My husband Ed’s aerials of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon show a positive picture of area waters that in 2013, 2016, and 2018 were black and green with the repeated bruises of Lake Okeechobee’s toxic algae blooms. This is not the case last year in 2019, and so far in 2020. We must celebrate these wonderful times for our waters by enjoying them. Healthy breezes float by, fish are jumping, and a blue lavender sky beckons you…
Most important, sea grasses are recovering. ~Although dormant in winter like the plants in our yards, they bloom forth now; “spring has sprung!” Signs of life are everywhere from pink and orange, protected baby queen conch at the Sandbar, to 9 armed starfish walking about, and even the recent rare sighting of critically endangered Right Whales, ~a mother with her calf swam slowly across St Lucie Inlet. Thank God the water was clean!
We are thankful for these times of bluer and clearer water and we will never give up the fight! Enjoy the the flight and if you can, go visit our beautiful river.
~STARTING OUT AT C44STA/RESERVOIR, WESTERN MARTIN COUNTY, this project cleans water from the C-44 Canal before it enters the SLR
~FLYING EAST OVER THE TOWN OF SEWALL’S POINT and HUTCHINSON ISLAND provides a familiar view of the confluence of the St Luice River and Indian River Lagoon where the water bodies converge to exit at the St Lucie Inlet. Although the upper St Lucie is always ailing from years of damage, the lower St Lucie and Indian River Lagoon is very flushed by the sea. Seagrasses in the area of the Sandbar and Sailfish Flats have been dormant during winter months and are blooming out now-just like plants and flowers in our yards. It will be important to compare these photos to summer to see true recovery.
~FLYING SOUTH ALONG ST LUCIE INLET STATE PARK, JUPITER ISLAND and then swinging north we see Hutchinson Island’s Bathtub Beach, being restored AGAIN, the 1876 House of Refuge where the mother Right Whale and calf were just a couple of weeks ago, and the nearshore reefs VISIBLE and not under black green toxic water.
Between the rain and the FAA’s Presidential Temporary Flight Restrictions, it has been difficult this Florida winter to get photos of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Luckily, yesterday, there was an opportunity to get up in the air!
Ed took Florida Oceanographic https://www.floridaocean.org Executive Director, Mark Perry, and board member, Dr Gary Goforth up for a ride. Mark wanted to check on the seagrasses and near shore reefs. Gary – the restored Kissimmee https://www.sfwmd.gov/our-work/kissimmee-river as he was very much part of this success that is still underway. As it was quite windy and I have a delicate stomach, I stayed on the ground. I didn’t want to ruin the outing asking for an air-sick bag!
Today, I share some rare photos of the St Lucie River after being “Lake Okeechobee discharge free” for almost one year. As you can see, her seagrass beds still need a few more years to recover, but rhizomes and grasses are back in some areas, ~but not what we want- historic “all.” The ocean waters were very turned up so it was hard to see the reefs, but the water sure was blue and for that we are beyond thankful!
Ed and I and the River Warrior Community will continue to document and fight for the continued health of our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon!
Rarely have I seen my husband with such determination, and he’s very determined all of the time…
To get his multi-generational Bahamian friend, fishing guide, Justin Sands of Marsh Harbor, a cooler of 16 hamburgers, some buns, mustard and ketchup, and a bag of tomatoes…
Ed told me he would be flying into Treasure Cay dropping off the Vaughns, president and vice-president of Operation 300, the group in Stuart, Florida, that is doing great things for the relief effort. Ed would be greeted by Stephen Leighton who along with his brother, John, are masterminding Operation 300’s coordination. Ed had hoped to get a ride to Marsh Harbor from Treasure Cay to meet Justin, about 26 miles away. That did not happen.
“Why didn’t it happen?” I asked Ed when he got home.
“Jacqui, there’s nothing left there. The beat-up cars they have, have no gas….or very little. The car they were lucky enough to have, ran out of gas.”
So after dropping off the Vaughns and not being able to get a ride, Ed asked Steve Leighton if in the course of his work, could he please deliver the hamburgers. Ed flew back to Stuart, and then something happened that could only happen today.
