Tag Archives: El Nino

The Dolphins are Jumping but no False Hope!

Ed and I just got off a seven day journey on “Finito.” We traveled along the Indian River Lagoon from Stuart to Cape Canaveral and only turned around due to a fuel leak that was heroically  brought to our attention our eighty pound Belgium Shepherd, Luna.

Luna although a bit crippled walked to the front  to bark and alert us to the smell of gas in the salon. Ed and I were upstairs in the pilot house.

The Lagoon has been through hell the past decade, especially in regards to algae blooms that began around 2010 and peaked in 2013. Over 90 percent of seagrasses in the 156 mile lagoon died off in those and the following years and FWC still reports issues including fish kills. I believe that the lagoon is improving in spite of continued difficulties. Just the past few days the water quality the length of the lagoon looked appealing and there were dolphins jumping in our wake the entire trip!  Dozens of them, all along the way! These clever animals will always find a fish, in spite of crappy water, but nonetheless, their presence was inspiring.

Even though this was to be the “retirement cruise,” I couldn’t help myself from zooming into a Rivers Coalition meeting on October 26 and was impressed that for the second time in row since I was ditched by the Senate, South Florida Water Management District executive staff and a governing board member drove all the way from West Palm Beach to attend the meeting. Obviously this is done for their self preservation, but still!

The subject of the meeting was “Sending Water South,” and basically the theme, in line with my last blog post, was that the the high water in Water Conservation Areas south of Lake Okeechobee makes sending water south right now “impossible.” Staff said they were draining the WCAs now, the Storm Water Treatment Areas are restored, and they hope to send Lake Okeechobee water south in December. Of course no one mentions this bottleneck is caused by the Everglades Agricultural Area….

I found this possibility about sending water south in December misleading. In fact, it was False hope. Sure there is always a possibility that things will not turn out as science plans, but we should recognize science nonetheless. Especially as the District is based on science has its own scientific weather bureau that is so respected the ACOE relies on its data!

Two days prior to the Rivers Coalition meeting the District hosted a Water Resource Form. During this forum the high probability of above average rainfall December 2023 through February 2024 over the sixteen county South Florida Water Management District was noted. This is due to a weather condition known as El Nino. So back to the Rivers Coalition meeting, what if as science is revealing, we do not have a dry season and it rains  over the Water Conservation Areas? Hmmm? Then the SFWMD  probably wont be able to send water south in December, or January or February and tree islands and fur-bearing animals will continue to suffer as will we. This may have been mentioned in passing but it was not discussed.

Lake Okeechobee is discharged east and west when determined too high by the ACOE.

I rather be prepared for something that may happen than have my government spoon feed me false hope gliding over serious issues. A scientific agency has the responsibility to share science not hope.

ACOE Periodic Scientist Call 10-31-23

TCPalm Article by Ed Killer 

Remembering and Comparing the 1997/98 El Nino to Today’s, SLR/IRL

Sofia slide on fish lesions in SLR 1999.
Sofia slide on fish lesions in SLR 1999.
Slide from Dr Gary Goforth's December 2015 update on SLR/IRL Lake Okeechobee.
Slide from Dr Gary Goforth’s December 2015 update on SLR/IRL Lake Okeechobee.

Today I would like to briefly remember 1997 and 1998 and recall why this year is so important to our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon history. I would also like to note for some who may not know why these years are  being brought back into the ACOE/SFWMD discussion this year.

To remember issues of 1997-98 and see full SOFIA write-up on the issue go to http://sofia.usgs.gov/sfrsf/rooms/coastal/stlucie/fish/

Today’s slide is complements of a recent document shared by our friend, Dr Gary Goforth. (http://garygoforth.net) “Draft – Wet Season 2015 Lake Discharges – December 9, 2015.” This slide shows that Lake Okeechobee today is lower than it was in 1997.

Why is Dr Goforth comparing 1997? He is comparing 1997 because in 1997-98 there was a strong El Nino (rainy winter), just as we are experiencing right now in 2015/2016.

Certainly we have all noticed how much it is raining this winter so far!

The difference  as far a Lake O management in 1997-98 was that there was no”LORS” schedule then….The 2008 LORS or “Lake Okeechobee Release Schedule” did not go into place until 2008 so prior to that year the lake was allowed to be over a foot higher. Since 2008,  the lake is required to be lower because of work and safety issues on the Herbert Hoover Dike.

