On May 10th, 2016 there was a knock on my front door. I was expecting somebody. Kait Parker and her team from the Weather Channel had arrived via New York to do a story on the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
The group was upbeat and friendly. They interviewed Ed and me in our kitchen, and later we took them up in both the Cub and the Baron to shoot footage and to get “the view.” –The aerial view of the discharges from Lake Okeechobee that had started this year on January 29th.
What really struck me about Kait was that although this Texas girl’s beauty, talent, and ambition had moved her beyond the Treasure Coast to Atlanta’s Weather Channel, (Kait had been a well-known and loved meteorologist for three years at WPTV, the West Palm Beach/Treasure Coast NBC affiliate), she had come “home” to see what the heck was going on. She, as so many others, had heard the horrible stories of destruction facing the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
I commend Kait for coming back to see for herself and for using her fame to share our story with others. This gesture will not be forgotten and “Toxic Lake” is already making waves! Waves of change.
Thank you Kait.
*Thank you Kait Parker,Spenser Wilking,and Andy Bowley.
The first time I ever laid eyes on Lake Okeechobee, I was eleven years old. I remember thinking that I must be looking at the ocean because I could not see across to the other side. Just enormous!
In spite of its magnificent size, over the past century, Lake Okeechobee has been made smaller–around thirty percent smaller– as its shallow waters have been modified for human use–pushed back, tilled, planted, diked, and controlled. Today, it is managed by the South Florida Water Management District and the Army Corp of Engineers. Sprawling sugar fields, the Everglades Agricultural Area, (EAA), canals, highways, telephone poles, train tracks, processing facilities, a FPL power plant, and small cites surround it.
S-308, (the “S” standing for “structure), opens easterly into the St Lucie Canal, also known as C-44, (Canal 44). About twenty miles east is another structure, S-80, at the St Lucie Locks and Dam. It is S-80 that is usually photographed with its “seven gates of hell,” the waters roaring towards the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, and the City of Stuart, but it is actually S-308 that allows the waters of Lake Okeechobee “in” from the lake in the first place.
Such a fragile looking structure to be the welcome matt of so much destruction…a sliver unto an ocean. So strange…
Today I will share some aerial photos that my husband took on Friday, May 13th, 2016 at about 700 feet above the lake. I asked Ed if from that height he could see the algae bloom so much in the news last week even though over time blooms migrate, “bloom” and then sink into the water column, becoming less visible but still lurking.
“Yes.” He replied.
” It’s harder to see from that altitude, and it depends on the light, but it’s still visible. It’s green in the brown water. The lighting shows were it is. You can see a difference in texture about 100 yards west of S-308. It is not right up against the structure, but further out. Boats are driving through it leaving a trail. It’s appears that is slowly being sucked in to the opening of the S-308 structure , like when you pull the drain out of the sink….”
TC Palm’s Tyler Treadway reported on 5-13-16: “The lake bloom was spread over 33 square miles near Pahokee, the South Florida Water Management District said Thursday. The Florida Department of Health reported Friday the bloom contains the toxin microcystin, but at a level less than half what the World Health Organization says can cause “adverse health impacts” from recreational exposure.”
Pahokee is south and west of Port Maraca and S-308. (Florida Trails)
The words of Ernest F. Lyons, famed fisherman, environmentalist, and veteran editor of the Stuart News, can be used over, and over, and over again…
Lyons grew up in Stuart in the early 1900s and witnesses first hand the destruction of his beloved St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. In the 1940s and 50s, for “flood control” and EAA interests, he watched St Lucie Locks and Dam, C-44, and S-80 be “improved,” by the ACOE and SFWMD—-destroying fishing grounds that will never be replaced…He witnessed canals C-23, C-24 and C-25 be constructed to scar the land and pour poisonous sediment from orange groves and development into the North Fork and central estuary.
But even amongst this destruction, Lyons never stopped seeing the miracle of the world around him. And no where did life continue to be more miraculous than along his beloved river.
This week so far, I have written about things that bring light to the destruction of our rivers, I must not forget that in spite of this destruction, beauty and life still exist….To do our work as advocates for the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon we cannot become negative, we must be inspired….one of the best ways to achieve this is to recall the work and words of our forefathers….to “recycle inspiration.”
