Tag Archives: BMP

Bessey Creek “Hybrid Wetland Treatment Project,” What’s That? St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Bessey Creek in 1965, is the exiting point for C-23 into the St Lucie River. The canal was  built between 1959 and  1961.
Bessey Creek (winding left into today’s Palm City) along exiting point for C-23 into the St Lucie River. The canal was built between 1959 and 1961. Bessey Creek used to be a flowing, clean beautiful creek–today it is polluted.(Photo Thurlow Archive, 1965)

Press Release for “Hybrid Wetland Technology Treatment Project Groundbreaking:”

(http://www.martin.fl.us/documents2010/info_release/eng/2015/MC_Info_Release-Bessey_Hybrid_event_FINAL.pdf)

Because of my Sewall’s Point commission position, I received an invitation to attend yesterday’s groundbreaking of Martin County’s “Bessey Creek Hybrid Wetland Treatment Technology Project” ceremony located about 2.1 miles north of SW Citrus Boulevard in Palm City. I was honored that they invited me, so I decided to go. I have read about the project for a couple of years now, but of course I am no expert on chemical cleaning of filthy storm water running into our waterways.

On the way there, I was thinking:

“Does Bessey Creek really start all the way out here?”

I always think of the mouth of Bessey Creek, which intersects with the notorious C-23 Canal as the border of Martin and St Lucie Counties, when I think of Bessey Creek.

Driving so far away from the coast, memories came back to me of Martin County High School in the 1980s, and the great parties off of Boat Ramp Road! (I’ll stop there…. ūüôā

Years ago, before the draining and canal building of the 1920s and after, these Palm City area lands were mostly “wetlands” but now they are “dry.” When I was young, it was mostly cows “out here,” but now it is thousands of people and agricultue.

Bessey Creek area
Bessey Creek area by groundbreaking off Citrus Blvd. (northern  part of photo Google map photo)
This photo is more easterly showing where Bessey Creek exits into SLR. (Google Earth)
This photo is more south-easterly showing where Bessey Creek exits into SLR. (Google Earth) Today’s version of 1965 photo at beginning of this blog post.

The groundbreaking was very well done and elegant Vice-Chair of the Martin County commission, Ann Scott, led the ceremony. Commissioner, John Haddox, was there as well. Deb Drum’s team, ¬†from the county’s Ecosystem Restoration and Management Division of the Martin County Engineering Department is the lead organizer for the project itself. One of the many things they are working on!

The Florida Legislature, especially Senator Joe Negron, and the Florida Department of Agriculture also very much helped with this 3 million dollar “turn dirt” project. According to Mr Budell from the Department of Agriculture, the Bessey Creek project is one of about 10 in the state and mid-sized in comparison.

Deb Drum, MC (Photo JTL)
Deb Drum, MC (Photo JTL)
Senator Joe Negron and Rich Budell, FDACS. (Photo JTL)
Senator Joe Negron, Rich Budell, FDACS and MC Administrator, Taryn Kryzda. (Photo JTL)
Part of area to be constructed. (Photo JTL)
Part of area to be constructed. (Photo JTL)
Artist drawing of project to come. (Photo JTL)
Artist drawing of project to come. (Photo JTL)

I am happy to see the Agriculture Department’s involvement as “Ag.” plays a huge role in the problem in the first place and without them, as powerful as they are, like it or not, we will never get anywhere…

After the ceremony, Tom Debusk from the company “Watershed Technologies” (http://www.watershedtechnologiesllc.com/technology/)¬†gave a presentation explaining how the system operated. The link above is an excellent resource and also has previous articles from TC PALM.

As usual, during the presentation, I had to ask a lot of questions to understand, and Mr Debusk was very patient with me, but basically the remaining pathetic “headwaters” of Bessey Creek start somewhere between Boat Ramp Road and Citrus Blvd, close to where we¬†were all standing. ¬†The county is leasing (for almost nothing) this land from the state.¬†It will be up and running in one year.

How does it work?

Well, simply put, a pond like treatment area will be built¬†and take diverted waters from Bessey Creek and treat them with a combination of aluminum sulfate (basically a salt that is non poisonous and has natural properties to clean water (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aluminium_sulfate,) and aquatic plants that will “uptake” mostly phosphorus, but also some nitrogen, and other pollutants from the water. So pollutants will be “separated” or “taken in”….leaving the water clean as it meanders to the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.

We must keep in mind of course, that phosphorus and nitrogen come from the surrounding lands: equestrian community; decorative plant farms; ¬†ranch homes; (fertilizer and animal waste….etc…)

Tom Debusk of Watershed Technologies explains the project. (Photo JTL)
Tom Debusk of Watershed Technologies explains the project. (Photo JTL)
Glass files showing how aluminum sulfate separates the P and N and other pollutants causing them to fall to the bottom and form a clay like substance that can be removed and recycled (as a type of fertilizer) or just put in the land fill. (Photo JTL)
Glass files showing how aluminum sulfate separates the P and N and other pollutants causing them to fall to the bottom and form a clay like substance that can be removed and recycled (as a type of fertilizer) or just put in the land fill. (Photo JTL)
Concentrated removal of pollutants from water, now as hard as a rock.
Concentrated removal of pollutants from water, now as hard as a rock.