With Ed now back in Florida, and Steve and Justin with very limited communication service —Stephen in Treasure Cay, and Justin in Marsh Harbor—-the three, via text messaging, and an app called WHATSAPP, coordinated the 16 hamburger drop-off.
Stephen then sent Ed a picture of Justin and he standing amidst Marsh’s destruction- red cooler in tow. Delivery achieved! Later that evening Justin sent Ed a picture of the prepared hamburgers.
When Ed shared the photos, my eyes filled with tears…
Friendship and determination are something that Dorian cannot destroy.
Other photos shared by Stephen Leighton, Operation 300, 9-18-19
Yesterday, 3-17-19, my husband, Ed, flew the Super-Cub over the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon ~ twenty-one days after the ACOE started discharging from Lake Okeechobee on February 24, 2019.
When Ed arrived home, I asked, “So how was it?”
“Brown,” he replied.
“Like dark coffee brown, or kind of like that weird mixed greenish-brown?”
He looked at me, and smiled. “Jacqui, it was brown.”
“OK, I said, I’ll take a look at your photos.”
So here are the photos from Ed’s flight from Witham Field in Stuart, over Sewall’s Point and Hutchinson Island, then out west to S-80 to see the “Seven Gates of Hell” where you can see the one gate discharging now at an average of 250 cubic feet per second, down from an average of 500 cubic feet per second. As you can see from the SFWMD chart below, there has been other runoff locations as well, but the majority is from Lake Okeechobee.
Thank you to my husband Ed, for showing us that right now, the river is brown.
The following phots are of Caulkins Water Farm, a former orange grove that died due to citrus greening that now holds water from the C-44 Canal. This is a wonderful thing! As local ag-man Mr. Hadad, told me once, “Jacqui we spent 100 years taking the water off the land, and we’ll spend the next 100 years putting it back on.” The later photos are of S-80 again with view of C-44 canal leading west to Lake O.(https://www.facebook.com/CaulkinsWaterFarm/)
The following photos are when Ed headed back to Witham Field going once again over the St Lucie Inlet over the Atlantic Ocean. You can see the water looks blue north of Sailfish Point north of the inlet with nearshore reefs visible. Plume is also visible south of St Lucie Inlet. Also in photos is the winding Jupiter Narrows and St Lucie River in the area of Stuart and Rio. You can see Langford Landing with scraped orange soil and docks built into river still under construction since 2015.
Temporary Flight Restrictions were in place this weekend as President Trump and the First Lady were visiting their home, Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach. The restrictions go right up to the edge of Stuart, thus it was not possible to fly into the Crossroads or St Lucie Inlet to continue documenting the discharges that began on February 23, 2019.
Instead, today, I am posting a link to an article by Tyler Treadway of TCPalm entitled:
If Army Corps stops Lake Okeechobee discharges soon, St. Lucie River Suffers Little Harm. It states:
“Two weeks of Lake Okeechobee discharges haven’t caused much damage to the St. Lucie River estuary, but an environmental expert says extending the releases much longer could be devastating.
The Army Corps of Engineers, which started discharging lake water to the river estuary Feb. 25 at an average daily rate of about 323 million gallons, plans for the releases to continue at least until March 16.
They’d better not last much longer, said Mark Perry, executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society in Stuart.”
From what I understand the releases are scheduled for 21 days which would put them through around March 15, 2019.
Ed did fly to Zephyr Hills near Tampa, so I asked him to take photos of that trip. Below you can see Moore Haven, S-308 Port Mayaca, Lake Okeechobee, and other aerials of interest. Ed said he saw no cyanobacteria or blue-green algae in Lake Okeechobee.
You’ll see that after the rain event, the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon looks terrible even with out Lake Okeechobee discharges. This is caused by directed water runoff from C-23, C-24, C-25, C-44 and “local” coastal runoff. Naturally, the river never took all this water. Humans made it this way, and we must fix it.
