-Across the Everglades was written in 1897 by Hugh Laussat Willoughby, Thurlow Library.“Hugh Laussat Willoughby, a Sewall’s Point winter resident for 32 years, was one of the Treasure Coast’s most colorful characters,” writes my mother Sandra Thurlow in her book Sewall’s Point, The History of a Peninsular Community on Florida’s Treasure Coast.
While in my youth, the stories I heard about Hugh Willoughby really shaped my Weltanschauung. My historian mother often referred to him a “braggart,” but he certainly earned it! He led a life of adventure even “at home.” He flew an early airplane over the St Lucie River taking some the first aerials photographs; he partnered with Captain Henry Sewall for whom Sewall’s Point is named, together they developed Port Sewall. As a kid, I thought that parts of the War Hawk aeroplane Willoughby built could be found at his Sewall’s Point property on the St Lucie River, Mandalay. Willoughby’s life was the stuff of dreams and he lived in my hometown. I still think of him every time I take a walk. Over the past few years, I watched the remains of his beautiful estate get developed and endured witnessing the clueless developer tear down the ancient night blooming cactus vines and giant old trees…
So why am I speaking of Hugh Willoughby? I am writing this blog today because right now Willoughby’s memory is being honored for another famous and remarkable accomplishment of his -in 1897, he crossed the Florida Everglades and in 1898 wrote Acrossthe Everglades, an American classic.As I write, a team of adventurers and scientists, are retracing a modern day Willoughby path. Their website reads: “In recognition of the 125th anniversary of Hugh Willoughby’s daring Everglades crossing and the 75th anniversary of the creation of Everglades National Park: The Willoughby Expedition.”
Willoughby was the first to test Everglades’ waters, this team will test for many substances but one especially Willoughby would never have imagined, micro-plastics. Another, through the help of Dr Fred Sklar, SFWMD, invasive apple snails.
The group pushed off from the Harney River on October 27th, and as of October 31, 2022 at 12:26 pm, the team was located, along the Tamiami Trail’s L-29 Canal. Of course when Willoughby explored these waters 125 years ago Florida was a wilderness unlike today. In fact today, cities, airports, and roads have been built out into the once Everglades. These are the words of Chief Navigator Charlie Arazoza explaining to me the path from today until the last day:
“The 31st we come out of the wilderness and into civilization. We launch from the North bank of the Tamiami canal across from the bridge and paddle to the Tamiami Canal Park on 6th Street and 127 ave. Straight line canal paddling with several portages, come for the day or come for a slice. Halloween at Belen!
On the 1st of November we leave the park and paddle down the Tamiami, hang a left at the Palmetto, come through Blue Lagoon and spend the night under the LeJeune overpass into the airport. Join us for the paddle, or join us for a drink when it’s over.
The last day of the expedition, we launch under the overpass, paddle 50 yards, and get out again to drag our boats across Melreese golf course around the last floodgate. That puts us less than a mile from the river and then down the river we go. Final destination, Bayside.”
You can follow along on their website and on November 19th they will be giving a report of their travels at 1pm at the Cox Science Center in West Palm Beach. May we continue to work to educate and revive the Everglades health. Gratitude and thanks to the all reliving history and setting new scientific baselines 125 years later by retracing Willoughby’s Across the Everglades!
-Map insert of Willoughby’s track across the Everglades 1897, Across the Everglades.
-Hugh Willoughby in aviation attire. He flew often over the St Luice River after his adventure across the Everglades. Historical Society of Martin County.
A message and some photos sent from expedition co-leader Harvey Oyer: Awesome!
“Being greeted by Mayor of Miami Dade County last night when we landed at Belen Jesuit School on banks of Tamiami Canal. Three canoes of Belen students paddled with us from our exit from the sawgrass back to Belen where they hosted a dinner for us.” Harvey Oyer -Screen shot of location 11-1-22 6:25pm.
Co-expedition Harvey Oyer wrote: “We finished yesterday. 7 days, 6 nights, no major injuries…”
So exciting! I can’t wait to hear more about this modern day historical journey! I will be reporting. ~jacqui tl
Thank you to Captain Frank Adams of Naples who sent these photos from Hugh Willoughby’s first edition of Across the Everglades. There were four.
Sometimes the history of the Everglades is really confusing. Why, with all of the environmental advocacy, since the 1970s, does the health of our environment remain crippled? One way to simplify it is to think in terms of before and after the 1947 U.S. Central and South Florida Plan. Of course there is extensive history before 1947, but it was after 1947 that things in South Florida’s water world became culturalized, compartmentalized, and legally defined. Before we talk about this 1947 Central and South Florida Plan, let’s review some important highlights pre-1947.
1. Hamilton Disston begins the drainage of Lake Okeechobee (1881)
2. Governor Napoleon Broward hires U.S.D.A. scientist James Wright who determines that “eight canals would indeed drain 1,850,000 acres of swampland” (1904)
3. The U.S. Congress’ Rivers and Harbors Act includes significant funds to deepen the manmade Hamilton Disston connection of the Calooshahatchee River to Lake Okeechobee (ca.1910)
4. The scandal of James Wright (from #2 above) who was deemed “a fraud” for the failure of the land to drain as expected ~causing the slump in swampy real estate sales (1914)
5. The resurgence of confidence in sales and a 1920s real estate boom fueled by advances in soil science, and the success of agricultural start-ups located in Moore Haven, Belle Glade, and Clewiston south of Lake Okeechobee
6. Land in a defined “Everglades Drainage District” more fully being systematically cut into sections for development with canals draining agricultural fertilizers and other chemicals into the waters of the state (1924)
6. Two very powerful hurricanes causing thousands of deaths and the destruction of property, and thus the state’s “call for a higher dike” (1926 and 1928)
7. The state’s reaction to the hurricanes, the 1929 establishment of the “Okeechobee Flood Control District” for the “Everglades Drainage District” as well as the Federal Government’s Army Corp of Engineers taking over “field operations”around Lake Okeechobee ~including the building of a thirty-five foot earthen dike and ingeniously using navigation funding to build the cross-state-canal, connecting the Caloosahatchee and the St Lucie Estuaries to Lake Okeechobee ~conveniently working as discharge-escapes through those estuaries when “necessary”
So, as we can see, a lot happened pre-1947, but it was what happened after, were things really changed…
In 1947 it rained and rained, and there were two hurricanes. From Orlando to Florida Bay the agricultural and developed lands, that had been built in drained, once marshy, swampy areas, really flooded, and in some places a foot of water sat for months. There was great economic loss.
The crying cow booklet, above, was sent to every member of the U.S. Congress.
To fight Florida’s destructive “flood waters” the 1948 U.S. Congress adopted legislation for the CENTRAL AND SOUTH FLORIDA PROJECT, a twenty year flood plan from Orlando to Florida Bay that included the formal creation and protection of the Everglades Agricultural Area south of Lake O, the Water Conservation Areas, intertwined with thousands of miles of canals and structures to control the once headwaters and River of Grass. HOUSE DOCUMENT 643 – 80TH CONGRESS (00570762xBA9D6)
Next, mirroring the same terminology the United States Government had used (the Central and South Florid Project) the state of Florida created the “Central and South Florida Flood Control District” to manage that CENTRAL and SOUTH FLORIDA PROJECT. A bit confusing huh? A tongue twister. And in a way one could say, at that time, the Central and South Florida Project and the Central and South Florida Flood Control District “became one.” The overall goal above all other things was flood control. And this marriage of the Central and South Florida Project and the Central and South Florida Flood Control District was successful at controlling the waters, but it also killed the natural environment, thus Florida herself.
This embedded cultural philosophy of “flood control only” was challenged in 1972 with the birth of the national environmental movement, and a consciousness that the natural system that supported Florida’s tourism, quality of life, agriculture, not to mention valuable wildlife, was in tremendous decline.
I have been looking though my collection of maps and other Florida things, and I came across this remarkable real estate ad by W. J. Willingham. I would think it is from the early part of the 1900s when Barron Collier and James Jaudon, “Father of the Tamiami Trail,” were developing South Florida. Apparently, Jaudon sold the land that became Pinecrest to Willingham.
What is of most interest to me is the tone of the ad, and how different is it compared to how we sell real estate today. For instance, the first section reads: “Hesitation:” On the plains of Hesitation bleach the bones of countless millions; some men are just plain quitters, but the most pitiable sight in the whole world of failures, is the man who will not start. Opportunity will knock at your door this week and give you a chance to start. You can deny yourself one or two simple luxuries, drop a useless habit or two, and the start is made. You can own a Pinecrest lot. You can be a true-born American and take a shot at it and if you lose, you can take your loss like a real man. On the other hand, if Pinecrest makes a wonderful town, you can enjoy the pleasures invariably comes when a man uses his head and wins. My friend, it is up to you. Will you hesitate? Or will you start? W.J. WILLINGHAM
Holy cow. This must have been the way one sold land in the Everglades in the old days, before political correctness, equal rights, and other things. Interesting to ponder, don’t you think? Maybe that’s why they mowed everything down.
Looking at the rest, Mr Willingham’s rant continues:
Here’s another duzzie: “Nerve.” That word nerve spells success. I was looking through some of old papers the other day and I ran across and old advertisement I put in a Florida newspaper a few years ago. At the at time I tried my level best to persuade someone to buy a certain property for $11,000. No one seemed to have the nerve. Finally I persuaded my brother to go in with me and buy it. All that was required a small cash payment and just a little nerve. Now to make a long story short, we recently sold a part of that property for $137,000 and we have some o the property left. In a few short years you will wonder why you did not accumulate just a little nerve when Pinecrest was just starting. Pincerest has a mighty bright future. I am going to give you an opportunity to pick up a few Pinecrest lots at auction. W.J. WILLINGHAM
This is a good one, today we would write “Do you know of anything that has destroyed America’s Everglades more than Tamiami Trail?
