If you are like me, it feels like 2021 is flying by. With the Fourth of July weekend having just passed, now is a good time to review this year’s southern Martin County discharges into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. In order to do this, I am presenting a wonderful chart created by my brother, Todd Thurlow. It is one of the many, displayed “in easy to read fashion,” on his web-site under “live-data” EyeOnLakeO.
The image is best viewed large, but I’ll review first. Let’s look at how the chart is set up. Months are along the bottom and water amounts along the sides. We can easily see the green lines above 0. These lines show the times so far this year when the ACOE has been discharging from Lake Okeechobee. Blue lines show the surrounding basin runoff of the C-44 Canal. The red line displays S-308 Daily and the cream color shows S-308 Cumulative. S-308 is the structure at Lake Okeechobee; it can allow water to flow in two directions: from the lake into the canal, or from the canal into the lake. When the red line goes below 0 this means the water from the C-44 canal is going back into the lake. This is usually done for water supply reasons, is part of the historic lake operating schedule, and no matter when it’s done, is beneficial to the St Lucie.
My brother pointed out on Saturday, July 3, 2021, that the back flow was -3,344 cubic feet per second. This may have been occurring because the canals were being lowered for Tropical Storm Elsa. Todd notes “how different the weekend would have been with 3,344 cubic feet per second coming into the St Lucie River. All the weekend sandbar people would be flushed out with green brown water.”
Take a look at Todd’s chart, and hopefully you had a wonderful Fourth of July weekend.
I posted most of these photos on Facebook, but today I will give explanations and document on my blog. From above, our St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon remains beautiful, but we must be sensitive to the losses beneath the waters. These aerials were taken during a “slack tide” between 12 and 2pm on December 9, 2020 by my husband, Ed Lippisch. December 9th was the last of five days the ACOE stopped discharging from Lake Okeechobee; however S-80 was discharging “local runoff.” (Click on chart above.) Unfortunately, due to high lake level and lack of storage reservoirs, since these aerials were taken, the ACOE has begun ramping up Lake discharges once again.
Below Lawrence Glenn of the South Florid Water Management gives a comprehensive ecological report covering low-salinities and loss of oyster spat in the St Lucie and other aspects, positive and negative, for the entire Everglades system.
Below is an explanation of aerials documenting discharges December 9, 2020. All photos by Ed Lippisch.
-S-80 at St Lucie Locks and Dam discharging local basin S-80 runoff on December 9, 2020
S-308 at Port Mayaca, Lake Okeechobee closed on December 9, 2020. No algae visible.
-Plume of along Jupiter Island south of St Lucie Inlet
-Dispersing plume in Atlantic Ocean just past Peck’s Lake in Jupiter Narrows
-St Lucie Inlet -St Lucie Inlet State Park, Sailfish Point, Sewall’s Point, Stuart, Jensen
-Looking north to Sailfish Flats between Sewall’s Point and Hutchinson Island. This area has greatly degraded since 2013 as far as loss of seagrasses and fishing opportunities
-The area below, especially around Sailfish Point, was once considered “the most biodiverse estuary in North America” as documented, first, by Grant Gilmore
-This photo reveals seagrass loss across many areas of the Sailfish Flats
-Another view between Sewall’s and Sailfish Point, a seeming desert…
-Close up, Sailfish Point
-Sewall’s Point, east Indian River Lagoon
-Sewall’s Point is a peninsula surrounded by the St Lucie River on west side, and Indian River Lagoon on east side
Ed Lippisch, selfie. Thank you Ed!
As you can tell, I have lots of people helping me. Whether it is Ed flying or my brother Todd who provides an incredible easy to read website called EyeonLakeO. You can click below to check it out. The more we know, the more we document, the more we can overturn the destruction of our beloved estuary…
“Thank you Jacqui! While this is bad for the East Coast, the West Coast has been inundated with nonstop discharges from Lake O. Can your brother update his Caloosahatchee chart to include 2020?” Mike Downing
Mind you, these numbers measured from S-79 (comparable to the St Lucie’s S-80) include basin runoff and Lake Okeechobee discharges. As of 12-1-20, the brown line of 2020 is creeping higher, just under 2018, to 1,409,269 acre feet! That’s one foot of water on 1,409,269 acres of land!
