Over the past year, I have been trying to learn everything I can about the history of the St. Lucie Canal. Details are hard to find, especially because the canal has served two masters: Florida’s Everglades Drainage District (1916-1930) and the USA’s Army Corps of Engineers (1930 to present).
I would be remiss if I did not thank the South Florida Water Management District and the Army Corps of Engineers for making many outstanding and rare historical documents available to me.
In light of next year’s 2024 “100 Year Anniversary” of the St. Luice Canal, it is my hope that with sufficient access to historical documentation, the present and following generations will continue work to undo the massive ecological damage of the St. Luice Canal; this can only be accomplished with full understanding of its history.
Today, I focus on an ACOE 1954 document entitled:
Basic Considerations, Partial Definite Project Report, Central and Southern Florida Project For Flood Control and Other Purposes, Part IV, Lake Okeechobee and Outlets, Supplement 4–Design Memorandum, Effects of Fresh-Water Discharges Through St. Lucie Canal
The succinct history in this slender document really helps give insight into my previous post, The Great Rain of 1924 and the Postponement of the St. Luice Canal. The Storm of 1924, that occurred in October of the year the canal was “completed” caused serious damage to the St. Lucie Canal and was then followed by famously destructive hurricanes of 1926 and 1928 and then another serious storm in 1930. After such a run of Mother Nature’s wrath, the canal that had been built as the primary control outlet for Lake Okeechobee became too much for the state and thus the federal government took over.
In an alternate universe of my dreams, the St. Lucie Canal was overcome by Mother Nature. She shoaled in the manmade cut through her upland pine and pond cypress forests with the raging waters of Allapattah Flats. Lake Okeechobee was never diked and flows free as God intended. Wildlife abounds. Ofcouse that is not what happened, Humankind, the great controller, had another plan, and thus our world today…
Begin transcription of ACOE document:
c. History–Surveys for a canal route which would allow excess water from Lake Okeechobee to be released in St. Lucie River were made as early as 1905; however, construction was not begun until 1916. The location chosen was selected because it presented the shortest and least expensive route to tidewater. Original construction of the canal to a capacity of 5,000 cubic feet a second with Lake Okeechobee at elevation 15.6 feet was practically complete in 1924 by the Everglades Drainage District. It was controlled by two dams, one near the lake and the other near the lower end. Local runoff from the storm of October 18-21, 1924, overtopped the spoil banks in several places, cut deep channels into the canal, and carried a million yards of eroded material into the channel. The channel capacity was reduced to about 70 percent of the 5,000 cubic feet a second design flow. The spillway at the lower end of the canal was not opened prior to the storm and a channel about 65 feet wide was washed out around the dam down to a bottom elevation of -4 feet. Serious shoaling from local inflow also resulted from the storms of 1926 and 1928. The design capacity of the canal became available after excavation by the drainage district of about 2,000,000 cubic yards of deposited material in 1927 and additional 1,000,000 cubic yards in 1928. However, sand bars formed during the storm of 1930 and channel capacity was again reduced. In 1930 the United States accepted control of Lake Okeechobee as an authorized project and since that date the canal has been maintained and operated by the Corps of Engineers. Construction of fixed spillways at 16 inflow points along the banks of St. Luice Canal was initiated in 1933 in order to prevent sediment from entering the canal. The locations of those spillways are shown on plate 1. Crest elevations were below natural ground but high enough to provide stilling basins in the wash channels upstream. A constricted section about 6,000 feet long, in which the bottom width was only 65 feet instead of 155 feet as designed, was left in the canal near the lower dam. In 1937 that construction was removed and the waterway improved to provide a navigation channel 6 feet deep. The River and Harbor Act of August 26, 1937, provided for replacement of obsolete structures at locks Nos. 1 and 2 in the canal by a new lock and spillway at the site of the lower dam. The main spillway was completed in 1944 except for the Trainter gates. Temporary wooden flashboards were used until the seven steel Trainter gates were installed in 1950. The canal was enlarged in 1949 to provide a navigable depth of 8 feet and a discharge capacity of about 9,000 cubic feet a second with lake stage at 15.6 feet.
Next post, I will continue with Section 5. “Discharges through St. Lucie Canal.”