W.J. Willlingham’s final words are a harsh motivator as well: “J.J. Hill Said:” James J. Hill, one of the greatest builders this county has produced, designated thrift as the one qualification without which no man could succeed. He said: If you want to know whether you are destined to be a success or a failure in life, you can easily find out. The test is simple, and infallible. Are you able to save money? In not drop out. You will lose. You may think not. But you will lose as sure as you live. The seed of success not in you.” W.J. WILLINGHAM
The seed of success not in you? Hmmmm. I agree with being thrifty, but how the “seeds of success change.” To be successful, the new developers of South Florida will have to adapt to our new world of rising seas, stronger storms, climate change, and the subtleties of selling to modern society. This could be a challenge; we may have to get some advice from the gators who have around a long, long time.
Pinecrest went on to be a very successful community. I wonder what the ads in the future will look like as it goes underwater…
As I got to “Physiographic Regions,” when reading the Boyer Archaeological Survey, I had to look up the definition of physiographic. My mind kept wandering to Physical Graffiti, the title of an album by Led Zeppelin, and the fun days of Martin County High School skiing the in St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon with my best friends.
In retrospect, Lake Okeechobee and the St Lucie River were already dying by the time I was in high school. Today, I wish I had learned more about our ailing ecosystem when I was younger, and not finally caught on when I was 40 over ten years ago. “Catching-on,” this is my hope for the next generation as there are serious impacts we won’t be able to ignore, happening, and on the way. Knowing what “physiographic regions” means will help us understand what we can do.
Physiographic is defined simply as “the branch of geography dealing with natural features and processes.” So the Figure 5. map above shows what the surrounding ecological communities were before they became developed as today’s counties. These areas are labeled as the Eastern Flatlands; the Everglades; the Western Flatlands; Big Cypress Swamp; and the Mangrove and Coastal Marsh.
As we know the Everglades is one of the largest freshwater marshes in the North America and the world. It starts trickling up in the Kissimmee River Basin above Lake Okeechobee. Unfortunately, this area of the map is always cut off so we think in terms of south.
The open marshes of Lake Okeechobee extended from the southern rim of Lake O and the Loxahatchee Slough south to the mouth of the Shark River Slough at Florida Bay and the former Miami River. Florida Bay is presently, and has been, experiencing extensive algae blooms due to lack of fresh water and the once beautiful Miami River, attached by canal (since 1911) to Lake O? “Dead.”
The eastern and western flatlands to the east and west of Lake Okeechobee (Stuart/Ft Meyers ) were similar in vegetation types and animals. The Boyer Survey notes “both can be described as mosaic landscapes consisting of wet prairie, palmetto and dry prairies, pine forest or flatwoods, cypress forests, mixed swamp forests as well as ponds and sloughs; these areas were low, sandy, and poorly drained.” The Loxahatchee River drained the eastern flatlands into the Atlantic, and the Caloosahatchee River drained the western flatlands into the Gulf of Mexico. Today these waters flow by way of the ACOE/SFWMD Central & Southern Florida project’s water control structures slowly making everything as “dead” as the Miami River.
Until we treat waterway funding like roads, (FDOT:http://www.fdot.gov/transit/functionsgrantsadministration.shtm) Mother Nature’s water highways will become even more of a backed-up, misdirected, putrid mess. We must stop trying to direct her like a God, and let more of her natural features return. After all, Nature is a House of the Holy and we never know when the Rain Song will begin…
This first hand account of a man who is considered Stuart’s most important business leader, river captain, and pioneer, Stanley Kitching, gives rare insight into what it was like to take a drive to see the new St Lucie Canal, Lake Okeechobee, and the Everglades in 1918.
My mother sent her transcribed work first published in the Stuart Messenger, entitled “A Stuart Pioneer Away From Home,” stating: “Jacqui, You might find this interesting. It’s about the Custard Apples.” The custard apple forest was 32,000 acres along the southern rim of Lake Okeechobee that like a giant sieve strained the southern flowing waters of Lake Okeechobee before entering the sawgrass river of the Everglades. That forgotten forest was demolished to access the very richest of the Everglades Agricultural Area’s famous “black gold.” There are very few first hand accounts of this forest so this article is special. Many other parts of the story will captivate you as well.
Enjoy! And “thanks mom!”
P.S. The digging of the St Lucie Canal, (C-44,) from Lake Okeechobee to the South Fork of the St Lucie River, was started in 1915, but not opened until 1923.
July 25, 1918
Transcribed by Sandra Thurlow, Sept. 22, 2017
A STUART PIONEER AWAY FROM HOME
TAKES TWO WEEKS VACATION NEAR HIS OWN BACK DOOR
CAMP ON OKEECHOBBE-ST. LUCIE
Party Included Mr. and Mrs. Charles Christensen, Mrs. Smart, Mrs. Robinson and Stanley Kitching.
Like a great many Stuart people, we had heard stories about the wonderful Everglades, Lake Okeechobee, the rich soil, bumper crops, and the great Stuart-St. Lucie canal, so on July the Fourth our party consisting of Mr. and Mrs. Chas. Christensen, Mrs. Smart, Mrs. Robinson and myself started out to see the wonderful country lying to the west of Stuart.
We left Stuart at 9 a.m., with two cars, a Ford and a Dart, the Ford in the lead, of course. Each car was loaded to the limit. We estimated the weight in each car to be about 800 pounds. Consisting of tents, cots, cot pads, suit cases, fishing tackle, guns, axes, spade, rope, tent poles, nails, extra tires, gas, oil, spiers, mosquito bar, and enough groceries to last our party three weeks, also a lantern and flashlights and five heavy army blankets.
Just before starting we discovered a leak in the radiator of the Dart, but as we expected to find plenty of water along the road we didn’t let that bother us. We made our first stop twelve miles from town to fill the radiator as we were in cane slough and the sand on the fill was heavy and pulling hard, we put in water several times between there and the Platt place. After leaving the Platt place we left the main road and followed a cut off through the woods, passed a deserted Indian village and a mile further on came to another Indian village. We were now in the territory known as Indiantown. A squaw came out and told us we were on the right road. One mile on we passed another deserted Indian village. We found the wood’s road much easier to travel as the ground was harder. We arrived at the dam across the St. Lucie-Stuart canal at 12 noon, distance 30 miles. The dredging company were hauling a tug over the dam and we had to lay planks and board around the bow so we could pass. We got over the dam at 1 o’clock with the kindly assistance of some of the men from the big dredge.
Everglades, we ate lunch here, surrounded by a drove of genuine razor back hogs of all sizes. There is a sign on a pine tree at this point which reads 30 miles to Stuart.
Shortly after leaving the dam the road leaves the pine timber and climbs the fill made by the dredges. This fill is composed of rock, marle and shell, and we traveled it in high gear. Six miles from the dam the road enters the cypress timber, on the edge of the canal. It is very rough here for a short distance and everybody gets out of the cars but the drivers. This belt of timber extends nearly all around the shores of the lake, which looked like the Atlantic ocean on a calm day. It started to rain at this time. The road followed the lake shore, winding through the rag weeds which grow between the water’s edge and the timber line to a height of 8 feet. Five miles after leaving the canal the Dart sank in a mud hole and it took about one hour to get on the road again. We arrived at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Spiers, Cleve and Reginal Kitching wife and children, about four o’clock. This locality is known as Canal Point and is close to the Palm Beach canal. Our friends came out and greeted us and helped us put up the two tents. Then everybody got busy and we all had supper out in the open under the cypress trees just as the sun was setting in a golden glow on the west shore of Big Lake. After supper we all sat around the camp fire till bed time, which came early as we were tired with the day’s run.
Friday, (6th) morning everyone was up early and the day was spent fixing camp.
Saturday we put up a flag pole on the lake shore and hoisted the American, French and English flags. Rigged up a trot line to catch fish on, cleaned up the ground around the tents, cut wood, carried water from the lake, went in bathing, etc., and found that the time passed very quickly.
Sunday we laid around the camp.
Monday we went to the farm with the boys and helped dig potatoes.
Tuesday we looked over the farm lands, raw acres of fine corn, potatoes, onions, tomatoes and the land was richer than we ever dreamed of. The custard apple land next to the ridge is covered with a growth of custard apples, rubber and maple trees which are pulled up by the roots with tractors, Fords and other kinds. This land extends for about a mile in depth, then comes the saw grass lands. This extends as far as the eye can see and is cleared by burning off the saw grass, then pulverized with a tractor. It cost $100 per acre to clear the custard land and $5.00 per acre to clear saw grass. The tractors start work at daylight, and there is no sleep after they start as they run with the exhaust wide open and can be heard for miles.
Thursday and Wednesday we went fishing and caught some speckled cat fish which were fine eating. Most of the food we used was raised right on the spot, potatoes, onions, Indian pumpkins, butter beans, green corn, tomatoes, okra, rabbits and plenty of fresh milk from Reginald’s fine cow, which grazed along the lake shore and doesn’t cost a cent to keep. There was a pen for branded Berkshire hogs on the place and lots of chickens also a fine pond. Everything on the place was at our disposal and we certainly had a fine time during our stay at Canal Point.
We took down our tents Thursday morning and left at 11 o’clock. We reached the dam about 1:30 and spent about one hour working on the roads. After lunch we left the dam and canal and started south through the pine woods looking for a new place to pitch our tents. After going about four miles through and over palmetto scrub, etc. we stopped and dug for water, couldn’t find any, so went about a mile further dug again, same result. Went about another mile and were in what is called Hungry Land. We decided to camp near a cypress pond put up our tents, got wood and dug for water. Found a damp spot after digging five feet and in about two hours we got a pail full of muddy water. We had enough water to make tea for supper, that was all. About ? p.m. we got two pails of water and boiled it on the camp fire, thinking it would settle by morning but it wouldn’t settle , it was real thick so we decided the place had the right name. We were all hungry for a drink so we went to the dam five miles away and got a pail of water. This took three hours. After breakfast we folded up out tents and drove back to the canal. Met Guyler Baker and he said he had a good pump two miles down the canal at his camp and told us to go there and camp and use anything we found there. We drove down and camped on top the bank of the canal 300 feet from the pump and stayed there until Thursday the 18th. Caught both trout and catfish out of the canal and went in swimming in the clear water drove out to the woods, a distance of five miles and while sitting in the car saw a big deer walk past at a distance of 109 steps, saw wild turkey, quail, rabbits and wild hogs in abundance and I didn’t fire a shot during the whole trip. We saw a few snakes of the harmless kind and quite a number of Indian camps. One family had nine children.