This benefits the estuaries in some ways  in that not so much water is stored and can be discharged upon them at once, but on the other hand when it rains the lake is not allowed to “store water” so that water is released into the estuaries…..thus the need for much more storage….(http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Media/FactSheets/FactSheetArticleView/tabid/6106/Article/479989/lake-okeechobee-water-management.aspx)
—-In any case in the slide below are some Dr Goforth’s remarks from his presentation you may find interesting.

It is important that as we move forward to also look back. We must remember what happened in 1997-98, a similar El Nino to what is happening right now…. 1997-98 were not  good years for the river…So much water was released into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon in 1997-1998 that there were more reported fish lessons than ever before– due to too much and too long of exposure to fresh water. This is also why, in 1998,the Rivers Coalition was born. (http://riverscoalition.org)

Section of Dr Goforth's report on Lake O levels December 9, 2015.
Section of Dr Goforth’s report on Lake O levels December 9, 2015.

1999 SOFIA SLR fish lesion report: (http://sofia.usgs.gov/sfrsf/rooms/coastal/stlucie/fish/)
2015 NOAA update El Nino: (http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/analysis_monitoring/enso_advisory/ensodisc.pdf)

Preparing for 2016’s Possible “El Nino/Lake O Destruction,” SLR/IRL

El Nino means rain.
El Nino means possible heavy rains for our SLR/IRL region during the coming winter.

I woke up this morning to the percussion of hard, fast rains hitting our tin roof… In my foggy state of slumber,  I bumped Ed’s shoulder, “How are you going to take out the dogs?”

Rolling over, I started thinking about what I’d  heard on Tuesday’s Army Corp of Engineer Periodic Scientist Call: “…How are we going to prepare if NOAA’s El Nino rain predictions are right? What if there is up to seven feet of water that fills the lake?….”

Seven feet? That would mean releases from Lake Okeechobee this Florida winter.

NOAA reports this El Niño as among the strongest on record: (http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2015/101515-noaa-strong-el-nino-sets-the-stage-for-2015-2016-winter-weather.html)

Remember 2008 and Tropical Storm Fay? For reference, that storm raised Lake Okeechobee by more than three feet in no more than few weeks. The lake fills up six times faster than it can be “drained”….and as we all know, we are the drainage pipe.

It’s an odd thing how the flow of water going south to the Everglades is blocked by the EAA (Everglades Agricultural Area) so now the over-flow is directed to the St Lucie River and Caloosahatchee. But it’s a reality. A reality that one day must be changed.

According to CERP, Moving water south requires storage in the EAA
We must restore the flow of water to the Everglades and halt releases to the SLR/IRL. This requires land purchases and reservoirs.

Remember–too much fresh water, as during releases from Lake Okeechobee,  is a pollutant to our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon— altering salinity, destroying spawning/fisheries, wiping out seagrasses and food throughout the food chain, lowering property values and the right of residents and their children to have “peaceful enjoyment” of their property…Yes, I can clearly state that toxic algae blooms and fish lesions do not precipitate peace for the Town of Sewall’s Point, nor for Martin and St Lucie Counties.

So how do we prepare?  We must educate ourselves ahead of time; we shouldn’t over fertilize; we should get our septic tanks checked;  and we should contact our legislators now saying we want to see a plan. We want to know ahead of time what may happen if indeed seven feet of water fills the lake between December and this coming May. How will we adapt to knowns and unknowns? We can’t just wait. Not when it’s this clear…we must be  proactive on every level.

Legislative delegation Senate President Negron, Representative Harrell and Magar, what are we doing now to deal with all this water and what are we going to do in the future? The C-44 Reservoir/STA is great but it does not address Lake Okeechobee…. Why are we wasting the valuable water? What about Amendment 1 and the purchase of lands?

President of the Senate to be, Joe Negron: (https://www.flsenate.gov/senators/s32)
Rep. Harrell and Magar: (http://www.myfloridahouse.gov)

If indeed we do have a rough SLR/IRL winter, don’t forget the most important thing of all. After every rain, there is a rainbow.


Rainbow by John Whiticar, 2014.
“Rainbow” by John Whiticar, 2014.
ACOE slide. “A” and dark green mean above average forecast by NOAA.