If we want to see a break-out of basin and Lake O discharges to the Caloosahatchee, we can view SFWMD, Division Director of Water Resources, Lawrence Glenn’s draft slide for the upcoming, December 10, South Florida Water Management District Meeting. (See below.)
In a color coordinated way, Lawrence’s chart splits out the basin and Lake Okeechobee discharges over the course of 2020. Look at all the dark blue representing Lake O in late October, November, and December. Also, look at all the basin runoff (green and gray)For Lawrence’s entire presentation -which includes the St Lucie- click here.
As a non scientist, non-technical type, what I notice looking at Todd and Lawrence’s charts is that although there has been notable discharge in 2020, the water was released by the ACOE later in the year. This is significant.
Back to Todd’s chart:
If you want to learn even more, use my brother’s eyeonlakeoacre feet calculator to get a visual for 1,409,269 acre feet of water. 1,409,262 acre feet would put 33.66 inches of water on the land area of Lee County and 48.66 inches of water on land area of Martin County!! Mind boggling! See here or chart below.
What helps keep things in perspective for me is a map created in 2019 by the SFWMD based on the famous historic 1913 Harshberger map that makes very clear -colored in light baby blue- the water that once covered the central and southern portion of Florida. The majority of this water is now sent through the Calooshahatee and St Lucie Estuaries…
Today is October 26, these photos/videos were taken over the weekend on October 24, 2020. The first is the St Lucie River looking off the Evan’s Crary Bridge at Sewall’s Point; the second is a video of the St Lucie River taken between Rio and Stuart; and the third is a video of a brown ocean at Peck’s Lake. The St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon and much of the east coast of South Florida have endured tremendous, repetitive downpours in 2020, causing massive “local basin runoff.” The St Lucie has been stressed for months, and since October 14, there are also discharges from Lake Okeechobee. Prior to that, there had been no Lake O discharges since March of 2019. This post is written to document this discharge era for today and for later reference.
1-Video visual water quality from boat, wide St Lucie River near Rio 10-24-20
2-Video visual water coloring, Atlantic Ocean at Peck’s Lake, south of St Lucie Inlet 10-24-20
DOCUMENTING THE DISCHARGES 2020
Covid-19, an active hurricane season, and the 2020 presidential election have captured our attention, but most of know, as this Tyler Treadway Stuart News article reports, much to our dismay, due to a high rate of Lake Okeechobee rise, and after weeks of media briefings, and warnings, a reluctant ACOE started discharging to the St Lucie River on October 14th. Thankfully, for much of the time, it has been difficult due King Tides. The discharges are expected at least another week longer if not a month depending weather and rainfall from Tropical Storm Zeta. See link below from the ACOE’s most recent, 10-20-20, Periodic Scientist Call for more info.
The most comprehensive place to keep track of all this is Todd Thurlow’s website (http://eyeonlakeo.com) that provides a multitude of easily interpreted information. Check it every day, especially LIVE DATA and Satelitte NCCOS HAB images of Lake Okeechobee.
Michael Conner, THE INDIAN RIVERKEEPER keeps an active Facebook page on Lake O discharge and other local issues and is often on the ground reporting.
Also on 10-14-20 The Florida Department of Environmental Protection put out a press release: “Governor Ron DeSantis Announces Preparation for Algae Bloom Mitigation Following Announcement by Corps of Releases From Lake O.” This technology has not been needed thus far.
I can’t forget to include that October 11, 2020, right before the discharges began, Ed and I took this video documenting a significant algae bloom in the middle of Lake Okeechobee. Since that time it has been too stormy, or cloudy to go up. Usually, rain and lack of sunshine minimize visual blue-green algae blooms as can be seen on Todd’s website. The algae does remain in the water column. This image/video was shared by many news stations and posted on Facebook.
3-Large algae bloom in middle of Lake Okeechobee, 10-11-20.
Next , I would like to document Florida Oceanographic CEO, Mark Perry’s recent op-ed as it gives us pause. “Why can’t, why aren’t we able to send more water south?” We know a lot has been done, and we are grateful, however, 2020 is not 1948, we must continue to advocate for a better water future…
OP-ED MARK PERRY, PUBLISHED IN STUART NEWS, October 15, 2020
Lake Okeechobee discharges can go south now.