The dredge boat people were very kind to us and furnished us with ice, and offered us anything they had in case we needed it.
The lands along the canal are rich and when it is finished the adjacent farms and all the territory on the eastern shore of the Big Lake will be a feeder to the town of Stuart. If you are doubtful, take a week off and go out into the big back country to the west of Stuart.
We broke up camp Thursday morning and started for home and arrived four hours later. Luck was with us all the way as we didn’t have any tire trouble. In closing will say get a Ford and a tent and go out and see the big wide world west of Stuart.
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.
In recent years we along the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon have been screaming because the ACOE and SFWMD have been discharging water from Lake Okeechobee and the C-44 basin into our waterways causing destructive toxic algae blooms and other issues to our area …
This year some are screaming because C-44 basin runoff water in southern Martin County is being pumped back into Lake Okeechobee. Yes, C-44 is “running backwards.” It’s a crazy world here in South Florida even through the water managers are working hard at “getting the water right…”
So two odd things are going on right now. First, water is being sent into Lake O from the C-44 canal as we were in a long-time drought, and also, now, water is being back-pumped into the lake from the south to help alleviate flooding in the Water Conservation Areas— as it has rained so much recently “down there.” This whole situation is exacerbated because the EAA, in the middle, “is kept dry to protect the property of the agricultural industry and safety of communities south of the dike.”
The graph and short write-up below are from friend and engineer Dr Gary Goforth. The graph “shows” the C-44 basin runoff (see image above) being sent to Lake Okeechobee in 2017 compared to other years since 1980 (other than ’81) “is at 100%.”
I have also included some articles and images on the other “back into Lake O” subject. Back-pumping was made illegal in the 1990s, but is allowed under certain circumstances such as endangering communities and agriculture in the EAA, and danger to wildlife in the conservation areas due to flooding…All of this is “back-pumping” not good for the health of the lake. In all cases, it is helping one thing while hurting another…
One day we will have to truly get the water right. Images below may help explain things.
ISSUE OF BACK-PUMPING:
ISSUE OF C-44 CANAL BASIN WATER BEING SENT INTO LAKE O RAHTER THAN TO SLR:
” For the period 1980-2016, about 32% of the C-44 Basin runoff was sent to the Lake, while 68% was sent to the St. Lucie River and Estuary. Historically (i.e., before 1923) virtually none of the C-44 Basin runoff went to the St. Lucie River and Estuary: some went to the Lake, some went to the Loxahatchee River and some went north to the St. John’s River. So far in 2017, virtually all of the basin runoff has been sent to the Lake.”
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:
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…
In this historic postcard we see many things that today we often do not see: a well dressed man in a hat; women also with lavish hats and donning long dresses; tall grasses along the shoreline; and an extensive pine forest across the St Lucie River…
Martin County, like most of Florida was once a giant forest. Logging companies harvested much of the area starting in the mid 1800s. We can only really guess what it looked like, and only imagine what the world was like for the animals and native peoples that lived under its cover.
The famous Harshberger vegetation map of 1913 gives us an idea of what Martin County would have looked like, noting mostly pine forests of Caribbean and Sand Pine, but other plant communities near the St Lucie River would have included: beach; strand; tropical hammock; mangroves; low hammock; scrub; dry prairie; wet prairie; pine flat woods; swamp and marsh. The United States woodland density map of 1873 shows Florida to be one of the greenest areas of the continent having had the most trees. Wouldn’t that have been something to see!
We cannot return the forests, but we can choose what plants and trees to put in our yards. The business of landscaping has us in a cycle of turf, fertilizing, pesticides, and often bushes and trees that don’t really “go” here.
One way to help the St Lucie River is to take into our own hands what we plant in our yards. This can take time and that’s part of the fun of it. Creating a Florida Friendly yard using a mixture of native and Florida tolerant plants, less turf, requiring fewer chemicals and maintenance really does help. What if everyone did it?
When you drive across the bridge, or look across the river, or look at your yard, just for fun, ask yourself: “What would have been here, what would have been naturally beautiful, what would have attracted wildlife one hundred years ago?”….and then if you feel like it–recreate!
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.
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.
Road Trip Series, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon-Taylor Slough
Happy New Year to all of my readers!
We begin 2017 at the southern most part of our state, the Florida Everglades. Over the holidays my husband, Ed, and I continued the Road Trip Series further south to gather insights, one that I will share with you today: the great water disconnect of Taylor Slough. We have too much water and it doesn’t have enough. Could we help?
Before we begin, what is a “slough?” What a strange word!
For years I drove along a road in Port St Lucie, north of Stuart, named “Cane Slough.” I wondered to myself what that meant considering the area was paved over. When my mother told me Cane Slough was once a marshy shallow river, I thought how odd that was considering there was not trace of it today. The same thing, but on a much larger scale, has happened in the Florida Everglades and in both instances it is a great loss.
“Slough,” pronounced “slew,” is not just a river, but a river that is made for Florida’s dry and rainy seasons. It is a slow-moving river whose grassy shores expand and contract. During the dry season when rains are scarce, the remaining water in the deepest part of these depressions is where plants and animals hold on to life-giving water until the rains begin anew…
Before South Florida was developed there were two main sloughs running through the Everglades to Florida Bay. Named, the Shark River, the largest, and Taylor Slew, smaller and further to the east. We must note that Florida Bay the past years has suffered from algae blooms and seagrass die off due to high salinity because Taylor Slew cannot flow southeast. This lack of water affects both land and marine communities.
It is easy to see the great “disconnect” for Taylor Slough on this National Park map. A park ranger informed me that “all water” received into Taylor Slew now comes via canal structures controlled by the South Florida Water Management District.
Yes, some great things finally are happening such as the recent construction of elevated bridges along Tamiami Trail designed to deliver more sheet flow into the park and a future where the “Chekika” public access area off 997 could be closed year-round so water could be flowing south. Others too I’ve no room to mention…
One can visually note that restoring this flow is tricky as Homestead’s agricultural and rural development zones abut the old water shed and Broward County north of this area has communities literally in the Everglades (C-11 Basin) that were once part of Taylor Slough as well. Crazy!
But, if we sent men to the moon 50 years ago, shouldn’t we be able to accomplish reconnecting the flow of water “today?” Now, when the Everglades and Florida Bay need it?
How can we along the St Lucie River help speed things up?
…Learn about Senator Negron’s proposal for 60,000 acres of storage, cleaning and conveyance in 2017. Learn about pressuring our government to “face the facts.”
…One thing is certain, we can’t allow the Everglades to die on our watch, and we have exactly what she needs…
Yesterday we talked about the importance of maps and how they allow us to have a vision for the future. For today’s lesson we are going to visually compare Senator Joe Negron’s land proposal map with a map of land ownership. This ownership map was recently created by the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council (TCRPC) and I shared these maps with Senator Negron prior to the choice of land ownership possibilities.
Learning about lands south of Lake Okeechobee can be dizzying. The first thing you have to do, not to lose your sense of direction, is to familiarize yourself with the canals. Your landmarks.
From left to right, the largest canals visible running north/south under Lake Okeechobee are the Miami, New River, Hillsborough, and West Palm Beach. You will also notice the Bolles Canal, (L-21), that runs east/west intersecting. When flying over this area with my husband these canals are the only landmarks that guide me in knowing where I am. Otherwise, it is just miles and miles of sugarcane.
I love the TCRPC map below with the list of land owners in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA). It really makes it easy to “see.” Notice the color coded BLUE: Public (the state or federal government); YELLOW: Private Ownership; and RED: Major Private Ownership.
When I asked the council the difference between private ownership and major private ownership, they said bigger corporations quality as “major private ownership.” One can see by all the red that most of the land under Lake Okeechobee is in major private ownership!
In regard to landownership inside the circles, Isadora Rangel of TC Palm stated in her August 10th article as follows:
“Sugar giant Florida Crystals owns 60 percent of each of those two parcels, Negron said. U.S. Sugar Corp. owns 30 percent of one, and sugar grower King Ranch owns 30 percent of the other. The state and others own the rest of the land. A U.S. Sugar spokesman declined to comment on whether the company will sell. Florida Crystals said it was reviewing Negron’s plan, according to media reports. Negron said he’s “optimistic” the companies will sell and said if the state allocates the money, then negotiations will be easier…”
Well, as we learn about this area (so we can speak in an educated manner to those involved who win on November 8th) let’s look at ALL of the owners on the map.
1.United Stats Sugar Corporation
2. Okeelanta Corp.
3. New Hope Sugar Co.
4. King Ranch Inc.
5. Wedgeworth Farms Inc.
6. SBG Sugar Farms
7. Stofan Co. Inc.
8. Closter Farms Inc.
9. Sugar Cane Growers
10. New Farm Inc.
We know something about one or two but what about the rest?
In the coming days, we will learn about history of these land owners and the history of what was once the “river of grass.” It will benefit us to review the story of the this area, because it our story too, the story of the slow demise of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
The following update Comparison of Lake O Releases was shared by Dr Gary Goforth on 7-14-16. Thank you Dr Goforth. The more informed and studied we are about where the water is going, the better chance we have to change this situation.
1. Lake Okeechobee has received more than twice the watershed inflows since January compared to last year at this time.
2. Discharges from the Lake have increased 25% compared to last year this time, however the distribution of inflows has dramatically changed compared to last year (as you so clearly know):
3. Since January 1, a. approx. 525 billion gallons of Lake water have been sent to the estuaries (including Lake Worth Lagoon) b. Lake flows are averaging about 1 billion gallons per day to the St. Lucie River/Estuary and about 2.1 billion gallons per day, and about 0.1 billion gallons /day to Lake Worth Lagoon, for a total of about 3.2 billion gallons per day c. Twenty-five (25) times more Lake water has been discharged to the estuaries than to the Everglades d Ag runoff has contributed significant nutrient loads to the St. Lucie River/Estuary: i. Nitrogen loads: 36% from ag and 54% from Lake [Dear Gov. Scott and SFWMD Board members: Martin County septic tanks contributed about 2% of the nitrogen load] ii. Phosphorus loads: 53% from ag and 30% from Lake e. 93% of the sediment load to the St. Lucie River/Estuary this year has come from the Lake discharges (37 million pounds)
4. Only 32 billion gallons of Lake water have been sent to the STAs this year – less than 1/3 of the amount sent last year at this time.
