When University of Florida’s, Paul Monaghan invited me, the answer was “yes!” Paul called to ask if I’d like to be part of an alumni panel for UF’s Natural Resource Leadership Institute (NRLI) Class XVIII Session 5, Changing Dynamics in Rural Communities & Agriculture, in Clewiston.
I am an alumna of NRLI, Class XV, and first became acquainted with the program as a panel member in 2014. The topic? The “Lost Summer,” and ever worsening destruction of the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.
This unique program studies and deconstructs conflict particularly dealing with Florida’s natural resources, and gives students tools, experience, and most important, personal relationships across disciplines, to help deal with this sometimes crushing reality of natural resource work.
NRLI is an eight month professional development program. Each intensive three-day session is held in a different part of the state and focuses on a specific and contentious natural resource issue….Today, since 1998, the program is on its way to producing 400 graduates. These NRLI grads are changing the dynamic of Florida by “reaching across the aisle” shall we say.
Think about applying today! http://nrli.ifas.ufl.edu WHAT IS NRLI?
A SPECIALIZED LEADERSHIP TRAINING PROGRAM; GEARED TOWARD NATURAL RESOURCE PROFESSIONALS
In Florida, time-consuming and expensive disputes often emerge over issues such as endangered species, land use, coastal and marine resources, and water quality and quantity. Effective leadership in managing such issues requires a specialized set of skills, tools, and strategies to build trust and promote collaboration among competing interests. In recognition of this need, the Florida Natural Resources Leadership Institute (NRLI) was founded in 1998. Its mission is to bring together professionals from sectors that impact or are impacted by natural resource issues and provide them with the training required to find inclusive solutions to seemingly intractable problems. Learn more here: http://nrli.ifas.ufl.edu
Today, May 12th, at 9:45 A.M. Governor Rick Scott is scheduled to sign Senate President Joe Negron’s “Senate Bill 10” in of all places Clewiston. Clewiston is “America’s Sweetest Town” and the headquarters of U.S. Sugar Corporation…
According to the article in the Glades County Democrat announcing the signing: “Earlier this week Senate Bill 10, a move to secure funding for a water storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee was approved. In its amended form, Senate Bill 10 became a measure that we in the Glades could stand behind. The bill no longer stated that additional farmlands be taken out of production but rather the state would utilize the property that it already owns to create a reservoir with a much smaller footprint.”
Full article: (http://gladescountydemocrat.com/lake-okeechobee/governor-rick-scott-set-sign-sb10-clewiston/)
Although I am scratching my head, you know what? Sometimes you just have to be happy for what you get, no matter where you get it. I am tremendously thankful to Governor Scott for signing the bill ~ although I do wish he had decided to sign it in Martin County since we’ve worked so hard to get it.
When I read the announcement officially last night, it got me thinking about Clewiston before I went to sleep. It brought back memories of 2013 and famed paddle boarder Justin Riney’s idea to hold the Sugarland Rally in Clewiston on September 1st, 2013 to unite the movement. This was one of the early rallies for the river during the devastation of the “Lost Summer.”
Since Governor Scott is going to sign in Clewiston I think it’s a good time to walk down memory lane and be proud of how far we’ve come and to get ready for how far we have to go! The point of the location of the Sugarland Rally was to “meet halfway.” Hopefully Governor Scott is thinking the same, in that Joe Negron helped us meet half way and we are all thankful.
Now let’s remember the past, enjoy today, and then take it to the finish line!
