I posted most of these photos on Facebook, but today I will give explanations and document on my blog. From above, our St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon remains beautiful, but we must be sensitive to the losses beneath the waters. These aerials were taken during a “slack tide” between 12 and 2pm on December 9, 2020 by my husband, Ed Lippisch. December 9th was the last of five days the ACOE stopped discharging from Lake Okeechobee; however S-80 was discharging “local runoff.” (Click on chart above.) Unfortunately, due to high lake level and lack of storage reservoirs, since these aerials were taken, the ACOE has begun ramping up Lake discharges once again.
Below Lawrence Glenn of the South Florid Water Management gives a comprehensive ecological report covering low-salinities and loss of oyster spat in the St Lucie and other aspects, positive and negative, for the entire Everglades system.
Below is an explanation of aerials documenting discharges December 9, 2020. All photos by Ed Lippisch.
-S-80 at St Lucie Locks and Dam discharging local basin S-80 runoff on December 9, 2020
S-308 at Port Mayaca, Lake Okeechobee closed on December 9, 2020. No algae visible.
-Plume of along Jupiter Island south of St Lucie Inlet
-Dispersing plume in Atlantic Ocean just past Peck’s Lake in Jupiter Narrows
-St Lucie Inlet -St Lucie Inlet State Park, Sailfish Point, Sewall’s Point, Stuart, Jensen
-Looking north to Sailfish Flats between Sewall’s Point and Hutchinson Island. This area has greatly degraded since 2013 as far as loss of seagrasses and fishing opportunities
-The area below, especially around Sailfish Point, was once considered “the most biodiverse estuary in North America” as documented, first, by Grant Gilmore
-This photo reveals seagrass loss across many areas of the Sailfish Flats
-Another view between Sewall’s and Sailfish Point, a seeming desert…
-Close up, Sailfish Point
-Sewall’s Point, east Indian River Lagoon
-Sewall’s Point is a peninsula surrounded by the St Lucie River on west side, and Indian River Lagoon on east side
Ed Lippisch, selfie. Thank you Ed!
As you can tell, I have lots of people helping me. Whether it is Ed flying or my brother Todd who provides an incredible easy to read website called EyeonLakeO. You can click below to check it out. The more we know, the more we document, the more we can overturn the destruction of our beloved estuary…
Last Thursday on November 16, the ACOE reported they will reduce the amount of water they are releasing from Lake Okeechobee. The Corp had been releasing at a high rate, on and off, since September 20th. New targets are 2800 cfs east and 6500 cfs west.
Photos below were taken yesterday, 11-19-17 by my husband, Ed Lippisch. We will continue to document the discharges from Lake O, and area canals.
As Thanksgiving approaches, we are thankful the discharges are lessened and that the SFWMD and the public are working hard to plan the EAA Reservoir Senator Negron fought for… We the people of Martin County, will not be satisfied until these discharge stop. The river has its hands full with unfiltered discharges draining agriculture and developed lands from C-23, C-24, C-25 and C-44. All must be addressed.
“And where the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes…” Ezekiel
It is a journey the state, federal, and local agencies don’t always wish to take–a journey to face the numbers of our watershed…
Today, Dr Gary Goforth (http://garygoforth.net) shares his most recent report, “Water Quality Assessment of the St Lucie River Watershed, For Water Year 2017, DRAFT.”
Mind you, for non-scientist people like myself, a “water year” is reported from May of one year, through April the next year, as opposed to a calendar year.
The full report is linked at the bottom of the post and contains numerous helpful charts. I have just included the key findings below.
Dr Goforth wanted to get the draft assessment out before the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Basin Management Action Plan workshop scheduled for this Friday Aug. 25th at 10:00 am at Martin County Building Permits Office, 900 Southeast Ruhnke Street, Stuart, FL 34994, Conference Rooms A & B because this is where the rubber hits the road! FDEP: (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/central/Home/Watershed/BMAP.htm)
Water Quality Assessment of the St. Lucie River Watershed –Water Year 2017 – DRAFT Gary Goforth, P.E., Ph.D.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who watches the Watchers?)
1. Over the last water year (May 2016 – April 2017), the surface water entering the St. Lucie River and Estuary (SLRE) in general was of poor water quality. The best water quality entering the SLRE was from the highly urbanized Tidal Basins. The largest source of phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment pollution to the SLRE was Lake Okeechobee discharges. The C-44 Canal Basin contributed poor water quality, and was the only basin demonstrating a worsening in water quality over the last ten years.
2. It was estimated that stormwater runoff from agricultural land use contributed more flow and nutrient pollution than any other land use, even contributing more flow than Lake Okeechobee discharges.
3. The annual Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) progress reports produced by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection continue to indicate water quality conditions in the tributaries of the SLRE are better than they actually are. Examples of flaws in the BMAP assessment process include the omission of Lake Okeechobee pollution loads, the use of simulated data instead of observed data, the inability to account for hydrologic variability, and the inability to assess individually each of the major basins contributing to the SLRE.
4. An alternative to the assessment approach presented in the BMAP progress reports was developed and used to evaluate water quality conditions of major inflows to the SLRE and to assess progress towards achieving the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) load reduction goals. This alternative approach uses observed data, includes Lake discharges, accounts for hydrologic variability, and is applied to each of the major basins contributing pollution loads to the SLRE. For WY2017, observed nitrogen loads to the SLRE exceeded the Phase 1 BMAP target loads (adjusted for hydrologic variability) by 77 percent. Observed phosphorus loads exceeded the Phase 1 BMAP target loads (adjusted for hydrologic variability) by 53 percent.
5. The largest single source of total nitrogen, total phosphorus and sediment load to the SLRE was Lake Okeechobee discharges. In addition, total phosphorus concentrations in Lake Okeechobee discharges to the SLRE remained almost four times the lake’s TMDL in-lake target concentration of 40 parts per billion (ppb). In 2017, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) reported that phosphorus loading to the lake from surrounding watersheds was almost 5 times the Lake’s TMDL of 105 metric tons, yet staff acknowledged the agency does not enforce permits that set numeric limits on phosphorus discharges to the lake (SFWMD 2016, SFWMD 2017). Unfortunately, despite the continued and well-publicized pollution of the lake, the Florida legislature in 2016 enacted a water bill that pushed back deadlines for achieving the lake’s TMDL by decades (Ch. 2016-1).
6. The best water quality entering the SLRE during WY2017 was observed in the highly urbanized Tidal Basins, with concentrations of 97 ppb and 819 ppb for TP and TN, respectively. Each of the remaining source basins, except the C-44 Canal Basin, exhibited a slight improvement in nutrient levels compared to their base periods, however, collectively these WY2017 loads did not achieve the alternative BMAP Phase 1 load target (Figures ES-1 and ES-2). The C-23 and Tidal Basins met the alternative BMAP Phase 1 target for TP, while the C-23, C-24 and Tidal Basins met the alternative BMAP Phase 1 target for TN. The predominantly agricultural C-44 Canal Basin exhibited poor nutrient conditions, and in fact, continued a trend of deteriorating nutrient conditions compared to its 1996-2005 base period. As a whole, the water quality entering the SLRE remains poor, although a slight improvement over the 1996-2005 period was observed.
Part #1 in a series about the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) and how to get involved, Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, 8-11-17
Who or what is the CRC?
Have you heard about Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission?
Don’t feel bad if you don’t know what it is. Apparently according to a Florida Bar contact, of new members polled in 2017, only 19 percent knew what it was! This makes sense perhaps, as it only convenes once every 20 years.
So what is it anyway?
The Constitution Revision Commission, or CRC for short, is a powerful entity composed of 37 members that meets to examine the Florida Constitution and propose changes for voter consideration. It’s powerful because any constitutional amendments proposed by this entity go directly onto Florida’s 2018 General Election ballot. Thirty six members – or Commissioners as they are called – are appointed by the (15) Governor, (9) Senate President, (9) House Speaker and the (3) Florida Supreme Court Justice. The (1) Attorney General is automatically a member.
I am proud to serve as a Commissioner on the CRC, and for the past few months I have been traveling across the state along with other commissioners to encourage Floridians to share their ideas regarding the Florida Constitution, and boy they have! Over 800 ideas or proposals have been submitted so far this year. (https://www.flcrc.gov/Proposals/Public)
Although thousands of Floridians have come to meet with us at public hearings, we have a lot more work to do to ensure citizens understand the CRC and know more about this historic process. Therefore, I am writing this blog series.
When and why was the CRC created?
The CRC formally came into being in 1968 when it was created by Article XI, Section 2 of the Florida Constitution. The CRC was part of several changes ratified by Florida voters that year, during an era when Florida was under great pressure for reform.
In the years leading up to the 1968 changes to the Florida Constitution, many believed that the legislature was not adequately representing voters. For many years, state politics had been dominated by a group of lawmakers known as the Florida “Pork Chop Gang,” who held disproportionate influence and power in north Florida although the majority of the population now lived in the central and southern parts of the state. They held on to their power at all costs.
This disproportionate power and influence began to crumble following a 1962 federal law suit entitled Baker vs. Carr, that determined “…redistricting issues enabled federal courts to intervene in state redistricting cases.” As Florida was held to be in violation of representative districts, in 1966, Florida’s legislature was federally dissolved and all members had to “go home” and later run under newly-created districts. Can you image! After re-election, representation from Florida’s highly populated cities was prominent for the first time.
The “reapportionment revolution” of the 1960s established the principle of “one man, one vote.” Change doesn’t come easy. It was tumultuous time with the Civil Rights Movement; desegregation of schools; women’s rights; the Vietnam War; the counterculture movement; and the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, and later civil rights legend, Martin Luther King Jr. among others – – broadcast on the new medium of television– made “it” impossible to ignore.
In unison with the aforementioned upheavals, and “seeing the writing on the wall,” the Florida constitution was being updated from its archaic 1885 amended version, that remained in use, to something more “representative.” The state legislature had created the 1965/66 Constitution Revision “Committee” to research and make recommendations of reform to the legislature. Thus the CRC was born! It was that early “CRC” that put forth the idea of a bi-decade Constitution Revision “Commission.” It was soon after approved by the state legislature in landmark changes of the 1968 legislature and the “new” constitution.
The “every 20 year CRC” remains unique to Florida.
In closing, beloved Chesterfield Smith, chair of the 1965-68 legislative constitution revision committee, had a lot to be proud of, but it was the CRC he considered the diamond of his efforts.
“It is my own personal judgement that above all other matters, the new provisions in the 1968 Constitution authorizing means for further constitutional law changes are the most important things in the new constitution.” – Chesterfield Smith
We may ask, “why did Chesterfield Smith think the CRC, part of the provisions authorizing further constitutional change, was such an important legacy?”
It was an important legacy because Mr Smith and other leaders who lived through that unforgettable era wanted to ensure that such times, and a constitution so out of step with the people, would never happen again!
In upcoming posts, I’ll discuss how the CRC has evolved over time and how Floridians can get involved. For now, learn more at www.flcrc.gov, which includes an online submission tool that allows you to create and submit proposed constitutional amendments to the CRC. The proposed deadline for accepting proposals is September 22, 2017!
Like hard resin, stories of long-leaf pine and towering Florida forests are in me. Since my earliest days, I remember visiting my mother’s family and hearing tales around the dinner table:
“In the 1930s your Granddady and Uncle Gordy dove down to the bottom of the Withlacoochee River, chained those sunken water-logged giant trees, pulled them out with mules, put them on a train to Gainesville, milled them, and built this house by hand. Virgin long-leaf pine that had been on the bottom of that river for 90 years became our home. This house is history.”
At the time, the stories were just part of a lifestyle I did not lead living “down” in Stuart, Florida with the Yankees. In Gainesville we ate boiled peanuts, okra, gigantic breakfasts of bacon, eggs, toast, and homemade jelly. In Stuart, I ate Lucky Charms.
Now that I am becoming an old-pine myself, the story of the long-lost, long-leaf pine is more interesting to me. And “lo and behold,” although public records show the famous long-leaf forest stopping just north of Lake Okeechobee, recently my mother and I learned that they were, indeed, further south, right here in what today is Martin County!
This observation is based on a 1st hand account of 1910 by J.H. Vaughn in an Abstract of Title for Indiantown, Florida, No. 12386.
In the early days of our country, long-leaf pine forests covered approximately 90 million acres and stretched across the entire southeastern United States. These trees are documented to have stood from 80 to 175 feet tall and many were up to 400 years in age. Of course multiple animals were dependent on the forest for shelter and food and there were massive benefits to the watersheds. The cleanest waters in the world run off of forests. These amazing trees evolved to completely withstand forest fires, actually thriving in such conditions. Imagine if you would these remarkable trees of our Creator, cut to the ground with the same state of mind as today when mowing one’s lawn….By the 1920s only 3% of the forests remained.
So where were these trees in Martin County? Where do we fit into the incredible history of these magnificent conifers? J. H. Vaughn, a lumber man of the 1800s, negotiating a sale states in the abstract of title below:
“…there is an average of 2000 feet of Long Leaf Yellow Virgin pine per acre.. being on the eastern side of Lake Okeechobee…”.
(The Townships and Ranges listed are today’s Indiantown.)
I think it is incredible that we are part of the long-leaf pine odyssey. As today, the Nature Conservancy and people like M.C. Davies have dedicated their fortunes and lives to bringing back this magnificent species and the animal life that comes along with it. The situation is a lot like St Lucie River and Lake Okeechobee restoration. It’s a generational goal done so that our stories and our lives are remembered, and not “long-lost.”
Looking back gives us perspective when looking forward.
This old map showing the Palm Beach Farms Company Lands is interesting as is shows where people saw the “edge of the Everglades” when they were first developing around 1910.
Today it is hard to judge where we are and what “was” the Everglades…Some of us are literally “in it.”
Looking back, it is easy to see how after over 100 years the waters of Lake Okeechobee are becoming more and more “toxic.” Kind of like a fish tank that can never be cleaned out….
One has wonder if the developers of the Everglades ever considered what would happen to the lake by building and developing farm lands right in the way of the natural flow, and then really blocking it by eventually putting a dike around the lake? In this map, the push was to develop lands further west beyond the eastern ridge…Think all all the development today out west beyond the ridge and into the historic Everglades!
Perhaps in their wildest dreams the early developers would have never envisioned how many people live in south Florida today. Maybe they didn’t care. In any case, today we all here in South Florida are connected somehow to Lake Okeechobee, Florida’s “liquid heart,” for drinking water, recharge, recreation, property values, and our health.
Over our history the human spirit has overcome greater threats than toxic algae; I am confident we will once again.
The following is a handout Mark Perry of Florida Oceanographic passed out yesterday at the Rivers Coalition meeting. It is created by John Ullman of the Florida Sierra Club and gives clear presentation on what is necessary for the EAA Reservoir and SB10’s success. I am reprinting here as a resource and reference. Getting the legislation passed for Senate Bil 10 was just the beginning. As we know, for the reservoir to come to fruition we must be diligent over the coming years.
Notice the July 1st, 2017 deadline for the SFWMD to”request that the US Army Corps jointly develop a post-authorization change report for the Central Everglades Planning Project to revise the A-2 parcel element of the project.”
Relationships with the District continue to be strained; a nice phone call or email to Executive Director Peter Antonacci or board member would prove helpful. We must rebuild relationships for future success. We all do have a common goal, clean water for Florida.
SIERRA CLUB, FLORIDA’S SB10 Blog-by John Ullman
SB10, Important Deadlines:
By July 1, 2017 SFWMD must request that the US Army Corps jointly develop a post-authorization change report for the Central Everglades Planning Project to revise the A-2 parcel element of the project.
By July 31, 2017, SFWMD must contact the lessors and landowners of 3,200 acres of state-owned land and 500 acres of privately-owned land just west of the A-2 parcel. SFWMD must express interest in acquiring this land through purchase, exchange, or terminating leases.
If the US Army Corps agrees to begin developing the post-authorization report, work on the report must begin by August 1, 2017.
SFWMD must report the status of the post-authorization change report to Fla Legislature by January 9, 2018.
SFWMD and Corps must submit the post-authorization change report to Congress by October 1, 2018.*
The House passed the measure with a 99-19 vote; the Senate passed it 33-0.
The Governor signed SB 10 into law on May 9, 2017
Details of SB 10:
• Accelerates the state’s 20-year goal of storing water south of Lake Okeechobee.
• Requires SFWMD to develop a project plan for an Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir that provides at least 240,000 acre-feet (about 78 billion gallons) of water storage by utilizing the A-2 parcel (14,000 acres of state-owned land), land swaps, early termination of leases, and land acquisition.