The following was written by Dr Gary Goforth as a response to U.S. Sugar Corporation’s months long ad campaign in the Stuart News. http://garygoforth.net
· The health and economies of the St. Lucie River and Estuary, the Caloosahatchee Estuary, and Florida Bay have been sacrificed for decades by the management of Lake Okeechobee for the protection of US Sugar and other agricultural lands south of the Lake.
The recent ad blitz by US Sugar appears to be an attempt to divert the public’s attention away from this preferential treatment and from an egregious betrayal of south Florida taxpayers perpetrated by US Sugar, the Florida legislature and the Governor’s administration – the failure to exercise the willing seller contract to purchase US Sugar land south of the lake. Failure to secure needed land south of the Lake is the single biggest obstacle to long-term protection of the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries from destructive Lake discharges, and providing Florida Bay and lower east coast wellfields with needed water.
· Water storage necessary to reduce high flows to the estuaries by about 90% will require about 10% of the land in the EAA – not complete elimination of farming in the area. The recent UF Water Institute study reconfirmed what scientists have been saying for decades – additional storage and treatment beyond what is currently planned in CERP and CEPP is needed south of the Lake: “If this required storage were to be provided strictly though deep 12-ft reservoirs, new land area between approximately 11,000 and 43,000 acres would be required south of Lake Okeechobee.” The upper limit – 43,000 acres – is less than ¼ of the amount of land US Sugar was willing to sell to the state (187,000 acres).
· Regarding the numbers in the ads – some are accurate, some are completely fictitious (e.g., the distribution of water from Lake Okeechobee), and many critical numbers are missing, e.g.,
-millions of pounds of nitrogen and phosphorus from lake Okeechobee that feed algal blooms and wreak havoc on the ecology of the river, estuary, lagoon and near-shore reefs. (million off pounds of nutrients that the State of Florida ignores in their BMAP progress reports for the St Lucie River.) – the hundreds of millions of pounds of Lake Okeechobee sediment that turned a once sand-bottom clear water estuary into a muck-filled lagoon that belches blackwater every time it rains. – the hundreds of millions of dollars of economic impact to local businesses, tourism and real estate values attributable to poor water quality If you’re interested go to the SFWMD’s (or my) website.
· Most of the area that the ads calls “local waterways” did not flow into the St. Lucie River (SLR) until after the major agricultural drainage canals (C-23, C-24, C-25 and C-44) were dug, connecting more than 250,000 acres to the SLR. Historically these areas flowed north into the St. Johns River watershed, south into the Loxahatchee and Everglades watersheds, evaporated or recharged the groundwater.
· The ads ignore the fact that more than half of the “local watershed” is agriculture, and that more than half of the flows and nutrient loads to the St. Lucie River and Estuary come from agricultural land use.
· Nutrient loads from septic tanks along the Indian River Lagoon need to be addressed in cost-effective ways based on good science. Nevertheless, nutrient loading and sediment from Lake Okeechobee and agricultural runoff constitute a far greater threat to the health of the St. Lucie Estuary than does loading from Martin County septic tanks. The loading from septic tanks in Martin County have been overstated by upwards of 200-300%.
· The 2016 Florida Legislature was an unmitigated disaster for the environment of Florida, with misappropriations of Amendment 1 funds for the second year in a row and the passage of a water bill that rolled back environmental protection for the benefit of agricultural interests. What role did lobbyists for US Sugar and other agricultural interests play in this debacle? —–Dr. Gary Goforth
*Dr. Goforth has more than 30 years of experience in water resources engineering encompassing strategic planning, design, permitting, construction, operation and program management. For the last 25 years, his focus has been on large-scale environmental restoration programs in the Kissimmee-Okeechobee-Everglades ecosystem. He was the Chief Consulting Engineer during the design, construction and operation of the $700 million Everglades Construction Project, containing over 41,000 acres of constructed wetlands. He is experienced in public education, water quality treatment design and evaluation, engineering design and peer review, systems ecology, statistical hydrology, hydrologic modeling, hydrodynamic modeling, water quality modeling, environmental permit acquisition and administration, hydrologic and water quality performance analyses. (Website: http://garygoforth.net)
It’s easier to communicate your message when you have billions of dollars, but it is not a limiting factor if you don’t…
Today, I will share a “Draft Report” from Dr Gary Goforth. This report is a response he has created specifically to U.S. Sugar Corporation’s May 1st full- page ad in the Stuart News entitled: “The Water That Ends Up In Our Local Waterways.”
This is one of multiple full-page ads U.S. Sugar Corporation has run in the local Martin County paper over that past months trying to “educate” our citizenry. Why are they spending so much money doing this? Why all the propaganda? Because they know that though our advocacy for the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, we are changing the course of human events. For the first time, many people and some important politicians and are looking at South Florida and saying “It needs to be re-plumbed…..”
Dr Goforth (http://garygoforth.net) is no stranger to these water issues, nor to the controversy and ability to manipulate the numbers complicated by the historic and supportive relationship between those doing business in the Everglades Agricultural Area south of the lake and today’s South Florida Water Management District. Thus the intertwined propaganda.
So here we go, each idea is presented on a separate slide. You can click the slide to enlarge if you need to. Thank you Dr Goforth!
“Navigable waters of the state” are protected under Florida law. They cannot be sold–they cannot be owned. They belong to the public…
Although the Swamp Lands Act of the 1850s allowed for drainage of Florida’s swamp lands, in some instances the drainage and claims may have been overdone. In accordance with state law “you can’t convey what you do not own.” This is part of what is known as “The Public Trust Doctrine.”
Hmmm? In all the excitement to develop, did the state break its own rules in conveying lands south and around the lake? Certainly powerful entities own those lands today.
—–That would be a bite wouldn’t it?
Let’s look a bit closer….
It is common knowledge that Lake Okeechobee has lost a tremendous amount of its former self, and that large portions of the lake have been drained and diked for agriculture and development.
Just recently while attending a University of Florida Natural Resources Leadership Institute presentation in Clewiston, Jeff Summers of the South Florida Water Management District gave a Power-Point presentation using the slide below. It shows the natural vs. altered conditions of the lake going from approximately 1000 sq miles in the 1850s to 750 square miles today. –Thus the approximate water stage has gone from 20 feet to 14 feet. Definitely a loss of navigable waters–don’t you think? Today those lands around the lake are used for growing mostly sugarcane. Today most of those lands are “owned.” How could this be as they were once under water enough to be “navigable waters of the state?”
The excerpt below is straight out of the “Florida Bar Journal” as shared by my brother Todd. After reading the paragraph, click on the link below to read the entire article. It is certainly worth thinking about…The maps below show land ownership.
Florida Bar Journal’s article conclusion:
The Public Trust Doctrine imposes a legal duty on the state to preserve and control title and use of all lands beneath navigable water bodies, including the shore or space between ordinary high and ordinary low water, for public use and enjoyment. The people of this state have raised the protection afforded by the doctrine to constitutional stature. In the most recent challenge to this doctrine, the Florida Supreme Court relied upon this constitutional provision in reconfirming longstanding Florida law that swamp deeds do not create a private property interest in sovereignty lands. Attempts to use swamp deeds as a justification to legislatively redefine the ordinary high water boundary and thus transfer all or part of the shore to the adjacent private owner are similarly inappropriate and unconstitutional.
These aerial photos were taken around 4PM by my husband, Ed Lippisch, this past Sunday, 2-21-16. They show the Lake Okeechobee/area canals’ plume moving south along Jupiter Island over nearshore reefs. There are photos of the exclusive neighborhood, Sailfish Point, at the mouth of the St Lucie Inlet as well.
High levels of Lake Okeechobee and canal discharge water (7000 cfs +/- at S-80) continue to decimate the seagrasses, oysters, fish, and bird life of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Our reef communities and property values are also affected.
Unfortunately, even with unprecedented state and federal actions of the South Florida Water Management District and the Army Corp of Engineers to “move water south” from the Water Conservation Areas to Everglades National Park, there is presently no end in sight for the northern estuaries.
There has to be a better way. “Finishing the projects” is not enough….
Over the weekend at my niece Julia’s lacrosse game I ran into a former fellow commissioner, and long time Martin County resident, Dr Paul Schoppe.
“Hey Jacqui,” he said. “I was just thinking about you…”
“Oh really, ” I replied.
“Yes. I was thinking about you when I went down to my dock and saw a dead Snook floating in the foamy dark water….. What are we doing about this river…..?”
Yesterday, I received a call from a Sewall’s Point resident informing me of a phone call he got from a friend in real estate. The friend was photographing the water at his listing on the St Lucie River and forwarding the photos saying: “I hope the buyers don’t cancel when they see the water. They are doing their walk through today.”
At Publix, that evening, I ran into an old-timer of Stuart. He said to me: “Jacqui of course there have been releases from the lake for years…the difference now is that the water is so polluted….”
Today I am sharing in full Dr Gary Goforth’s ( http://garygoforth.net/resume.htm) note and summary of Lake Okeechobee releases for 2016 compared to 2013 and the last big El Nino event (1997-1998) as presented to Martin County. Please click on slides for larger view and thank you Dr Goforth for helping us with the numbers.
From the desk of Dr Gary Goforth regarding slide presentation:
1. More than 113,000 acre feet (36.9 billion gallons) of Lake water (“blackwater”) has been dumped to the River/Estuary during the first 20 days of the 2016 Lake releases; this is equal to 27% of the entire 147-day 2013 event, and 11% of the 1998 event.
2. The 2016 average daily rate of Lake releases is slightly less than the average 1998 rate, and more than twice the 2013 rate.