“The Sugarland Rally will unite the east and west coasts of Florida in a peaceful, historic demonstration to speak out against the pollution of our estuaries from Lake Okeechobee discharges. We support both immediate and long-term solutions, but ecosystems and communities along the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Estuaries are in crisis. We cannot afford to wait for ecological and economic collapse. We urge all stakeholders–especially local, state and federal governments–to act immediately. We chose Clewiston as a central location to unify east and west at Lake Okeechobee, the source that is polluting our estuaries, and because we believe Florida’s sugar industry can be part of the solution. Please don’t misinterpret our intentions–we are NOT holding a rally at Clewiston to protest or point fingers at “Big Sugar.” It’s quite the opposite, actually. We invite Florida’s powerful sugar industry to join us in crafting an immediate solution to the ecological and economic crisis caused by discharges from Lake Okeechobee.” (Press release from Justin Riney, Aug. 2013)
SUGARLAND RALLY 2013
Press release on Sugarland Rally from 2013, in Clewiston, Justin Riney: http://www.supradioshow.com/2013/08/justin-riney-sugarland-rally-unite-east-west-coasts-florida-sup-radio/
These photos are from a recent trip to Clewiston taken at the historic Clewiston Inn. The Everglades Lounge is an inspiration. May we think about more than ourselves in our decisions. A drink may help.
This is oil put on canvas by J. Clinton Shepherd, Palm Beach artist, 1945
Since I began my Glades “Road Trip” Series, I have read three books by Lake Okeechobee historian, Laurence E. Will: Okeechobee Hurricane, Swamp to Sugar Bowl, and A Cracker History of Okeechobee.
These books hold amazing stories of the Glades; if Mr. Will hadn’t written, there would be very few first-hand accounts of farming that became a Florida mega-industry just over the first half century of the 1900s. Today, I will transcribe some of his most interesting descriptions of Lake Okeechobee, the magical landscape that was transformed into today’s contoversial Everglades Agricultural Area, for none other than its MUCK.
Close up of small pond apple on Torry Island, by Lawrence E Will.
Photo from Swamp to Suagrland, showing pond apple with moon vines around Lake O. (Lawrence E Will)
Florida Memory Project, photo by John Kunkel Small 1869-1938.
When I was on my recent tour with former mayor of Pahokee, J.P. Sasser, I learned the nick-name for Pahokee is “The Muck,” named so for the “black gold” soil that accumulated over thousands of years under the roots of a custard apple forest that rimmed the lake. (Kind of like fresh water mangroves today in the Indian River Lagoon.)
When one drives deeper into the Glades, one finds similar nick-names or “muck mottos,” that have to do with the muck. For instance, Belle Glade’s motto is “Her Soil is Her Fortune;” Clewiston’s is “America’s Sweetest Town,” and South Bay’s refers to its highways, “Crossroads of South Florida,” named so for its intersection of two major roads, East-West State Road 80, and North-South, U.S. Highway 27, roads that get one into the muck, or out of it….
Will first experienced the Lake in the early 1900s as a boy when his father was developing Okeelanta, located about four miles below today’s South Bay. Okeelanta, today a mill location for the Fanjul holdings, was located not in an apple custard forest, but rather in the miles of sawgrass lying south. Although the soil here is excellent, it is different, more peaty and not as “mucky.” Thus the most productive lands lie closer to the lake, deep in the MUCK.
Here is a moving account by Will about the land of muck in “Cracker History of Lake Okeechobee:
“Before the dredges crashed through the custard apple woods to start the first canals, the lake most always stayed high and clear, unbroken except for those islands Kreamer, Torry, and Observation. When I first saw the lake it was still wild. Excusing the trifling settlements at Utopia, Ritta, and Tantie, a score of fishing camps, and the openings to four unfinished canals, it’s swampy shores hadn’t changed since Zachary Taylor found the redskins or probably not since DeSoto anchored in Tampa Bay. It sill was just as the good Lord had fashioned it. The lake was lonely Mack, silent and mysterious as well. But I tell you boy, it was beautiful, and sort of inspiring too.”
Will was absolutely pro development, pro farming/agriculture, but he, like most of the old timers, recognized the tremendous awe-inspiring beauty of the place.
Most all the natural beauty the lakeside shoreline in Martin County, where the FPL Power Plant is today, and north to the town of Okeechobee has also been radically altered as well.
Excerpts by Lawrence E. Will:
“Dense forest ringed the lake around. Along its northern half water oak, maple, cypress, potash, rubber and palmetto trees crowded each other on the lakeshore ridge…the south shore and half way up the eastern side was something else… Here were custard apples, a solid belt of tropical trees, blanketed with a moonvine cover, which stood, two miles or more in width, without break or opening, from near Clewiston’s Sand Point, slap around to Port Mayaca. 32,000 acres of custard apple woods there were, the most of these trees, I wouldn’t doubt, on the whole blamed continent of America.”