• Provides for at least two-thirds of the water storage capacity of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) Component G.
• Allows the A-1 parcel to remain a Flow Equalization Basin (FEB) as provided for in the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), or to be utilized for the EAA Reservoir if SFWMD can provide for at least 360,000 acre-feet of water storage.
• Requires SFWMD to include increased canal conveyance improvements, if needed, and features to meet water quality standards in the EAA Reservoir project.
• Provides deadlines for submitting the plan to Congress as a post-authorization change report, which will seek approval of the use of the A-2 parcel in a different manner than was authorized in CEPP.
• If the Corps has not approved the post-authorization change report and submitted it to Congress by October 1, 2018 or the post-authorization change report is not approved by Congress by December 31, 2019, SFWMD must request the Corps to develop a project implementation report for the EAA Reservoir Project located somewhere else.
• Prohibits the use of eminent domain to obtain privately held land.
• Provides for termination of the U.S. Sugar option agreement prior to the October 2020 expiration date if the post-authorization change report receives congressional approval or SFWMD certifies to the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House that acquisition of the land necessary for the EAA reservoir project has been completed.
• Authorizes the use of Florida Forever bonds in an amount of up to $800 million for the costs of land acquisition, planning and construction of the EAA reservoir project.
• Appropriates $30 million from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund (LATF) to the Everglades Trust Fund, in the 2017-18 fiscal year, for the purposes of acquiring land or negotiating leases to implement or for planning or construction of the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir project.
• Appropriates $3 million from the LATF to the Everglades Trust Fund in the 2017-18 fiscal year for the development of the CEPP post-authorization change report.
• Amends the LATF distribution to include $64 million of additional funding for the EAA reservoir project.
• Appropriates $30 million from the General Revenue Trust Fund to the Water Protection and Sustainability Program Trust Fund to provide a loan for implementation of Phase I of the C-51 reservoir project.
• Appropriates $1 million from the LATF to the Everglades Trust Fund in the 2017-18 fiscal year for the purpose of negotiating Phase II of the C-51 reservoir and provides the LATF as a potential funding source for the implementation of Phase II of the C-51 reservoir.
• Creates the water storage facility revolving loan fund and requires the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to adopt rules for its implementation.
• Creates the Everglades Restoration Agricultural Community Employment Training Program within the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) to provide grants to stimulate and support training and employment programs that seek to re-train and employ displaced agricultural workers.
• Requires SFWMD to give preferential hiring treatment to displaced agricultural workers, consistent with their qualifications and abilities, for construction and operation of the EAA reservoir project.
• Terminates the inmate labor work program on state-owned lands in the EAA.
The post-authorization change report must be approved by Congress by December 1, 2019.*
*If these two deadlines are not met (and no extension is granted), then the SFWMD must request that the Corps initiate the planning for the EAA Reservoir project that will result in a new Project Implementation Report (PIR) and may continue to build CEPP components as planned in the 2014 PIR.
There is incredible footage of the 2016 toxic algae event caused primarily by forced discharges by the ACOE and SFWMD from Lake Okeechobee into the estuaries, St Lucie and Caloosahatchee. South Florida locals such as Mary Radabaugh, Dr Edie Widder, Dr Brian LaPointe, Mark Perry, Phil Norman, Dr Larry Brand, Dr Steve Davis, and Col. Jennifer Reynolds are prominently featured. Edie Widder’s political commentary at the end is priceless.
CHANGING SEAS Toxic Algae: Complex Sources and Solutions. Aired: 06/21/2017
Water releases from Lake Okeechobee periodically create putrid mats of blue-green algae. Scientists think water pollution is to blame, and if something isn’t done about it there could be irreparable damage to the environment, the local economy and people’s health.
You can Like Changing Seas on Facebook and attend their DIVE IN Summer series on this topic June 28th, 2017. See link:
Tonight I am speaking for the first time in public as a commissioner of the 2017/18 Florida Constitution Revision Commission. I have been invited to present to the Martin County NAACP. Everyone is invited. I am very excited about this, and am sharing my notes so others who may not be able to attend can also be part.
As this entire process is “historic,” I have decided to include this experiences on my blog. Please note this post is “in the Sunshine,” will be archived in my CRC email, and open to the public. All comments made will be public record.
NOTES FOR NAACP/CRC TALK 6-15-17
I am proud to present to the Martin County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Getting involved in Florida’s 2017/2018 Constitution Revision Commission process will be rewarding!
My name is Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch. My family has been in Stuart since 1952, and I was part of the first desegregated class to attend Stuart’s Parker Annex, known today as J.D. Parker Elementary. I have many friends in Stuart’s black community; I graduated from both Stuart Middle School and Martin County High School. After graduating from the University of Florida and University West Florida, I worked as a public school teacher and as a real estate agent.
In 2008, I ran for public office, and after a decade of pubic service as mayor/commissioner of Sewall’s Point, (as well narrowly losing a race for Martin County Commissioner in 2016) I was chosen by Senate President Joe Negron to serve on the 2018 Constitution Revision Commission, or “CRC” for short. Quite an honor! I am very thankful to Senate President Joe Negron for giving me this opportunity to serve the people of Florida and expand my experience.
Today my goal for you is to briefly cover the CRC’s history; discuss the CRC “today;” and review how to submit a proposal to the CRC for consideration to go before the voters as a constitutional amendment, on the ballot, in November 2018.
The handouts cover much more material than I will be able to cover in the next thirty minutes and are excellent resources.
The history of the Florida constitution is the history of Florida itself.
I recommend two books: Making Modern Florida, by Mary E. Adkins, and The Florida State Constitution, 2nd Edition, by Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte. Both are great resources on this subject.
The books discuss:
Florida as a territory and entering the union as a slave state in 1845; succession from the Union in 1861, military occupation following the Civil War; the finally “recognized” constitution of 1885 (and its many others!); overcoming the power of the “Pork Chop Gang”; Reapportionment; and the landmark case of 1962, Baker v. Carr enabling U.S.Federal Courts to intervene in the voting boundaries of the states…
This did happened in 1966, leading to upheaval and redistricting, creating “modern Florida” and its 1968 constitution that is the basis of Florida today.
So what is the CRC and why does it exist? Why does it happen only every 20 years?
Professor D’Alemberte notes with all the political and social instability of the 1960s, it was born…
“in 1965 every effort was made to revise Florida’s constitution when the legislature enacted a statutory CRC, and in 1968 the new constitution had substantial changes relating to the amendatory process. In addition to the two traditional methods of constitutional change: constitutional convention and legislative proposals, the 1968 document added the process of the independent Constitution Revision Commission.“
Chair off the 1968 commission, Chesterfield Smith, stated:
“It is my own personal judgement that above all other matters, the new provisions in the 1968 Constitution authorizing means for further constitutional law changes are the most important things in the new constitution.”
The state never wanted to be in a position again like it was in the 1960s having the federal government tell it what to do…
So since 1968, every twenty years, there is the possibility and encouragement, if needed, for constitutional change through the CRC process, so that the voices of the people will be heard and recorded.
(Yes there are other ways too, but this is the most direct, in that amendments go directly on the ballot.)
The CRC is made up of 37 people. 15 are chosen by the Governor; 9 by the President of the Senate, 9 by the Speaker of the House; and 3 by the Chief of the Florida Supreme Court; the Attorney General is automatically a member. The chair, one of the governors’ 15, is Mr Carlos Beruff.
Let’s look at the diversity of the members:
I think it is a good representation for Florida, however, it must be noted that the commission like Tallahassee right now, is predominantly republican.
We can see there are 22 men; 15 women; 14 minorities. Other notes include 14 attorneys; 5 legislators; 3 former senators, 1 former house representative; 5 other elected officials such as sheriff, clerk, county commissioner, school board member and attorney general; at least 10 educators; including business owners and 3 developers.
Over the past few months, the commission has held numerous public hearings entitled “listening tours” across the state and during this time the public has proposed over 400 unique proposals and 900 all together!
I will read some of the topics that have come up and the order they were presented during one of the listening tours. Please note I am not going to say if I am for or against. This is just to share so you have an idea of what’s coming up. You can watch all of the hearings on the Florida Channel: http://thefloridachannel.org
~Voting rights for ex. felons; Amd. 1 Art. 23, privacy and abortion; Legislature’s failure to implement the 2014 citizen’s initiative, Land and Water Legacy; open primaries; issues with write in candidates; insuring veteran’s health; clean water and air as a right; more solar energy; gun rights; gun control; transparency in government; equal rights amendment; right to assisted suicide; right to life; bear hunting; fair districts; non discrimination; independent redistricting; universal background checks/guns; home rule and local government; school choice; support of public schools; term limits for judges; no term limits for judges; cruelty to greyhound dogs/no racing…there are many more!
SUBMITTING A PROPOSAL
In closing, I will share with you how you can submit a proposal and am happy to answer any questions.
An excellent and easy way to submit a proposal is on-line: (above)
So proposals can be submitted on-line, emailed; US mailed, or turned in by hand at a public meeting.
Once committees are in place, all proposals will be referred to the correct committee and here it will be determined if the proposal will go before the entire commission for a vote.
So far there are more proposals than 1978 or 1998 and we are far from the finish line!
To give you an idea of past approval numbers: 1998 CRC, nine constitutional amendments went on the ballot and eight were voted and approved by the public to go into the Florida Constitution. 1978 CRC, not one put on the ballot made it. Back then the threshold was 50%; today it is 60%. The Constitution should not be changed easily!
You, the voters, will decide!
So thank you again, get involved and know I am here to help you with the process of making sure your voice is heard and Florida’s constitution is relevant, living and real.
My brother, Todd, wrote to me on June 8th noting that the C-44 canal was flowing westwards into Lake Okeechobee rather than dumping eastwards into the St Lucie as is standard operating procedure after a big rain…
Yes this canal, as most of the others, can “flow” in either direction, seemly “backwards.”
So how can this happen? This backwards flow?
Dr Gary Goforth says the following:
“Yes this is normal operations; generally when the Lake level is below 14 ft the Corps leaves the locks at S-308 wide open which allows any local runoff to flow into the lake.”
Another way Lake Okeechobee can receive water in an unusual way is if the water is pumped into it–back pumped. This has recently been done from the EAA. Back pumping into Lake O has been outlawed, but it is allowed if communities or farmland would flood.
According to an exchange yesterday on Facebook, with Audubon’s Dr Paul Grey:
“St Lucie (C-44) backflows are just one of many southern inflows now, S-2 is backpumping, three other southern outlets are flowing backward into the low lake (L-8, S354, S-352) the Caloosahatchee was backflowing but appears equalized today. More water is flowing into the lake from downstream areas than upstream right now. Not the end of the world but not desirable either, it is very polluted water. http://w3.saj.usace.army.mil/h2o/reports/r-oke.html “
When I asked Dr Grey if this was being done to gather water in the lake as we’ve recently been in a drought, or to keep the farmlands in the EAA and surrounding areas dry, this was his response:
“Both, they want to fill the lake this summer, and so do I, in concept, but much of this backpumping and flowing is because the farmers have been pumping water so rapdily off their own lands they have made the canals too deep, and risk fooding the communities. And rather than tell the farmers the canal its too deep and they have to modererate their pumping, the SFWMD backpumps/flow it to the lake.”
In any case, when I visited yesterday during my trip to Belle Glade, S-308 was closed at Port Mayaca and no more water was entering Lake O from C-44. I’m not sure about S-2.
The water looks dark and full of sediment. The once beautiful beach is full of gritty rocks. Maybe the lake is healthy in the shallows south, near the islands, but by Port Mayaca it looks terrible. Algae has been reported by S-308 a few weeks ago according to a report from Martin County at the River’s Coalition meeting. But thankfully there is not algae reported in C-44 right now.
We have really made a mess of it. For our rivers and for Lake Okeechobee, the reservoir must be built and we must continue to advocate for sending cleaned water south and re -plumb this outdated system. Forward flow or backwards flow, just say NO.
Todd Thurlow notes 6-8-17
Interesting note: if this data is correct, C-44 has poured 10.7 billion gallons (aka 13.82 Stuart Feet) of water into Lake Okeechobee in the last three days. With all the recent “local” runoff into the canal, they have opened S-308, sending the water west to the Lake to help get the low lake level up.
48.5 million gallons passed through S-80 to the St. Lucie on June 5th…
Civil Lib·er·ty/(definition) noun “the state of being subject only to laws established for the good of the community, especially with regard to freedom of action and speech. individual rights protected by law from unjust governmental or other interference.”
Today I am sharing a report that came out only yesterday and is spreading through social media and news channels like ~ toxic algae…
“Tainted Waters, Threats to Public Health, and People’s Right to Know” is written by award-winning journalist and ACLU investigative reporter, John Lantigua.
After being contacted, Mr Lantigua approached me and many others months ago, traveling and interviewing numerous stakeholders from various backgrounds. He was a consummate professional with an air that only an experienced, savvy, and hard-hitting journalist can attain. I will never forget being interviewed by him at a diner in Belle Glade and saying to myself: “Holy cow, this is the real deal…”
In today’s TCPalm article by Tyler Treadway, Mr Lantigua states: “We don’t typically focus on environmental concerns but getting timely and trustworthy information about a public health issue is a civil right…”
Thank you Mr Lantigua for recognizing the “lack of urgency and transparency” on the part of the state of Florida in reporting information about the 2016 Toxic Algae Crisis caused by the Army Corp of Engineers and South Florida Water Management Districts’ releases of tainted waters from Lake Okeechobee into our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
ACCESS REPORT “Tainted Waters, Threats to Public Health, and the People’s Right to Know,”HERE:
I have shared this 1925 aerial previously, but it is worth sharing again. What a wonderful photograph of a healthy confluence of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon!
Every time I see it, I see something new.
I see the white sands of the newly dug St Lucie Canal, today’s C-44 connected to Lake Okeechobee, in the far middle distance; I see dark, prevalent natural vegetation; I see an undeveloped Sailfish Point, Rocky Point, Manatee Pocket, Sewall’s Point, and Stuart; there are a few roads, but no airport; no spoil islands along Sewall’s Point; there are no “bridges to the sea; ” I see shoaling, as the St Lucie Inlet had been opened/widened not too long before ~located just around the left hand corner of the photograph; I see beaches at Hutchinson Island with beautiful coquina sands that had not been “re-nourished;” I see lush seagrass beds, the nurseries of life, cradled against the shoreline; I see Paradise…
What would we do as far as development in this paradise, if we had it to do all over again?Or would we do just the same?
How we develop lands, of course, affects the health of surrounding waters. Today, what can we do to reinvigorate our rivers, our paradise? How can we help bring back the seagrasses especially? Well, we can do a lot.
Think of all the lawns that would be in this photo today! All the development, and how when it rains everything on our streets, parking lots, and lawns runs into our drainage systems and into our river.
Yesterday was June 1st, the beginning of rainy season. The beginning of fertilizer restrictions that were especially inspired for the entire Indian River Lagoon by the work of Sewall’s Point, the first to have a strong fertilizer ordinance, in 2010. I am proud of this and thank my fellow commissioners of that era.
Do what you can by not fertilizing your yard this rainy season, and if you haven’t considered changing out your yard to a more natural, Florida Friendly landscape, perhaps begin the process.
Every little thing we do, counts. And the more we do, the pressure we can put on the “big polluters” to do the same.
Today I am comparing and contrasting photos of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon in May of 2016 to photos in 2017. A Lake O dump year to a non-Lake O dump year. “A picture speaks a thousand words”…maybe more.
Photos of the Sandbar at the confluence of the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon this Memorial Day weekend, 2017. Clear, clean water, although meadows of seagrass in Sailfish Flats has not yet returned.
This week, with a short reprieve from politics, I have been sharing historic photos and videos of the once wetlands and ponds of East Ocean Boulevard. Land use changes interest me as land use is of course directly connected to the water quality and health of our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
After reading yesterday’s blog, historian and family friend Alice Luckhardt, shared the remarkable 1947 photo above. I wanted to make sure everyone saw it as well! Look at the size of that pond that once was at Stuart Middle School! I remember it; do you? Now it’s gone.
The question posed to Alice in a conversation thread on Facebook was “why was the school board allowed to drain and build over the pond?”
It appears “the powers that be” had been eyeing the land under the pond for some time…
Alice has included two old news articles, featured below, explaining how students, two different times, did save the pond from destruction in both 1964 and 1971, but no one spoke up during the real estate boom era of the 2000s when the “new Stuart Middle School” was built. Why didn’t the adults save it?