3. A distinguishing feature of the 2016 event is exceptionally high rates of C-44 Basin runoff in combination with the high Lake releases.
4. The 2016 average daily C-44 Basin runoff rate is 4 times the runoff rate of 1998, and more than twice the 2013 rate.
5. The 2016 average daily rate of combined flows through S-80 is more than the 1998 rate, and more than twice the 2013 rate.
6. The 2016 maximum daily rate of combined flows through S-80 is less than the 1998 maximum flow, but more than the 2013 maximum flow.
7. The 2016 Lake releases have already contributed more than twice the annual TMDL for phosphorus and nitrogen.
2016 data are preliminary and subject to revision.
I was on the IRL yesterday and travelled from the St. Lucie Inlet to the Ft. Pierce inlet – I saw no pockets of clear water and visibility was only 6 inches – 18 inches. I can’t imagine the sea grasses are getting any sunlight; I certainly didn’t see any sea grasses from the surface.
Notes: 1. More than 113,000 acre feet (36.9 billion gallons) of Lake water (“blackwater”) has been dumped to the River/Estuary during the first 20 days of the 2016 Lake releases; this is equal to 27% of the entire 2013 releases, and 11% of the 1997-1998 event. 2. The 2016 average daily rate of Lake releases is slightly less than the average 1998 rate, and more than twice the 2013 rate. 3. The 2016 average daily C-44 Basin runoff rate is 4 times the runoff rate of 1998, and more than twice the 2013 rate. 4. The 2016 average daily rate of combined flows through S-80 is more than the 1998 rate, and more than twice the 2013 rate. 5. The 2016 maximum daily rate of combined flows through S-80 is less than the 1998 maximum flow, but more than the 2013 maximum flow. 6. The 2016 Lake releases have contributed more than twice the annual TMDL for phosphorus and nitrogen. 7. 2016 data are preliminary and subject to revision.
Our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon is again being destroyed by too much fresh, dirty, water….
Why is it so hard to send this water south?
It is “so hard to move water south” because the state of Florida has been compartmentalized to protect the Everglades Agricultural Area south of Lake Okeechobee and to keep-dry much of the lands that we live on. And now our waters are polluted…
Imagine, if you would, what would be going on here in South Florida now if modern man had never “conquered” it….Basically it would be a clean free-flowing marsh all the way from Shingle Creek in Orlando through Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades.
Well that it is no longer the case, is it? Since the 1920s, and more so since the 1940s, these lands have been drained, and diked, and altered, so that humans can grow food, and live here –inadvertently polluting the system. It is an imperfect situation and we must try to understand it, so we can make it better as we all need clean water.
So for the everyday person trying to figure out “what is going on” right now, let’s take a look at “today:”
It has been raining lot. Since the end of January, the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon and Caloosahatchee are being destroyed once again as the state of Florida and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers dump incoming waters out of Lake Okeechobee so that the Everglades Agricultural Area south of the lake and surrounding communities are not flooded. Drainage and property in our area is part of this too.
A rare situation occurred this past week where Florida’s governor, Rick Scott, issued an order to release water south through a canal into the Everglades. He had to confer with the US ACOE to do this. (Due to poor water quality and safety, just “sending water south” is not allowed. But now with so much water, it is an emergency.)
The Water Conservation Areas south of the EAA, —these gigantic areas (see bottom slide) that are considered part of the Everglades and full of wildlife and in some places sacred Native American tree islands, are so full of water that they have to be dumped first. If they are lowered, then more water can enter from the Everglades Agricultural Area and hopefully Lake Okeechobee itself. Then, and only then, would there be less dumping into the St Lucie River/IRL and Caloosahatchee. We have a long way to go and its not even “rainy season.”
I commend all those working hard to alleviate the overflowing system and I encourage investment in working to improve this relic as well as investment in the children who must be part of the goal to re-plumb this system. Dr Gary Goforth shows us how it is working right now as I asked for a simple explanation to share with the River Kidz.
Due to increased stormwater pumping from the EAA and surrounding areas and direct rainfall, the water levels in the WCAs are too high. Last week the Gov. sent a letter to the Corps requesting authorization to raise water levels in the Tamiami Canal allowing increased flows into the Park through Northeast Shark River Slough. Yesterday the District began making those increased discharges through structure S-333. Whether or not the District will send additional Lake water south is yet to be seen – lowering the stage in the WCAs should help. See the map above. (from page 2 of the attached).”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 11, 2016
CONTACT: GOVERNOR’S PRESS OFFICE
DEP and FWC Issue Orders to Allow Army Corps of Engineers to Ease Effects of Flooding
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Today, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) issued orders that will allow the U.S. Army Corps to move more water south through Shark River Slough to ease the effects of flooding in South Florida. Click HERE (http://www.flgov.com/wp-content/uploads/pdfs/FFWCC.pdf)
to see the orders.
Earlier today, Governor Scott sent a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to take immediate action to relieve the flooding of the Everglades Water Conservation Areas and the releases of water from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Estuaries. To read the letter, click HERE (http://www.flgov.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/2.11.161.pdf).
The maps and information in today’s blog is taken from an article entitled “Big Cypress Swamp,” by Benjamin F. McPherson, that is included in the 1974, “Environments of South Florida Past and Present,” complied by Patrick J. Gleason. As I have mentioned previously this week, this text was lent to my by Dr Gary Goforth who gives insight into understanding our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon system and our Lake Okeechobee and canal issues.
This above map gives one an idea of how far east the Everglades used to go and how much development has crept in (see below)….how come agriculture and development didn’t totally take over Big Cypress? Well, perhaps they could not stop the water….
Big Cypress Swamp…we may not think of it too much over here on the east coast but we should study it as well. It is sister to the Everglades and people fought to save parts of it and were successful. It became one of our nation’s first national preserves in the same year Patrick Gleason’s text was published, 1974. I was ten years old and my family had just moved to a very undeveloped Sewall’s Point.
Today I will transcribe from the parts of the summary from McPherson’s work. I like reading the old texts. Sometimes they seem more clear and easier to understand. It helps us understand how things have changed looking an old book like we grew up with instead of today’s electronic media.
Excerpts from “Big Cypress Swamp,” by Benjamin F. McPherson
“The Big Cypress Swamp differs form the adjacent Everglades in topography, soil, water quality, and vegetation. Because the swamp has relatively more high land, inundation soil deposit are less extensive in the swamp than the Everglades. Soil in the swamp is usually a thin layer of marl sand or mixture of the two or is absent where limestone crops out where as soil in the Everglades is usually deeper organic peat. Vegetation in the swamp is closely associated with typography, water inundation, and soils, and is more diverse and forested than in the Everglades…
Big Cypress Swamp is a flat, swamp area of about 3120 square kilometers in SW Florida. It is seasonally inundated over as much as 90 % its surface area. Water moves slowly to the south by overland flow toward the estuaries. Fifty -six percent of the surface water that flows into Everglades National Park comes from the Big Cypress. A substantial amount of water also enters Conservation Area 3 from the Swamp. The western part of the Swamp is drained by canals and no longer floods extensively…
The quality of water in the big Cypress, particularly in the untrained parts is in generally of better quality that the water in the Everglades. Some contamination by metals pesticides and other potentially toxic chemicals does occur however….
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.
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.
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?
It all started with a recent comment by Bob Ulevich, at a Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council meeting. In the course of his presentation and questioning on the history of the water management districts, Bob noted that the EAA, the Everglades Agricultural Area, was not historically “just located” where it is today, south of Lake Okeechobee, but basically included all of Disston’s lands. Are you kidding me? “Gulp”….
Hamilton Disston. Remember him? The “savior,” “the drainer” of our state—-who basically bought the entire state from a bankrupt entity, the Internal Improvement Fund? (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamilton_Disston)
The more I read and think about it, I think what Bob meant was that almost of all the swamp lands sold to Disston and then others were marketed for people to purchase and farm….basically creating a giant Everglades agricultural area…but it wasn’t always so easy….
When I was trying to figure all this out, I went back to a map I had seen before, reread a chapter in my mother’s Jensen and Eden book, and contacted my brother, Todd, to help me answer a question.
“Todd, why isn’t St Lucie Gardens in pink on the Disston map? …And wasn’t this area supposed to be farmland?”
St Lucie Gardens was a huge subdivision in the region of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon including the savannas filed in 1911 by the Franklin Land Company of Jacksonville. According to my mother’s book, “the land was advertised as far away a Kansas and a few families bought land and tried to make a living farming. However land that had been pine flat woods continued to have cycles of flooding a drought and was impossible to farm profitably. The families that came to farm in St Lucie Gardens either gave up or turned to other ways to make a living.”
Todd and I never found our why those lands of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon were not included on the 1881 Disston lands map, and the people who created it are not around to ask, but Todd did create the awesome visuals at the beginning of this post and he did find the deed of the purchase of the lands in our region. To have this document is an incredible part of our history.
And the EAA? With all the water problems we have today, I am glad it does not include everything in pink and green on the map and that something remains of our Savannas along the Indian River Lagoon.
An interesting email from Todd; Thank you Todd for all the research!
It was fun to go through some of the stuff on my computer tonight. I just downloaded this publication “Disston Lands of Florida”, published 1885. I attached the intro page.
Disston had the pick of ALL the public lands owned by the state. It took three years to make the selection. Perhaps the pink area had been picked as of the date of the map and St. Lucie Gardens had not yet been picked?
Or maybe the St. Lucie Gardens land is not shown in pink on the map because Disston directed that the St. Lucie Gardens property be deeded directly from TIIF to Sir Edward James Reed. The Florida Land and Improvement Company never took title.
The TIIF deed that we pulled up for Sir Edward James Reed (attached) is dated 6/1/1881. In includes a little more land (21,577 Acres) than ended up in St. Lucie Gardens (e.g. Section 1, of T36S R40E is not part of St. Lucie Gardens but is included in the deed.)
This past Friday, I attended a Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council meeting and was treated to a wonderful presentation entitled: “A Brief History of Florida Water Management 1800-2000 Ponce to CERP.” The talk was given by Mr Bob Ulevich, president of Polymath Consulting Services, L.L.C. ” (http://polymathconsultingservices.com). Bob” is a beloved man who has a long history himself as senior water resources project manager for the South Florida Water Management District. Bob is considered the “father of water farming.”