“…Although the shores were for the most part black muck, low and flat, there were some fine sandy beaches too. Along the east side for eighteen miles lay beautiful East Beach…”
“Now if Zachary Taylor or Hamilton Disston could return to Okeechobee they would find that farmers have exterminated the custard apple woods. Highways, service stations, super markets and housing projects have replaced the cypress, rubber and maple trees along the ridge. A levee occupies the onetime shore and drainage has lowered by half a dozen feet the water’s elevation. Tractors cultivate the former seining grounds, and unless you as old–and no amount, as some of us, your never heard of town of Tantie, Utopia or Ritta. Civilization has re-made the lake and I’d be the last to say it isn’t better so, but the lakeshore’s one time natural beauty is long gone, and man, wasn’t that old lake a fascinating place.”
Well, to the land of Lake Okeechobee! For all she was, and for all she is. It’s enough to make one exclaim:”What The Muck?!!!”
Agriculture’s Eradication of the Mythical Pond Apple Forest, Lake Okeechobee, SLR/IRL: https://www.google.com/amp/s/jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2015/04/15/agricultures-eradication-of-the-mythical-pond-apple-forest-lake-okeechobee-slrirl/amp/?client=safari
Black Gold and Silver Sands, Snyder/Historical Society of Palm Beach County https://floridafoodandfarm.com/book-reviews/turning-soil-gold-silver-look-back-palm-beach-county-agriculture/
Lawrence E. Will: http://museumoftheglades.org
*Custard Apples are also known as Pond Apples. The old photos of the trees are from Mr Will’s books or the Florida Memory Project.
Today’s lesson in my series “Who Owns the Land? Mapping Out the Future of Water,” is #6, SBG Farms Incorporated. SBG Farms owns 8,569 acres of land in the EAA according to the TCRPC map.
I couldn’t figure out what SBG Farms stood for, but a couple of my favorite acronyms from acronym finder (http://www.acronymfinder.com/SBG.html) were: “Super Blue Green”and “Saved By Grace.”
Yes that makes sense…to not have Super Blue Green algae in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon we all must be Saved By Grace….
So who is SBG Farms?
I believe SBG Farms is part of U.S. Sugar Corporation because according to Sunbiz, where once goes to look up registered corporations in the state of Florida, two of their officers are the same as for U.S. Sugar Corporation: president Robert H. Buker Jr. and vice president Malcolm S .Wade Jr. Also the registered address is in Clewiston, Florida, the same location as U.S. Sugar Corporation. As we learned with land owner #1, U.S. Sugar Corporation is the “Granddaddy” of the land owners. “They were in the EAA first.” We must respect and work with this… You can read the company’s history and their leadership from their website here: (http://www.ussugar.com/history/)
So above I have colored in the #6 parcels in the same purple crayon as #1 (USSC) and outlined in green marker so there is a visual difference.
Now for those of you who have been around fighting for the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon since 2013, don’t get worked up when you see “Bubba” Wade’s photo, remember in the end, we all can be “SBG.” All of us that is, and we need it! For a better Florida water future we must all be “Saved By Grace,” and maybe, just maybe, we already are…
(Movie showing a close-up of the Rocky Reef overlaid with today’s image and a NOAA Chart-By Todd Thurlow)
As we know, my brother Todd has been keeping his eye on the Landsat satellite images as they provide tremendous insight into the condition of Lake Okeechobee and potential algae blooms that affect the health, safely and welfare of those living around the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Todd notes that in studying the Landsat images: “Perhaps the algae grows on Rocky Reef? The area just north of this location is were some of the earlier blooms originated.”
Hmmm? Could the Rocky Reef be an area where the water cannot flow in the lake as easily due to its nature? Could it be possible that nutrient rich back pumped waters from the sugar fields fester in this area feeding a lake wide bloom? Worth a thought as we try to fix our problems…
The toxic algae blooms –people are still talking about them….