Although Ernie Lyon’s work was first read on the pages of the Stuart News, my mother historian Sandra Henderson Thurlow, has clipped old pages, been in touch with Ernie’s children, and transcribed many of Lyon’s columns as part of the work of Stuart Heritage. Stuart Heritage helps keeps our rich “river-heritage” alive. After all, our founding name was “Stuart on the St Lucie.”
“What a Wonderful World”
I get an indescribable “lift” from the habit of appreciating life.
All of us, even the most harried, have moments when we are fleetingly aware of the glory that surrounds us. Like moles that occasionally break throughout their tunnels, we infrequently catch a glimpse of the natural beauty and awesome majesty outside the corridor within which we have bound ourselves.
And pop back into our holes!
The habit of appreciation—–the cultivation of the sense of awareness—are forgotten roads to enrichment of personal experience. Not money in the bank, or real estate, or houses, or the exercise of power are true riches. By the true tally, the only value is “how much do you enjoy life?”
All around each of us are the wonders of creation—the shining sun, a living star bathing us with the magic mystery of light…we look to the heavens at night and wonder at the glittering panoply of suns so distant and so strange, while accepting as commonplace our own.
We live in a world of indescribable wonder. Words cannot tell why beauty is beautiful, our senses must perceive what makes it so.
What we call art, literature, genuine poetry, and true religion are the products of awareness, seeing and feeling the magic which lies beyond the mole-tunnel view.
One man, in his mole-tunnel, says he is inconsequential, a slave to his job, of dust and to dust going. Another, poking his head our into the light, realizes that he is a miraculous as any engine, with eyes to see, a mind which to think, a spirit whose wings know no limitations.
The mole-man is bound to a commonplace earth and a commonplace life. He lives among God’s wonders without ever seeing them. But those who make a habit of appreciation find wonder in every moment, and every day, by the sense of participation in a miracle.
They see the glory of the flowers, the shapes and colors of trees and grass, the grace of tigers and serpents, the stories of selfishness or selflessness that are written on the faces men and women. They feel the wind upon their faces and the immeasurable majesty of distances in sky and sea.
And in those things there is the only true value. This a wonderful world. Take time to see it. You’re cheat yourself unless you appreciate it.—–E.L.
Ernest F. Lyons: (http://www.flpress.com/node/63)
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.
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.
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.
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!
Map, SLC, Ten and Five Mile Creeks are located in St Lucie County north of Midway Road.
Ernie Lyons wrote in the 1960s: “There was never anything more beautiful than a natural South Florida River, like the North and South Forks of the St Lucie…Their banks of cabbage palms and live oaks draped with Spanish moses and studded with crimson flowered air plants and delicate wild orchids were scenes of tropical wonder, reflected back from the mirror-like onyx surface of the water….”
A recent St Lucie County tourist publication goes back even further back: “Early Ten Mile Creek along with Five Mile Creek to the northeast form the headwaters of the North Fork of the St Lucie. These waters were originally comprised of a large area of interconnected march that eventually formed a creek. This marsh system in times of high water connected with the St Johns River, which flows north, allowing native peoples to travel many miles by canoe. These native peoples lived and flourished in this area 3000 to 750 years BC.”
So what happened? How did this paradise die off? How did the “fresh water in the upper zones, furnishing some of the most marvelous sport fishing conceivable” pretty much disappear?
Again, I will quote Stuart News editor and environmentalist, Ernie Lyons: “Drainage canals mostly for agricultural purposes, cut the throats of the upper rivers. During periods of heavy rainfall, muddy waters gushed down and turned the formerly clear streams into a turbid, silted mess. During dry spells, gated dams held back the water for irrigation. The water table was lowered. Salt marched upstream, turning the formerly fresh waters brackish and eventually so salty that fresh water fish could not procreate.”
As we know, humankind changes his/her environment. Not only were the canals cut in the northern creeks, but Gilbert’s Bar/St Lucie Inlet was opened permanently (by hand) in 1892, allowing salt water permanently into what used to be a fresh water river….the St Lucie.
Somehow it seems we should be able to change things with out creating so much destruction. I have hope our children will…