As the water level rises in Lake Okeechobee, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering discharges to the coastal estuaries, the St. Lucie to the east and Caloosahatchee to the west.
According to the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule, the Corps considers where the lake level is at this time of year within the “operational band,” which ranges from 10.50 to 17.25 feet of elevation. Then, based on the rainfall outlook and tributary conditions, they determine “allowable Lake Okeechobee releases” to the water conservation areas and to the estuaries.
The water conservation areas (900,000 acres) are the remnant Everglades, south of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) which is the 700,000 acres immediately south of the lake used primarily for growing sugarcane.
For “allowable Lake Okeechobee releases” to the estuaries, the Corps has specify flow amounts going to each estuary, which can be “up to 4,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) to the Caloosahatchee and 1,800 cfs to the St. Lucie.”
That is where they are right now with the lake at 16.02 feet elevation.
But the “allowable” releases to the water conservation areas are always “up to maximum practicable.” What does that mean? Well, they rarely talk about how much they can release to the water conservation areas, and never tell us how much should be considered to go south.
In fact, water has been flowing south into the water conservation areas all throughout this wet season, May through October.
But it is not coming from the lake.
About 955,000 acre feet (311 billion gallons) has been going into the water conservation areas from the EAA basin runoff. This means that they are keeping the EAA water table down to 10.5 feet — ideal for crops — by draining all this water through our 57,000 acres of stormwater treatment areas and into the water conservation areas — the Everglades.
Meanwhile, the Corps says they must discharge Lake Okeechobee to the estuaries because they can’t release it to the south. Well, they can — they have been doing it for months and they still are today, but it is all coming from the EAA basin runoff!
All this time, we could have been releasing lake water to the water conservation areas, and we could do the same right now instead of killing the estuaries with releases and wasting this water to tide.
But for that to happen, we need to tell the EAA to store and treat runoff on their own land so the stormwater treatment areas can be used for water flowing south from Lake Okeechobee.
The Corps and South Florida Water Management District are jointly responsible for managing water in south Florida. We need to have them focus on restoring more natural water storage and treatment north of the lake, in the 2.5 million acre watershed, so the lake doesn’t fill up so fast.
But we must also get them to flow south from the lake to the Everglades during the wet and dry seasons. We don’t have to wait for huge regional projects to be authorized and completed, we can do this now.
The lake is rising quickly because the EAA is using the capacity to send water south. Agricultural interests would like it to stay high because during the dry season, November thru April, the EAA will demand water from the Lake, about 350,000 acre feet, as water supply for their crops.
These are ideal conditions for the EAA, but not so good for the lake, the greater Everglades ecosystem and the coastal estuaries.
Mark Perry is executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society in Stuart.
Below are Florida Oceanographic’s most recent St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon water quality reports
Finally: During Rivers Coalition meeting 10-22-20 more expansive documentation/reporting of on-going seagrass loss/slow recovery in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon was requested. It was noted that SFWMD “Ecological Reports” cover only two historical seagrass areas of the once lush and healthy Sailfish Flats.
Chlorophyll, we learn about it in grade school and know it resides in plants, but really, if you’re like me, you may not think too much about it. I certainly wasn’t pondering until my brother Todd Thurlow sent me some of his exciting new eyeonlakeo publications.
These newer publications include: 1. Movie Sea Surface Temperatures and 2. Movie Chlorophyll. Even for the non-scientist type, they really are fascinating. The one that caught my eye is “movie 2.” revealing color-coded levels of chlorophyll swirling around Florida’s waters from June 2019, to May 2020. Like rainbow liquid fire, formations twirl and dance around our peninsular home. And what a home it is!
Todd points out, that If you watch closely, there is an eddy that begins off of Ft Meyers with an offshore “puff of red.” (10/22/2019 at 0:11 on the video). This eddy swirls all the way through November!
Then there’s “movie 2. sea surface temperature” with the weird gyrating underwater loop.
Bizarre! What was that?