You may have noticed recently in various publications and “Letters to the Editor” across the state that some are calmly claiming that “algae blooms have been occurring in Florida since the beginning of time…” This may be true, however, this summer’s 240 square mile algae bloom in Lake Okeechobee that led to the outbreak in the St Lucie River was unprecedented. Comparing the situation to prior algae bloom outbreaks of 2013, 2014, or any other is like comparing a dog to a wolf. The same but very different.
Another interesting thing Todd stumbled upon while researching the “Rocky Reef” located basically above Clewiston was a 1977 joint NASA/SFWMD report on, of all things, using Landsat radiance data to study the turbidity and chlorophyll concentrations in Lake Okeechobee.
The report is entitled: LANDSAT INVESTIGATION OF WATER QUALITY IN LAKE OKEECHOBEE, PRESENTED AT THE 1977 ASP-ACSM CONVENTION IN WASHINGTON DC FEB 27-March 5, 1977. (http://www.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/pg_grp_tech_pubs/portlet_tech_pubs/dre-71.pdf)
Since obviously the South Florida Water Management District has been using the Landsat information since 1977, and Martin County has been paying taxes to the District since around the same time, I think it would have been polite if the District had let us know when Lake Okeechobee’s then poisonous waters were overflowing with algae and headed this way. Don’t you as well?
You can learn about Todd’s discoveries about the Rocky Reef below.
In correspondence to Mark Perry, Todd Thurlow provided the following: (http://www.thurlowpa.com)
That 16.8 square mile area in the southwest looks like algae but part of it is apparently the “Rock Reef”.
Rocky Reef: There is an old pump station out there that is visible in Google Earth. Here is a picture of it:
Today I am going to share an adventure of engineer and St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon advocate Dr Gary Goforth. I will tie in his Lake Okeechobee experience with a few wonderful historic postcards from my mother, historian Sandra Henderson Thurlow. Although you couldn’t get my mother on a motorcycle if you paid her, there is a common thread. The lone cypress…
“The Lone Cypress…” You may have heard of it? As we know, cypress trees live for thousands of years. There were large forest of these magnificent trees prior to their being cut down around the turn of the last century. But a few still stand. Like this one in Moore Haven.
Dr Goforth’s account of his ride around the lake is inspirational. I have done it a couple of times by car, most recently during the final session of my UF Natural Resources Leadership Institute in Clewiston. During Dr Goforth’s ride, he visits the ancient cypress tree–the one in my mom’s historic post cards. I find this really cool. I hope you do too!
OK. Here we go! Lake O—–
From Dr Gary Goforth (http://garygoforth.net) 3-17-16:
“Hi Jacqui – I know you’re very busy as always – in fact more so these days I imagine. I got around to reading a recent blog of yours entitled “Taking the Emotion out of “Clewiston”-UF’s Natural Resources Leadership Institute, SLR/IRL.” I enjoyed it so much I thought I would share a trip I took on Sunday afternoon – a motorcycle ride around Lake Okeechobee.
It started out as a leisurely Sunday afternoon ride around the Martin County countryside. When I got to Port Mayaca I decided to head south for a couple of mile to the trailhead of the Lake to Ocean Trail – a 55-mile hike I’ll get around to tackling during cooler weather. When I got to the trailhead, I said what the heck – might as well circle the Lake. I’ve done the route before, and love to roll through the small towns that we are linked to primarily because of the Lake releases. Probably my favorite stretch is along the eastern shore of the Lake where the old-growth linear forests still remain – the magnificent cypress, bay, and others. My companion for the entire way around the Lake was the Herbert Hoover dike – almost always in sight off to my right along the small roads I took. Before I knew it I was passing through Sand Cut and Pahokee on my way to Belle Glade with their motto “Our Soil is our Fortune.” I thought of my Dad’s cousin Jack Fullenweider who was a general manager of the old Talisman sugar mill (bought by the State prior to construction of STA-3/4), and whose son, Jack, Jr. was a sheriff’s deputy in Belle Glade. I thought of Fritz Stein – a former District Board member from Belle Glade and all around good guy.
