As we know, next year is the 100 year anniversary of the St. Luice Canal. Dug by the Everglades Drainage District 1916-1924, the canal was turned over to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1930 following the horrific 1926 and 1928 hurricanes and the U.S./Florida decision to build the Herbert Hoover Dike. During the 1930s through the fifties the canal was widened and deepened and repurposed as a cross state canal conveniently allowing even more discharge water from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie River.
According to a November 4, 1954 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Central and Southern Florida Project report by Colonel H.W. Schull Jr.
“For quite some time, local interest in the Stuart-Palm City area have been very bitter and adamant concerning the release of water in the St. Lucie estuary. They have made numerous complaints to this office about the releases of muddy water and its effect on sport fishing in the Stuart area, as well as the effects of shoaling in the vicinity of Palm City. In November 1953, the local people formed the St. Lucie-Indian Rivers Restoration League, which has become appreciably influential; the League has now grown to the estimated membership of 1,250. The situation in the Stuart-Palm City area has become by far the most sensitive of any in the Jacksonville District. This office has received complaints from the league following practically all discharge periods. Full-capacity discharge is entirely untenable to local interests. Last spring, the League threatened to use all possible influence to block the 1955 fiscal year appropriations for the Central and Southern Florida Project unless they could obtain a definite commitment “to relieve the area of excessive flood discharge and its incidental damages.” It was brought out that if unable to obtain such a commitment local interest were prepared to attack the appropriations as discriminatory, to withdraw from the 17-county Flood Control District by legislative action, and would proceed with damage actions in the Federal Courts….”
And that was only 1954…
By 1959 the Stuart News ran articles quoting the St. Lucie-Indian River Restoration League and the Martin County Water Conservation Committee. These articles shared by historian Sandra Henderson Thurlow, reveal continuation of bitterness and exasperation by the St. Lucie-Indian River Restoration League now together with the Martin County Water Conservation Committee.
By 1959, the “Great Flood” of 1947 had set in motion the enormous and expensive Army Corps’ Central and Southern Florida Flood Control Project adding to the already built canals of the Everglades Drainage District – such as the St Lucie Canal. To complicate Martin County’s drainage issues, the Minute Maid Corporation bought 5,300 acres of St Johns River Marsh land fifteen miles from Ft. Pierce in neighboring St Lucie County. Also booming was ranch land north and west of Cocoa. Many were excited about draining the land and building Florida’s post-war economy. This would be at the expense of the St. Lucie.
It was the hope of the St. Lucie-Indian River Restoration League and the Conservation Committee that the Army Corps would build a gigantic reservoir west of Sebastian, Vero, and Ft. Pierce to hold the water that would be drained from these lands but instead the Army Corps decided to build C-25, C-23, and C-24 alone. “No reservoir. Too expensive.”
Today these St. Lucie C-canals drain the lower St. Johns Marsh and and a large portion of St Lucie County into the St. Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. These canals, like the C-44, or St. Lucie Canal, can operate in any direction, and they are all connected, taking in water and then discharging wherever the engineers desire…
C-25, north of Highway 68 and west of Ft. Pierce, dumps into the Southern Indian River Lagoon at Taylor Creek in Fort Pierce; C-24 and C-23 discharge into the mid and lower north fork of the St Lucie River. As they are all connected so the water can be made to go through any outlet. Most water exits through the St. Lucie River heading to the St. Lucie Inlet, Martin County – carrying with it a collection of agricultural and development pollutants.
The St. Lucie-Indian River Restoration League and the Martin County Water Conservation Committee fought hard for the St. Johns Marsh Reservoirs-also called a CONSERVATION AREA, but they were never built.
The League and Committee were so furious with the effects of all the canals that they filed a suit for injunction against direct ad-valorem tax levies by the Central and Southern Florida Flood Control District, the equivalent of today’s South Florida Water Management District. But the League did not prevail. The League expressed that one of the reasons this case did not succeed may be linked to “the Judge Chillingworth murder case occupying all of judge Judge Smith’s time.” Ironically it was the Chillingworth family that founded Palm City Farms.
Ernest Lyons, editor of the Stuart News wrote: “So that is why Martin County must demand now that the priorities of be changed on the project, making the reservoir purchase and construction No. 1 and the safety valve into Fort Pierce harbor (C-25) No. 2.
Otherwise we are going to wake up one of these days a find the beautiful St. Lucie, whose South Fork is now a drainage canal for the floodwaters of the Kissimmee River Basin has had its North Fork turned into a drainage canal for the St Johns River which historically flowed the other way.
Martin County is going to be made the dumping ground for another vast drainage area unrelated to this county unless our Congressmen, County Commission, State Representatives and other official demands that this scheme be changed by altering the priorities to do “first things first.”
It is kind of ironic that we continue to fight over reservoirs today.
I recently visited the lands that the SFWMD has purchased north of Highway 68 to restore/ build a C-25 reservoir and storm water treatment area as part of ACOE’s Indian River Lagoon South, CERP.