“The loop seemed to be drifting southeast like a big underwater hurricane heading toward the west coast of Florida. (SEE IMAGES BELOW YOU-TUBE VIDEOS) After 9/5, it is blocked by clouds so the images don’t show it all. Day’s later an eddy forms off of Ft. Meyers. I actually have no idea if there was red tide at this time. Was there? I’ll have to look later but this is interesting. Maybe these will explain something. Are these underwater hurricanes, so to speak, picking up the deep nutrients and pushing them to shore? Pulling nutrients offshore and returning them later?
Another interesting point, which ties into my sea surface temperature movie – two days before, on 9/3/2019, the SST movie shows a “belch” of warmer and cooler water traveling north from the Yucatan and Cuba right before the chlorophyll loop current shows up.
Once again, maybe the scientist can explain….”
The untold secrets, temperature and chlorophyll. Take a look a both videos below! What do you think is going on?
*A series of images from the movie showing the loop current and the eddy that Todd was describing:
Florida Chlorophyll a and Martin County Chlorophyll a – MODIS (Terra)The “Florida Chlorophyll a” and “Martin County Chlorophyll a” products pull localized imagery from NASA’s Global Imagery Browse Services (GIBS) gibs.earthdata.nasa.gov. Eyeonlokeo.com queries two layers from the MODIS sensor on the Terra Satellite, cropping the imagery in separate products for Florida and Martin County. The queries pull the CorrectedReflectance_Bands721 (to show land and clouds), layered with the Chlorophyll_A bands (to show concentrations of chlorophyll in the ocean). Note that a concentration of chlorophyll does not indicate a Harmful Algae Bloom (HAB). These layers are provided to allow users to easily monitor the relationship, if any, between the concentration of chlorophyll off the Florida coasts and discharges from Lake Okeechobee through the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers. The “Martin County Chlorophyll a” product goes a step further by querying the South Florida Water Management District’s (SFWMD) online DBHydro database (www.sfwmd.gov/science-data/dbhydro). A script pulls the discharge data for the S-80 structure at the St. Lucie canal. S-80 is the spillway located adjacent to the St. Lucie Locks on the C-44 Canal. It is only one of several spillways that empty into the St. Lucie River but it is the terminus of the C-44 canal that carries discharge water from S-308, located at Port Mayaca, together with C-44 basin runoff to S-80 at the St. Lucie Locks. The daily discharge data is added to the bottom of each image. When discharge rates are high at S-80, a large plume of chlorophyll can usually be seen off of the St. Lucie Inlet in Martin County. The plume often moves south close to shore but further from shore the Gulf Stream carries the plume north.Additional layer information from gibs.earthdata.nasa.gov: “The MODIS Chlorophyll a layer provides the near-surface concentration of chlorophyll a in milligrams of chlorophyll pigment per cubic meter (mg/m3) in the ocean. Chlorophyll is a light harvesting pigment found in most photosynthetic organisms. In the ocean, phytoplankton all contain the chlorophyll pigment, which has a greenish color. Derived from the Greek words phyto (plant) and plankton (made to wander or drift), phytoplankton are microscopic organisms that live in watery environments, both salty and fresh. Some phytoplankton are bacteria, some are protists, and most are single-celled plants. The concentration of chlorophyll a is used as an index of phytoplankton biomass. Phytoplankton fix carbon through photosynthesis, taking in dissolved carbon dioxide in the sea water and producing oxygen, enabling phytoplankton to grow. Changes in the amount of phytoplankton indicate the change in productivity of the ocean and as marine phytoplankton capture almost an equal amount of carbon as does photosynthesis by land vegetation, it provides an ocean link to global climate change modeling. The MODIS Chlorophyll a product is therefore a useful product for assessing the health of the ocean. The presence of phytoplankton indicates sufficient nutrient conditions for phytoplankton to flourish, but harmful algal blooms (HABs) can result when high concentrations of phytoplankton produced toxins build up. Known as red tides, blue-green algae or cyanobacteria, harmful algal blooms have severe impacts on human health, aquatic ecosystems and the economy. Chlorophyll features can also be used to trace oceanographic currents, atmospheric jets/streams and upwelling/downwelling/river plumes. Chlorophyll concentration is also useful for studying the earth’s climate system as it is plays an integral role in the Global Carbon Cycle. More phytoplankton in the ocean may result in a higher capture rate of carbon dioxide into the ocean and help cool the planet.”
Hi. Today I will provide a water update. Some is good; some is not so good.