The traffic was light and the weather was beautiful. Before long I was riding along US 27/SR 80 with the big dike/dam to my right. The site of the 1928 breach and untold deaths. Along this stretch the ground level is the lowest of the entire lake’s perimeter; the Lake’s water level that day was a foot or two above ground level, which has subsided more than 6 feet since records began decades ago due to the drainage canals and ag practices. Around the rest of the Lake, the actual lake level is below the surrounding ground level.
Soon I was in Clewiston where the banners were hung announcing the upcoming Sugar Festival (today through Sunday). I thought of the many good folks who worry about the State purchasing US Sugar lands with the purported 12,000 people who would be out of a job – the folks that get angry at the estuary folks – and wonder who they turned their anger toward when US Sugar announced they had struck a voluntary deal to sell the land to Gov. Crist. What a missed opportunity, and to think the Legislature and Gov. didn’t go through with the deal – likely out of spite towards Gov. Crist – they didn’t want anything to do with extending his legacy. Deplorable. I put that out of my mind as I rode through Clewiston – a lovely little town.
Before long I was in Moore Haven and thought about the big history of that small town – the early Indian canal excavations, the early dredging/draining activity of Hamilton Disston connecting the big lake to the Caloosahatchee, the farming community, the devastating hurricanes and the Lone Cypress Tree which has stood as a sentinel along the Caloosahatchee Canal since the days of Disston. The Lone Cypress Tree! I have always wanted to find that tree! So I rode around till I found it along the banks of the river/canal. It was beginning to send out the bright green needles and was remarkable in its majesty!
A few more miles on US 27 and I turned north onto SR 78 – a pleasant ride along the west side of the Lake. Pretty soon the road drops onto the floodplain of Fisheating Creek – the only unregulated tributary feeding Lake Okeechobee. I was reminded how the flows into the Lake from Fisheating Creek increased 6-fold this dry season compared to last year. All along the west side of the Lake are small mobile home and RV communities enjoying the good life!
Before long I crossed the Kissimmee River and was into the south side of Okeechobee. White pelicans ushered me along the road lined with hotels filled with seasonal fishermen and women. On around the lake and passing J&R Fish camp – busy with Sunday afternoon bikers. Many days I’ve enjoyed the free hot dogs and music. Before long I passed alongside of the FP&L cooling reservoir – site of the levee failure that occurred just before midnight in October 30, 1979.
Then I crested the bridge over the C-44 Canal with Port Mayaca off to the right. The calm water belied the massive and destructive discharges that were occurring, sending tons of sediment, algae and nutrients on their way to the troubled St. Lucie River and Estuary.
A quick turn back to the east onto SR 76, past DuPuis (my favorite public land to hike), past the sod and cane fields where once there was citrus and before long I parked the bike in the garage – it was a good ride.
The attached photo of me on the motorcycle was taken on a post card perfect day in 2009 at Port Mayaca – the wind was calm, the Lake was still and the air was so clear you could see all the way across to Moore Have, some 30 miles to the southwest! I love how the water and sky blend together on the horizon.
After reading Gary’s account I kept thinking about that lone cypress standing like a sentinel as all has changed around it… I wrote my mother to see what she had in her history files. She sent the following four postcards from her historic collection:
We should all go ride and see it and make post cards or Facebook posts of our own!
Blog post JTL: “Taking the Emotion Out of Clewiston” 3-9-16 (http://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2016/03/09/taking-the-emotion-out-of-clewiston-ufs-natural-resources-leadership-institute-slrirl/)
I am part of Class VX for the University of Florida’s Natural Resources Leadership Institute. It has been an incredible journey, and I have learned so much. It has been both exhausting and rewarding. As I am on the campaign trail running for Martin County Commissioner, and a sitting commissioner for the Town of Sewall’s Point, leaving for three to four days every month is difficult. When I get home I am behind and worried I will not meet my fundraising and outreach goals for the month….My husband, Ed, has been supportive, but it is an additional challenge for our family balance and my responsibilities.