El Nino, Indian River Lagoon

During an El Nino, ocean  water along the equator is warmer and thus there is more rain. (Public photo)
Generally speaking, during an El Nino, ocean waters are warmer and thus there is more rain. (Public photo)

Last night, my husband, Ed, walks into my office, sneaks behind me, looks at my computer screen with an El Nino water pattern photo on it, and says jokingly: ” What are you now? The weatherman?”

I look at him with a wry smile:”No, I’m not the weatherman; I am going  to write about El Nino in my “Indian River Lagoon” blog tomorrow. I think the ACOE could start dumping into the St Lucie River soon. There’s a connection with El Nino, and it’s a terrible way to possibly start the new year.”

Ed leaves the room laughing…”Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch- weatherman!”

Well, Ed did make me laugh for the moment; but today, I am not laughing.

From what I have witnessed over the past few weeks, before I had a wonderful holiday break, as I hope you did, the scientists on ACOE Periodic Scientist Conference for Lake Okeechobee and the Estuaries, were alluding to releasing water from Lake Okeechobee to the estuaries. I have been thinking about this the entire break. This could happen, or not happen. And although the reasons are many and multi-layered, let’s start with a simple question.

“What is an El Nino?”

Apparently the word which literally means “Christ Child” (Little Boy) is derived from Spanish-speaking fishermen who noticed that sometimes, around Christmas, ocean waters get warmer, thus the name. Because the warmer waters are not as nutrient filled as the cool waters, this radically affects fishing, and bird life, as well as weather patterns—causing more rain during the winter season.

The opposite of El Nino, the cooler system, is La Nina, or (Little Girl.) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Niño)

So, during the recent ACOE Periodic Scientist calls, that I sit in as an elected official, most recently on December 23, 2014, NOAA reported that there is a 65% chance that there could be an “El Nino” this winter. (http://www.elnino.noaa.gov/) Thus the projections for rain this winter are “high.”

For scientists from the Army Corp of Engineers and South Florida Water Management District tying to manage Lake Okeechobee, (http://w3.saj.usace.army.mil/h2o/reports.htm), this affects how they will manage the lake.  The lake is now at 15.20 feet. This is almost a full foot higher than last year and high in general for this time of year. Usually at this time of year one would hope that the lake is going down so it will be ready to hold the waters of the next rainy season… 

All things considered, now the ACOE/SFWMD might dump to “make room.”  You’ve got to be kidding me?

Why can’t the ACOE  send this lake water south?

According to them and the charts below, they can’t because they already sent so much water south in 2014. Sending water south is good. More water was sent south in 2014 than in many, many years before. Still….

Hmmm…. So am I supposed to feel OK about this? No.

It’s kind of like understanding why you are going to get beaten. You may understand, but it doesn’t make it hurt any less….

Also, one other thing they don’t mention is that the Storm Water Treatment Areas and Water Conservation Areas south of the lake are reserved first for the Everglades Agriculture Area’s (EAA) water….

In my opinion, this is not right….

It is also not right that the estuaries repeatedly get destroyed. We must fight on.

So take a look at these slides and “understand,” but may it give us ammunition to fight harder as part of our new year’s resolution for 2015, and definitely, not to accept our plight.

ACOE/SFWMD summary at last Periodic Scientist Call,
ACOE/SFWMD summary at last Periodic Scientist Call, 12-23-14.
ACOE/SFWMD chart from PSC showing how much water they "could" have sent the SLR...
ACOE/SFWMD chart from PSC showing how much water they “could” have sent the SLR…12-23-14. Blue what LORS allowed. Red what they sent this year.
LORS Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule chart
(LORS 2008) Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule chart. Although the ACOE’s chart “tells” the ACOE that they can send the SLR 1170 cfs of water, and has for months, the ACOE has been sending 0.

Happy New Year. Happy 2015. 2014 was “progress” because of you. So let’s keep learning, and pushing for a third outlet south of the lake, and lands to hold that water, so one day in the future, we don’t have start the new year with an ax over our heads.

Below is the last message from the ACOE, regarding the next Periodic Scientists Conference Call, so tomorrow, will be an “epiphany.”

12-24-14: “The next periodic scientist call will be 6 January 2015 at 2:00 PM. We anticipate continued discussions regarding Lake Okeechobee levels, weather forecasts to include El Nino conditions, and dry season lake release strategy.” —ACOE


 Previous blog post explaining what the ACOE Periodic Scientists Conference Calls are: (http://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2014/03/06/the-acoes-periodic-scientists-call-and-the-indian-river-lagoon/)