I was happy to learn that the chemical aluminum sulfate won’t hurt wildlife (or people), but I did wonder about dealing with “source pollution” so we are not just paying to clean water that surrounding landowners are continually making dirty….I was assured that surrounding areas are being educated not to shovel horse poop along the creek and Best Management Practices are continually being refined. (http://solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu/hot_topics/agriculture/bmps.html)

I drove off thinking feeling good and thinking about how “water/the river” is seeing her day in the sun. I also drove off hoping that with all of our various efforts we can clean up a river whose surrounding wetlands and highlands we have turned into a “drained ant-pile of people.”

….Kudos to Marin County and the State for their efforts!¬†

My "selfie" in front of the the site.
My “selfie” in front of the the site.(12-17-14)

 

 

Understanding Point and Non-Point Pollution, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides "run-off" crops during a rain storm. This is an example of non-point pollution. Lynda Betts, United States Dept. of Agriculture. (Photo, public domain.)
Fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides “run-off” crops into a canal during a rain storm. This is an example of “non-point pollution.” Lynda Betts, United States Dept. of Agriculture. (Photo, public domain.)

There are many types of pollution that affect the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon but two words you will hear over and over are “point” and “non-point pollution.” These are important words to understand especially today as we fight to save our rivers.

Point pollution is basically pollution that you can pin-point coming out of a “pipe.” Point pollution is associated with industry. For instance, a waster water treatment plant that has a pipe releasing into the river is point pollution. In the late 1800s and early 1900s some residences, businesses and industries just let their pollution and or sewage go directly into the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon. Yuk!

This practice improved with the advent of sewer systems, septic and organized cities but there were/are still direct pipes releasing very unclean water until very recently. Recognizing the impacts of discharges from wastewater treatment plants, the Florida Legislature passed the Indian River Act (Chapter 90-262) in 1990 requiring waste water treatment plants to cease discharging their effluent, somewhat processed poop,  into the lagoon. Because it was easy to pinpoint exactly where these industrial wastewater points are/were located, it is fairly easy to regulate them.

The lagoon and we have befitted from the Indian River Act 90-262 but we still have problems.

Non-point pollution, unlike point source pollution, ¬†is pollution that is hard to pin-point because it is coming from “everywhere.” On average it rains 50 inches each year along the Treasure Coast. Highways, parking lots, people’s yards, leaky septic tanks, and agriculture all combine to create a cocktail of oils, heavy metals, fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, viruses, bacteria and other pollutants that run from flowing rain water into area canals and then straight into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.

To complicate things more, cities and counties can regulate residential  applications (for instance many have recently passed strict fertilizer ordinance outlawing the use of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer application during rainy season,) but cities are not allowed  to regulate agriculture even if is located in their city or county.

Agriculture is exempt from such laws. Agriculture is regulated and overseen by the Florida Department of Agriculture.

The Department of Agriculture recognizing the need to abate fertilizer and chemical runoff does promote “best management practices,” helping farmers work to lower phosphorus and nitrogen runoff but this is voluntary and not required. Most farmers do comply but it is not easy to judge and measure so agriculture runoff continues to significantly add to river pollution across our nation and state as we know from our C-44 canal that dumps mostly agriculture basin runoff into our rivers.

You will often hear people say, “We must stop pollution at the source!” This is a good idea and our state and federal agencies are doing it with point source pollution but not with non-point source pollution.

Perhaps one day every yard and every agriculture field will have to take a portion of their land to hold rain runoff so the pollutants seep into the earth before they go to our waterways? Perhaps one day the Department of Environmental Protection and the US Environmental Protection Agencies will become more hard-core rather than coming up with programs like TMDLs and BMP–Total Maximum Daily Loads for phosphorus and nitrogen and Basin Management Action Plans, because although those will help over time, like 30 years, we don’t seem to have a lot of time left.

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Point Source Pollution (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Point_source_pollution)
Non Point Pollution (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonpoint_source_pollution)
Best Management Practices (http://solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu/hot_topics/agriculture/bmps.html)
TMDL/BMAPS FDEP (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/water/tmdl/)
IRL Study Guide, pg. 11 Point/Non Point Pollution: (http://t.co/LqUx4eqxS1)

Citrus Along the Indian River Lagoon, A Killer and a Necessity

Historic postcard, Indian River Citris. (Collection of Sandra Henderson Thurlow)
Historic postcard, Indian River Citris. (Collection of Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)

Thousands of years ago, humankind found a way to avoid the constant nomadic life of following big game, becoming more self sufficient, learning the art of agriculture. Nothing has made our lives better. Unfortunately, after thousands of years of its evolution, nothing has made our lives worse.