Now I must state that I love Stuart Middle School as I attended there as a student and taught there as a teacher, but this disappearing pond act is incredible and should be noted. At the time I saw it happening, I did write a personal note of concern and disbelief to the current principal who did not write me back. Now that I am a “politico” person, I understand the principal does not make these decisions.
Many locals who grew up here still have memories of the pond. My Dad does as he went to hight school here in the 50s. Generational Stuart resident Boo Lowery says:”Jay Davey and I fished in that pond a lot 1949-53, we caught a lot of bream.. there were two islands then, –they later connected them to shore; I guess to make mowing easier.”
Yes, the goal is always to make it “easier,” for we humans, unfortunately over time this adds to the desolation of our St Lucie River…Easier is not the answer.
Well enjoy Alice’s articles below! Thanks, everyone; see you at the fishin’ pond.
JULY 16, 1964, THE STUART NEWS, SCHOOL POND IS TO BE ‘SAVED’ BY CONSERVATIONIST GROUPS The pond at Stuart Junior High School will not be filled. Instead, its water level will be restored, its banks will be graded to stop erosion and it will again be the habitat of water lilies and fresh water fish. Martin County School Board Monday night approved a plan advanced by six local conservation groups: Garden Club of Stuart, Izaak Walton League, St. Lucie-Indian Rivers Restoration League, the Historical Society, Junior Conservation Club and U. S. Soil Conservation Service. Charles Kindred, president of the Isaak Walton League, detailed the plan, which involves grading of the banks with county equipment, stabilizing them with Bahia grass and other plantings, installation of a well and one and a quarter-inch pump, operated by the city, to maintain the water level at three or four feet during drought periods and the planting of bream and bass.
JAN 10, 1971, THE STUART NEWS JUNIOR HIGH POND IS DUG OUT
The pond on the campus of the Stuart Seventh and Eighth School is in the final stages of renovation. Assistant Superintendent of Schools Jack Smouse said that the pond is somewhat of a landmark in the community and that it has been here “as long as I can remember.” School officials have intended to update the pond for some time, Smouse said and with the cooperation of the city and the county the work has been done. The county donated a dragline and the city provided fill for the project. The pond was originally designed with two separate islands in the center. Smouse said the design made maintenance difficult. Transporting mowers and other equipment from one island to the other was virtually impossible without a boat. With the fill which the city provided, the two islands have been connected. Smouse said the pond was originally dug to provide fill for other areas and that the spoil taken from the recent work will be used on the campus. Moves to fill in the pond in the past were blocked by local conservationists, Smouse said. They felt that if the pond is eliminated the city will lose one of its areas of beauty. The digging is now completed and the next step is to clear the area of cattails and other debris. When this work is complete the area will be planted and stocked with fish. Smouse said it will provide a fresh water pond for the area and will be used primarily as a “classroom” by the science department at the school. The pond is filled by surface water from the campus. In the past, storm sewer drainage went into the pond, but with the present drainage system this is impossible, Smouse explained. With the present low water table the surface water will be the only method of fill in the pond. Smouse said that eventually the school hopes to erect a flagpole at either end of the island with a school sign.
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.”
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)
Today I am again honored to feature the writing of Professor Geoff Norris. This most recent work is a tremendous achievement of time, research, and puzzle piecing. Professor Norris’ past shared articles “Blue Green Algal Blooms in the Lakes, Rivers, and Marine Waters of South Florida Surrounding Lake Okeechobee,” and “Sugarcane and Indians” were extremely popular with many of my readers. Professor Norris has a way of communicating complex topics in an easy and interesting way so that everyone can understand and make the connections. In the 1960s Professor Norris lived and worked as a petroleum exploration geologist in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Subsequently, he spent 40 years at the University of Toronto teaching and performing research in geology. A geologist by training, Professor Norris has a specialized knowledge of fossil algae, their ecology, morphology, and distribution. He has published hundreds of scientific papers on fossil algae and related topics…I encourage you to contact him by email with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you Professor Norris. “Together we will create a “better water future!”
Lake Okeechobee blue-green bacterial blooms in Florida: lessons from Lake Erie
In the following article, I have attempted to summarize some of the voluminous literature on Lake Erie and its problem blue-green blooms, and how this might help to understand similar events in Lake Okeechobee. I have included URL web addresses for some of the topics, which can be used to access further information.
Although the blooms are often referred to as blue-green algae, this is quite inaccurate and I can see no further point in perpetuating this misnomer. The blooms are largely or entirely composed of Cyanobacteria, or blue-green bacteria as I have chosen to call them for this article. This is not just for precision and to point up their lack of a nucleus and other organelles in each cell, but serves to underline how these organisms earn a living and perpetuate themselves that is quite different compared to nucleated organisms, the latter including algae, fungi, all green plants, and all animals. This difference is really important.
The topic is vast and my review barely scratches the surface – it’s not meant to, because I am not an expert and am still trying to understand the vast complexity of blue-green bacterial bloom formation. I have tried to unravel and clarify some of the science and scientific investigations that have been important for me, and have used these as examples of the work that is going on or has led to current advances. For every paper I have cited, however, there could be tens or hundreds more that haven’t been consulted or mentioned. I apologize in advance to those many talented scientists that I haven’t mentioned or that I am simply unaware of.
I used to live in Hamilton, Ontario, a prosperous city with thriving iron and steel mills, other manufacturing industries, an excellent university and a great football team, a sort of Pittsburg of the North. It sits on the shores of Lake Ontario on a sliver of land – the Niagara Peninsula – that separates Lake Erie from Lake Ontario. In the early summer after the ice had melted, many of the locals in the mid-1900s would take advantage of the beaches along Lake Ontario to sun themselves and wait until the water was warm enough to swim in. However, you could get a head start on summer by taking a short drive south (less than an hour) to the beaches along Lake Erie where the water was warmer earlier in the summer, and resorts and tourism thrived. Fish were abundant and the lake was very productive for commercial fishing and equally attractive for sport fishing. The beaches were superb for tourism and sun lovers. Lake Erie is large but shallow (average depth about 60ft) and so a baby on a Great Lakes scale from a volumetric point of view (most of the Great Lakes are hundreds of feet deep, the deepest being Superior at more than 1300 ft maximum depth). However, Lake Erie’s smaller volume and shallow waters helped it to warm up quickly in the spring and summer.
The Dead Sea of North America
Then something happened to Lake Erie, starting in the 1960s. The water of Lake Erie became murky and discolored, mass fish kills led to piles of rotting marine life polluting the beaches, the tourists and anglers and sun worshippers stayed away in droves, the resorts closed down, the commercial fisheries were badly hit, and the economy suffered enormously. Algae were blamed but no one was quite sure why they had become so abundant – “eutrophication” was the buzzword of the time. Lake Erie was declared “dead”, which was quite inaccurate since it was swarming with life, but the wrong sort of life. The culprits polluting the environment were a mixture of true green algae (such as Cladophora) and so-called “blue green algae” (such as Microcystis and Aphanizomenon), which in truth are types of bacteria using chlorophyll and other pigments that allow them to live in sunlight (their technical name is Cyanobacteria –called blue-green bacteria in this article), and this is discussed in more detail in my previous blog: https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/tag/dr-geoffrey-norris/). The plight of the Dead Sea of North America (as Lake Erie became known) was so notorious that one of Dr Seuss’s books for children – The Lorax (1971) – made reference to it in his famous style of doggerel:
You’re glumping the pond where the Humming-Fish hummed!
No more can they hum, for their gills are gummed.
So I’m sending them off. Oh, their future is dreary.
They’ll walk on their fins and get woefully weary
In search of some water that isn’t so smeary.
I hear things are just as bad up in Lake Erie.
Very fortunately the mystery of Lake Erie’s “death” was soon solved, thanks to a treaty between the U.S. and Canada dating back to the early 1900s that acknowledged the need to maintain water quality in the Great Lakes’ waters bordering the two countries.
By the middle of the 20th century this had morphed into the International Joint Commission for the Great Lakes. These international efforts were underpinned by government and university-based research in both the U.S. and Canada, which identified phosphorus entering the waters as a major contributor, particularly from agricultural fertilizers on the one hand and from domestic laundry detergents on the other. In 1972 the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLQWA) was signed between the United States and Canada, by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau for Canada and President Richard Nixon for the United States. They loathed one another personally, but they knew what was the right thing to do for their countries.
Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and President Richard Nixon signing the Agreement.
The Agreement emphasized the reduction of phosphorous entering lakes Erie and Ontario, and, in 1977, maximum levels for phosphorous were added to the Agreement. Also, phosphorus in laundry detergents was finally drastically reduced or banned. Coupled with the U.S. and Canadian Clean Water acts, the International Joint Commission did much to reduce the phosphorus levels in Lake Erie.
International Joint Commission (IJC): “More than a century of cooperation protecting shared waters. Canada and the United States each appoint three of the six IJC Commissioners, including one chair from each country. The two chairs serve concurrently.The Commissioners are appointed by the highest level of government in each country, but once appointed they do not represent the national governments; they operate at arm’s length.The Commissioners traditionally work by consensus to find solutions that are in the best interest of both countries. The Commissioners are supported by U.S. and Canadian Section offices in Washington, D.C. and Ottawa, Ontario.”
So everyone breathed a sigh of relief, phosphorus levels went down, farmers applied fertilizers to their fields differently, consumers chose phosphorus-free detergents, municipalities improved their storm water and sewage treatment facilities, the fish and other wildlife came back to Lake Erie, and Dr Seuss was persuaded to remove the last line in his poem. Further details can be found in a report by the National Wildlife Federation:
For almost 20 years, Lake Erie was not plagued by the blue-green bacteria problem, but other problems did emerge such as exotic zebra mussels that interfered with the distribution of elements important in nutrition, but they seemed at the time to be unrelated to bacterial infestations. Then starting in the mid-1990s, the blue-greens reappeared and became progressively worse leading to super-gigantic blooms that choked the western end of Lake Erie with green muck inches thick and hundred of square miles in extent. Dead zones – biological black holes – reappeared in the Lake as the rotting organic matter sucked the oxygen out of the water, promising certain death to animals that ventured in.
In the summer of 2011 the mother of all blue-green bacterial blooms exploded in Lake Erie, the bloom at its peak being more than 1900 square miles in extent. That is more than 50% greater than the entire state of Rhode Island, or 35% larger than Long Island, or more than six times larger than all of New York City’s five boroughs. This super-giant bloom had an estimated weight of 40,000 metric tons dry weight. The wet weights of algae and blue-green bacteria are generally at least 10 times the dry weight. So, this supergiant bloom had at least half a billion tons of blue-green bacteria living within it – a true monster.
MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) satellite Image of Lake Erie on September 3, 2011, overlaid over map of Lake Erie tributaries. This image shows the bloom (in green) about 6 weeks after its initiation in the western basin. From Michalak et al, 2013.
These blooms had a devastating effect on the areas flanking the western end of Lake Erie – Ohio, Michigan, and Ontario – with large agricultural areas and several major cities and industrial towns. Toxins from the blue-green bacteria polluted the drinking water supplies of large cities, and potable water had to be trucked in for the residents.
The “greening” of Lake Erie has been documented by Prof. Tom Bridgeman of the University of Toledo in a presentation:
In his presentation Prof. Bridgman showed how increasing phosphorus in the lake water favored the blue-green bacteria and shut out the normal tiny floating plants (true algae), a situation that had culminated in the American Dead Sea catastrophe of the 1960s. The international agreement on phosphorus reduction in the Great Lakes was a huge success story for Lake Erie, but by the mid 1990s algal biomass was beginning to increase again (eutrophication was returning), and by the early 2000s blue green bacteria such as Microcystis were increasing ten-fold, as the reactive phosphorus in the lake waters increased beyond levels recorded in the 1970s.
What the heck was going on here? Everyone had played their part in reducing phosphorus run-off from agricultural lands, and the municipalities and citizens had cleaned up their act. So where was the phosphorus coming from? Well now the plot thickens.
Farming and Phosphorus
This time, the main problems are thought to be ones that governments have much less direct control over, according to a file posted by Emily Chung of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation News (2014).
To some extent, they include the application of fertilizers to lawns and golf courses, growing expanses of pavement in urban areas that cause water to drain more quickly into waterways without being filtered by vegetation, and invasive zebra mussels that release extra nutrients into the water as they feed. But those aren’t thought to be the biggest cause.
“We think farming is the major culprit behind the current levels of phosphorus that’s in runoff and the phosphorus loads that are getting dumped into the western basin of Lake Erie,” said Dr. Glenn Benoy (senior water quality specialist and science adviser with the International Joint Commission in Ottawa).
Dr Glenn Benoy
So why is this? Well, there are several things going on. Firstly, corn production is at an all time high because of the push to increase alcohol biofuel production, and soybeans are being produced in gigantic quantities for use as animal feed, oil and protein for human consumption, plastics and biodiesel. Secondly, the introduction of no-till farming practice in the U.S. has led to increased run-off of fertilizer. Thirdly, there’s just not enough infrastructure to deliver in the spring the huge amounts of fertilizer that are required by the corn farmers. Prof. Ivan O’Halloran of Guelph University, Ontario and a specialist in soil fertility and nutrient use commented that the demand by corn farmers is such that there are simply not enough rail cars to satisfy the need. So companies offer discounts to farmers who are willing to apply fertilizer in the fall, which in turn leads to enhanced run-off of phosphorus during the winter storms.
Prof. Ivan O’Halloran
No-till Farming and Glyphosate
And then there is the matter of no-till farming. No-till farming (also called zero tillage or direct drilling) is a way of growing crops or pasture from year to year without disturbing the soil through tillage, and in current practice depends on the use of powerful herbicides such as glyphosate (Monsanto’s Roundup brand being the most popular formulation). Application of glyphosate kills weeds and other vegetation in preparation of the seedbed. Later in the year, another application of the herbicide is used to reduce weeds that might be harming the crop. However, this is only possible if the farmers use genetically modified seeds that are resistant to glyphosate – often referred to as Roundup Ready seeds. In 2014 in the U.S. 98% of soybeans and more than half of corn was Roundup Ready. Advocates of Roundup point out that glyphosate is a compound derived from phosphonic acid in which the phosphorus is strongly bonded to carbon and therefore is not available to plants, unlike fertilizer which contains phosphates (not phosphonates) which has phosphorus bonded less strongly to oxygen, and is therefore more readily available for uptake by plants (often referred to by the acronym DRP – dissolved reactive phosphorus).
Prof. Chris Spiese is a chemist at Ohio Northern University and he decided to test the contribution that glyphosate might make to the amount of dissolved reactive phosphorus running off of cultivated fields. He found that glyphosate acts on the soil to allow the phosphorus bonded to the soil (either being naturally present or due to fertilizer use) to be released by the chemical process known as desorption. He also found that soils richer in both iron oxides and iron hydroxides tend to release by desorption more phosphorus, as do soils that are more acidic. Overall, he calculated that glyphosate is responsible for releasing 20-25% of the dissolved reactive phosphorus in the Maumee watershed, a river discharging into the western end of Lake Erie. Prof. Spiese calculated that for every acre of Roundup Ready soybeans, one-third of a pound of phosphorus comes down the Maumee River. In 2010, according to the Ohio Soybean Council, 4.6 million acres were planted in soybeans, of which about 2 million acres of soybean fields drain into Lake Erie.
If Prof. Spiese’s calculation for the Maumee watershed hold true for all the soybean acreage in Ohio draining into Lake Erie, this would suggest that each year hundreds of tons of dissolved reactive phosphorus are entering the Lake from this source alone. And then there are the other states and provinces bordering Lake Erie that are also involved in soybean production: Ontario 2 million acres; Michigan 1.5 million acres; NW New York, 1/3 million acres; Pennsylvania 1/2 million acres. Of course, not all these agricultural lands drain into Lake Erie but these numbers give some idea of potential dissolved reactive phosphorus input related to soybean production alone.
The Monster Revisited
The super-giant blue-green bacterial bloom of 2011 in Lake Erie required a concerted response from the scientific community to understand just why this had happened. There was no doubt in scientists’ minds that dissolved reactive phosphorus as run-off from agricultural land was a major factor. But why should a super-giant bloom happen in 2011 and not in 2012 when the same agricultural land and its phosphorus run-off were still flanking the Lake and continued to be a constant factor? Something else was involved. So an elite team of scientists from universities, government laboratories, and industrial laboratories got together to investigate, headed up by Prof. Anna Michalak of Stanford University.
