The photograph above is one of those rare images that tells you everything even without a caption. This photo, shared by my mother, historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow, (http://www.sandrathurlow.com) was given to her by Mrs. Elizabeth Early, a pioneer of Stuart, “Stuart on the St Lucie.” The photo is entitled “Mosquito Ditch Digging,” and the subjects are unidentified. My mother believes the photo was taken in our region around 1920.
Mosquitos…such an integral part of Florida ~as is our war against them. Some have even gone as far to call the mosquito our “state bird.” As a kid, growing up in Sewall’s Point, in the 1970s, I remember having to run in place at the bus stop so as not to be attacked. Forever it seemed, I had white scars covering my tan scrawny legs. Another classic mosquito tale is gleefully riding my bike, along with my friends, behind the fog of the mosquito trucks. When we heard the trucks coming we ran from our houses, meeting in the street, quickly negotiating who got to be first behind the blower.
In any case, the mosquito ditches, the mosquito control districts, and the small green and white metal markers along Indian River Drive reading “MC” for Mosquito Control are not something we think too much about anymore, but for the old timers, mosquitos, and our war against them, and thus against Nature, defines this place.
My mother’s photos from her “Mosquito Control” file tell part of our local Martin County tale below. The lands are almost unrecognizable. In 1948 when the “Bridges to the Sea” were constructed over the Indian River Lagoon onto Hutchinson Island’s beaches – everything changed. The wetlands, the scrublands, and the old bean farms from early pioneers were ditched and diked, laced through and through like a pearl necklace. The government and owners organized with the goal to control those pesky mosquitos so the land would be fit for fill and for sale.
Over time, the mosquitoes lessened, and more and more people came to replace them.
According to my mother, some of the very early mosquito control worked by allowing fish into ditches to eat the larva; this not-so-intense mode was later replaced by other more stringent methods, including chemical means using DDT. As so often is the case in Florida, we are “successful,” successful at the expense of the environment.
Today we drive over the the Indian River Lagoon and forget the wars we’ve waged to live here, and instead, we wage a war to put our environment back into place.
Few people realize that a little piece of Stuart history sits on Torry Island near the City of Belle Glade. Belle Glade of course sits south the man-made southern shore of Lake Okeechobee….I didn’t know about the bridge connection either, until I visited my mother last week.
When I got to her house, she handed me what appeared to be a gold leaf yearbook, but when I looked closer it read: “Florida Trails to Turnpikes 1914-1964, Florida State Road Department.” Page 216 was marked:
“The old original bridge across the St Lucie River had been built by E.P. Maule in 1917 with a twelve-foot-wide roadway swing span across the navigation channel. We moved that swing span of barges down the St Lucie Canal and down Lake Okeechobee to Torry Island. Should you cross from the mainland over the canal onto Torry Island today, you would cross on the old swing span of th abridge that originally went across the St Lucie River.”
“Wow that’s cool mom. Like you always say, we’re all connected.”
“Your father and I visited not too long ago. The Corbin family has been manning the bridge for generations. It’s a fascinating story that you should know about.”
A short history is explained here:
“The story of the bridge’s origins flow smoothly from Corbin… The 1928 hurricane that ravaged the Glades set in motion the chain of events that would bring the bridge to Belle Glade. The storm destroyed the original dike that surrounded the lake. To build the replacement dike, the federal government spooned out a canal, separating Torry Island from Belle Glade, and used the dirt for the dike. The new canal, called the Okeechobee Waterway, needed a bridge. In 1938, state contractors built the Point Chosen Bridge, replacing a pontoon bridge with a swing bridge that was built in 1916 and relocated from the St. Lucie River near Stuart. The bridge consisted of the movable portion and wooden trestles on each end.” Associated Press article, 2009.
“Very interesting. Do you have any pictures of your and dad’s field trip ?”
My mother disappeared and was back within minutes:
“Thanks mom”…..as I read more about it, I learned that the bridge’s name, “Point Chosen Bridge,” was chosen because there used to be town named “Chosen” located there. Chosen was one of the original towns along the shores of Lake Okeechobee. It was destroyed in the 1928 hurricane. So the bridge swing span from Stuart was chosen to rest at Chosen. Wow. An intertwined history indeed….