Last year Ed and I really talked it through. “Go!” He said.
“You need to learn what they are teaching, Jacqui. You need to learn how to take out the emotion and deal with these political issues objectively…”
And I have been learning….
I have been learning “leadership.” I have been reading. I have been building relationships with others in agencies and government positions across our state. I have been practicing… And most important, I am learning to apply a “framework for understanding conflict,” to resolve conflict together–collaboratively.
—-I keep my notes on my dresser and look at them every morning. Recently, it has all has begun to make sense.
This journey to study some of Florida’s top resource conflicts began almost one year ago and reads like a “Who’s Who”of Florida issues: Titusville, NASA: Indian River Lagoon–Space Port in National Wildlife Refuge; Apalachicola, Water Wars/Dying Historic Oyster Industry; Silver Springs, Aquifer Recharge/Springs Health; Jacksonville, Wildland Interface (where the state burns wooded areas within feet of people’s homes due to rampant development); Key Largo, Sea Level Rise; Crystal River, Manatees/Endangered Species, Recreation/Protections; and finally our last stop tomorrow before graduation in April: Clewiston, Agriculture South of Lake Okeechobee….
I have been to Clewiston before, but that was a few years ago to protest at the “Sugarland Rally.” Remember the Sugarland Rally that statewide paddle-boarder Justin Riney organized during the “Lost Summer of 2013?” When the St Lucie and Indian River Lagoon were toxic for three months with overflow waters of Lake Okeechobee?
This time I will visit not to protest but to study the situation objectively using my new tools. It’s of kind of ironic that Clewiston is my last stop, isn’t it? The final test. My class will be meeting with stakeholders and touring US Sugar Corporation’s headquarters in Clewiston.
I am excited to learn. I am excited to see it up close and hear their side of the story on their home turf. To be fair, this is a historic issue. But whether I can take the emotion out of it or not….that I’ll have to let you know.
FLASH FORWARD TO TODAY:
Read more about UF’s NRLI or apply at : http://nrli.ifas.ufl.edu
On Sunday, a beautiful day, Dr Shawn Engebretsen flew my husband and I, in his Piper Lance, to get a “higher view” of the proposed Sugar Hill Sector Plan around the area of Clewiston in Hendry County and to get a shot of its heart, Airglades Airport.
I decided to continue this planned trip even though on Friday, October 3rd, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) sent a letter to the state land planning agency “recommending against approving the proposed Sugar Hill Sector Plan, DEO #14-3SP, as it does not provide sufficient information to show that future Everglades restoration efforts will not be harmed…” The letter goes on to give additional comments on flood protection, pollutant loading , irrigation sources, and ecosystem restoration.
Kudos to the SFWMD!
Nonetheless, we must keep a close eye on this the project as it still has other state reviews and could resurrect itself at any time depending on timing, politics, and money.
So let’s go!
The most interesting way to fly to Clewiston from Witham Airfield in Stuart is to follow the C-44 canal from the St Lucie River to Lake Okeechobee and then fly to the southern edge of the lake. In doing so one sees the towns/cities of Canal Point, Pahokee, Bell Glade and South Bay on the easterly and southern side of the lake and Clewiston and Moore Haven further west.
It is a huge place out here and time and space somehow seem enlarged, like in the American West. The distances are vast and it takes a while to get one’s bearing.
After about thirty minutes, passing Pahokee and Bell Glade, hugging the southern edge of Lake Okeechobee and looking out toward the horizon one finally one sees, emerging out of the smoke of its processing plant, the historic city of Clewiston.
In the photo above one sees the sugar processing plant (smoke), the old Clewiston Airport which is no longer functioning, parts of the city and the agriculture lands south. The sector map below shows this same area but looking straight on. Clewiston is the gray square at the edge of the lake.
Continuing, the next landmarks out in this open agricultural land, one sees the Airglades Airport and Highway 27 turning north. This area would be the “heart” of a Sugar Hill development. Right now there is just the air strip and miles and miles of agricultural lands. I believe many in this area are citrus.