Prof. Anna Michalak
In 2013 this team of 29 scientists came up with their report, which was published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The team concluded that long-term trends in agricultural practices (e.g. no-till farming) plus increased acreage under intense cultivation (notably soybeans and corn) led to a major pulse of phosphorus into Lake Erie during some unusually intense spring rainstorms in 2011. Then in the late spring and summer unusually quiet but warm weather conditions provided just the right conditions to seed, incubate and grow the bloom in the waters of Lake Erie. The team stated “If a scientifically guided management plan to mitigate these impacts is not implemented, we can therefore expect this [super-giant blue-green bacterial] bloom to be a harbinger of future blooms in Lake Erie.” – because unusual weather events, lower wind speeds, warmer waters, and higher rainfalls are becoming more common and can be expected in the future.
Glyphosate and Blue Green Bacteria
Recent work by scientists at Bowling Green State University has reported the presence of glyphosate in Lake Erie. It is evidently washing out of the no-till crop fields, and reaches a maximum in the summer months. Also it has been found in water treatment plants, peaking in the summer months. Prof. McKay and his colleagues raised the possibility in 2010 that the presence of glyphosate in Lake Erie together with phosphates from fertilizers tend to stimulate the growth of blue-green bacteria, whereas phosphates alone do not do this but favor diatoms, a normal algal component of Lake Erie. It seems that blue-green bacteria can utilize the phosphorus in the glyphosate, which was believed to be otherwise not normally bio-available. Many questions remain to be answered but the intense use of glyphosate in the area around Lake Erie demands rapid action in the very near future to establish just how much glyphosate is involved in blue-green bacterial blooms.
An even more disturbing piece of microbiological and genetic research was done by Prof. Victoria López-Rodas in Madrid together with other Spanish colleagues in 2007. They studied Microcystis, one of the bad boys of the blue-green bacteria family. They found that rare mutations during growth and division of cells could clone a glyphosate-resistant strain that could survive in glyphosate polluted waters. In other words, Microcystis has the potential to develop into a “superbug” unaffected by glyphosate. The odds of a mutation like this occurring were calculated to be a few times in 10 million by Prof. Lopez-Rodas’ team. That’s better than the odds for winning the Jackpot in the Florida Power Ball Lottery (1 in 292 million), but still not great. If you bought hundreds of millions of ticket in the lottery, you would have a good chance of winning at least once, perhaps several times (but at $2 a ticket you financial advisor might have some things to say to you about your investment strategy). However, given a little phosphorus and nitrogen, Microcystis can keep on dividing trillions and trillions of time to form blooms in warm water. With such astronomical numbers, a rare mutation becomes a virtual certainty at some point during cloning, and in the presence of an antibiotic such as glyphosate, a superbug is born.
So far the emphasis has been on phosphorus and how it is important in blue-green bacterial bloom formation. But nitrogen is also very important as a nutritional component for blue-greens and indeed for all life. Green plants need nitrogen to synthesize proteins and other important components in their cells. Although nitrogen is abundant in the atmosphere, it is an inert gas and simply unavailable as a nutrient for many green plants. It needs to be combined with hydrogen (as an ammonia compound) or with oxygen (as a nitrate compound) to be absorbed by the plant. These nitrogen compounds may be naturally occurring in soil, but in agricultural land they need to be added frequently as fertilizer for crops to thrive.
Blue-green bacteria have an advantage over green algae and other green plants because some blue-greens have the ability to synthesize nitrogen compounds directly from gaseous nitrogen – they are said to be able to “fix” the nitrogen. But some other blue-green bacteria are unable to fix the nitrogen and have to depend on another source. Microcystis is a case in point (the blue-green bacteria that are often dominant in the giant blooms in Lake Erie and Lake Okeechobee). Microcystis is highly dependant on a source of nitrogen to thrive. This can of course be provided by run-off from crop fertilizer, but it does not always explain the fluctuations of this and other blue-green bacteria that have or do not have nitrogen fixation ability in Lake Erie, in spite of the fact that the experts all agree that phosphorus – not nitrogen – is the principal limiting factor.
Lucas Beversdorf and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin decided in 2010 to try and solve the problem and improve predictability of toxic blue-green episodes in a beautifully designed and detailed study of Lake Mendota, Wisconsin a much smaller lake (15 square miles) than Lake Erie but about the same depth and with similar temperate seasonal weather patterns.
They found that Microcystis (blue-green non-nitrogen fixer) rode on the back of Aphanizomenon (blue-green nitrogen fixer) in a nutritional sense. Without the nitrogen fixer doing its work first in the spring, Microcystis as a non-nitrogen fixer could not attain dominance and pollute the water with toxic microcystin in the summer. This could be relevant to understanding how the blooms that occurred in the mid-20th century in Lake Erie came about, both Microcystis and Aphanizomenon being important contributors to large blue-green blooms at that time. It could also be important in predicting when blooms can be expected.
Prof. Karl Havens, a biologist at the University of Florida (and formerly of the South Florida Water Management District) has discussed the implications of nitrogen and phosphorus as nutrients for blue-green bacteria in Lake Okeechobee, and the need to reduce both given the physical and biological complexities in a shallow lake.
It has been known for some time that non-nitrogen fixing bacteria are highly competitive when it comes to ammonium compounds in freshwater lakes, possibly explaining why Microcystis and similar blue-green bacteria do achieve dominance in the blue-green blooms when in proximity to agricultural run-off.
Researchers are looking for ways to monitor assess and predict algal blooms of all types. This can be done by sampling the lake waters and analyzing them for various organisms and chemical compounds, such as Dr Beversdorf did for his detailed study of Lake Mendota. However, in very large lakes such as Lake Erie the shear size of the lake makes rapid response to a growing giant algal bloom impossible.
Prof. Joseph Ortiz of Kent State University, Ohio has been actively involved in developing new ways to gather information on giant blue-green bacterial blooms using an instrument on board the International Space Station. From space it can image all of Lake Erie in two days – remember Lake Erie is about 9,900 square miles (241 miles long, 57 miles wide). He uses a technique called hyperspectral visible derivative spectroscopy, quite a mouthful but very important. The hyperspectral imager works in orbit about 220 miles above the Earth’s surface and transmit the results to Dr Ortiz who uses sophisticated analytical methods to identify various types of algae and bacteria in the lake water.
This and related techniques are now being used to forecast blue-green bacterial blooms, in cooperative ventures between NASA and NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration). For example this was their forecast summary for 2014:
“This year’s forecast is for a western basin Lake Erie cyanobacteria bloom of 22,000 metric tons dry weight (MT), with a 95% predictive interval of 11,000 to 33,000 MT. The bloom size over the last decade (2004-2013) has averaged 14,000 MT, such that this year’s bloom will likely be above average. However, the 2014 bloom is expected to be less than the record bloom of 40,000 MT, which occurred in 2011.”
In August of 2014 the City of Toledo shut down its water supply because of contamination by blue-green bacterial toxins (microcystin), which made it undrinkable for 400,000 residents, confirming the astonishing power of this predictive method.
A Florida Mismanagement Plan for Niagara Falls
Just imagine if the same planning “logic” had been applied to Lake Erie as has happened with Lake Okeechobee. In the case of Lake Okeechobee, agricultural interests took over an Everglades river and associated sawgrass wetlands to drain them for use as sugar plantations. To do this the ancient course of an Everglades river was disrupted by damming its 25-mile wide outflow from Lake Okeechobee, upstream from the Everglades Agricultural Area. In so doing the lake level rose because it had no other natural outlet. Therefore higher shoreline dike construction was needed (the Herbert Hoover Dike) to impound the water to prevent flooding of the adjacent land. All this destroyed a large part of the Everglades, a natural wonder of the world designated an International Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a Wetland of International Importance. The “river of grass” in the Everglades became starved for water.
Everglades River of Grass
Meanwhile, the Kissimmee River feeding into Lake Okeechobee and draining another agricultural area was straightened and canalized to remove those annoying meanders that characterize river systems as they approach local base level (the lowest point to which a river can flow). The straightened channels thus allowed rapid fertilizer run-off from the fields, preventing filtering and bio-cleansing in the natural wetland vegetation of the flood plain meanders that would otherwise exist, further contributing to heavy phosphorus loading in Lake Okeechobee and the consequent blue-green bacterial blooms. The straightened channels also contributed voluminous extra water that the lake could not handle. Therefore, the lake managers and flood controllers (the Army Corps of Engineers) directed the overflow waters down a number of canals with outlets to the highly populated Atlantic and Gulf coastlines and the sea, the overflow water being heavily polluted with blue-green bacteria from the giant blooms that grew in the lake.
So let’s work this through for our imaginary Niagara Gorge Agricultural Area, a 7-mile stretch that would be ideal land for growing grapes and other fruits in a valley just below Niagara Falls. Once drained, the imaginary agricultural area would eventually develop lime-rich soils, which would be perfect for high quality wine grapes, and would be similar to the soils in the adjacent Niagara Wine Country. The fruit would be sheltered from the worst of the Canadian winter that might otherwise be unfavorable for growing and ripening the grapes. There would be one big problem: there is too much water in the Niagara Gorge, which transports the Great Lakes waters through the Niagara River into Lake Ontario.
So, the imaginary managers deemed that a dam would be necessary across the Niagara River upstream from Niagara Falls to divert the water elsewhere, and help to drain the Gorge. They knew this would be entirely possible because the Army Corps of Engineers had dammed the Niagara River once before to make repairs to the Falls, back in 1969. Of course, the magnificent Niagara Falls, a real wonder of the world, would cease to exist. Meanwhile, the Lake Erie water level would start to rise and bigger and better dikes would be needed, particularly around population centers such as Buffalo, Cleveland, Toledo, and Detroit, to prevent flooding. This in turn would raise the base level of the inflowing rivers and they would back up and tend to flood more frequently. The imaginary managers decided to straighten the meander channels of the rivers to allow quicker drainage, but this in turn sent a high discharge of agricultural phosphorus run-off into the Lake. The higher loading of phosphorus triggered gigantic blue-green bacterial blooms.
Clearly an outlet would be needed for the imaginary re-engineered Lake Erie high-level water, so the imaginary lake managers decided to discharge the lake water somewhere else. Very fortunately, an older structure – the Erie Canal – still existed and would be ideally suited for modification to act as a spillway or overflow channel. The Erie Canal in turn would channel the water from Niagara into the Hudson River and out into the Atlantic Ocean near New York City. Unfortunately the voluminous discharge of polluted freshwater from the Lake would do two things. First, the blue green bacteria would thrive as the discharge water slowed and became semi-stagnant in the estuaries and coastal regions around Manhattan during the summer. Secondly, the marine wildlife would be severely impacted due to the drastic reduction in salinities by mixing with freshwater. This would lead to the mass death of marine life, together with animals and plants that thrive in marginal marine and brackish environments such as oysters and clams. Millions of New Yorkers and those in adjacent areas would become enraged because the grape and fruit growers in the Niagara Gorge Agricultural Area have caused all this in the first place, due to their insistence on the change of land usage. Meanwhile, the farmers in the newly established Niagara Gorge Agricultural Area are thriving and unaffected by these changes, and blame the towns and cities for inadequate sewage treatment and leaky septic tanks.
Of course, all this is nonsense and absurd – a figment of my imagination. It wouldn’t happen in real life, would it? No one could be that inept or uncaring – or could they?
The chances of such a catastrophe happening in real life are very slim in the Niagara region. Any move by a special interest group planning to monopolize a Great Lakes’ resource would come under the immediate scrutiny the International Joint Commission. In all likelihood they would jump on such a rapacious scheme like a ton of bricks and it would never see the light of day.
It’s a great pity that the people of Florida don’t have an equivalent body with overarching responsibility for maintaining the quality of Florida waters for all Floridians. Unfortunately, sensible planning initiatives over the decades have been circumvented, and most state politicians have been incapable or reluctant to fund policies directed towards protecting Florida’s water resources. It is a dismal story of failure to protect Florida’s natural resources, and continues to be fueled by campaign contributions from Big Sugar to Tallahassee. The more-than-century-long story has been insightfully summarized recently by Jaclyn Blair, a law student at Florida Coastal Law School, Jacksonville, graduating this year (2017) as Juris Doctor. It is recommended reading for anyone wanting to understand the various parts played by corporate interests, citizens concerns, politicians, policies, legalities, and constitutional amendments regarding the destruction of Florida’s natural resources.
I didn’t think up this sub-header, but thanks to PBS for producing a video of that name. In 2007 PBS published this synopsis of their program:
“During the past 125 years, a series of well-intentioned decisions, actions and policies have turned what should have been one of Florida’s greatest natural treasures into an environmental villain. Six thousand years later after if was formed, residents and agencies across the state are now raising the questions: Is it too late for Lake O?”
In 2017 the question is still valid.
Let’s start with the Manager of Lake Okeechobee, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), which describes itself as follows in its mission statement:
“OUR MISSION: To manage and protect water resources of the region by balancing and improving flood control, water supply, water quality and natural systems.
The South Florida Water Management District is a regional governmental agency that manages the water resources in the southern half of the state, covering 16 counties from Orlando to the Florida Keys and serving a population of 8.1 million residents. It is the oldest and largest of the state’s five water management districts. Created in 1949, the agency is responsible for managing and protecting water resources of South Florida by balancing and improving flood control, water supply, water quality and natural systems.
A key initiative is restoration of the Everglades – the largest environmental restoration project in the nation’s history. The District is also working to improve the Kissimmee River and its floodplain, Lake Okeechobee and South Florida’s coastal estuaries.”
Now, let’s take a look at Lake Okeechobee’s basic statistics. It is 730 square miles in area (about 36×29 miles in longest dimensions), very shallow with an average depth of about 9 feet, varies from about 12 ft to 18 ft above sea level, and has a total volume of water of about 1 cubic mile (for comparison, Lake Erie is more than 100 times greater in volume but only about 13 times larger in water surface area). Lake Okeechobee is the largest lake in the contiguous United States, outside the Great Lakes.
Until about 1930, the lake had a natural outflow about 25 miles wide on its south side allowing water to enter the Everglades system. From about 1930 to 1960 a dirt dam was progressively built, 143 miles in length, and extended all around the Lake as the Herbert Hoover Dike. This converted Lake Okeechobee from a dynamic system of seasonal inflow and outflow into a semi-stagnant reservoir, with emergency releases of overflow water into canals discharging east and west into the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, along heavily populated coastal areas.
SFWMD has scientists and engineers working on various aspects of water quality in south Florida, including Lake Okeechobee. For more than half a century, the Lake Managers have been collecting information on water quality such as water chemistry, amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen, temperature, turbidity, and so on. That, of course, is their job as a management agency, and each year they and their contractors collect more than a quarter million samples for analysis, many from Lake Okeechobee. In addition, NOAA has a weather station on the southern rim of the lake and these meteorological data can be integrated with the Managers’ observations on lake water. This is really important information. However, their attention to details of biological data seems to be less precise. Their definitions of bloom formation is based, generally, on the amount of a particular type of chlorophyll extracted from water samples, rather than information on the number and concentration of particular types of bacteria or algae. Nevertheless their information is important, and the Lake Manager’s scientific staff have produced many significant reports analyzing these data to try to explain why bacterial blooms form in the waters of Lake Okeechobee.
Of first rank importance was the assessment by the Lake Manager’s scientists that Lake Okeechobee was eutrophicating, that is becoming enriched in dissolved nutrients (such as phosphates) that stimulate the growth of aquatic plant life usually resulting in the depletion of dissolved oxygen.
Another report by the Lake Manager’s scientists documented the continuing increase and doubling of total phosphorus in the Lake between 1973 and 1984. Fluctuating lake levels and/or resuspension of soft bottom muds my have been involved in the increase. However other studies drew attention to the burgeoning intensive dairy and beef cattle industries to the north, starting in the 1950s, providing nutrients from agricultural run-off flowing down the Kissimmee River into Lake Okeechobee, together with nutrients entering the Lake system from the sugar cane industry to the south of the Lake, often by back-pumping.
Other scientists employed by the Lake Manager attempted calculations to balance the amount of phosphorus flowing from the Kissimmee River into the Lake from the cattle farms to the north, compared with the amount being discharged principally through the St Lucie and Caloosahatchee Canals to the east and west. Their numbers suggested that between 1973 and 2002, each year on average almost 300 tons of phosphorus ended up sinking to the bottom of the Lake. In the early 2000s the situation had reached crisis proportions because the bottom sediments in the Lake had become thoroughly saturated with phosphorus. Any further phosphorus would not have bonded firmly to the bottom sediments but would be available in the lake water for biological activity. In other words, eutrophication was predicted to become much worse, which meant more organisms growing in the lake waters.