Soon after the torrential rain, the Army Corp of Engineers made things even worse and started dumping from Lake Okeechobee through the C-44 Canal into the St Lucie River by opening up the gates at S-308 and S-80.
My husband, Ed, first flew over Lake O on June 1st, just by chance. At this time, he spotted algae on the lake and took a photo. Ironically, the next day, the Army Corp started dumping from Lake Okeechobee on June 2nd!
After another long, hot summer, the Army Corp finally stopped discharging in the fall~October 5th… Take a look at the photos and remember to enjoy the blue water when it is here, but NEVER FORGET! Only though looking back, will we have the determination to change the future.
LAKE OKEECHBEE DISCHARGES ADDED
City of Stuart, June 9 2018.
Rio near Central Marine, week of June 12, 2018
LAKE O: Week of June 16th, June 25th, and July 22nd. Cyanobacteria (blue green algae) blooms and then subsides. ~All the while, this water is dumped into the St Lucie River by the Federal Govt.; the water quality is terrible and this the responsibility not of the Feds but of the State of Florida.
October 5, the ACOE stops dumping from Lake O. The blooms stop almost right away but the damage remains….
What should be normal, was a gift on Christmas Day, blue water in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. The peninsula of Sewall’s Point shone like the gem it is surrounded by aquamarine on both sides: the St Lucie River on its west, and the Indian River Lagoon on its east…
Feeling like the Bahamas, rather than the toxic-sludge we had to endure ~coming mostly from Lake Okeechobee this past summer, 2018, and yes, remember 2016, and 2013….the destruction must stop!
As 2019 edges into the picture, we will once again have to give everything we have to fight for clean water and encourage our state and federal government to support legislation “sending the water south.”
Seeing these beautiful blue waters once again is certainly encouraging. Now to keep the Army Corp and South Florida Water Management District at bay long enough, as projects proceed, and allow our precious seagrass beds to return so baby fish can once again hide, swim, and grow to maturity in these waters; once christened the “most bio-diverse in North America.”
Thank you to my dear husband, Ed, for these photos all taken 12-25-18. And from both of us, “Merry Christmas!”
Photo below as a comparison ___________________________________________________________________________
Such has been the direction from Martin County Government of whether the public is allowed to swim at area beaches.
Let’s review recent days….
8-21-18: Bathtub Beach reported as closed
8-24-18 Bathtub Beach reported as not closed
8-25-18 Bathtub Beach, Stuart Beach, and Jensen Beach reported as closed
These changes are very difficult to keep up with!
Although the 2018 pulse release schedule from the ACOE is certainly a good thing, and a positive effort, one has to wonder if that is part of the reason for the recent back and forth scenario reporting. In 2016 with no pulse releases the algae was everywhere and plastered the beaches with no breaks.
In any case, it has been crazy around here, and unfortunately, the only safe way to deal with things, is to take the “may” out of the permanent signs and not to swim in the water anywhere.
When I visited lifeguards at Bathtub Beach on August 24, the word was if one got on a surfboard and paddled out 50 yards, cyanobacteria was floating in clumps in the sea water watered down by fresh water discharges from Lake Okeechobee since June 1st.
~On and off that is…
To try to get a handle on things, Ed and I took up the SuperCub for the first time on Saturday, the day all beaches were closed, and boy was that a good thing they were closed because blue-green algae was flowing down the St Lucie River in long arched lines. Right in the middle of the river! And this was a day the ACOE had stopped discharging from the Lake…As Ed and I were flying around up there in heavy winds, I was trying to figure out the timing of the algae’s 35 or so mile journey from Lake O and how the pulse releases would affect it.
When Ed and I photographed, the algae was just west of the beautiful peninsula of Sewall’s Point and out in the main St Lucie River.
God what have we done? My home town?
To close the beach or not to close the beach, that is not the question. The question is how did the state of Florida let the most bio-diverse estuary in North America go straight to hell.
The wild thing about flying in the SuperCub is that I can communicate via text and Facebook. As Ed and I were taking photos from the sky of what was heading to Martin County beaches, reports were coming in of the algae blowing up from the ground from my friend Mary Radabaugh at Central Marine, located in the same area Ed and I were flying. Go to Toxic#18 Facebook for more reports.
