, they “never surrendered” and if I have anything to do with it, neither will we.
..”In the 1960s, I lived and worked as a petroleum exploration geologist in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Subsequently, I spent almost 40 years at the University of Toronto in teaching and research in geology…A geologist by training, I have a specialized knowledge of fossil algae, their ecology, morphology, and distribution. I have published hundreds of scientific papers on fossil algae and related topics.” ~Geoffrey Norris Ph.D.
Sugarcane and Indians
The area around Lake Okeechobee accounts for almost half the total production of sugarcane in the United States.
Sugarcane in south Florida is very needy of phosphorus and potassium fertilizers, but nitrogen fixed in the muck soils largely eliminates the need for extra nitrogen fertilizers.
Sugarcane also demands the use of the phosphorus-rich herbicide “Roundup” (glyphosate) several times each year. Firstly, in the fallow season (approximately May-September) to control weeds and allow the sugarcane underground rhizomes to regenerate. Secondly, as the new shoots come through in the Fall to continue weed control. Thirdly, during maturation and harvesting (October through March) glyphosate is applied to “chemically ripen” the sugarcane and improve sugar yields.
Land south of Lake Okeechobee could be used for storage and bio-cleansing of excess lake water. However, the 1997 water quality agreement between the Environmental Protection Agency and the Miccosukee Indians (aka Mikasuki, Miccosuki) states that phosphorus shall not be present in quantities greater than 10 parts per billion, and that no substance shall be present to stimulate algal growth and produce objectionable algal densities in the 300,000 acres of tribal lands in the Everglades south of Alligator Alley.
This legal agreement would suggest that Lake Okeechobee waters destined for southern storage must be cleaned to rigorous standards before discharge into southward flowing streams feeding the Everglades, at least near the Miccosukee tribal lands.
A case could be made for the sugar industry and related agriculture to “clean up its act” to mitigate the effects of heavy fertilizer and herbicide usage on the environment in general and on lake and stream waters in particular.
Sugarcane and Indians
First about nutrients and farm land and how much is planted in sugarcane.
Here are three maps that graphically answer the question about the extent of sugarcane plantations:
A couple of years ago I had the opportunity the fly over the area south of Lake Okeechobee in a light plane at about 1000ft altitude. The extent of the sugarcane is truly mind-boggling. Its plantations surround the entire southern perimeter of the Lake and reach to the horizon. Smaller plantations occur elsewhere around the Lake. It is a very big operation.
Now to the nutrients themselves. I had a great deal of difficulty finding precise information on how much fertilizer is applied per unit area. There were general articles that confirmed that sugarcane is very needy of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium fertilizers together with other elements. It is after all a giant grass, so just think how much stuff you have to put on your own lawn to make it grow green! Apparently, in the south Florida area the need to apply nitrogen fertilizer to sugar cane is not so critical because the mucky soils generate their own nitrates through soil microbial activity. However, phosphates must be applied as fertilizer for sugarcane at various times of the year together with potassium etc. But actual numbers were hard to come by, other than that sugarcane is voracious for fertilizers. This is when I stumbled upon some marvellous work that the U.S. Geological Survey has been doing on the extent and the total quantitates of pesticides being applied to farmland across USA. I used their maps of glyphosate (Roundup) as what I thought might be a reasonable proxy for phosphate fertilizer. In other words, if you use Roundup as a weedkiller on crops, then very likely you will be using fertilizer as well. It turns out I was right and I was wrong! First take a look at this summary map for two separate years, 1992 being the earliest year available in this USGS study:
Details are difficult to see in these summary maps but the originals are much clearer. The area around Lake Okeechobee was already in 1992 applying large amounts of glyphosate, and this intensified in succeeding years. What I didn’t understand was why the sugarcane fields should be so needy of weedkiller – fertilizers OK, but why so much weedkiller? It would seem that 25% of the cost of sugar production is due to heavy nutrient need (up to 75 lbs phosphate per acre, with 400,000 acres in sugarcane in south Florida). But weedkiller. Then I dug deeper following your email comments and found out why. Indeed glyphosate is used at least three ways on sugarcane as follows:
Firstly, during the fallow season (approx. May-September 2016) following harvesting, glyphosate is applied to control weeds which would otherwise grow up and choke out the underground cane sugar rhizomes left in the ground to regenerate as the next crop.
Secondly, glyphosate application continues in different amounts as the new shoots come through in the Fall. This is tricky because glyphosate kills just about anything that is green, but careful control can kill the young weeds while not harming – at least not very much – the young sugarcane shoots. Other herbicides are also involved but glyphosate is the big one.