Other studies by the Lake Manager’s scientists looked at meteorological information from NOAA and discerned a complex inter-relationship between wind speed, rainfall, inflow from the Kissimmee River, and lake levels, apparently related to “algal” (i.e. bacterial) bloom formation (that is as judged by the amount of chlorophyll extracted from water samples). They also noted a steady increase in lake levels between 1972 and 1978. The maximum amount of algal/bacterial material occurred between May and September in calm summer months when the water temperature typically reaches into the mid-80s.
So the Lake Manager’s scientists had come up with some interesting possibilities as to what conditions promote blue-green bacterial bloom formation, but not everything matched and not everyone agreed. This was a real tough nut to crack. Something seemed to be missing in the puzzle. But some scientists were concerned enough to state in 2009 “that the [Lake Okeechobee] ecosystem is at risk for continued and perhaps worsened eutrophication symptoms under current P [phosphorus] loading conditions.”
Descending the Murky Depths
In 1994 Dr. P. Moore, a soil science researcher attached to the University of Arkansas and Prof. K.R. Reddy of the University of Florida came up with a new idea. It might not be just the lake water that was involved in bloom formation, but the sediments on the bottom of the lake might be implicated in promoting higher phosphorus levels, and particularly the extent of acidity and oxidation or reduction near the sediment-water interface. They arranged for scuba divers to swim down to the lake bottom with special plastic tubes to be pushed into the mud. The divers brought back several cores of the mud for analysis in the laboratory. What they found was that phosphorus can be released from the lake muds when the water mixing with the mud is reducing (i.e. little or no oxygen) and/or acidic, and particularly if iron oxides and iron hydroxides are also present. This is important in a shallow lake where wind can cause the water column to be mixed, bringing oxygen down to greater depths, which assists in retaining phosphorus in sediments. However, in the case of Lake Okeechobee, winds in the calm summer months tend to be minimal, and oxygen concentrations diminish at the lake bottom. Therefore, the reducing conditions help to release phosphorus in the water, just as the water temperatures increase optimally to 75-80 degrees F favoring the growth of bacteria.
Prof. Ramesh Reddy
Glyphosate in Lake Okeechobee
It’s interesting that Dr. Moore’s and Prof. Reddy’s observations about phosphorus release being favored by acid conditions and iron oxides/hydroxides parallels Prof. Spiese’s work on glyphosate in Ohio, which also implicates acidity and iron oxides and hydroxides in the release of phosphorus from cultivated fields and the growth of blue-green bacterial blooms in lakes. Maybe something similar is happening in Lake Okeechobee and surrounding cultivated land.
Well, is glyphosate really present in Lake Okeechobee? I searched the Lake Manager’s website and noted that as early as 2000 glyphosate was being used to exterminate several thousand acres of cattails in and around the lake by aerial spraying.
In addition, the agricultural areas around Lake Okeechobee and in the Kissimmee River watershed are awash with glyphosate, and the farmers appear to have been enthusiastic users since the early 1990s according to the U.S. Geological Survey, whose maps are reproduced below (one for 1992 and another for 2014, but there are others for the in between years).
But the strongest evidence of all for recent years comes from the website of the US Army Corps of Engineers. They head up the Lake Okeechobee Aquatic Plant Management Interagency Task Force, which has this mission statement:
The Corps of Engineers shall chair, and actively solicit participation in the Lake Okeechobee Aquatic Plant Management Interagency Task Force. The Task Force members will represent State of Florida agencies (including the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the South Florida Water Management District), state Universities, the Corps of Engineers, and other Federal agencies. The Task Force will serve in an advisory capacity, providing multi-disciplinary technical and scientific data from which the Corps’ aquatic plant management strategy, methodology, and research planning and operational efforts will evolve. The focus of the aquatic plant effort will be to benefit the overall ecological health of Lake Okeechobee.
So now it seems that there are two lake managers: The US army Corps of Engineers on the one hand, and the South Florida Water Management District on the other. The Army Corps of Engineers, as well as having absolute authority to open the floodgates for Lake Okeechobee whenever it deems this necessary, has also now got control of the program to exterminate various aquatic plant species by use of powerful herbicides. Is this a matter of too many chiefs and not enough Indians? The Mission of the Army Corps of Engineers is clear: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s mission is to provide vital public engineering services in peace and war to strengthen our Nation’s security, energize the economy, and reduce risks from disasters. Their Vision is equally clear “Engineering solutions for our Nation’s toughest challenges.” Their Motto is clear “Building Strong”. The potential conflict between the two Managers (ACE on the one hand, SFWMD on the other) needs to be rationalized and sorted out to achieve sensible results.
So what can ACE tell us about glyphosate? From time to time the Army Corps of Engineers posts their schedule for spraying programs to control aquatic plants in Lake Okeechobee. For example, they used glyphosate in July 2016 for extermination of cattails in Lake Okeechobee and again in March 2017. So glyphosate is present in Lake Okeechobee, definitely from Army Corps of Engineers’ activities and the SFWMD, starting as early as 1988:
The presence of glyphosate is highly probable from farming activities around and upstream from Lake Okeechobee. It has already been noted that glyphosate may stimulate blue-green bacterial growth, and that the cloning by natural selection of glyphosate-resistant strains is also possible. The Lake Managers have yet to come up with an up-to-date, complete analysis of Lake Okeechobee waters, showing how much herbicide is present – at least I have not been able to find it on their websites or other relevant publications – and how many toxins such as microcystin have been detected on a routine basis. Surely the public has a right to know this vital information.
Where has all the Water Gone?
Well the problem is that the water in Lake Okeechobee generally does not go anywhere, or not where it is meant to be, that is into the southern Everglades. The various planning decisions and missteps over the years have converted Lake Okeechobee into a vast semi-static reservoir. From time to time it gets overfull, even with an enlarged dike, and great volumes of water have to be released by the Army Corps of Engineers to the St Lucie River and the Caloosahatchee Rivers with dire results.
An impressive report appeared in 2015 by a team of experts headed up Prof. Wendy Graham of the Water Institute of the University of Florida. The title of the report says it all: “Options to Reduce High Volume Freshwater Flows to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Estuaries and Move More Water from Lake Okeechobee to the Southern Everglades. An Independent Technical Review by the University of Florida Water Institute”.
It is a very detailed and comprehensive report and well worth reading because it was produced independently at arm’s length from the politicians, and it is for the most part written in plain and comprehensible language. It discusses many options to solve the problem and to start getting the lake water back down to the southern Everglades.
To my mind, the key thing is to include bio-cleaning and remediation of the lake water before it passes south too far down the Everglades system. Constructed wetlands for water treatment have been in use since the mid-1950s, including several system using cattails, reeds, and other aquatic plants to remove such things as nitrogen, phosphorus, and other pollutants from waste water. Such systems could be utilized to good effect in the reservoirs anticipated in areas south of Lake Okeechobee, in effect being “reconstructed wetlands” in place of the former sawgrass plains.
To its credit, the South Florida Water Management District has constructed several large wetlands called Stormwater Treatment Areas, which are designed to remove excess phosphorus and other nutrients from waters immediately north of the Everglades Protection Area. One of them in western Palm Beach County STA-3/4) is the largest constructed wetland in the world.
If the overflow water from Lake Okeechobee is not cleaned to rigorous standards, it will fail to reach the high standards of purity required by federal regulators of the Miccosukee Indian tribal lands in the Everglades south of Alligator Alley (see my blog “Sugar and Indians”):
Well, all the above makes for pretty dismal reading for the most part. But there are several rays of sunshine cutting through the mess that has been created to suggest that all is not lost. Up in Lake Erie there’s a lot of activity on both sides of the border in reconstructing wetlands to replace those lost to drainage and infill schemes over the last century. New treatments are being invented to remove phosphorus and other pollutants from the run-off water before it hits the lake. Some of the links below will lead you to more details.
Down in Lake Okeechobee, the South Florida Water Management District is showing the world how to build gigantic constructed wetlands as a start to cleaning up the Okeechobee water ultimately destined for the southern Everglades. And Florida’s politicians are now making major inroads into passing legislation to fund these schemes, such as Senator Joe Negron’s continuing efforts to get the state House and Senate to agree.
My husband’s flight yesterday over the Atlantic Ocean, St Lucie Inlet, and St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon is beautiful. But look carefully and you will see a light-colored brownish plume at the mouth of the St Luice Inlet entering the ocean. Finally after months of drought, it has begun raining. And when it rains… (mind you C-44 connecting the St Lucie River to Lake Okeechobee is closed now) the re-directed run-off of waters from canals C-23, and C-24 of course still flow into our St Luice River/Indian River Lagoon.
These canals organized and built during the 1950s and 60s are part of the Central and South Florida Flood Project that the Army Corp built following the hurricane and extensive south Florida flooding of 1949. The run-off waters from these canals and the local watershed are what you see in today’s video.
As damaging as C-23 and C-24 are (they too must be reworked and redirected) they are not the damaging discharges from Lake Okeechobee that throw the St Lucie over the brink as in 2013 and especially 2016 when toxic algae covered extensive portions of the entire St Lucie.
Rio, St Lucie River, Jeff Tucker, toxic algae
Shoreline of Sewall’s Point, Tracy Barnes 6-25-16
(Photo mosaic from 2016 shows various photos by Dr Scott Kuhns, Rebecca Fatzinger, (wildlife) JTL/Ed Lippisch, pilot Dave Stone and others.)
In spite of the light brown plume, the short video flight from Jensen to Peck’s Lake shows blue waters near the inlet and mouth of the estuary as it should be, not black water. If Governor Scott does not veto the budget, the reservoir in years to come will help offset the Lake Okeechobee destruction and open the way to truly “send the water south.” #ThankyouJoeNegron
This is very exciting, but believe me, this is no time to let down your guard, as the fight for control of Florida’s waters has really just begun.
Senate Bill 10, the bill associated with Senate President Joe Negron and his goal to stop the damaging discharges of Lake Okeechobee to the St Lucie River and Caloosahatchee… my gosh, up and then down, and then up again…Why such a roller coaster ride?
The last time I went on a roller coaster ride was many years ago when I in my twenties and teaching German at Pensacola High School. I took my IB high school students and 14 visiting German exchange students to Six Flags. I got so sick on the ride that I had to sit on a bench the remainder of the day. The students? They loved it and went multiple times! Roller coasters are not fun for everyone. But one thing’s for sure, if you’re on the ride, and you feel sick, be assured that it will end, but when it hasn’t, hold on! This bill, this ride, won’t end for another month plus, as it has to be voted on by the full Senate and achieve a matching bill in the House….
Thus far, the bill has really gone “double-full-circle-upside down-roller-coaster” in that Stuart’s Dr Gary Goforth ( http://garygoforth.net) mentioned the many configurations available to achieve “the goal” during the January 11th 2017 meeting of the Senate Natural Resources Appropriations Committee. At this time he pointed out that some of those “loopy configurations” on his visual went back to CERP’s birth year of 2000 and the first goals the state and federal government had for an EAA reservoir!
You can watch Dr Goforth’s presentation and see his handout linked at the top of this post. Gosh, I kind of feel sick, yes, there have been so many changes and so many numbers… 60,000, 14,000, 360,000, 240,000, A-1, A-2, my head is spinning! There is so much back and forth! Yes there is, but goodness, you can’t say this isn’t exciting! The St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon a roller coaster for the whole world to see! Personally, I am going to try NOT to sit out on the bench this time, how about you? 🙂
Here is a Senate staff summary of what part of the rollercoaster ride the bill is on today:
Establishes options for providing additional water storage south of Lake Okeechobee, including the:
o Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) reservoir project with the goal of providing a minimum of 240,000 acre-feet of water storage; and
o C-51 reservoir project with the goal of providing approximately 60,000 acre-feet of water storage.
Authorizes the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund (TIITF) and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to negotiate the amendment or termination of leases on lands within the EAA for exchange or use for the EAA reservoir project.
Requires lease agreements relating to land in the EAA leased to the Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises, Inc., (PRIDE Enterprises) for an agricultural work program to be terminated in accordance with the lease terms.
Requires the SFWMD, upon the effective date of the act, to identify the lessees of the approximately 3,200 acres of land owned by the state or the district west of the A-2 parcel and east of the Miami Canal and the private property owners of the approximately 500 acres of land surrounded by such lands;
Requires the SFWMD, by July 31, 2017, to contact the lessors and landowners of such lands to express the SFWMD’s interest in acquiring the land through the purchase or exchange of lands or by the amendment or termination of lease agreements.
Requires the SFWMD to jointly develop a post-authorization change report with the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) for the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) to revise the project component located on the A-2 parcel for implementation of the EAA reservoir project.
Requires that if, for any reason, the post-authorization change report does not receive Congressional approval by October 1, 2018, unless the district has been granted an extension by the Legislature, the SFWMD begin the planning study for the EAA reservoir project by October 31, 2018, and proceed with the A-2 parcel project component of CEPP in accordance with the project implementation report.
Requires the SFWMD to give preference to the hiring of former agricultural workers primarily employed during 36 of the past 60 months in the EAA, consistent with their qualifications and abilities, for the construction and operation of the EAA reservoir project.
Establishes the Everglades Restoration Agricultural Community Employment Training Program within the Department of Economic Opportunity to provide grants for employment programs that seek to match persons who complete such training programs to nonagricultural employment opportunities in areas of high agricultural employment, and to provide other training, educational, and information services necessary to stimulate the creation of jobs in the areas of agricultural unemployment. The program is required to include opportunities to obtain the qualifications and skills necessary for jobs related to federal and state restoration projects, the Airglades Airport in Hendry County, or an inland port in Palm Beach County.
Establishes a revolving loan fund to provide funding assistance to local governments and water supply entities for the development and construction of water storage facilities.
Revises the uses of the Water Protection and Sustainability Program Trust Fund to include the water storage facility revolving loan program.
Prohibits, beginning July 1, 2017, the use of inmates for correctional work programs in the agricultural industry in the EAA or in any area experiencing high unemployment rates in the agricultural sector.
Beginning in Fiscal Year 2018-2019, appropriates the sum of $100 million from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund (LATF) to the Everglades Trust Fund for the purpose of implementing the water storage reservoir projects, with the remainder of such funds in any fiscal year to be made available for Everglades projects.
The bill provides the following appropriations for the 2017-2018 fiscal year:
The sum of $30 million in nonrecurring funds from the LATF is appropriated to the Everglades Trust Fund for the purposes of acquiring land or negotiating leases pursuant to s. 373.4598(4), F.S., or for any cost related to the planning or construction of the EAA reservoir project.
The sum of $3 million in nonrecurring funds from the LATF to the Everglades Trust Fund for the purposes of developing the post-authorization change report pursuant to s. 373.4598, and the sum of $1 million in nonrecurring funds from the LATF to the Everglades Trust Fund for the purposes of negotiating Phase II of the C-51 reservoir project pursuant to s. 373.4598, F.S.
The sum of $30 million in nonrecurring funds from the LATF to the Water Resource Protection and Sustainability Program Trust Fund for the purposes of implementing Phase I of the C-51 reservoir project as a water storage facility in accordance with ss. 373.4598 and 373.475, F.S.
Robert Lord is President and C.E.O. of Martin Health Systems, formally known as Martin Memorial Hospital. “MHS” as it is known for short, is the long time top-employer for Martin County, and a respected and expanding health system. It has been located in Martin County for 75 years. (https://www.martinhealth.org) The origianl institution sits along the shores of the St Lucie River, near downtown Stuart and has grown into both south Stuart and St Lucie County. It is a literal “lifeblood” of our communtiy.
I have known and admired the Lord family since my childhood. Bobby Lord, Robert Lord’s father was a local celebrity in Stuart’s early days as he is a County & Western legend. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bobby_Lord )I attended both elementary and middle school, and graduated from Martin County High School in 1982 with Robert’s younger brother, Cabot.
I cannot express how much it meant to me last Thursday to see “Robby” Lord, accomplished attorney, now President and C.E.O. of Martin Health Systems, in his position of leadership and influence, speak in support for Senate President Joe Negron and Senate Bill 10. A bill intended to purchase land south of Lake Okeechobee for a reservoir to begin what must happen to save our river: “clean and send more water south.”
Having known the Lord family all these years, I have followed Rob’s career, especially as my sister, Jenny, is physician recruiter, and has served the hospital loyally for almost 20 years.
So, Bravo Rob Lord! You have created a “hometown game-change,” and as we all know, it is not easy to speak up. There are tremendous pressures to conform and accept things as they are. Over the past few years, outside powers have moved into our area influencing and blurring the lines.
I believe that Rob’s speaking out will clear the blurred lines and change the playing field forever. There is no mistaking it. Lake Okeechobee’s discharges are a health issue and must be stopped. Our state and federal government can ignore this no longer in spite of the influences of power.