“Florida’s Summer of Slime: Stuart and Lake Okeechobee,” photo essay by John Moran, August 2018
I reported last month on the plight of the Caloosahatchee River and its befouled waters flowing from Lake Okeechobee; delivering slime to waterfront neighborhoods in Fort Myers and Cape Coral along the way to the Gulf Islands of Southwest Florida.
Next up on our Summer of Slime photo tour is a visit to Stuart and Lake O…Stuart and environs is a glistening jewel born of water. It may well top the list of Florida cities in shoreline per capita. There’s simply water everywhere. Two forks of the St. Lucie River, the Indian River Lagoon, canals and peninsulas and islands, and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. Stuart is pictured above; below is neighboring Hutchinson Island.
But it wasn’t Stuart’s reputation for abundant clean water that drew me south from Gainesville with my cameras. In effect, I’ve become a traveling crime scene photographer—and slime is the crime. A devastating outbreak of toxic algae has once again hit the St. Lucie River and the Treasure Coast, fueled by the polluted waters of Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee River basin to the north. Damaging headlines trumpet the story to the nation and the world and Governor Scott has declared a state of emergency. It’s déjà vu all over again.
My hosts in Stuart were water blogger Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch and her husband, Ed Lippisch.
Ed took me up for a photo flight in his Piper Cub so I could get the big picture.
Seen from a small plane at 500 feet, Florida is a beautiful place.
Here’s Lake Okeechobee and the western terminus of the St. Lucie C-44 Canal. Administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Port Mayaca Lock and Dam has the capacity to discharge 14,800 cubic feet of water per second downstream to Stuart and the St. Lucie River Estuary, 26 miles away.
Sugar industry representatives say the water coming out of Lake Okeechobee is not the problem and that the algae outbreak in Stuart is primarily caused by Stuart’s own septic tanks and urban stormwater. This claim is contradicted by the extensive algae mats seen along the C-44 Canal between the Port Mayaca and St. Lucie Locks, well upstream from Stuart.
Lake Okeechobee historically drained south to Florida Bay, not east and west to the Atlantic and Gulf. The C-44 canal was built in 1916 to divert floodwaters to the coast.
A view of the St. Lucie Lock and Dam, several miles southwest of Stuart. On the day of my photo flight in late July, the dam gates were closed, visibly holding back algae from flowing downstream. Look closely and you can see what some people call The Seven Gates of Hell.
The St. Lucie Lock and Dam are an integral part of South Florida’s complex web of water management structures, born of an age when the Everglades was reviled as a watery wasteland and America was driven to drain it.
Below the St. Lucie Lock and Dam, in Palm City and Stuart, you can still find waterfront homes untouched by the algae bloom. But that’s no consolation for the thousands of Martin County residents whose lives are in upheaval once again this summer. The familiar pattern of algae outbreaks is fueled by fertilizer, manure and urban sources of nutrient pollution, including septic tanks.
All of this is compounded by denial and neglect by elected officials and agencies to whom we entrust the important work of environmental protection and public health.
Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch took me on a driving tour of the C-44 Canal from Stuart to enormous Lake O, which is more like a stormwater treatment pond than a biologically healthy lake. “There are toxic algae blooms across the globe, but only one place where the government dumps it on you: Florida,” she says.
It’s not just the algae from Lake Okeechobee causing headaches along Florida’s east coast; the sheer volume of freshwater discharges is an environmental pollutant that overwhelms the estuary.
The Lake O gunk visible in the satellite view, above, is shown in the detail photo below.
Fishermen are still drawn to Port Mayaca. On the day we visited, I counted nine.
Dinner in hand (speckled perch), Felix Gui, Jr. has been fishing Lake O for 30 years. “The algae doesn’t affect the fish,” he says. “They eat the same, algae or no algae, and I haven’t gotten sick.” Experts have warned against eating fish exposed to the algae.