The third area on the far western edge of the proposed Sugar Hill development has Lake Hipochee as a landmark. Lake Hipochee was the headwaters of the Caloosahatchee River that Hamilton Disston put a canal through and dynamited its waterfall in order to lower Lake Okeechobee in the late 1800s. Although the lake appears as “a lake” on maps it has been destroyed by drainage and is now a sprawling wetland.
So hopefully this little tour has helped you get your bearings and not totally confused you.
Why do we need to know about this?
Basically many of these option lands need to be purchases by the state by October, 2015 for Everglades restoration and or trading for other lands, to create a “flow way south.” Otherwise certainly, in time, there will be one more sprawling city in the area of the historic Everglades blocking it regaining a healthy future and water supply for south Florida. Personally I believe the way to build an economic future for the people south of the lake is through Everglades restoration not development.
But presently, the state does not want to buy these lands as they say there is not enough money to manage them and the purchase would impede on the continuation of projects already in progress.
I believe this to be true, but sometimes you’ve got to take advantage of an opportunity before its gone. Sometimes you just have to “do it,” or you never get another chance.
Last year, when I was in Clewiston, I thought it was really amazing how everyone, and I mean just about everyone, was aware of the level of Lake Okeechobee. In fact, the local bank on the main drive through town had the lake level flashing on its information screen the way we in Stuart might see temperature. “LAKE OKEECHOBEE 14 FEET” FLASH, FLASH, FLASH…
Of course Clewiston is located at the southern edge of the lake, so for them it is critical to know the lake level as they are more at risk of flooding and mayhem the higher the lake gets. In fact, according to a Palm Beach Post article last year by Christine Stapelton: “At 15.51 feet, the Corps considers the probability of a breach at about 3 percent; probability rises increasingly faster with each inch. At 16.9 feet it climbs to 10 percent. At 18 feet, to 45 percent. At 21 feet, the dike would fail, causing widespread flooding.”
We here in Stuart, are also affected by the level of lake as when it gets over 15.5 feet the Army Corp’s LORS Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule is getting close or telling them to “dump” to the estuaries. So if one is watching the “writing is on the wall.” There is no need to be surprised when news comes of the dumping if we’re paying attention….
In a perfect world, residents of Martin County would check and know the level of Lake Okeechobee. Last year I asked my husband if he would consider putting a flashing sign of the lake level on his office building on East Ocean. He smirked, laughed out loud but didn’t say “no,” so I am still waiting.
In the meantime, the easier way to check Lake Okeechobee’s level, to see if it is nearing “dump level”, is to go to the Army Corp of Engineers’ Lake Okeechobee web site: (http://w3.saj.usace.army.mil/h2o/currentLL.shtml)
Today the lake is at 13.3, below 15.5. Although this level seems “good” for Martin County, it is actually only a few tenths away from where it was last year at this time. If a huge tropical storm or rain event came it could easily increase the level of the lake by three to four feet. This has happened many times.
So why isn’t the lake lower? Why don’t “they” let it drain to the Everglades now? Well obviously there are other interests than just “ours.” Agriculture in the EAA likes to insure that there is enough water in the lake, because they know that just as quickly as a storm could fill the lake, drought could ensure, and not only would the agriculture community be lacking needed water for crops but some of the utilities on the southeast coast may go short on drinking water. For the wildlife agencies, they are cognizant of the need of water, but not too much, for wildlife to survive, especially birds and fish.
It is a delicate balance that really Mother Nature and God should be working out but since the mid 1900s “we” have really completely taken over, or so we think…
So let’s be aware of the “bigger picture” and know how we fit into that picture, and in the meanwhile, get into the habit of regularly checking the lake level. Also take time to write your legislators and insist that more water flow south and be stored, and that Kissimmee River be fully restored to hold more water in its flood plain. If they say, “there’s no place to store or clean the water, and there’s no money,” tell them nicely to “figure it out…”and remind them of the great things this county has done in its past.
And last, if you see my husband around town, would you please ask him if he is ever going to put up the electronic sign outside at his office? I’d appreciate it!