Thirdly, the sugarcane matures and is harvested in the winter months at various times from October through March. During this time the stem of the sugarcane ripens and becomes rich in sugar (sucrose) prior to going to the mill. Astonishingly (to me anyway) it has been found that about a month or two prior to harvesting, another application of glyphosate will help ripen and enrich the crop with significantly more sugar. This process is called “chemical ripening”. Other chemicals can be involved but glyphosate is a popular choice (it got cheaper once Monsanto’s patent expired in the year 2000).
So yes, I think cane sugar farming is being pursued intensively, but I’m not sure how it can be stopped. Its effects on Lake O could be mitigated as discussed in my previous document but stopping an entire industry would be almost impossible to my mind. Cleaning up the sugar industry might be a more realistic aim.
Change of land usage and water flow.
It would be nice to think that Lake Okeechobee water could be redirected southwards along its original historic course on its way to the Everglades. Here’s a graphic of how things used to be:
For thousands of years, water drained from Lake O through a wide series of shallow tributaries and interconnected lakes to the Everglades. It’s unlikely that this could be recreated but certainly use of land south of the Lake for water transport and storage and bio-cleansing of some sort or another would be an improvement. However, it would seem that this is unlikely given the actions of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its agreement in 1997 re the Clean Water Act with the Miccosukee Indians, a tribe which occupies part of the Everglades.
This agreement set out comprehensively water quality standards for the Tribes drinking water, wildlife habitat water, and recreational water (boating, swimming etc). In particular, Section 3 reads:
MICCOSUKEE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION CODE
SECTION 3. Tribal Water Quality Standards
The following minimum water quality criteria shall apply to all surface waters of the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida unless those water bodies are designated with higher or stricter water quality standards. Stricter standards for a given water body shall supersede these general Water Quality Standards. These standards shall provide a legal basis for including whole effluent toxicity requirements in all federally issued permits.
(there follows a list of 16 physical, biological, and toxicological conditions of which these two are particularly germane):
E. NUISANCE CONDITIONS: Plant nutrients or other substances stimulating algal growth, from other than natural causes, shall not be present in concentrations that produce objectionable algal densities or nuisance aquatic vegetation, or that result in a dominance of nuisance species instream, or that cause nuisance conditions in any other fashion. Phosphorus and nitrogen concentrations shall not be permitted to reach levels which result in man-induced eutrophication problems. Total phosphorus shall not exceed 10 parts per billion in Class III-A waters. In Class III-B waters, total phosphorous discharges shall not be made which result in undesirable aquatic life effects or which result in chronic or acute toxicity to aquatic life.
N. NUTRIENTS: In no case shall nutrient concentrations of Tribal Class I or Class III-A surface waters be altered so as to cause an imbalance in natural populations of aquatic flora or fauna. Total phosphorus concentrations shall not exceed 10 parts per billion in Class III-A waters. In Class III-B waters, nutrients shall not be discharged which result in undesirable aquatic life effects or which result in chronic or acute toxicity to aquatic life.
So what this and other sections of agreement mean is that nutrient-rich water from Lake Okeechobee must be cleaned to rigorous standards before discharge into southward flowing streams feeding the Everglades. So bio-cleansing within the Everglades – or at least near the Miccosukee tribal lands (about 300,000 acres in the vicinity of the Tamiami Trail and Alligator Alley) is not a possibility within this legal framework.
However what’s good for the goose is surely good for the gander. I looked into the history of the Miccosukee Indians, and it would seem they are only fairly recent arrivals in Florida, arriving about the same time as Stuart was being settled. The Miccosukee appear to have originated in what is now Georgia and then migrated south to north Florida where they became entwined with the Seminoles. After the Seminole wars of the 19th century they migrated to central Florida in the late 1800’s and then decided to disentwine themselves from the Seminoles as a culturally distinct society. They appear to have seen an opportunity during the construction of the Tamiami Trail in the first quarter of the 20th century and migrated further south and became embedded in the adjacent Everglades. First Florida (1957) then federally (1962) they became recognized as a tribe distinct from the Seminoles.
Meanwhile in th early 20th century, as the migrant Miccosuki Indians were settling down in their new home in the Everglades as “Trail Indians”, Stuart was incorporated as a town (1914) then a city (1925) after being settled by migrant northerners about half a century earlier. Total population of Stuart is now about 16,000.
640 migrant Indians – how many are fishing and frogging? 16,000 migrant non-Indian northerners – how many lives and livings are being disrupted by ruined beaches and waterfronts?
the Indians pushed for a great deal from EPA and got it. So now a total of about 640 Miccosukee (Mikasuki) Indians (some now living in Miami-Dade and not the Everglades) can pursue their supposedly traditional way of life (fishing, frogging, subsistence agriculture) plus gaming resorts and casinos and tobacco shops – while many of the 151,000 citizens of Martin County are prevented from pursuing their traditional way of life. Surely our waters (habitat, recreational, drinking) should be subject to the same rigorous standards as laid down by the EPA/Clean Water Act for the people living in the Everglades.