His presentation left me speechless, once again being reminded of the history of agriculture in the state of Florida and its deep intertwinement with the state’s government and politicians….basically they are one in the same. This is how it is….St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon and every inch of the rest of the state. “We” may not like this, but we must accept this…
With rumor that Adam Putnam, the Commissioner of Agriculture, could be our next governor, it is critical to refresh our memory on this historic relationship. Today I will share a book a from my historian mother’s shelf and also post the raw iPhone footage of Bob speaking before the council. It is my belief that we have got to learn to understand this historic relationship along with the power agriculture yields and “work with it,” in our quest for better water quality. They too are “naturalist” at heart….they are. Some of them in our South Floirda region have just “morphed,” and need some help getting back to their roots. 🙂 They hold the key to Florida’s water future.
The first page of the booklet talks about “getting back to nature” as farming is deeply intertwined with nature. Unfortunately today many of the intense practices of farming destroy nature and our water resources.
This is an another excerpt from the book:
….the independent countryman’s life must appeal, for he is a free man, master of himself, is conversant with nature in its many moods, enjoys the first fruits of the earth with the gleam still on them, and all its first impulses and pleasures….”
“No wonder, then, the cry of today is, “Back to the back and nature.” And back we must and will go, for this threatening catastrophe is too appalling to be passed by unchallenged.”
The catastrophe Mr Waldin is speaking of is that so many people were leaving America’s lands to go to the cities, that the “vitality of our nation was being drained proportionately…” Mr Waldin feared the lands would be empty and all would move to the cities…..It basically has happened, hasn’t it!
Below are the links to Mr Ulevich’s presentation, his presentation does not encompass the little book. I added that. Bob speaks on “A Brief History of Water Management 1800-2000 and although my “Jacqui home videos” are poor quality, you can hear the message. I had to break the videos up into 15 minutes sections as my You Tube account is not set to post anything over 15 minutes…Bob’s presentation is excellent. For those of you who have time to listen, you will enjoy it very much and learn a ton! Bob will finish his presentation next month covering approximately from 1910 to today.——– And that’s where we get to hear “the rest of the story….” 🙂
Today’s blog is a review of something we have been talking about for a long time now. Something that is in the news once again. The C-44 Storm Water Treatment Area and Reservoir, a component of the Indian River Lagoon South, CERP project.
Today we will break down this project into chucks so we can understand what is happening, and what has already happened, and clarify some terminology.
The term “C-44” can be confusing as C-44 is a canal but is applied to others things and used as a “nickname” for an entire, multi-layered project. First, the C-44 is a canal that was built from 1915 to 1923 by the flood control district of the era and later by the Army Corp of Engineers. This canal has dual purposes. It allows water from the C-44 basin to run into and be released into the North Fork of the St Lucie River, and it allows overflow water from Lake Okeechobee to be released into the North Fork of the St Lucie River. “All this water” plasters the bottom of the estuary with silt and pollution from surrounding lands, in this case mostly from agricultural runoff.
There are two structures along the C-44 canal that release the water: structure 308 (S-308) at Lake Okeechobee, “Port Mayaca,” and S-80 at St Lucie Locks and Dam in Tropical Farms.
Believe it or not, the canal can “run in both directions, dumping water to the lake or to the St Lucie. The ACOE is in charge and works together with the South Florida Water Management District to manage this canal that is part of Florida’s history for “water supply” of agriculture and “flood control” for agricultural lands that later became populated by people other than just farmers…..
So the “C-44 STA/R.,” as I will call it, has been in the works conceptually since the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan or CERP that was agreed on by stakeholders in 2000. There are/were 68 project components of CERP, none are 100% complete. C-44 STA/R is part of “Indian River Lagoon South” a part of CERP that got a jump-start in 2007 and moved up on the list of 68.
Why haven’t all these projects been approved and funded? In the insane and fickle world of federal and state politics there is never a guarantee. So the ACOE and SFWMD live in a state of flux as do we, the public. This is why we must fight so hard, elect the right legislators, and “never give up.”
In 2011, after a couple of false starts the ACOE held a groundbreaking for the C-44 STA/R project. This was a happy day. I was mayor of the Town of Sewall’s Point at the time and participated in the groundbreaking event. This was Contract 1 and there are many components to this contract, but the most visible one is the building of the INTAKE CANAL from C-44 canal into the interior of the lands where the STA and Reservoir are to be built.
As you can see from this breakdown the project below, C-44 STA/R has multiple “contracts.” This is why we keep hearing about it “again and again.” The chart below is very helpful in understanding a timeline of the contracts. Each is funded separately. For fun, I have also included some pictures of the 2011 groundbreaking event. You can see how many people involved are not “here” anymore….
OK so now fast forward to 2013. A year that rings like torture for those of us who lived here in Martin and St Lucie Counties during that time. It was the “Lost Summer” when the waters of Lake Okeechobee and C-44, C-23, C-24, and C-25 just about killed us and did kill our economy and the St Lucie River Southern Indian River Lagoon. It was during this time that Governor Rick Scott and the state legislature put 40 million towards “the C-44” to speed up construction of the STAs. This was wonderful cooperation between state and federal agencies. Entities that sometimes are at odds. This cooperation shined light on the agreed importance of improving water quality in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon system, a yes…it WAS an election year! 🙂
There were also other local politicians that were very vocal and helpful during this 2013 time. Florida Senator Joe Negron; Congressional Representative Patrick Murphy, there were others too like Senator Bill Nelson; Senator Marco Rubio even visited- and others….the public though was what really shined as they rallied and advocated on behalf of the river.
Now we are hearing about C-44 STA/R in the news AGAIN. So what are they talking about now? They are talking about the next part of the “contract sequence,” or phase…this time to build the reservoir as seen in light blue below. This is where the water will be held before going to he STA to be cleaned before again being released into the canal and then the river….
So as you can see, the building and funding of the C-44 STA/Reservoir is not an event but rather a story. “Reaching the finish line” includes many chapters….Considering so many other Everglades Restoration projects are not even close to getting this kind of attention and funding is something we must appreciate and be proud and thankful for.
What we must also understand is this is just the beginning and will not alone fix our water problems. In a bad year maybe 1.5 to 2 million acre feet— (one foot of water on one acre of land) ——-of water goes into Lake Okeechobee from the Kissimmee River alone. This amount of water is basically unfathomable. Picture all the water that used to be on the lands of central Florida each wet season before we drained them and straightened the Kissimmee River….not to mention “Disney”….
And since the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) south of Lake Okeechobee blocks the flow of water south to the Everglades this water is redirected to the St Lucie River/IRL and to the Calooshahatchee. The C-44 STA/R is meant to clean water from the C-44 basin alone. A reservoir of 50,600 acre feet will help the C-44 basin problems but not the releases from Lake Okeechobee. Only an outlet south of the lake, and a tremendous amount of storage can do that. —-So in essence, our race has just begun…
Beauty and adventure abound in the pages of a classic 1887 book known as the “Knockabout Club in the Everglades–Lake Okeechobee. ” A book from the days when it was “a man’s world,” it is one in a series of exotic hunting and survival tales, written, and “documented, ” by F.A. Ober and Estes Lauriat.
When reading this text about Florida, one is transported to a time when Lake Okeechobee and our Indian River Lagoon Region, easily competed with the continent of Africa in wonder and wildlife. Bears, panthers, alligators, crocodiles, wolves, native people, limitless fish, and a million birds in every different color, shape, and size. –Knobby-kneed trees stretching to heaven forcing the eye to God…
My mother shared this book with me awhile back, and although I have not read every page, I remain moved by its recollections, its revelations, and its confessions.
Today I will share a smidgen of its art work, and a whisper of its words. The entire book has been electronically preserved and even reprinted due to “its importance and value to society.” The link is below.
As with so many things relating to Florida, the text leaves one wondering….wondering how we perhaps unknowing destroyed such a paradise, and if one day our collective conscience will find redemption by restoring some of the destruction we have caused.
This excerpt is from page 196 of the electronic copy:
“As the sun came down, behind the pines, scattered groups of herons came flying towards the island where we were concealed. Now a great heron, now a small blue heron, and occasionally a night heron. The sun disappeared and the moon came out and shed a faint light over the marshes and the lonely island, disclosing to the waters there the hurrying dusky forms in the sky, many of which fell at the fire of the marauders stationed beneath the trees…
When we left (I now grieve to state) we had nearly a score of herons of various kinds. Gleaming white in the moonlight, our back loads of herons appeared more like sheeted ghosts and verily, if all wicked deeds are requited in kind, the slayer of these innocent birds deserved to have their nights disturbed during the remained of their lives by the apparitions of their victims.
Looking back on that heron hunt, I can say it was a shameful thing to do,–to shoot unsuspecting birds as they came winging their way joyfully home to their nests. It was a most inexcusable act; yet we did it in our search for the rare and curious, not giving heed to the chiding’s of conscience—-until we had shot the birds.”
There are over 2000 miles of canals draining precious fresh water off South Florida; it’s a good idea to know the main ones. I started thinking about this after going through some old files and finding this awesome 1909 Map Dr Gary Goforth shared with me showing a plan in 1909 to drain the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee WITHOUT killing the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
Well as they say: “The rest is history….” As we know, the C-44, or St Lucie Canal, was later built.
So when I was looking on-line for a good map to show the canals of South Florida today to compare to Gary’s canal map of 1909, believe it or not, I could not find one! One that was well labeled anyway. So I made my own.
It’s pretty “home-school” but its readable. From left to right, below, you will see canals Caloosahatchee, (C-43); Miami, (L-23); New River, (L-18); Hillsboro, (L-15); West Palm Beach, (L-12); L-8 that never got a name as far as I am aware; and St Lucie, (C-44.) I do not know why some are labeled “C” and others are “L,” but you can follow them to see where they dump.