Excerpt from speech:
“…Good morning, my name is Rob Lord. I am President and C.E.O of Martin Health System .. I care deeply about the impact of Lake Okeechobee discharges on the estuaries. I grew up on the Indian River Lagoon. My family moved here in 1969. I have fished these water with my father, my grandfather, and my brother and nephews and nieces. No one values this eco-system more than my family. We watched it change. As CEO of Martin Health System this has been a significant challenge for us. This past year blue-green algae came to our community. We needed to post this sign in our emergency room. We treated this very much like we needed to treat the Ebola situation….”
Dr. Steven Parr, Director of Emergency Medicine at Tradition Medical Center noted there are studies occurring now to determine whether the toxins trigger certain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS also known as Lou Gherig’s disease.
A few months ago I met Donald Neal. I was at the “Laurence E. Will Museum of the Glades” in Belle Glade. I saw him first from afar, and I knew, even though I did not know who he was, that he was someone special, someone I wanted to meet. His graying hair in dreads ….donning a carelessly worn paint be-speckled dress shirt and trousers looked so stylish a New York fashion designer would have certainly found a “new look.” His eyes seemed to contain generations of local history: drainage, planting, harvesting, deathly hurricanes, flooding, backbreaking work, destruction of the environment, the good and evil of money, prejudice, love, hate, sugarcane, water, and hope.
Today I will share some of his paintings that are on display at the Museum of the Glades and I encourage you to make the drive yourself. After years in the spotlight and then in the darkness, Donald is making a comeback. I think he’s going to make it big again as the time for Donald’s message seems just about right…
Today I share the second paper of guest, Geoffrey Norris Ph.D. I recently shared Blue-green algal blooms in the lakes, rivers, and marine waters of south Florida surrounding Lake Okeechobee.
I must admit, I hesitated publishing this second paper, “Sugarcane and Indians,” as I am sure some may interpret it as “politically incorrect.” I apologize to anyone who may, but I decided to print Dr Norris’ paper because the main message is important.
The message is:
“Is Sugar’s use of ripening stalks with “Roundup” feeding toxic algae blooms and why are lands/waters south of Lake Okeechobee “protected” while ours of the northern estuaries are not? “
You will learn something about this in Dr Norris’ paper below, and I thank him for sharing his work.
In closing, I believe we have something important to learn from history and the Native People of North America; I admire them. They are great warriors and respect Nature, the gift of our Creator. And in the case of the Miccosukee, they “never surrendered” and if I have anything to do with it, neither will we.
..”In the 1960s, I lived and worked as a petroleum exploration geologist in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Subsequently, I spent almost 40 years at the University of Toronto in teaching and research in geology…A geologist by training, I have a specialized knowledge of fossil algae, their ecology, morphology, and distribution. I have published hundreds of scientific papers on fossil algae and related topics.” ~Geoffrey Norris Ph.D.
Sugarcane and Indians
The area around Lake Okeechobee accounts for almost half the total production of sugarcane in the United States.
Sugarcane in south Florida is very needy of phosphorus and potassium fertilizers, but nitrogen fixed in the muck soils largely eliminates the need for extra nitrogen fertilizers.
Sugarcane also demands the use of the phosphorus-rich herbicide “Roundup” (glyphosate) several times each year. Firstly, in the fallow season (approximately May-September) to control weeds and allow the sugarcane underground rhizomes to regenerate. Secondly, as the new shoots come through in the Fall to continue weed control. Thirdly, during maturation and harvesting (October through March) glyphosate is applied to “chemically ripen” the sugarcane and improve sugar yields.
Land south of Lake Okeechobee could be used for storage and bio-cleansing of excess lake water. However, the 1997 water quality agreement between the Environmental Protection Agency and the Miccosukee Indians (aka Mikasuki, Miccosuki) states that phosphorus shall not be present in quantities greater than 10 parts per billion, and that no substance shall be present to stimulate algal growth and produce objectionable algal densities in the 300,000 acres of tribal lands in the Everglades south of Alligator Alley.
This legal agreement would suggest that Lake Okeechobee waters destined for southern storage must be cleaned to rigorous standards before discharge into southward flowing streams feeding the Everglades, at least near the Miccosukee tribal lands.
A case could be made for the sugar industry and related agriculture to “clean up its act” to mitigate the effects of heavy fertilizer and herbicide usage on the environment in general and on lake and stream waters in particular.
Sugarcane and Indians
First about nutrients and farm land and how much is planted in sugarcane.
Here are three maps that graphically answer the question about the extent of sugarcane plantations:
A couple of years ago I had the opportunity the fly over the area south of Lake Okeechobee in a light plane at about 1000ft altitude. The extent of the sugarcane is truly mind-boggling. Its plantations surround the entire southern perimeter of the Lake and reach to the horizon. Smaller plantations occur elsewhere around the Lake. It is a very big operation.
Now to the nutrients themselves. I had a great deal of difficulty finding precise information on how much fertilizer is applied per unit area. There were general articles that confirmed that sugarcane is very needy of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium fertilizers together with other elements. It is after all a giant grass, so just think how much stuff you have to put on your own lawn to make it grow green! Apparently, in the south Florida area the need to apply nitrogen fertilizer to sugar cane is not so critical because the mucky soils generate their own nitrates through soil microbial activity. However, phosphates must be applied as fertilizer for sugarcane at various times of the year together with potassium etc. But actual numbers were hard to come by, other than that sugarcane is voracious for fertilizers. This is when I stumbled upon some marvellous work that the U.S. Geological Survey has been doing on the extent and the total quantitates of pesticides being applied to farmland across USA. I used their maps of glyphosate (Roundup) as what I thought might be a reasonable proxy for phosphate fertilizer. In other words, if you use Roundup as a weedkiller on crops, then very likely you will be using fertilizer as well. It turns out I was right and I was wrong! First take a look at this summary map for two separate years, 1992 being the earliest year available in this USGS study:
Details are difficult to see in these summary maps but the originals are much clearer. The area around Lake Okeechobee was already in 1992 applying large amounts of glyphosate, and this intensified in succeeding years. What I didn’t understand was why the sugarcane fields should be so needy of weedkiller – fertilizers OK, but why so much weedkiller? It would seem that 25% of the cost of sugar production is due to heavy nutrient need (up to 75 lbs phosphate per acre, with 400,000 acres in sugarcane in south Florida). But weedkiller. Then I dug deeper following your email comments and found out why. Indeed glyphosate is used at least three ways on sugarcane as follows:
Firstly, during the fallow season (approx. May-September 2016) following harvesting, glyphosate is applied to control weeds which would otherwise grow up and choke out the underground cane sugar rhizomes left in the ground to regenerate as the next crop.
Secondly, glyphosate application continues in different amounts as the new shoots come through in the Fall. This is tricky because glyphosate kills just about anything that is green, but careful control can kill the young weeds while not harming – at least not very much – the young sugarcane shoots. Other herbicides are also involved but glyphosate is the big one.
Thirdly, the sugarcane matures and is harvested in the winter months at various times from October through March. During this time the stem of the sugarcane ripens and becomes rich in sugar (sucrose) prior to going to the mill. Astonishingly (to me anyway) it has been found that about a month or two prior to harvesting, another application of glyphosate will help ripen and enrich the crop with significantly more sugar. This process is called “chemical ripening”. Other chemicals can be involved but glyphosate is a popular choice (it got cheaper once Monsanto’s patent expired in the year 2000).
So yes, I think cane sugar farming is being pursued intensively, but I’m not sure how it can be stopped. Its effects on Lake O could be mitigated as discussed in my previous document but stopping an entire industry would be almost impossible to my mind. Cleaning up the sugar industry might be a more realistic aim.
Change of land usage and water flow.
It would be nice to think that Lake Okeechobee water could be redirected southwards along its original historic course on its way to the Everglades. Here’s a graphic of how things used to be:
For thousands of years, water drained from Lake O through a wide series of shallow tributaries and interconnected lakes to the Everglades. It’s unlikely that this could be recreated but certainly use of land south of the Lake for water transport and storage and bio-cleansing of some sort or another would be an improvement. However, it would seem that this is unlikely given the actions of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its agreement in 1997 re the Clean Water Act with the Miccosukee Indians, a tribe which occupies part of the Everglades.
This agreement set out comprehensively water quality standards for the Tribes drinking water, wildlife habitat water, and recreational water (boating, swimming etc). In particular, Section 3 reads:
MICCOSUKEE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION CODE
SECTION 3. Tribal Water Quality Standards
The following minimum water quality criteria shall apply to all surface waters of the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida unless those water bodies are designated with higher or stricter water quality standards. Stricter standards for a given water body shall supersede these general Water Quality Standards. These standards shall provide a legal basis for including whole effluent toxicity requirements in all federally issued permits.
(there follows a list of 16 physical, biological, and toxicological conditions of which these two are particularly germane):
E. NUISANCE CONDITIONS: Plant nutrients or other substances stimulating algal growth, from other than natural causes, shall not be present in concentrations that produce objectionable algal densities or nuisance aquatic vegetation, or that result in a dominance of nuisance species instream, or that cause nuisance conditions in any other fashion. Phosphorus and nitrogen concentrations shall not be permitted to reach levels which result in man-induced eutrophication problems. Total phosphorus shall not exceed 10 parts per billion in Class III-A waters. In Class III-B waters, total phosphorous discharges shall not be made which result in undesirable aquatic life effects or which result in chronic or acute toxicity to aquatic life.
N. NUTRIENTS: In no case shall nutrient concentrations of Tribal Class I or Class III-A surface waters be altered so as to cause an imbalance in natural populations of aquatic flora or fauna. Total phosphorus concentrations shall not exceed 10 parts per billion in Class III-A waters. In Class III-B waters, nutrients shall not be discharged which result in undesirable aquatic life effects or which result in chronic or acute toxicity to aquatic life.
So what this and other sections of agreement mean is that nutrient-rich water from Lake Okeechobee must be cleaned to rigorous standards before discharge into southward flowing streams feeding the Everglades. So bio-cleansing within the Everglades – or at least near the Miccosukee tribal lands (about 300,000 acres in the vicinity of the Tamiami Trail and Alligator Alley) is not a possibility within this legal framework.
However what’s good for the goose is surely good for the gander. I looked into the history of the Miccosukee Indians, and it would seem they are only fairly recent arrivals in Florida, arriving about the same time as Stuart was being settled. The Miccosukee appear to have originated in what is now Georgia and then migrated south to north Florida where they became entwined with the Seminoles. After the Seminole wars of the 19th century they migrated to central Florida in the late 1800’s and then decided to disentwine themselves from the Seminoles as a culturally distinct society. They appear to have seen an opportunity during the construction of the Tamiami Trail in the first quarter of the 20th century and migrated further south and became embedded in the adjacent Everglades. First Florida (1957) then federally (1962) they became recognized as a tribe distinct from the Seminoles.
Meanwhile in th early 20th century, as the migrant Miccosuki Indians were settling down in their new home in the Everglades as “Trail Indians”, Stuart was incorporated as a town (1914) then a city (1925) after being settled by migrant northerners about half a century earlier. Total population of Stuart is now about 16,000.
640 migrant Indians – how many are fishing and frogging? 16,000 migrant non-Indian northerners – how many lives and livings are being disrupted by ruined beaches and waterfronts?
the Indians pushed for a great deal from EPA and got it. So now a total of about 640 Miccosukee (Mikasuki) Indians (some now living in Miami-Dade and not the Everglades) can pursue their supposedly traditional way of life (fishing, frogging, subsistence agriculture) plus gaming resorts and casinos and tobacco shops – while many of the 151,000 citizens of Martin County are prevented from pursuing their traditional way of life. Surely our waters (habitat, recreational, drinking) should be subject to the same rigorous standards as laid down by the EPA/Clean Water Act for the people living in the Everglades.
We are all equal – as George Orwell said – but some are more equal than others. Well, so it seems. What do you think?
Writing my blog allows me to meet many interesting people. Recently, fellow Sewall’s Point resident, and active Vietnam Veterans of America member, Mr. Frank Tidikus, introduced me to Canadian and part-time Martin County resident, Professor Geoffrey Norris who is a geologist and algae fossil specialist with a long career at the University of Toronto.
Professor Norris, his wife, and I met at the Prawnbroker and had a lovely exchange. Dr Norris describes himself as such…
...In the 1960s, I lived and worked as a petroleum exploration geologist in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Subsequently, I spent almost 40 years at the University of Toronto in teaching and research in geology…A geologist by training, I have a specialized knowledge of fossil algae, their ecology, morphology, and distribution. I have published hundreds of scientific papers on fossil algae and related topics…
Professor Norris shared two papers composed for his property association at Indian River Plantation on Hutchinson Island along the Indian River Lagoon during the 2016 toxic algae extravaganza. Today, I will share the first entitled: “Blue-green algal blooms in the lakes, rivers, and marine waters of south Florida surrounding Lake Okeechobee.” His second, specifically on Sugarcane, I will provide next week.
Professor Norris’ summary and full paper is below. It is excellent in that it is able to relay complex subjects to the everyday reader interested in water quality and improving the plight of our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
What is most amazing to me are his comments on glyphosate, most famous for being the active ingredient in Roundup, but now used under many names. Sometimes I hear people screaming so much about Roundup that I tune it out, but Professor Norris’ observations really got to me.
He notes that glyphosate, used excessively in agriculture production around south and central Florida may actually “feed”cyanobacteria (toxic blue-green algae blooms). Also mind-blowing are Professor Norris’ insights into the reproduction of the hungry and ancient cyanobacteria that reproduces through binary fission (copying itself) “producing endless clones” “with no dissipation of mutant genes as a checks and balance to adaptation…”
Well, enjoy the reading the paper. And know, together we are making a difference!
Blue-green algal blooms in the lakes, rivers, and marine waters of south Florida surrounding Lake Okeechobee
This report provides basic information on blue-green “algae” and explains that they are actually bacteria (cyanobacteria). These blue-green bacteria form blooms in Lake Okeechobee that in turn are released by the Army Corps of Engineers into canals and estuaries of south Florida.
The blue-green bacteria grow by using sunlight as an energy source to synthesize elements from the water into more complex compounds used in their cells. When important nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen are present in excess, the bacteria multiply rapidly and accumulate as highly concentrated masses of cells, called blooms.
Blue-green bacteria can synthesize nitrates from atmospheric nitrogen, but also need phosphorus dissolved in water to survive and thrive. If phosphorus is scarce in the water, this limits the growth of the bacteria. If it is abundant, blooms can be triggered.
Run-off and back pumping into Lake Okeechobee from surrounding Everglades agricultural lands and upstream from the Kissimmee River watershed is suspected of providing a potential abundant source of phosphorus for blue-green bacteria, in phosphate-rich fertilizers and herbicides such as Roundup (glyphosate).
Glyphosate (2-[(phosphonomethyl)amino]acetic acid) is of particular concern, since it has been used heavily in the agricultural areas around Lake Okeechobee and upstream in the Kissimmee River watershed for at least 25 years. Glyphosate provides a source of phosphorus for blue-green bacteria and recent research by others suggest that glyphosate enhances the growth of blue-green bacteria, which become tolerant and absorb glyphosate directly.
The blue-green bacterial blooms released into the St Lucie Estuary (principally Microcystis) are formed in freshwater but appear to be tolerant of dilute salinities, and recent research suggests can build up resistance to increased salinities such as are found in estuarine waters.
Blue-green algal blooms in the lakes, rivers, and marine waters of south Florida surrounding Lake Okeechobee
I am a property owner in Stuart, Florida and have been alarmed – along with many others – at the spread of blue-green algae (aka cyanobacteria) into the St Lucie River and adjacent areas by water releases from Lake Okeechobee. There has been much publicity and calls for action over the years but very little appears to have been done to solve this long-standing problem at any level of government, until very recently. Now, a State of Emergency has been declared by the Governor of Florida. Recent initiatives, following public meetings in Martin County thanks to the Board of County Commissioners, have been undertaken by Florida Representative Gayle Harrell and Senator Joe Negron and their colleagues in association with Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson and Rep. Patrick Murphy to urge the Army Corps of Engineers to stop immediately the nutrient-laden discharges from Lake Okeechobee.
Although I am a property owner and tax payer in Martin County, I am also a Canadian snowbird and therefore do not have a vote, which is a little constraining when trying to influence political decisions. Therefore, I decided to put my energies into assessing what is known about the current situation of the blue-green blooms. I am a geologist by training and I do have a specialized knowledge in particular of fossil algae that have been extremely important in oil and gas exploration over the decades gone by. I am not a biologist but I do have some knowledge of the literature on algae – their ecology, morphology and distribution in various environments. I have published hundreds of scientific papers on fossil algae and related topics and hope that the following – largely based on biological and agricultural literature – will pass muster.