St Lucie River
Although the coronavirus and social distancing is hampering everyones’ ability to visit the St Lucie in large groups, the water in the St Lucie River -at least near the inlet- remains beautiful right now. If you have not been out, you can witness this blue water in photos taken by my husband and me on Saturday, April 4, 2020.
Lake Okeechobee. 11.70 feet.
The South Florida Water Management District and Army Corp of Engineers report Lake Okeechobee’s submerged aquatic vegetation, SAV, is really expanding the sun can reach the grass; this is fantastic for fish and wildlife and water quality, however the closely diked east side of the lake does not get the SAV benefit as it is too deep; the slight algae bloom reported there last week remains. We must be honest and recognize many people feel the lake is too low, but fortunately, there is little chance of discharges from Lake O to the St Lucie and this is a good thing.
~We must note that today the SFWMD made a call for water conservation as much of South Florida is very dry.
LOOKING BLUE! ST LUCIE RIVER AND INDIAN RIVER LAGOON BETWEEN SEWALL’S POINT AND SAILFISH POINT, AN AREA KNOWN AS THE SAILFISH FLATS. SEAGRASS SLOWLY RETURNING. 4-4-20 JTL/EL
ST LUCIE INLET AS SEEN FROM ATLANTIC
Submerged Aquatic Vegetation has greatly improved in Lake Okeechobee; this is great news. The grasses are located in shallow areas but not along the eastern edge where S-308 opens to the St Lucie. The lake is 730 square miles, topography varies. The lake was reported by the ACOE to be 11.70 feet NVGD on 4-6-20. Areas along the shallow western shore look like below.
LAKE OKEECHOBEE’S EASTERN SHORELINE, 5000 FT. THIS SHORELINE WAS DIKED CLOSE IN, THE EDGE IS DEEP SO NO SAV GROWS HERE. 4-4-20JTL/EL.
FPL COOLNG POND EASTERN SHORE, ST LUCIE CANAL or C-44 Canal. S-308 at Lake O. YOU DON’T SEE ALGAE FROM THIS FAR UP. JUST A SHADE OF GREEN.
KISSIMMEE RIVER ENTERS LAKE O. LAND EXPOSED DUE TO LOWER LAKE LEVEL. PRETTY HERE. 4-4-20 JTL/EL.
Below: THESE PHOTOS WERE TAKEN THE FOLLOWING DAY, SUNDAY,4-5-20 ON THE GROUND CLEARLY SHOW BLUE GREEN ALGAE ALONG THE EASTERN SIDE OF LAKE OKEECHOBEE AND THE S-308 STRUCTURE THAT ALLOWS WATER INTO THE C-44 CANAL FOR AGRICULTURAL IRRIGATION.
AT THIS TIME NO WATER FROM LAKE O IS GOING THROUGH S-80 AT THE ST LUCIE LOCKS AND DAM TO THE ST LUCIE RIVER. WE WILL CONTINUE TO REMEMBER THE ALAGE BLOOMS BROUGH ON BY LAKE O IN 2016 AND 2018 AND KEEP OUR EYE ON LAKE O.
EASTERN SHORELINE OF LAKE O ALGAE IS APPARENT! VERY DARK WATERS.
SITTING ON ROCKY SHORELINE OF EAST LAKE OKEECHOBEE, SUGARCANE BURNING BEHIND ME, ANCIENT SHELLS IN HAND. ~Photo Ed Lippisch
WALKING THE EASTERN SHORELINE OF LAKE O (VIDEO)
SHELLS ALONG AN EXPOSED BEACH DUE TO LOWER LAKE LEVEL
BLUE GREEN ALGAE INSIDE S-308 STRUCTURE/C-44 CANAL
INSIDE C-44 NEAR A CULVERT
LOOKING OUT OF THE C-44 CANAL TO OPENED S-308 STRUCTURE FOR BOATS
BACK OF S-308
LOOKING SOUTH WEST, LAKE O. THE S-308 STRUCTURE IS TO THE LEFT OUT OF PICTURE
ED AND OUR GERMAN SHEPHERD LUNA LOOK ON
Thank you to my brother Todd Thurlow for his web site http://www.eyeonelakeo and thank you to my husband Ed Lippisch for being on this journey with me for the past twelve years. Onward!