We are all equal – as George Orwell said – but some are more equal than others. Well, so it seems. What do you think?
The blue-green algae, the cyanobacteria–sometimes toxic— that we first saw in aerial photos over Lake Okeechobee weeks ago, is not only here, it is everywhere…our river has been made completely fresh by our government. Now the algae is blooming fluorescent green-blue, dying a putrid brown-green, flowing out of our inlet, and poisoning not only or rivers’ shores but our beaches.
On the widest level, this is a health hazard brought upon us by a “knowing government.” Our state, federal, and local governments have seen this coming for years. The slow and steady destruction of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon is well documented.
Now, in 2016, all of Martin County’s beaches and the southern most beach of St Lucie County are closed. Palm City; Stuart; Rio; Sewall’s Point, Jensen. All waters are off limits. “Don’t Touch the Water.” –A health, safety and welfare issue for the people, a nightmare for local government, and a complete environmental and economic disaster for us all.
Included for purposes of documentation– to be added to the thousands of other posts on social media this weekend— I share the following, some that were shared with me…Divided into 8 sections: 1. Algae in the waves at Bathtub Beach, by JTL; 2. algae aerials at C-44, S-80, and S-308, by Dr Scott Kuhns; 3. Lake Okeechobee and St Lucie River’s extensive algae bloom, by jet pilot Dave Stone, and local pilot Ron Rowers; 4. Rio, a residential disaster, Jeff Tucker; 5. Sewall’s Point as seen from the Evan’s Cray Bridge with a river full of algae by walker Tracy Barnes; 6. Rebecca Fatzinger’s duck eating algae; 7. my Uncle Dale Hudson’s lead to Snug Harbor’s Marina “a multimillion dollar disaster,” and 8. Really blue-algae at Central Marina, Stuart/Rio.
The outpouring of the public is immense, and the powers that be, must look our way. Document, call, write, demand, and VOTE.
In our continued documentation of the 2016 Lake Okeechobee event, my husband Ed and I flew over the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon around 5:00pm on Father’s Day, 6-19-16, at the very end of an outgoing tide. Being a stormy day, there was poor lighting, but it was easy to see the darkness that enveloped the river due to the discharges of surrounding agricultural canals, and tidal runoff, and especially the high and long-going releases from Lake Okeechobee. The dark plume hugged the coast and jutted far out into the Atlantic having no clear edge as it was churned up from high winds and waves. Nonetheless from above, it’s shadow was visible for miles all the way south to the Jupiter Inlet.
Over the weekend there were multiple reports of algae blooms throughout the river and canals. Below are photos from a family boat ride in the vicinity of the Harborage Dock in Downtown Stuart yesterday, showing foam and algae at the shoreline and tiny specks of algae dispersed throughout the entire river.
“One resident nearby of Stuart, Dr Vopal, texted: “The river is pea green! …It is time for the legislators to look at this river and consider the health of the people that live on it. ”
Over the weekend just to me and on Facebook there were reports of algae blooms not only in Stuart but along the C-44 canal, the condo/marinas along Palm City Road, the eastern area of Lake Okeechobee itself, the St Lucie Locks and Dam, the St Lucie River near Martin Memorial Hospital, Sandsprit Park, Phipps Park, and Poppleton Creek. Certainly there were many others.
As most of us know, the Army Corp of Engineers has been discharging into the St Lucie River since January 29th, 2016. The river is almost completely fresh thus these freshwater blooms— that are in the lake and upper agricultural canals prior to being released into our river (cyanobacteria is a freshwater bloom)—and then they spread throughout the river once it too is fresh from all of the discharges. Since the ACOE has been releasing since January and there has been so much rain conditions are really bad.
Ed and I will continue to document. Our region’s entire quality of life is at stake. Nothing affects our local economy more than our river. We all must continue pushing to send water south to be cleaned and conveyed to Everglades National Park as Nature intended. Call our elected officials at every level. And vote on Aug 30th in the primary.
Jacqui and Ed, #Skywarriors since 2013
Photos of SLR/IRL -Sewall’s Point, Sailfish Point, St Lucie Inlet, Sailfish Flat’s former seagrass beds, Jupiter Island, Atlantic Ocean’s “protected” nearshore reefs.
Photos shared over weekend: Phipps Park, C-44 canal, St Lucie Locks and Dam, Sandspsprit Park also from family Father’s Day boat ride Harborage Marina, Downtown Stuart.
Lake O algae bloom shared by boater and posted by M. Connor just prior to weekend.