A Martin County Health Department sign at Port Mayaca warns against contact with the water but I saw no messaging about whether fish caught in these waters is safe to eat.
Enroute home to Stuart, Jacqui and I stopped at deserted Timer Powers Park on the St. Lucie Canal in Indiantown.
At the St. Lucie Lock, a surreal scene of impaired water, above, and a vortex of slime, below, waiting to be flushed downstream.
A pair of jet-skiers signaled for the lock to be opened, and another pulse of algae-laden water is released towards Stuart and the coast.
Wouldn’t want to anyway, thanks.
Further downstream, the algae spreads…
Nearing the coast, Rio Nature Park and the neighboring Central Marine in Stuart are slimed again. This was the epicenter of the infamous Treasure Coast algae outbreak of 2016.
Reporter Tyler Treadway of TCPalm gathered a sample of the polluted water from a canal behind the offices of Florida Sportsman magazine in Stuart.
Staff complaints of headaches, nausea and dizziness prompted Florida Sportsman publisher Blair Wickstrom to temporarily close the office in late July. “It smells like death,” he said.
The Shepard Park boat ramp parking lot in Stuart was nearly empty on the day we visited.
A man on a mission, Mike Knepper, above and below, posts videos on his Youtube channel documenting the degradation of natural Florida.
“It’s totally unacceptable to me what we’re doing to this planet because we’re very rapidly destroying it,” Knepper says. “My children and grandchildren will be paying the price for all the bad decisions we’re making today. I want to be able to look them in the face and say, ‘I tried to make a difference.’”
Dead-end canals along the St. Lucie River with their limited water exchange have been hardest hit by the toxic blue-green algae, which scientists refer to as cyanobacteria.
A growing body of medical research links exposure to cyanobacteria with neurodegenerative diseases including Parkinson’s, ALS and Alzheimer’s. Google it.
Meanwhile, we’re getting conflicting messages from officialdom. Martin County has erected signs warning against contact with the water but the Florida Dept. of Health website, under the heading How to Keep Your Family Safe While Enjoying Florida’s Water Ways, has this to say: “Cyanobacteria/ blue-green algae…are naturally occurring in Florida’s environment and are also found all over the world. They are part of a healthy ecosystem and help support a wide variety of aquatic life.” (http://www.floridahealth.gov/environmental-health/aquatic-toxins/cyanobacteria.html) In other words, Lighten up, Florida. This is just nature being natural.
An open question remains: What will become of the value of the Florida brand when the world fully sees what we have done to our waters?
Even in disaster, strange beauty emerges.
Greg Fedele has lived in his water-front home since 1991. He grieves for his loss. “I have three kids who can’t enjoy the waterways of Martin County like I did growing up.”
The sign at Ocean Blue Yacht Sales in Stuart echoes a wide swath of community sentiment. Asked to describe in a word how the algae outbreak has impacted his business, president Bryan Boyd replied, “Horrible. The last three years, our bay boat sales have been a third of what they used to be.”
A roadside sign seen in Stuart in late July. If you’re wondering what you can do about the ongoing crisis of Florida waters, we are called to consider our own water footprint, learn about the issues and get involved. And never forget that elections have consequences. Vote for Clean Water. (https://www.bullsugar.org/#)
What we have here in Florida is not just a crisis of water, we have a crisis of democracy and civic engagement.
From the beleaguered springs of North Florida to the sickened rivers and coasts of South Florida, we must understand that no savior is waiting on the horizon who will fix this thing for us.
It took a group effort to create this mess and we need all hands on deck if are to reclaim our waters. Florida needs environmental patriots willing to face down politicians funded by wealthy interests who think nothing of sacrificing our public waters on the altar of their private profits.
We don’t have the luxury of time to get this right. We are losing our waters now. This is our moment. It’s time to set aside our differences and focus on what is at stake, for this is nothing less than a battle for the soul of Florida.
The pictures don’t lie. We the people of Florida bear witness today to nothing less than a crime against nature, and a crime against the children who shall inherit our natural legacy.