I believe the first two built were the Miami and the New River— by 1911, as I often see those two on historic maps prior to 1920. Today our state canal plumbing system is outdated and wasteful sending on average over 1.7 billion gallons of fresh water to tide (to the ocean) every day. (Mark Perry, Florida Oceanographic.)
Even though I grew up in Stuart, I was never really taught about the canals. As a young adult and even older, I drove around for years not knowing about these canals and others like C-23, C-24, and C-25. If I “saw” them, I did not “recognize” them. I knew the land had been “drained” but really had no conception of what that meant or the extent thereof…
I remember my mom used to say if we were driving around in Ft Pierce in the 80s, “And to think there used to be inches of water covering all this land at certain times of the year….” I just stared at her but didn’t really “get it.” The pine trees flashed by and it seemed “impossible” what she was saying…
In any case, the young people today should be learning in detail about these canals so they can be “updated,” “refreshed,” “reworked,” and “replugged.” Say “no” to old-fashioned canals, and “hello” to a new and better South Florida!
Below is a history of the South Florida canals as written in an email to me by Dr Gary Goforth. It is very enlightening. Thanks Gary!
As you know, plans to manage the level of Lake Okeechobee (by discharging to tide) in order to develop and protect the agricultural lands south of the lake were developed before 1850 and evolved through the mid-1950s.
1. Buckingham Smith, Esq. in 1848 proposed connecting the Lake with the Loxahatchee River and/or the San Lucia (report to the Sec. of the US Treasury; copy available).
2. In 1905, Gov. Broward rejected a proposal to lower the Lake with a new canal connecting to the St. Lucie River.
3. Attached is a 1909 map of South Florida from the 1909 State of Florida report “Report on the Drainage of the Everglades of Florida, By J. O. Wright, Supervising Drainage Engineer”. The importance of this map and report is the recommendation to manage the water level in Lake Okeechobee via drainage into multiple canals from the Lake to the Atlantic Ocean – but NOT the St. Lucie Canal. The primary canal for moving Lake water to the Atlantic was to be the Hillsboro Canal which would connect the Lake to the Hillsboro River in present day Deerfield Beach / Boca Raton. Note the recommendation is to construct what is now called the “West Palm Beach Canal” and route Lake water into the Loxahatchee River and then out to the ocean via the Jupiter Inlet – this is actually being accomplished as part of CERP and the Loxahatchee River restoration program.
4. In 1913, the State accepted the recommendation of an NY engineer (Isham Randolph) to construct a canal connecting the Lake to the St. Lucie River (report available). The Everglades Drainage District was formed the same year, and was responsible for the construction of the canal and associated locks/water control gates. (historical construction photos available). Construction lasted from May 1915 through 1924, and the first Lake discharges to the St. Lucie occurred June 15, 1923 (ref: Nat Osborn Master’s thesis 2012, copy available)
5. After the 1928 hurricane, the State asked for and received federal assistance. The canal was enlarged by 1938; new St. Lucie Locks was rebuilt in 1941; the new spillway was constructed in 1944. —Dr Gary Goforth (http://garygoforth.net)
I was a teacher for many years. I taught 8th, 9th, and 11th grade English and German. Throughout my career, whether the students were 13 or 17 years old, there was nothing better for them than “getting an A.”
I don’t think in my ten-year career, I ever gave an A plus.
Until now that is…. 🙂
The South Florida Water Management District deserves an A plus for their creative, determined, and difficult work “sending water south” in a politically explosive environment. —-Probably the worst mine fields in the state…
For “WATER YEAR REGIONAL FLOWS May 2014, through April 2015” at least 585,000 acre feet of water was sent south to the Storm Water treatment Areas and into the Water Conservation Areas. This translated into 565,000 acre feet of water to starved Everglades National Park.
To appreciate this achievement one must compare:
The chart above, courtesy of Dr Gary Goforth, shows acre feet of water going to STAs from 1995-2015. The highest number ever. The colors show the different STAs the water went through.
Sometimes when studying “sending water south” it gets VERY confusing as more water was sent south in 1995, but this water was sent when there were very few STAs and so Florida Bay got pounded with nitrogen and phosphorus laden Lake Okeechobee, and I would think some water from the Everglades Agricultural Area….
The Storm Water Treatment Areas clean the water…
It must be noted that some grading the system may think differently as South Florida certian water users and agriculture have been afraid we were, or are almost going into a drought or that the STA were overused. Some may say the ACOE and SFWMD district “should not have sent so much water south, but rather stored it in the lake…” Maybe they are right. Today I will not judge, but reward.
So anyway, “to repeat myself IRL students,” 🙂 THIS YEAR THE SOUTH FLORIDA WATER MANAGEMENT DISTRICT HAS SENT MORE WATER SOUTH TO THE STAs THAN EVER BEFORE.
You may recall that the Army Corp of Engineers opened the gates to the St Lucie River on January 16th 2015 and this did not stop until late May. This water charted going south this year helped alleviate our destruction. It could have been worse… If they weren’t sending it south, it may have gone to “us.”
My hope is that water management becomes the top-cool thing to do for future generations, and that many River Kidz and even more young people from all over the world and our nation, come to our state to work, learn and study water management. It is a politically explosive and difficult work environment, but nothing is more important for the people and the for wildlife of our state.
I admit that I am part of that politically explosive environment..but my heart really is with the living creatures of the Earth and its waters. May we overcome our genetically wired warlike behavior, send the water south, and save the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon….
Thank you South Florida Water Management District for your outstanding work! Yes there are great difficulties, but for a better water future, we are counting on you!
Perhaps the greatest tragedy that is constantly playing out in our declining St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon is the tremendous sediment infill covering its once white sands, seagrasses, and benthic communities. This began heavily in the 1920s with the connection of the St Lucie Canal (C-44) connecting Lake Okeechobee to the South Fork of the St Lucie River, and then increased in the 1950s and beyond with the construction of canals C-23, C-24 and C-25.
It must also be noted that the St Lucie River/SIRL underwent great changes when the St Lucie Inlet was opened permanently by local pioneers at the encouragement of Capt Henry Sewall in 1892. (Historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow) Prior to that time, the Southern Indian River Lagoon and St Lucie River had been “fresh” —-fresh and brackish waters and their communities of plants and animals “came and went” with nature’s opening and closing of the “Gilbert’s Bar Inlet” over thousands of years….
Since 1892 the St Lucie River has been a permanent brackish water “estuary…” and until the opening of the St Lucie Canal was teeming with fish and wildlife and considered the “most bio-diverse estuary in North America.” (Gilmore 1974)
Dr Goforth recently sent out an email, and I ask him if I could share the information; he agreed. He states:
“The pollutant that has been consistently left out of discussions is the sediment load to the estuaries from Lake Okeechobee – over 2 million pounds to the St. Lucie River and Estuary in 2015 alone; almost 4 million pounds to the Caloosahatchee Estuary.” (Dr Gary Goforth)
Isn’t that awful? “We” are filling the river in….smothering it.
The slides Dr Goforth included are the following:
Please click on image above to read the numbers. Mind boggling!
This second and complicated image below shows “flows” into the estuaries from Lake O into the St Lucie, Caloosahatchee, and to the Everglades Agricultural Area. Generally speaking, the Army Corp of Engineers in discussions with the South Florida Water Management District, began releasing into the St Lucie River January 16, 2015 until late May/early June. About 3 weeks ago.
Recently our river waters have looked very beautiful and blue near Sewall’s Point and the Southern Indian River Lagoon and water quality reports have been more favorable. Nonetheless the river, especially in the South Fork and wide St Lucie River, is absolutely impaired as there is not much flushing of these areas and the sediment infill is tremendous. The seagrasses around Sewall’s Point and Sailfish remain sparse and algae covered when viewed by airplane. Blue waters does not mean the estuary is not suffering!
Months ago I wrote a blog, that is linked below, focusing on south Sewall’s Point’s river bottom infill history, and depths that have gone from 19, 15, and 14 feet in 1906, to 4, 8, and 7 in 2014—and looking on the Stuart side, north of Hell’s Gate, the 1906 map shows 10, 8 and 12 feet and a 2014 NOAA map reads 2; 3; and 4 feet!
Insane….so many changes!
Our government has filled and dredged our precious river…elements of this inputting sediment become MUCK…..
I’ll end with this:
The River Kidz say it best, although my mother didn’t approve of the tone: 🙂
For interest, I am going to include two more images Dr Goforth included in his email on sediment loading; please click on image to see details.
Thank you Dr Gary Goforth for sharing you expertise on the science of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, Lake Okeechobee and Everglades. Please check out Dr Goforth’s website here:((http://garygoforth.net))
A tidal wave….always a scary thought, and usually associated with the ocean, however, tidal waves or “seiches,” can occur in enclosed bodies of water as well, such as a lake— like that of “big water,” or Lake Okeechobee.
As we have entered hurricane season and live in Florida, the most vulnerable state in the nation for strikes, it is important that all of us in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon/Lake Okeechobee region know our evacuation plan should one be necessary….
A while back, I wrote about my frightening experience with a storm in the proximity of Lake Okeechobee and my friend, Dr Gary Goforth, wrote me back. Today I will share his thoughts on the subject of “tidal waves” in Lake Okeechobee.
Since “we” first walled the lake for agriculture in the 1920s, “white man” has changed the dynamics of both water and of storms….Recently, the ACOE has spent over 65 million dollars to repair the aging dike. As you know, nature evolved so Lake Okeechobee’s overflow waters would slowly flow south to the Everglades. This is no more, and her overflow waters are directed with great destruction through the Northern Estuaries…
Your comments on the “tidal waves” within the Lake inspired me to chart the fluctuations in water levels in the Lake resulting from the 2004 hurricanes Frances and Jeanne…
The attached images below show two charts and a reference map.
The first chart shows the fluctuation in Lake stage as Hurricane Frances slowly moved through the area and the 2nd is a similar chart for Hurricane Jeanne. An interesting feature is that as the storm approached the Lake, strong north winds blew the water to the southern rim against the HHDike (as reflected by the rising red line: water level along the south shore) and simultaneously moved water away from the northern sections of the Dike (as reflected by the descending blue line: water level along the north shore). This phenomenon contributed to the catastrophic flooding south of the Lake in the 1926 and 1928 storms as the muck dike failed. For Hurricane Frances, the water level along the south shore rose by more than 5 ft as the eye approached!