I prefer not to focus on negative topics in my blog, however, it is important we learn about cyanobacteria or “toxic algae” while it is a hot topic as it has it is being released into our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon by the Army Corp of Engineers, as I compose this blog post.
I am going to provide “bullet points,” as I think this will be most effective. I have provided reading material at the end of the post should you be interested in pursuing the topic.
Here we go; as no expert, I will do my best:
-Cyanobacteria has characteristics of both bacteria and algae; it is not a “true algae”
-It is referred to as “blue-green algae”
– It is ancient, the oldest form of life on our planet, perhaps 3.5 billion years old
– It is believed to have created the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere thus defining life on Earth
-It can live in both fresh and salt water environments and in-between
-It exists worldwide in inland and coastal waters (salt and fresh)
-There are “different” cynobacteria in different water environments; they adapt
– 46 species show toxic effects (World Health Organization, 1999)
-The most common FRESHWATER species is microcystis (species found in Lake O)
-The other “most common” species is neuotoxin
-Some species contain both microcysis and neuotoxins
-The World Health Organization recommends governments recognize the “presumption” that all cyanobacteria can be toxic
-Cyanobacteria is buoyant but some can also adjust where they live in the water column to attain the right amount of sunlight
-Buoyancy leads to floating on the water’s surface where winds drive them to shore and they accumulate in a “scum” that is even more “toxic” (concentrated) (Like Lake O)
-Cyanobacteria blooms are a threat to public health and wildlife
Cyanobacteria is encouraged by heavy “nutrients” like phosphorus and nitrogen to “bloom” (grow)
-The present warming trend of the Earth, compounded with human “waste” from agricultural fertilizer, septic and sewer, and “stromwater” from roadways (how we have designed all water to run off into our rivers and lakes) is “feeding” cyanobacteria blooms
-Cyanobacteria blooms are increasing worldwide
-Cyanobacteria can be “controlled” through lessening nutrient pollution from fertilizer and other nutrient producers
About four years ago, I was at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute attending a lecture on “nutrient pollution and our waterways.” At the event, I spoke to Dr Margaret Leinen who is now director of Scripps Research Institution of Oceanography in California. In the course of conversation, she told me she testified before Congress for the National Reasearch Council’s publication, “Clean Coastal Waters, Understanding and Reducing the Effects of Nutrient Pollution, 2000” of which I had just read, and had been discussed at the lecture.
I asked her, why the US Congressional committee wasn’t “stricter” in passing laws to reduce agribusiness fertilizer runoff, and other sources since the scientists “knew” why our waters including the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, and especially Lake Okeechobee were experiencing these toxic blooms.
She, being a lady, just looked at me and said something to the effect of, “Jacqui they don’t always listen….”
Her words have rung in my ears for four years.
No they don’t always listen. Most politicians wait until a crisis ensues as is happening now. We will have to make them listen…all of them: US politicians, state politicians, and local politicians. It is not fun, enforcing laws on polluters, especially if they are campaign donors, but now there is no choice; it is a health issue. We, the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, are a voice for all the world.
The sample of toxic algae taken by DEP and reported from Martin County on 4-24-15 from Lake O read as follows: “Toxin analysis showed 8.4 µg of microcystin-LR per liter in the sample.” ( I do not know how to read this or how to compare it but it was “toxic.” )
You hear it all the time, and it most things considered, it makes sense: “Flood control…”
The Army Corp of Engineers and South Florida Water Management District “HAVE TO” dump from Lake Okeechobee because when its waters are “too high,” it endangers the people and the farms south of the lake.
But what about us? What the thousands of people who live, fish, and boat along our estuary? Are we protected?
Blue-green algae, cyanobacteria, produces two groups of toxins, neurotoxins and peptide hepatotoxins. Great. Is this what our government should be releasing into our waters? This is a fresh water bacteria and it comes from the lake not the brackish estuary. But after our estuary has been “dumped on” by all the area canals, with an overabundance of fresh water, or an overabundance of water from the lake, the microcytosis can live here!
Let’s think about this.
The first responsibility for any government is the “health, safety and welfare” of its people. That is my responsibility as an elected official in the Town of Sewall’s Point.
So when circumstances are as they are today, or at least yesterday–and there was documentation of what clearly appears to be a blue-green algae bloom, most likely toxic, on the eastern side of Lake Okeechobee at S-308, am I supposed to remain quiet? I think not, and nor should you.
The ACOE is scheduled to start dumping today. I admit, that the ACOE, SFWMD, governor, and legislature are in a difficult position having to protect one group at the expense of another, but somebody better figure it out.
The dumping of blue-green algae in Lake O waters is what led to the toxic “Lost Summer” of 2013, and the fish kills and toxic waters of 2005 in the SLR/IRL.