In the following presentation my aims are twofold:
Firstly, to try and answer commonly asked questions about blue green algae (which are actually bacteria) that might be helpful in clarifying some of the technicalities of a complex subject.
Secondly, to highlight what to my mind is the ultimate cause of the blue-green outbreak: that is, the heavy application of phosphate-bearing fertilizers and herbicides around Lake Okeechobee together with back pumping of agricultural run-off into the Lake. In particular I believe that the well-known weed killer glyphosate (e.g. Roundup) may be implicated as a major contributor to the problem. South Florida and somewhat later Central Florida became major users of Roundup in the early 1990s, long before its popularity spread north into the corn and bean belt.
Feel free to pass this article on to others. I would welcome comments by email at email@example.com
What are blue-green algae?
Well, for starters they are not actually algae at all. They were discovered in the 19th century by biologists using newly invented high-powered microscopes. They noticed a variety of microorganisms living in water, some of them with green pigments in the cells that allowed photosynthesis to occur, similar to the well-known photosynthesis occurring in the much larger land plants and driven by chlorophyll. But they were much simpler in organization than the large land plants so were called “algae” (singular alga, from the Latin word for seaweed). Some of these microorganisms contain a rather different bluish pigment and were therefore referred to as “blue-green”, and in these early days were judged nevertheless to be algae – hence blue-green algae.
It was only later that biologists realized that the blue-green microorganisms were crucially different from algae because they had no nucleus in the cell and their pigment was not organized into a “blob” within the cell like most other algae. In the scientific literature they are now regarded as bacteria and the blue-greens are referred to as cyanobacteria – that is, photosynthetic bacteria that use a blue-green pigment to facilitate the use of the sun’s energy to produce organic compounds needed by these organisms.
It is important to understand this difference between the blue-green cyanobacteria on the one hand and the “true” algae on the other. I will come back to the difference between bacteria and algae later, and how this impacts on bloom formation.
Meanwhile, the term “blue-green algae” has gained traction in the news media and is now widely understood to be implicated in the blooms of microorganisms that occur from time to time in lakes and rivers in Florida and elsewhere. I will use either of the terms “blue-green algae” or “cyanobacteria” depending on the context, or just the neutral term “blue-greens”. But remember they are actually bacteria.
What are algal blooms?
An algal bloom is the result of rapid increase or accumulation of algae in a body of water. They can occur in freshwater (lakes, rivers) or in marine water (estuaries, lagoons, coastal embayments). Different types of algae (including the blue-green cyanobacteria) produce different blooms characterized by green, bluish, yellow, brown or red colors. The density of pigmented cells in a bloom is enormous, and measured in the hundreds of thousands to billions of cells per liter (1 liter is almost a quart) depending on the species.
Blooms can be quite localized and appear as a streak on the water or can be very large and visible from space, such as the algal blooms that occur from time to time in Lake Erie and measure tens to hundreds of miles in extent. The recent blue-green algal bloom in Lake Okeechobee was reported to be more than 30 square miles in extent.
What causes blooms?
Blooms occur naturally when the water contains an excess of nutrients such as phosphorus and other compounds. This causes an increase in the growth of algae leading to very high concentrations of cells that become visible as colored streaks and patches in the water. Other factors involved in triggering algal blooms include temperature changes, sunlight intensity, changes in water chemistry and changes in water currents.
What are the red tides that occur in Florida?
A red tide is just another name for a bloom of “true” algae in marine water, and in this case a particular algal group called dinoflagellates. Red tides can be red but more often occur as greenish or yellowish colored water in the coastal areas of Florida. The term “harmful algal bloom” is often preferred in referring to these dinoflagellate blooms that do indeed harm wildlife and human life in different ways e.g. toxic shellfish poisoning; respiratory illness; mass fish kills.
So what caused the blue-green algal blooms in Lake Okeechobee?
First, it is important to understand that blue green algae are uniquely different. Not only are they photosynthetic bacteria but they are also capable of manufacturing their own supply of nitrates from nitrogen in the atmosphere, one of their crucial nutritional requirements. So the blue-greens have plenty of nitrogen to live on but they also need other important elements and compounds to thrive. One of these is phosphorus, which often occurs naturally in water in trace amounts as phosphates. If phosphorus is scarce, then this limits the growth of the blue-greens even though they have potentially a lot of nitrates available. The amount of phosphorus available becomes a limiting factor for growth of the blue-green algae. If phosphorus becomes more abundant in the water, then the blue-green algae thrive and multiply until they become visible as a bloom. It is believed that high phosphorus concentrations in Lake Okeechobee are capable of triggering blue-green algal blooms.
So where did the phosphorus come from in Lake Okeechobee?
Lake Okeechobee is surrounded by agricultural land that is being intensively farmed. Run-off from the farmland appears to be entering Lake Okeechobee, and this includes various phosphate-rich fertilizers and herbicides such as Roundup (glyphosate).
But Lake Okeechobee water levels are higher than the surrounding plain. How can run-off into the Lake happen?
Well, firstly, Lake Okeechobee and the surrounding farmland share a common water table. Transfer of minerals and soluble organic compounds can occur through the groundwater. But probably more importantly, until recently it was common farming practice to back pump excess run-off water from the agricultural land into Lake Okeechobee. Almost certainly this had led to the accumulation of phosphorus and other nutrients in the Lake as well as unused agricultural chemicals. Aerial transmission into the Lake from crop dusting is also possible.
So now that back pumping has been discontinued will this solve the problem?
Not really, because although farmers now are not allowed to back pump into the Lake, the South Florida Water Management District has responsibility to alleviate the threat of flooding. They can – and do – back pump surface water from the surrounding land into Lake Okeechobee, if excessive rainfall conditions threaten to flood the communities around the Lake. Rainwater running off the agricultural land will still contain phosphorus and other compounds derived from fertilizers. Furthermore, from time to time the Army Corps of Engineers controls the level of Lake Okeechobee by releases of lake water into the canals, which in turn feed into the estuaries around Stuart and other coastal communities.
Are there any other agricultural products that are contributing to the appearance of blue-green algal blooms?
Yes, there is one in particular that is of great concern. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in the well-known weed killer Roundup. It is used intensively by farmers over much of North America. South Florida is one of the areas where it is being used very heavily in agriculture, and has been since at least 1992 (the earliest available data). A little further to the north, Central Florida’s usage of glyphosate surged in 1993 and continued until 2013 (the last available data) and may also be a source of glyphosate in Lake Okeechobee but originating further upstream in the Kissimmee River watershed and its interconnected lakes.
Glyphosate is an organic compound with phosphorus as an important component as well as nitrogen in its chemical make-up. It was invented by Monsanto chemists, brought to market in 1974, and its chemical name is N-(phosphonomethyl)glycine (aka 2-[(phosphonomethyl)amino]acetic acid) – glyphosate for short and much more easily remembered. Monsanto’s patent on glyphosate expired in 2000 and since then it has been manufactured by dozens of companies with a significant drop in price and therefore increasing popularity with farmers. In 2007 it became the most-used herbicide in agriculture in USA. It works as a weed killer by inhibiting the production of certain plant amino acids and enzymes. After it has done its deadly work, some of it can break down in the soil into simpler molecules of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and phosphorus. Excess glyphosate can run off into water, particularly at peak farming times. Its use has been expanding in the agricultural sector by about 20% per year for the last several years.
So far, so good. It kills most green plants, if that is what you want. I personally use it to kill poison ivy on my property. Unfortunately, it has become apparent through a number of recent laboratory-based studies that glyphosate does not act as a killer for some blue-green algae, aka cyanobacteria. Firstly, the blue-greens love the phosphorus in glyphosate or its degradation products, which otherwise is a limiting factor in their survival. They thrive on increased phosphorus. Secondly and more insidiously, recent research has indicated that glyphosate actually enhances the growth of blue-greens. The blue-greens apparently have the ability to absorb glyphosate directly from the water and some are tolerant to it or become adapted to it by rare genetic mutations.
OK, but rare genetic mutations are just that – rare! So what?
Well, you remember that blue-greens are actually bacteria, not true algae. As such their genetic material is distributed throughout the cell, and they reproduce by binary fission producing endless clones. There is no “mix-and-matching” of chromosomes and genes such as occur in nucleated organisms using sexual reproduction that tends to dissipate the effects of mutant genes. Once a cyanobacterium has undergone a mutation, that mutant gene is replicated again and again as the cell divides. It produces clones of the mutant cell, and if that mutant has an advantage (such as resistance to or affinity for glyphosate), it will rapidly spread.
A more familiar example is the recent rise to prominence of so-called superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics. Human infections are often related to bacteria that enter the body, and are treated by the intake of prescribed antibiotics as a course of treatment for a number of days. If the antibiotics are not taken for an adequate period of time, the residual bacterial population includes mutants that resist the drug in question, and in turn that drug becomes less and less effective against new infections. This way a superbug is created e.g. MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). So think of the blue-greens as bacteria (which they are) and glyphosate as an antibiotic (which it is). Those blue-green cyanobacteria that survive the glyphosate thrive as mutants and have the capacity to spread widely.
Do blue-green blooms last forever?
No. Eventually the blue-green bloom uses up available resources and requires more nutrients than are available leading to a decline in the number of cells in the water column. Also in temperate climates, the onset of winter temperatures can put an end to algal blooming for that season.
Then what happens?
The blue-green cells die off and sink to the bottom of the lake or estuary. Other bacteria move in and use the debris from the dead blue-greens as a source of carbon, and use oxygen in the water to fuel their own growth. This in turn leads to oxygen depletion that can be very severe. Without oxygen in the water, normal aquatic life becomes impossible and a dead zone is created: fish move away, and other organisms die that can’t move into more oxygen-rich environments.
How many blue-green algae/cyanobacteria exist?
About 2500 living species have been described in the literature but probably double or treble that number exist and await discovery and description. They have a very long geological history. Fossilized blue-greens have been discovered in rocks 3.5 billion years old.
How many are harmful?
Only a dozen or so species are actually harmful when they form blue-green blooms and emit toxic substances. In the recent outbreak, Microcystis aeruginosa has been identified as a bloom-forming cyanobacterium together with a couple of others.
So which blue-greens are responsible for the Lake Okeechobee and St Lucie River blooms?
The Florida Dept of Environmental Protection (DEP) took a number of samples from sites in Martin County and adjacent areas from Late May to Late June 2016 and the results are available at their website:
Most samples are reported as “mixed algae; no dominant species in the sample”, but a few are reported with more detail (numbers are depth in meters):
St. Lucie River, Central Marine Marina (N 27° 12′ 55″, W -80° 15′ 18″)
Dominant taxon: Microcystis aeruginosa
Dire Point Canal (N 27° 12′ 24.47″, W -80° 16′ 16.90″)
mixed algae; no dominant species in sample though specks of Microcystis aeruginosa present.
SE Harbor Pointe Dr. (N 27° 12′ 12.44″, W -80° 12′ 44.77″)
mixed algae; no dominant species in sample though specks of Microcystis aeruginosa present.
C-44 and S. Fork Mouth (N 27° 7′ 46.13″, W -80° 15′ 58.02″)
mixed algae; no dominant species in sample though specks of Microcystis aeruginosa present.
S-80 (N 27° 06′ 41.87″, W -80° 17′ 06.08″)
Dominant taxon: Planktolyngbya limnetica
Lake Okeechobee – Port Mayaca S 308 C Upstream Lake Side
N 26° 59′ 6″
W -80° 37′ 16.5″
Dominant: Microcystis aeruginosa
Lake Okeechobee near Channel Marker 9B
N 26° 46′ 36.6954″
W -80° 54′ 8.676″
Co-dominant taxa: Microcystis aeruginosa and Dolichospermum circinalis
Clearly, Microcystis appears to be important in several blooms, but quantitative and qualitative data are not provided for the majority of samples, making further evaluation impossible at this time. Dolichospermum (aka Anabaena) is a well known blue-green that produces nerve toxins and liver-damaging toxins, as does Microcystis. Planktolyngbya limnetica is another well known toxic blue-green.
How adequate has the sampling and analysis program by DEP been?
It is difficult to say for sure, since DEP only provides results of their program, not the sampling and analytical strategies themselves. However, from what can be gleaned from their website it would seem that during the month of June 2016 DEP collected 24 samples from 7 counties (Martin, Palm Beach, St Lucie, Lee, Charlotte, Hendry, Glades) over a 29 day period, covering a transect from the Atlantic coast to the Gulf of Mexico (Stuart/Palm Beach to Fort Myers). Of those 24 samples, 83% were reported “mixed algae; no dominant species in the sample” without further details. I would judge this to be a token response to what is clearly a major emergency. The analytical results appear to be lackluster to judge from details available on the website. No doubt DEP activities are constrained by their budget, but the lack of urgency in attempting to characterize these blooms is disappointing at best and may eventually be judged negligent to some degree.
What is known about Microcystis aeruginosa?
Quite a lot. It is the most common harmful algal bloom-forming species in freshwater. The cells are tiny but colonies can be macroscopic in size and contain gas vesicles that allow the colonies to be buoyant and float to the surface of the lake. It produces both neurotoxins and hepatotoxins that contaminate the water and have been known to kill dogs, other large animals and livestock in general that drink the polluted water. The toxins may be carcinogenic. Microcystis has a drastic effect on dissolved oxygen in the water that can lead to mass fish kills.
Can blue-green algae live in salt water?
This depends on the species. Many truly marine blue-greens are known in seas and oceans where they play an important role in nitrogen fixation and are important components of the marine ecosystem. In the case of Stuart and the St Lucie inlet and estuary, these natural estuarine waters have been diluted and/or replaced by fresher water discharges from Lake Okeechobee as shown in recent Florida Oceanographic Society water quality reports:
In turn this has allowed freshwater blue-greens such as Microcystis to establish colonies and blooms in areas that otherwise would support more saline organisms. So, for example, on June 30th 2016, the north and south forks of the St Lucie River, the St lucie River adjacent to Sewells Point, and the Manatee Pocket were reporting salinity values in the range of zero to 13 parts per thousand, areas which otherwise would be in the range of 15 to 30 parts per thousand. Hence some of these diluted saline waters can now support freshwater blue-greens.
Alarmingly, recent laboratory-based research has shown that some blue-greens – such as Microcystis – can build up resistance to increased salinity and, therefore, if this happens in the natural habitat can expand their range from freshwater to higher salinities.
What can be done to improve the situation?
If you have a vote at any level of government, contact your elected politicians to highlight the urgent nature of the blue-green blooms and to bring pressure to bear to use available resources to solve the matter.
Stop the back pumping of run-off water by anyone into Lake Okeechobee.
Curtail the heavy application of phosphorus-rich agricultural chemicals in farmland surrounding Lake Okeechobee.
In particular, request a thorough scientific investigation into the effects of glyphosate (Roundup) on blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) and their blooms.
In the long run, demand that the dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee be rebuilt with a view to diverting southwards the impounded waters back into the Everglades.
Today I am sharing two creations of my brother, Todd Thurlow. Entitled “Ft Lauderdale House of Refuge/Life Saving Station,” and “Short Version,”they were originally for my mother, Sandra Henderson Thurlow and Timothy Dring’s “Image of America, U.S. Life Savings Service” book presentation at the Elliott Museum.
For me, Todd’s videos are mind-boggling as they bear witness to how much and how fast we humans can change the environment. Like an army of ants, we organize; we build; we destroy; we create…
By comparing and contrasting Google Earth maps of today with historic maps from 1883, 1887, and 1935, Todd’s “time capsule flight,” takes us through time and space to see the shifting sands of the multiple New River Inlets; Lake Mabel that morphed into Port Everglades; remnants of the forgotten Middle River that spread and contracted into new canals and developments; and of course, for mom, House of Refuge #4, that once rested north of a New River Inlet that today we can see is completely filled in, while beach-goers relax in reclining chairs like nothing ever happened!
Maybe one day we humans can use all this energy and ability to really fix our waters that have been destroyed during all this construction? Wouldn’t that be a dramatic video?
In closing, in the early 1900s, the New River… that was believed by the Seminoles to once be an underground river that collapsed and the Great Spirit revealed during an earthquake… was selected by modern-day humans as the “natural channel” to connect two of the largest drainage canals from Lake Okeechobee to the Atlantic Coast, the North New River/South New River, and the Miami.