As the eye of the storms passed over the Lake, the wind quickly changed direction and the water that was piled up along the south shore moved to the north rim of the Dike (rising blue line). For Hurricane Frances, the water level along the north shore rose by 10 ft or more when the winds shifted! For Hurricane Jeanne, which was moving faster than Frances, the water level on the north shore rose by more than 4 ft per hour – I suspect it looked like a slow-moving tidal wave coming towards the Dike!
For both storms, the water levels overtopped the stage gauges at both stations – so the fluctuations were actually greater than depicted in the charts!
I love my parents’ generation, but when it comes the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon and growing up in Stuart, I feel that I grew up unprepared. As a child, I was taught only to love and appreciate my river, not how to protect it, or to recognize what was killing it.
I learned about adorable and fascinating seahorses, but not canals; I was taught about seagrasses, but not how one day algae blooms from all of our fertilized yards and the agricultural people’s fields could be blocking out needed light and destroying these valuable eco-systems.
I grew up in the 1970, and 80s and all the problems we have today can be linked back to those years and before. Older generations knew “it” was coming, but we ignored the inevitable.
But today is a different world, the “inevitable” has arrived and our river is dying. Thankfully, many young people today are not only learning but embracing the problems that threaten the Indian River Lagoon, and they are embracing these problems positively, as “challenges,” as “opportunities,” to create a better water future for themselves and their children as well.
But WE HAVE TO TEACH THEM.
When my husband’s nephew, his wife, and their one year old daughter visited, Ed and I not only took them to Florida Oceanographic, the beach, and the pool, we let them roll their sleeves up and get in the air showing them from above our struggles with pollution being released into our waterways by the South Florida Water Management District and the Army Corp of Engineers. We flew over the retched canals of C-23, C-24, C-25 and C-44 and discussed over drainage of our state. We visited poor Lake Okeechobee drowning in the filth of the Kissimmee River, and Orlando, whose “best management practices” are really “poor at best.” We showed them how the sugar and vegetable agri-businesses are blocking the flow of water south to the Everglades so it is sent here….
Ben, Ed’s nephew, works for AT&T in Chicago, and had all sorts of technology ideas about streaming and sharing river photos in ways Ed and I didn’t even know were possible. Old learns from young. Young learns from old…Ben once home, will share his experiences here in Florida with his group of friends in Chicago and all the places he travels. As a former U.S. Marine, he will share the ideas and issues he has learned about the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon with his comrades…We of all ages want a better water America, and we need to start taking that goal into our own hands.
As Lake O is dropping, and algae blooms are occurring in our river due to the overabundance of fresh water from the lake lowing the river’s salinity, today the Army Corp of Engineers thankfully ramps down their releases from Lake Okeechobee into the river to 200 cubic feet per second down from a high of 900.
Today to summarize the year so far, I will share some photos Ed, Ben, friend Scott Kuhns and I have taken since January when the discharges started. The photos are interesting to view “over time.”
One day, so long as we share, future generations may be able to get the number down to zero. For all of us, as addicts of an over-drainage society, the saying becomes: “One generation at a time…”
I likened it to watching someone step on a roach. It was terrible. With the a motion from Kevin Powers, the South Florida Water Management District just squashed it.
Last Thursday, on May 14th 2015, the SFWMD, with absolutely no mercy at all, killed the option land contract to purchase 46,800 acres from US Sugar Corporation. This option land purchase has been the greatest hope for local environmentalists, the River Warriors, the Everglades Foundation, and many others to lay ground for a future that would not discharge so much fresh, polluted, water from Lake Okeechobee into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
The hope was that a reservoir could be built on this land to then store, clean and convey water south to the Everglades.
Well, it’s dead. No use bemoaning the situation. Let’s brush ourselves off and keep going. Even though the SFWMD killed this option, there are still others.
The best thing to do now is to “read up” and get smart about at what is “on the books” because a reservoir in the EAA is on the books as part of the Central Everglades Restoration Plan known as CERP. It may not be as good as the 46,800 acre option, but it would be something… And we must enlist Senator Joe Negron as he is our only Indian guide. ((http://www.flsenate.gov/Senators/s32)) To include a land purchase for this reservoir, whether it be in the Everglades Agricultural Area or not, through bonding of Amendment 1 monies is our war plan.
Negron’s idea is to crank up talking to scientists and experts on the best property currently available to build a reservoir. We need about 50 to 60,000 acres, as set out in the 2000 CERP…
The dysfunctional 2015 Florida State Legislature is not a great horse to bet on, but we have no other choice. Let’s saddle up and move on.
It is human nature to “miss something once it’s gone.” This is true whether it’s the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, or something else.
Such was the case for me this weekend and I tried to prepare for the “miss.” My husband’s red and white Cessna 340 is being sold. Knowing the plane would available no more, I arranged a date yesterday for videographer and River Warrior, Kenny Hinkle to fly in the plane. I had been wanting to do this for a long time, but as is so often the case, “never got a round tuit.”
Kenny and Mike Connor’s big win with their video of the toxic algae bloom at S-308 last Friday at Lake Okeechobee causing Senator Joe Negron to immediately call Army Corp of Engineers Col. Dodd, who then stopped the discharges was a big win! Thank you to all involved. Reeling from this positive occurrence, I thought I would like to help Kenny get some more footage for his “next big win.” The 340 is the perfect “vehicle” for that…
The plane provides a great “overview” flying 1500 feet or much higher, and can cover long distances quickly.
Thank you to my husband for providing this trip, this farewell…In fact thank you to my husband for all of this. If it were not for him, the river would not be documented as it is!
It was actually this plane, the Cessna 340, that took the first photo on June 28th of 2013, during the toxic Lost Summer, that inspired me to start taking photos of the river and discharges regularly. As you can see below, this photo was/is so alarming, showing the impact and damage caused to property values and the environment by the releases from area canals and by Lake Okeechobee. Lake Okeechobee always the nail in the coffin….
So today, I am going to provide the farewell videos I took, and one other You Tube video I finally published so that if you ever want to, you can see for yourself what it looks like to fly from Stuart over the St Lucie River and C-44 canal, around the south rim of the “ocean of water” known as Lake Okeechobee, and then along the lake’s rim passing areas/cities of Pahokee, Bell Glade, and South Bay, then turning south along the New River Canal, flying through the sugarcane fields, (the Everglades Agricultural Area), until finally seeing the water conservation area/s, and Alligator Alley (even though I think I mistakenly say Tamiami Trial in the video….) and then flying back up the Miami canal to Clewiston before I stopped filming due to turbulence.
The videos are raw footage. Nothing fancy, the reality of a low plane ride. Many try to convince me to make them more professional. I like them as they are. Real. They show the view, the conversations, the thoughts, the heat, the noise, the turbulence….the miracle of being above ground!
The videos are split into 5 parts covering most of the trip and I included one other at the end that was taken in 2014 by Ed with a Go-Pro as it shows clearly the US Sugar option lands that are now being so hotly debated for Everglades restoration and purchase with Amendment 1 monies.
To use another cliché, “seeing is believing.” Yes, see, believe, and know, that we are changing our world.
My theme this week has been “that which is south of the lake.” The big lake that is, Okeechobee–big waters. The Everglades.
We must always keep in mind that we are all connected, and to fix our water problems with the St Lucie River /Indian River Lagoon we have to understand the rest of south Florida’s drainage system as well.
Last night my mother sent me the fabulous colorized historic 1913 post card above. It is titled “drainage canal and the Everglades, Miami. “So idyllic. So beautiful. Except for the giant gash in the land to the right of the card that foreshadows the future we are all now living: over-drainage.
Drainage in Florida began as early as the mid 1800s and was the goal of Florida’s first government admitted to the United States on March 3, 1845. It remains the goal of our government today, as 1.7 billion gallons of fresh water a day goes to tide through south Florida canals. I must say the state may be starting to catch on. Water farmers, the “latest rage,” will tell you that we spent the last 100 years taking the water off the land, and we will spend the next 100 years putting it back on….
As we know, the ACOE is directed through Congress as to what it is to do. “The State,” meaning Florida, plays a huge role in this “ask.” Today, I have a Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council meeting. This council plays a role as far as “intergovernmental coordination and review,” of coordinating between local governments and the federal government. (http://tcrpc.org)
The last two images of this blog show the photos included from the TCRPC packet. I found it rather ironic and “civilized” sounding that the areas around the lake are named “Herbert Hoover Dike Common Consequence Zones.” I assume the consequence is that if the dike breaks, there is death and destruction of property and people. Maybe it would help if there were an outlet south of that lake to relieve some of the pressure on the dike? A flow way perhaps?
Anyway, I can’t help but wonder, looking at the 1856 Military Map of Florida, if it wouldn’t have been better to work with nature, with the lake, instead of so against it?
The first video below is of the reenforcing the Herbert Hoover Dike in 2009. In 2005, after Hurricanes Francis and Jeanne, it was decided to reinforce basically the entire southern area of the dike as it is listed as one of the most dangerous and unstable in the United States. Reenforcement? I get it; nonetheless, what a crazy place to build an empire….
This week, due to the inspiration of small book my mother handed me, I have been exploring the history, and political change encompassing the sugar industry. Monday, I wrote about Cuba; Tuesday, I wrote about the Calusa Indians, pioneers, and workers; and yesterday, I wrote about the pond apple forest that used to border the southern rim of Lake Okeechobee.
Today, based on chapter 29 of Lawrence E. Will’s 1968 book, “Swamp to Sugar Bowl, Pioneer Days in Belle Glade,” I will briefly write about the evolution of labor practices in Florida’s sugar industry and how public pressure led to the mechanization of the industry. For me, the mechanization of the sugar Industry is a metaphor for change for our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
The point of this journey is to learn our history and to remind ourselves that even the “worst of circumstances” can be improved. I believe, that one day, we too, will see improvement of the government sponsored destruction of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon from Lake Okeechobee. Our relation to the sugar industry