Don’t get me wrong, I realize that agriculture¬†an important industry, the second largest after tourism, in the state of Florida. Still, we must look at its issues and try to make things better.

Agriculture is a high intensity land use, using large amounts of pesticides, fertilizers, and fungicides that over time accumulate in the water and the environment.¬†The May 2014 issue of National Geographic states that “farming is the largest endeavor on earth using just under 40 percent of the earth’s surface causing the second largest ¬†impact to the earth, erosion.”¬†

Much of the land in our area is devoted to agriculture as well, particularly citrus.

The Indian River Lagoon region is famous for its delicious citrus and although the industry is in decline due to canker, it has had huge impacts on the IRL area due to the canal system built to drain the land and water the crops. The muck that has entered the lagoon since the early 1900s is mostly from erosion of canals, due to the runoff from agriculture as they drain their lands that were once swamp or wetlands.

The Indian River Lagoon Region runs from Palm Beach to Volusia Counties, along the 156 miles of the lagoon. (USDA map 2011)
The Indian River Lagoon Region runs from Palm Beach to Volusia Counties, along the 156 miles of the lagoon. (USDA map 2011.)

The USDA documented 89,367 acres of citrus in the Indian River Lagoon region in 2009, declining to 81,673 in 2010. There is a lot of land devoted to citrus, land that has been radically altered from its original state and affects the Indian River Lagoon as there are literally thousands of miles of canals attached and interwoven along these groves. All eventually dump to the river or other water body.

In 1994 the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) determined that the north fork of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, a registered state “Aquatic Preserve,” was contaminated by pesticides that came from the citrus groves in the area of the St Lucie’s headwaters, Ten Mile Creek.¬†(http://www.dep.state.fl.us/southeast/ecosum/ecosums/tenmile_creek.pdf)

In 2002, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection labeled the St Lucie River as “impaired.” Reading through the document there is clear determination of agricultures’ role ¬†in this process, especially with sediment run off, pesticides and heavy metals that have accumulated in the environment. (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/southeast/ecosum/ecosums/SLE_Impairment_Narrative_ver_3.7.pdf)

All postcards of citrus industry in Florida, ca. 1912. (Collection of Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)
All postcards of citrus industry in Florida, ca. 1912. (Collection of Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)

IMG_5796 IMG_5797

Reading through the documents it is noted that many of the agricultural areas are quite old, as the post cards I am sharing today from my mother’s ¬†collection are from 1912 and 1914. ¬†According to the FDEP, many of the areas around Ten Mile Creek did not have BMPs, or best management practices in place, as they were ¬†there before such rules were voluntarily implemented in the 1980s and 90s.

I don’t get it. Our environmental agencies have seen the writing on the wall for decades and even with the modern implementations of BMPs, (http://solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu/hot_topics/agriculture/bmps.html)¬†where farmers try to minimize their impacts on our waterbodies, the rivers, estuaries, and lakes are filling up with excess nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizer and other pollutants at an alarming rate.

Yes, the FDEP is implementing TMDLs or total  maximum daily loads through the BMAP, or basin management action plan, where municipalities and counties are required to lower their nutrient levels in waterbodies, but these are 15 and 30 year goals, that most certainly will take longer to truly implement. Also agriculture is exempt under the law and Right to Farm Act. They, as mentioned, implement BMPs but it may take fifty or more years to get all farms up to speed, if ever. Do we have that much time?

In the meanwhile, we watch or rivers dying from local runoff from C-23, C-23, and C-44  supporting the citrus and agriculture industries in Martin and St Lucie Counties.  On top of this, during major rain events, Lake Okeechobee, also full of agriculture runoff and high nutrients suspended in muck, from the sometimes back pumping sugar industry south of the lake, pours into the St Lucie River as well, wreaking any work we have done locally to meet local TMDLs.

Would I rather see the citrus lands developed for houses?

No. I rather fix the problems we have. And even though its called “corporate welfare,” I think state, federal, and local governments must help agriculture operate in a way that is not killing the environment. Some of the funds from the state this year that came out of the Senate Hearing on the IRL are doing this and the state really has been helping “forever,” but quietly, under the radar.

It is time to come full out to the public and explain the situation: we must feed ourselves and support our historic industry, but agriculture/citrus is killing our waterways.

In conclusion, of course the industry should make every effort itself to improve the situation, and some are more than others. In any case, we cannot just point fingers at them, we must help them. Perhaps we should bond together and put into law even better, stricter management practices, that will give the children of our state a future, not just eating, but also fishing, swimming and boating in a clean river.

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IFAS, Update on Best Management Practices, 2014: (http://www.crec.ifas.ufl.edu/extension/trade_journals/2014/2014_January_best_mgt.pd)

USDA and State of Florida Citrus Report 2009: (http://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/Florida/Publications/Citrus/fcs/2009-10/fcs0910.pdf)