This weekend a series of coincidences allowed me to personalize and learn the story of Ft Lauderdale’s New River, a neighbor in the water system of the Everglades and the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. It is good to know about your neighbors, as you know, we are all in this water quandary together.
So my husband’s friend Dr Juan Savelli organized an evening at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. We went to see the former lead singer of Men at Work, Colin Hay. After dinner along Los Olas, we walked across the street to the show.
And there I saw her, the river. Seawalled and controlled, no longer able to freely form a “new river” what made her reputation as told by some of the state’s earliest surveyors; her brown waters were no longer clear and teaming with wildlife as noted in some of the earliest accounts by pioneers and Seminoles; the river had been connected to canals and drainage waters of Lake Okeechobee long ago; nonetheless, she certainly remained beautiful, staring back at me with the city lights of mankind, her lion-tamer, shining behind her.
I stared at the water daydreaming, putting my day of coincidences or “serendipity,” as my mother calls it, together. I had spent the day reading UM student Zach Cosner’s incredible thesis paper, and one part came to mind:
“The trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund… would use this money to build five major canals-the North New River, South New River, Miami, Hillsboro, and Caloosahatchee, all connecting from the southern portion of Lake Okeechobee to the Atlantic Ocean…these canals reached completion towards the end of the 1910s…
Also this day I had visited my neighbor, Mrs Kelso, who was amazingly celebrating her 107 birthday! Remarkable. “Sharp as tack,” as they say. Half way through our conversation I asked,”So you were born in…”
“1910” she replied smiling…
“Wow,” I thought to myself, looking at the river. “Mrs Kelso is exactly as old as some of these first Florida Canals! Impressive.”
“Jacqui!” my friends called. “Let’s go! ”
I tuned and at looked at my friends. I turned and looked at the river…”
“Can I get a picture?” I asked.
Ed and I posed.
A flash in time of a river and a story. Hopefully a story that in the future will consist of men and women even more diligently at work for the New River’s complete and full restoration, and that of the entire Everglades system.
The New River was one of the earliest rivers to be connected to Lake Okeechobee. Highway 27 runs parallel to the canal all the way from the lake to 175. The North Fork of the New River is attached to the New River Canal; and the South Fork of the New River is connected to the Miami Canal. (see above map) Today it is almost impossible to see the connection of the canals to the river amongst the tangle of development surrounding the river.
According to a legend attributed in 1940 to the Seminoles by writers working in the Florida Writers’ Program of the Work Projects Administration, New River had appeared suddenly after a night of strong winds, loud noises, and shaking ground, resulting in the Seminoles calling the river Himmarshee, meaning “new water”. The report of the Writers’ Project attributed the noise and shaking to an earthquake which collapsed the roof of an underground river. Folk historian Lawrence Will relates that the Seminole name for the river was Coontie-Hatchee, for the coontie (Zamia integrifolia) that grew along the river, and that the chamber of commerce tried to change the name of the river to Himmarshee-Hatchee during the Florida land boom of the 1920s.
The English name is derived from early explorer’s maps. The mouth of the river was noted for its tendency to continuously change its entry point into the Atlantic Ocean through the shifting sand of the barrier island. Each time the coast was surveyed and charted the entry point would have shifted. So the location of the mouth would not be on any previous maps, and from off the coast would appear as if it had just developed. With each charting, the location would be recorded with the notation “new river”. Since that was the name used on the maps, that was the name by which the first settlers came to know it, so the name stayed.
From Broward County.org, “The River’s Decline”
Today the New River is in desperate need of repair. This once crystalline waterway has deteriorated under the strains of immense growth. Water quality has been adversely affected from debris, sedimentation, storm water runoff, and other pollutants. Inappropriate land uses near the water have also contributed to the decline of the River and its tributaries. This degradation of water quality and habitat represent a negative impact on the environment, health, and economy of the Broward County metropolitan area.
In my opinion, one should support Senator Negron’s controversial land purchase to build an EAA Reservoir, because the Reservoir should have already been built. It is a project that has been expected for almost two decades.
Due to water quality lawsuits against sugarcane growers, during the 1980s and 90s, the State of Florida had to build six Storm Water Treatment Areas to clean runoff water using Everglades Agricultural Area land, taking valuable sugarcane out of production. (Orange shows STAs) Unfortunately, the industry brought this upon itself as for many years its water runoff had been polluting Everglades National Park and Tribal Lands.
The problem was so bad, that on top of the Stormwater Treatments Areas, Congress appropriated the beginnings of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. Yes, “CERP” has a plan for “EAA Storage.” A Reservoir, to be the heart of clean water flowing south. (See 4 down left of image below) CERP (https://www.nps.gov/ever/learn/nature/cerp.htm)
At the beginning of CERP it was determined that the Reservoir/s were to be built near Stormwater Treatment Areas between the Miami and New River Canals. Although they tried, the SFWMD and ACOE never got very far building the Reservoir/s and, you’ll notice “EAA Storage” is still listed on the ACOE calendar of projects, scheduled to begin in 2021. (http://evergladesrestoration.gov/content/cepp/meetings/012512/Recap_EAA_Reservoirs.pdf)
“Why?” You might ask, “didn’t the EAA Reservoir/s get built ?”
Then on top of the US Sugar and the Recession situation, a Federal law suit that had been dragging on for years was settled and really changed things for the Reservoir/s. In 2010, Governor Rick Scott, “negotiated” a long-standing EPA law suit agreeing that the state of Florida would build more water quality projects to clean sugarcane runoff in the EAA that continued to destroy fauna and pollute Everglades National Park. This “fix” became known as “Restoration Strategies.”(https://www.sfwmd.gov/our-work/restoration-strategies)
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.
I would like to thank former mayor of Pahokee, JP Sasser for on November 29th guiding me through a seven hour tour of the Glades! At first you may think JP and I are unlikely “friends.” Actually we have something very much in common in that we have both been mayors of small Florida cities.
Yes, there are also a few serious things we don’t have in common such as our opinion regarding land purchase in the Everglades Agricultural Area, (EAA), for a reservoir to alleviate the destruction of the St Lucie River. Also, Sasser has written extensively about concerns regarding the direction of the Rivers Coalition. I have been on the Rivers Coalition Defense Fund for six years. Mayor Sasser and I have not always been on the same page. For me this is O.K. JP and I having differences of opinion shouldn’t preclude working together. At this point in my river journey, I am going to do all I can to build relationships. To find common ground. “Common muck” should I say?
Anyway, enough politics. My tour was awesome! For this post, I will just concentrate on Pahokee.
JP and I met at Canal Point, at the USDA Sugarcane Field Station that dates back to 1920 about ten miles south of the Martin County/Palm Beach County line at the WPB Canal.
Pahokee has about 6000 residents. It has beautiful new schools. Many of the lands are owned by family farmers and the Fanjul family. The population is about 80% black and 20% white. Everyone I met was friendly and happy to see me.
I learned that Pahokee unlike much of the Glades is thirteen feet above the lake. It is high ground. The town is just a few miles long and 500 feet wide right along the dike. One sees dike, houses, road and then fields…Thus when the ACOE recently wanted to make improvements and “go out 500 feet out from the dike” they would have basically had to had to knock down the city.
I learned that much of the lands close to the Lake were covered with Apple Custard Trees that had been removed in the early 1900s and thus the lands have excellent deep muck soil that grows not only sugarcane, but sod, corn, vegetables, and supports tree farming. Pahokee is known as “Muck City.”
JP then took me off the beaten track to see his horses and donkeys. So here is something else we have in common. A love of animals!
We drove on…JP showed me the remains of the Pelican River which led to Pelican Bay that I had read about in my book. This was the area where the Palm Beach Times reported over 400 dead after the 1928 Hurricane. I tried not to imagine…
We then drove to Pahokee’s original graveyard that had to be moved along with its resting bodies to Port Mayaca in Martin County after the 1928 Hurricane. There was a plaque that listed those who had been buried there. A sad thought, but here is another way Martin County and the Glades are connected.
We visited the airport. Very nice. Right along the lake. In fact this area was once lake bottom. Bizarre. Hmmm…My husband Ed would like this airport I thought. More possibilities for economic development?
Again back to the dike. It always goes back to the dike…
We checked up on ACOE repairs where they had draped the pipes carrying water to the fields over the dike like spaghetti and then JP took to me to lunch….
Part #2 will be entitled: “The Best Fried Chicken of My Life.” Please see photos below.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I completed a book entitled “Okeechobee Hurricane,” by Lawrence E. Will. The book contains old photographs and provides eyewitness accounts of the great storms of both 1926 and 1928. As we have leaned somewhere between 1500 and 3000 people were killed in the 1928 storm alone. A majority are buried in a mass grave that created a graveyard here in Martin County, at Port Mayaca. There were many farming families, but most of the dead were black migrant workers who had no warning of the storm. Mr. Will relays the horrific stories of these pioneer farming families surviving from Kreamer Island, Torry Islands, Chosen, Belle Glade, Pahokee, South Bay, Bean City, Sebring Farm, Ritta, and Okeechobee.
Pahokee does not have its own chapter but is included in Lawrence Will’s rebuttal of a Palm Beach Times article entitled “The Lost Settlement of Pelican Bay, “a settlement lying between Pahokee and Belle Glade where it had been reported 400 people “must be dead, and 250 of them are now unreachable…”among other things, Mr Will argues that many floated in from miles away and were not from the ‘Pelican Bay’ sugar company camp…
I have to say, although I learned a ton, I am glad I am finished with the book. It was difficult to read so many stories of death. That no one has made a full length feature film of this surprises me: the breaking of the state dike; 7-11 foot rising waters; people fearfully clinging to rooftops with children in hand in 150 mile an hour winds; falling over and gasping for breath while trees and houses floated by or pushed one under. Hair caught in the gates of the locks…More than once, Will refers to the breaking of the dike causing a “tidal wave” coming all at once and travelling from Chosen outward to Belle Glade, like a tsunami.
On page 35 he writes:
“The levee, extending along the southern and part way up the eastern shores of the lake, had been constructed between 1923 and 1925 and had been rebuilt where damaged in the blow of 1926. The dike was built to prevent farm lands from being flooded by high lake levels, it was never intended as a protection from hurricanes. Had there been no levee to pile up the water, there would have been no loss of life in either the hurricane on 1926 or 1928. On the other hand, without the protection against flooding of crops it is extremely doubtful that the Glades could have attained its high state of productivity.”
Before we begin today’s lesson, two major changes must be recognized. First after almost a year, the ACOE halted the destructive Lake Okeechobee discharges to the St Lucie River. These releases began January 29th, and lasted through November 4th, 2016.
And on Tuesday, November 8th, Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election over Hillary Clinton, an election considered the most remarkable and unpredictable in over 100 years…
Now back to our Road Trip series:
Most recently we have traveled to Canal Point, the first town south of the Martin County line on the east side of Lake Okeechobee. This almost forgotten little town has an amazing history, and holds the seeds of today’s expansive Everglades Agriculture Area and of United States Sugar Corporation itself.
The easiest way to take this drive through history is a timeline. So let’s crank up the car and begin!
1914-1918 – World War 1. Sugar rationing across the nation.
1917- The West Palm Beach Canal is constructed, intersecting at Canal Point, allowing transportation of goods and internal land development around Lake Okeechobee
1918-After the war, Congress holds hearings about concerns that the county should “never again” get into a position where domestic sugar production is just 1.7 billion. The United States Department of Agriculture opens a sugarcane research central at Canal Point that still operates today-a hundred years later.
1920- The American Legion and Federation of Women’s Clubs mount a national lobbying campaign against the high price of sugar. West Palm Beach chapters lead in support of the effort.
1920- Englishman, F.E. Bryant, already a successful farming business man in Lake Worth, forms the Florida Sugar and Food Products Company working with G.T. Anderson at Canal Point. They buy land and build the first sugar mill by 1921 and encourage expanded sugar farming.
1922-Flooding of some cane fields…they plod on…
1923- 900 acres of sugarcane in Palm Beach County, 800 of it in Canal Point. This is a real success.
1924- Connors’ Highway constructed allowing access in and south of Lake Okeechobee for more sugar farming and development
1924- More flooding of cane fields– a major set back so Bryant merges his faltering company into a “better capitalized” company in Clewiston. The name of this company is Southern Sugar Company.
1926 Florida land booms slows, beginnings of the Great Depression for Florida
1928 Hurricane- an historic Category 4/5 hits Lake O area coming through West Plam Beach. Up to 3000 people die. Many are never found.
1931 Businessman and General Motors executive, Charles Stewart Mott purchases Bryant’s failing Southern Sugar Company renaming it United States Sugar Corporation. This is the hugley successful and profitiable Clewiston “US Sugar Corporation” that we know today. http://www.ussugar.com
When I drove through Canal Point a couple of weeks ago, I had no idea that this little town held so much history. A history that eventually and unintentionally led to the diking of Lake Okeechobee and the destruction of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
*Thank you to the book Black Gold and Silver Sands, by James D Synder, and the Palm Beach Historical Society as sources.
Canal Point, the lake town just south of today’s Martin County line, was once an epicenter of life changing activity, a road trip there is no turning back from…
As we learned previously, in 1917, the construction of the West Palm Beach Canal created Canal Point, the town of lumber-man and developer, Mr. Gilbert A Watkins. During this era, planting sugarcane in the rich muck soils surrounding Lake Okeechobee was becoming even more of a rage and the federal and state government helped it take shape.
In 1913, Florida’s Internal Improvement Fund appointed an engineering commission to study the feasibility of draining the Everglades. At this same time, roads were assessed. In 1919 those belonging to Southern Land and Timber Company, Hamilton Disston’s heirs’ lands around Lake Okeechobee–some that became Watkins’—were determined to be “inadequate.” The only east/west road was Jupiter -Indiantown, and that was not enough.
Nationally, it was all the rage to be part of South Florida’s new-found” investment. “Buffalo’s New Yorker, Fingy Connors, was perfect for the job. He’d lost his thumb when he was young, but this didn’t keep him from grasping or getting what he wanted. After a visit to the area celebrating the building of the West Palm Beach Canal, he bought lands in the area of Canal Point and built his road.
Connors’ Highway Toll-Road became an “engineering and development marvel” and all knew it was Fingy’s skill as a big time political boss that got it done. Like the video and biography in this post implies, some saw him as a villain, and others as a hero…
What is for sure, is that although a large section of the road was built from Canal Point north to Okeechobee, it later was extended under the lake and across the state becoming Highway-80, paving the way for the future of the sugar industry and what would evolve into the riches of the Everglades Agricultural Area.
William J. Conners, aka Fingy (1857-1929) was born in the slums of the Old First Ward. Fingy obtained his nick-name because he lost his thumb when he was young. When he was 19, his parents passed and he acquired a small saloon/rooming house on Louisiana St. He then bought a 2nd saloon on Ohio St. With Conners’s flashy, tough personality, he managed to form contracts to supply labor all across the Great Lakes utilizing 1,000s. His men would eat, sleep, drink, and spend their earnings at his saloons. He had sovereignty over the work force for over a decade. Next in life, he became a leading real-estate developer, operated his own paving company and brewing company, poultry farm, and started the early stages of the Courier Express. Conners definitely tested the waters by reducing wages of grain scoopers which caused a strike. This strike caught nation-wide attention, as 8,000,000 bushels of wheat were backed up. After dipping into politics, he came to control 85% of the packaged freight business on the Great Lakes (Great Lakes Transit Corporation). Conners donated a small fortune to Buffalo’s poor. Later in life, Fingy resided in Florida for half of the year. Floridians considered Fingy to be of hero stature.
HISTORIC PHOTOS CIA FLORIDA MEMORY, CONNORS’ HIGHWAY 1920s.
HISTOROR MARKER TEXT AND PHOTO
*Thank you to my mother for the photos retrieved from Florida Memory and the write up of the historical marker and the video history.
My “Road Trip to the Glades” series is meant to be an experience of exploration. Exploration into a world many of us from the Coast have not seen. It is my hope that through learning about the Glades communities we can forge insights and hopefully friendships that assist us in our journey for a solution to Lake O’s discharges, Senate President Elect Joe Negron’s land purchase proposal for 2017, and a restored Everglades including a healthy St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
At this point, as river advocates, we must make clear that we wish to attain these things, not at the expense of the communities of Lake Okeechobee. The best way to begin this conversation is to educate and visit there ourselves, because yes, #GladesLivesMatter.
We begin first our journey driving west from Stuart on Kanner Highway, named for Judge A.O. Kanner. “A.O.” had an accomplished legal and legislative career, and in 1925 was chosen to move to Martin County by longtime friend and colleague, Governor Marti