A tidal wave….always a scary thought, and usually associated with the ocean, however, tidal waves or “seiches,” can occur in enclosed bodies of water as well, such as a lake— like that of “big water,” or Lake Okeechobee.
As we have entered hurricane season and live in Florida, the most vulnerable state in the nation for strikes, it is important that all of us in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon/Lake Okeechobee region know our evacuation plan should one be necessary….
A while back, I wrote about my frightening experience with a storm in the proximity of Lake Okeechobee and my friend, Dr Gary Goforth, wrote me back. Today I will share his thoughts on the subject of “tidal waves” in Lake Okeechobee.
Since “we” first walled the lake for agriculture in the 1920s, “white man” has changed the dynamics of both water and of storms….Recently, the ACOE has spent over 65 million dollars to repair the aging dike. As you know, nature evolved so Lake Okeechobee’s overflow waters would slowly flow south to the Everglades. This is no more, and her overflow waters are directed with great destruction through the Northern Estuaries…
Your comments on the “tidal waves” within the Lake inspired me to chart the fluctuations in water levels in the Lake resulting from the 2004 hurricanes Frances and Jeanne…
The attached images below show two charts and a reference map.
The first chart shows the fluctuation in Lake stage as Hurricane Frances slowly moved through the area and the 2nd is a similar chart for Hurricane Jeanne. An interesting feature is that as the storm approached the Lake, strong north winds blew the water to the southern rim against the HHDike (as reflected by the rising red line: water level along the south shore) and simultaneously moved water away from the northern sections of the Dike (as reflected by the descending blue line: water level along the north shore). This phenomenon contributed to the catastrophic flooding south of the Lake in the 1926 and 1928 storms as the muck dike failed. For Hurricane Frances, the water level along the south shore rose by more than 5 ft as the eye approached!
As the eye of the storms passed over the Lake, the wind quickly changed direction and the water that was piled up along the south shore moved to the north rim of the Dike (rising blue line). For Hurricane Frances, the water level along the north shore rose by 10 ft or more when the winds shifted! For Hurricane Jeanne, which was moving faster than Frances, the water level on the north shore rose by more than 4 ft per hour – I suspect it looked like a slow-moving tidal wave coming towards the Dike!
For both storms, the water levels overtopped the stage gauges at both stations – so the fluctuations were actually greater than depicted in the charts!
Senator Joe Negron, Senate Appropriations Chair, and leader of the “Senate Hearing on the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee,” brought home more money for the IRL compared to any other water body in the state: $231,998,021. Our springs comrades who have been publicly fighting ten years longer than us, brought home 30 million. Tallahassee is wondering who this new kid on the block is, us….
Whether you are a fan or not, it must be noted that Senator Negron stuck his neck out, possibly compromising his senate presidency, to get our “name on the map” as far as Tallahassee goes. Prior to last year, most “good ‘ol boys in Tallahassee would have said, “Indian River Lagoon…Hmmmm? Creature of the Indian Lagoon, ain’t that a movie?”
Nonetheless, I do not pretend to think that these monies alone will cure the lagoon’s ills, as the gorilla in the room has not been addressed “head on and in its entirety:” the releases from Lake Okeechobee through S-308 and S-80. I believe this will come in time if we keep fighting.
In my opinion, the biggest part of change is the first step. With the outrage of the public over the “Lost Summer’s” toxic St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon, and the support of Senator Negron, one of the few people in a the legislature with the seniority and status to act somewhat independently of demanding party pressures to conform, we have taken the first step forward to fixing the lagoon. Actually, a leap.
WE MUST CONTINUE, YES! But let’s be happy that we have made public progress on a state level more than ever before, and let’s look at what we received, as we should be aware of the gift of public monies from people all over our great state and be full of gratitude.
It’s a lot to go over, but it is important, so I will simply go down the list and summarize. Let’s look at the map as well. Please remember the SLR/IRL is part of the greater Everglades system, from the Kissimmee River area in Orlando, south to the Tamiami Trail in Dade, and beyond to Florida Bay. So anything done to help “the system,” helps us move water south, and with our health as well.
Here we go!
1. $32,000,000 for Water Quality storage in Storm Water Treatment Area 1 in Palm Beach County. Water storage is key to stop releasing so much into the estuaries.