A long time ago, Florida political leaders—Republicans and Democrats in common cause—understood there can be no healthy economy without a healthy environment. They wisely enacted laws and regulatory safeguards accordingly.
But that was then and this is now. It’s time to end the popular fiction in Florida that we can plunder and pollute our way to prosperity.
Gov. Reubin Askew said it best when he declared in 1971, “Ecological destruction is nothing less than economic suicide.”
The pilots, our “Eyes in the Sky”- like satellites – are the key to “seeing” the extent of the algae problem in Lake Okeechobee, and provide a clear cockpit-view showing how algae gets into our St Lucie River.
I thank all of the pilots, east coast, west coast who have recently shared their cockpit-views.
Today’s photos are from pilot Steve Schimming who sat right seat, at about 1500 feet, during Ed’s fly over of Lake O on Saturday when the two men were on their way back from Venice mid morning where they had gone to meet other pilot friends.
This enormous bloom, 102 square miles approximately, was reported, by me, to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection the same day. Hopefully, they are testing it in multiple locations. Although the ACOE holds the power to decide when to discharge from Lake O, it is DEP in coordination with the SFWMD, and the Water Quality Dept. (Best Management Practices) of the Dept Agriculture, that is in charge/responsible for water quality for Florida.
Things are happening almost in real-time today. My brother, Todd, sent me the L7 and Sentinel satellite images from yesterday revealing an approximate 102 square mile bloom in Lake Okeechobee.
I, in turn, wrote a blog post and sent the image to my husband, Ed Lippisch, who had flown across to west coast of Florida this morning.
Not too long after sending Ed that image, I look at my phone and it says “shared” photos from Ed, so I start looking at them. They are of the bloom in L.O. – over the broad area where the satellites had detected algae.
The phone rings, it’s Ed, he says” I just landed in Stuart.” I reply, “Great photos. Horrible. Thanks.”
He says: “Jacqui it was unbelievable. Very large bloom, it ran above Port Mayaca to about the southern shore of the lake and westerly. Very much like the satellite image you sent me, but even further north…”
So here are Ed’s unedited photos taken and then sent to me at 1:14pm, 6-16-18. Today.
When the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon start to deteriorate due to discharges, things start going downhill fast. And when my husband Ed and I start taking and sharing aerial photos, my world becomes a bit chaotic.
Sometimes there are days of hundreds of photos to look through, and knowing the importance of getting them out immediately, choices have to be made. Facebook is a better medium than my blog for real-time info as it takes less time, but my blog is better for historic documentation as it is “permanent.”
So today I am sharing more of Ed’s photos from 6-5-18, and some you may have already seen. Mind you, after heavy rains, stormwater has been pouring in from many canals but, always, like clockwork, after the ACOE starts discharging from Lake Okeechobee, the river looks not just cloudy-coffee brown, but contaminated.
The ACOE started discharging from Lake Okeechobee on 6-1-18, and as most of you know, now, there are not only algae blooms spotted in the lake, as Ed accidentally found on 6-2-18, and others also documented, but also in the St Lucie River. More than likely, there will be more and more algae bloom popping up as the Lake O water makes its way down the estuary, over the tip of Sewall’s Point, towards the St Lucie Inlet. Algae floating down the river is disgusting enough, but toxicity is the real question…
Ed and I will take and share more aerials in the future, to document the algae blooms should they explode, but until then, here are some photographs from 6-5-18 that I had not yet archived on my blog. Sadly enough, although there is no algae in these pictures, I cannot say they will make you feel any better.
Never take the pressure off politicians to build the EAA Reservoir and get it to where it needs to be to clean and filter this water to send south as Nature intended. Government knowingly contaminating its citizens is not an option. Health, Safety and Welfare is a responsibility.
Photos taken 6-5-18 showing SLR/ILR near Sewall’s Point; Jupiter Narrows; Atlantic Ocean/beach over nearshore reefs along Jupiter Island just south of St Lucie Inlet; out in ocean near Peck’s Lake; Sailfish Point/Sailfish Flats area; and Bird Island, a Critical Wildlife Area, for many threatened and endangered birds.