*Friend Paul Millar shared these photos of S-308 today, 4-6-20 3:30pm, so this post is now very updated. Thank you Paul!
My recent post about “Holding Lake Okeechobee’s Algae at Bay” got a lot of responses with a few questioning whether the algae bloom in Lake O off Port Mayaca was caused by the waters of C-44 flowing back into the lake.
I do not know the answer to this question, but I do know flights over the C-44 canal in 2019 have shown no visible algae blooms, but many in the lake with some right off Port Mayaca. Nonetheless, we know the C-44 is full of nutrient pollution.
Today I want to share a chart from my brother Todd Thurlow’s website http://eyeonlakeo.com/ as well as our back and forth on the issue of how much water has been put into Lake Okeechobee from C-44 so far this year rather than going into the St Lucie River. The ACOE can flow C-44 flow both ways…
Be sure to read “Summary of Query Results” below for the answer.
Todd: Jacqui, I changed my DBKey on my daily spreadsheet to S-308 just to see what it would spit out. See below. It looks like S-308 has sent a net 17billion gallons of C-44 basin water (over 54,000 AF) into Lake O this year. I am pretty sure that means we get a “free” 17billion gallons in our direction before it is considered “Lake Water”.
Jacqui: Todd did the ACOE start sending the C-44 canal water back to Lake O May 29th? Looking at the chart this is what I see.
Todd: There has been little flows all year as can be seen on the chart too but the big flows started on May 13 at -2042cfs. There was a pause between June 4 and July 30. Then is started again with a few days off here and there. Here is the data that is summarized in that chart.
The May 29 date that you might see (its actually May 20) is where the “Cumulative Total Discharge” graph crosses the zero axis? That is where the net flows for the year were back to zero. In other words, it took from May 13 to May 20, 8 days of westward flow, to cancel out all of the net eastward flow for the year.
These DEP canal summaries are no longer available on-line but remain good references even though written in 2001.
Shockingly, the worst year, 1960, displays 3,093,488 acre feet of water coming through S-80 into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. For comparison, the highest year in the past decade was 2016 at 857,529 acre feet. ~A difference of 2, 235,959 acre feet.
We know now that an “acre foot” is an easy calculation, “one foot of water covering one acre of land.” 3,093,488 acre feet of water would have just about covered St Lucie, Martin, Palm Beach, and Broward counties as the acreage of these counties combined adds up to 3,293,440 acres. Hard to believe!
Even though in 1960, the lake was not yet prone to massive cyanobacteria blooms, fresh water itself is destructive to a brackish estuary, and over three million acre feet discharged into the river by, what would have been at that time, the Central and South Florida Flood Control District, (the predecessor to the South Florida Water Management District), must have wiped out just about everything.
Of course the question is: “Why such high a high number in 1960?” One would deduce, that the primary reason would be because there were three tropical storms and one hurricane that crossed over Florida during this era. According to NOAA’s Tropical Cyclone Rainfall in Florida chart: Judith, October 1959, 7.90 inches; Donna, September 1960 13.24 inches; Florence, September 1960 15.79 inches, and we do not know for the Unnamed 1959 storm.(https://www.wpc.ncep.noaa.gov/tropical/rain/tcflorida.html)
But this is conjecture…
Going back to Todd’s graph, you’ll notice that thirteen out of the twenty-five years listed had higher discharge number than 2016. Sobering, isn’t it? Staggering numbers, for a river that by Nature was never connected to Lake Okeechobee, and only a portion of the so-called C-44 Basin. We have drowned her, indeed…
Now for one final question.
The Caloosahatchee has data too, but only for years 1967-2019. Thus the Caloosahatchee’s highest year for discharge of its top 25 years is 2005, at 3,731,056 acre feet; followed by 2016, at 2, 950,926 acre feet and so on. Please click on the graph.
So what about the missing thirteen years of 1953-1968? Where did this water go? Did it go to the St Lucie? Was the Caloosahtchee off-line? Did it go through the Calooshahatchee but was not recorded? These are questions I cannot answer. But in any case, both rivers need a break, or they shall break themselves. History allows us to see the long-standing destruction and ecological disregard for our treasured Northern Estuaries.