2. $3,000,000 for Best Management Practices (BMPs) for farmers in the St Lucie, Lake O, and Caloosahatee watersheds. It is difficult to swallow more public money going to help farmers with pollution runoff, but there is no other way to do this. We must continue to help fund them, big or small. This is a historical issue as they have been here since the 1800s in many cases. I look at it like “grandfathering” with an extra requirement, as in real estate. The good news is that as time goes on, agriculture businesses will have higher standards to avoid pollution fertilizer, pesticides and fungicide runoff that is killing our waterbodies. Hopefully we can make changes before the rivers and springs die off completely.
3. $40,000,00 for the C-44 Storm Water Treatment Area/reservoir in Martin County. This will offset local drainage farm and urban runoff along the C-44 canal, not water from Lake Okeechobee. We must clean our local runoff as well as it is responsible for around 50% of the destruction to our estuary and on an everyday basis.
4. $2,000,000 CERP Picayune Strand east of Naples in Collier County. This area is important to the southern glades and needs monitoring and vegetative management for water flow and storage and improvement. Hopefully it will help some panthers too!
5. $5,000,000 C-111 South Dade. This is a crucial water delivery system to allow more water to “go south.” A must.
6. $5,000,000 Kissimmee River Restoration. The all time worst thing ever done in Florida other than dike Lake O and redirect the water to the estuaries, was to straighten the Kissimmee River. (Hold my tongue!) Restoration of the ox bows must continue. So far the ACOE has restored about 22 miles of the 56 miles of what was once 153 miles of gorgeous serpentine like, vegetative, wildlife filled, cleansing waters.
7. $18,000,000 C-43 STA along Caloosahatchee River. This is the equivalent of C-44 STA/reservoir for the Caloosahatchee. Only fair. C-43 is a must. They take up to three times the polluted runoff from Lake Okeechobee that we do!
8. $20,000,000 IRL muck removal in northern lagoon. The northern IRL has lost 60% of their seagrasses and has 2 Unexplained Mortality Events including manatee, dolphin, and pelican die offs. Give them what they need! Sediment/muck fills the lagoon over the years from canal runoff covering seagrasses; when stirred up, it releases legacy pollution. GET THE MUCK OUT!
9. $2,075,000 Lake Worth Lagoon. Lake Worth does not get the attention it needs being in development happy Palm Beach County. This area was once full of sea grass and life but not after years of receiving dump water from Lake O, like us, but through a different canal. Local advocate, Lee Shepard, is a great advocate for this part of the lagoon. Let’s help!
10. $4,000,000 Water Quality research for Harbor Branch and ORCA. Although it is hard to justify “more tests,” as we can all see the lagoon is dying, these new, scientific studies will help us find sources to our pollution issues that the legislature can’t ignore. Septic leakage, especially, is difficult to trace without such systems. LOBOS and Kilroys, please help us!
11. $1,000,000 Oyster recovery programs for St Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers. Millions of dollars worth of oysters, natural and deployed by government programs, died during the fresh water discharges of 2013 and years before. One oyster can filter 50 gallons of water a day. Government in action….
12. $90,000,000 NUMBER ONE NECESSITY is raising the Tamiami Trail in Dade County so water is not blocked off from going south. They should raise the whole road as the road built in the 1920s cuts off the flow of water south to the Everglades for the entire state. (Another environmental nightmare to fix.)
13, $2,7769,585 This money will be used for pump improvements etc to move more water south and cut away vegetation blocking water “going south,” or hold water in the C-43/44 reservoirs that would go into the estuaries.
14. $2,076,728 The Loxahatchee is one of two “Wild & Scenic Rivers” in the state of Florida and home to tremendous amounts of wildlife. Helping with storm water runoff and preservation is key for the health of this important part of the Everglades System.
15. $2,076,718 The St Lucie Rivers Issues Team has a long history of working with local governments for “close to home” projects along the SLR/IRL. Kathy LaMartina at its helm, South Florida Water Management District. Thank you!
Grand total= $231,998,021
I am grateful to the state legislature, especially Senator Negron, and I must note Governor Scott did not veto one line. But please know everyone, the “fight for right” along the Indian River Lagoon has just begun!