I have shared this 1925 aerial previously, but it is worth sharing again. What a wonderful photograph of a healthy confluence of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon!
Every time I see it, I see something new.
I see the white sands of the newly dug St Lucie Canal, today’s C-44 connected to Lake Okeechobee, in the far middle distance; I see dark, prevalent natural vegetation; I see an undeveloped Sailfish Point, Rocky Point, Manatee Pocket, Sewall’s Point, and Stuart; there are a few roads, but no airport; no spoil islands along Sewall’s Point; there are no “bridges to the sea; ” I see shoaling, as the St Lucie Inlet had been opened/widened not too long before ~located just around the left hand corner of the photograph; I see beaches at Hutchinson Island with beautiful coquina sands that had not been “re-nourished;” I see lush seagrass beds, the nurseries of life, cradled against the shoreline; I see Paradise…
What would we do as far as development in this paradise, if we had it to do all over again?Or would we do just the same?
How we develop lands, of course, affects the health of surrounding waters. Today, what can we do to reinvigorate our rivers, our paradise? How can we help bring back the seagrasses especially? Well, we can do a lot.
Think of all the lawns that would be in this photo today! All the development, and how when it rains everything on our streets, parking lots, and lawns runs into our drainage systems and into our river.
Yesterday was June 1st, the beginning of rainy season. The beginning of fertilizer restrictions that were especially inspired for the entire Indian River Lagoon by the work of Sewall’s Point, the first to have a strong fertilizer ordinance, in 2010. I am proud of this and thank my fellow commissioners of that era.
Do what you can by not fertilizing your yard this rainy season, and if you haven’t considered changing out your yard to a more natural, Florida Friendly landscape, perhaps begin the process.
Every little thing we do, counts. And the more we do, the pressure we can put on the “big polluters” to do the same.
The “Be Floridian” program was born over a decade ago of the Tampa Bay area. This program has many elements, but most noteworthy is that “strict” fertilizer ordinances evolved collaboratively along the counties and cities of Florida’s “southerly” east coast.
Today, Tampa Bay has more seagrass than it did in the 1940s. This is in spite of the area’s high population. Certainly, they have different issues than we, and “no Lake O,” but the goal is clear: “if they did it there; we can do it here…improve our waters.”
On Florida’s east coast, in 2010, the peninsular Town of Sewall’s Point, my community, was the first to implement in a strong fertilizer ordnance. With the 2011-2013 melt down of the Indian River Lagoon due to super-algae blooms killing approximately 60% of the northern/central lagoon’s seagrasses, and the toxic “Lost Summer” of excessive dumping from Lake Okeechobee and area canals along the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, communities all along the Indian River pushed their governments to implement strong fertilizer ordinances. —Making a statement that they were “fed-up” with dead waters, and were willing themselves to put “skin in the game.”
In case you don’t know, there are variations, but basically a “strong fertilizer ordinance” is one that does not allow fertilization with phosphorus and nitrogen during the summer rainy/hurricane season.
Recently there was an article in the “Stuart News” asking the question of whether or not these strong fertilizer ordinances are “working” along the IRL. The expert on hand replied it is “too soon to tell…”
I beg to differ, and here is why.
Of course they are working.
A four-year old can tell you they are working.
I use this analogy a lot when discussing Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades Agricultural Area’s 700,000 acres south of the lake blocking the natural flow of water from the northern estuaries to the Everglades.
In spite of the sugar and vegetable empires south of the lake trying to convince us that it is water from Orland and the Kissimmee River killing our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, any four-year old studying the River Kidz program will point to the area directly south of the lake as biggest problem forcing the water up and out the estuaries rather than allowing it to flow south as nature intended…We need a third outlet south of the lake. There is too much water to hold it all north. End of story. I don’t need a study to tell me this. I know it. A four-year old knows it. You know it.
Back to fertilizer….last night it rained hard here in Sewall’s Point. My rain gauge says two inches. Seemed like more than that. If my yard had been fertilized of course that fertilizer would have gone into the gutter and down the drain and into the Indian River Lagoon. You can go out and watch this from my driveway.
It must be noted that until the ACOE and SFWMD (collaborating at the direction of our government) stop dumping from the lake and out over expanded canals, we will never know our “area’s” levels of phosphorus and nitrogen.
For example, the ACOE began releasing into our SLR/IRL this January and just stopped a few weeks ago, so if a scientist had done her or her study recently, they would be measuring nutrients that came into our river from “other places” too.
But we, here, are doing our part and can feel good about this…keeping our house in order will help push order in the houses of the state and federal governments that are presently quite un-orderly.
Enforcement? Let’s focus on education. As we can see. It’s working! Five years ago people weren’t even aware that fertilizer was an “issue.”
As a sidebar before I close, I recently had the pleasure of meeting Mr Woody Woodraska who headed the SFWMD in the 1980s before it was under the anvil of the governor and the state legislature. The topic of visiting Cuba arose. My husband Ed and I will be visiting Cuba this fall with our church, St Mary’s.
Mr Woodraska said: “Oh, you are going to love it..”
In the course of telling his story visiting as a competitor in the Ernest Hemingway competition, he alluded to Cuba’s long repressed economy and how this kept fertilizers, via the agriculture industry, from ruining Cuba’s waters, fish and wildlife. Thus overall, Cuba’s waters are healthy and beautiful today.
We here in Florida, on the other hand, have developed every piece of land right up to edge of every river, some with septic tanks, and torn out the native plants and replaced with plants that we must fertilize; agriculture is a corporate producer going through literately tons of fertilizer every day; canals not only to drain our land, but we build houses along them; a turf grass industry flourishes in South Florida that sells 25% of all turf-grass in the WORLD; wonderful universities, like my alma mater and family connected University of Florida, do research and watch the industry’s back to “keeping our economy rolling!”
Yeah…rolling right over our fish, and our wildlife, and over ourselves as we see our own economy suffering from dirty waters.
Whew. I need a cup of coffee.
Sorry to be so opinionated, but I just can’t stand it. Fertilizer that is. In fact I have a file on my computer called DEATH BY FERTILIZER. Here are some pictures; thanks for reading my rant, have a good day, and I will not say “happy fertilizing!” 🙂
The National Research Council’s book “Clean Coastal Waters, Understanding and Reducing the Effects of Nutrient Pollution,” National Academy’s Press, 2000, is the best book I have read on this subject. It can be ordered on line.
Recently, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, located in St Lucie County, (http://www.fau.edu/hboi/) released their “Our Global Estuary,” U.S. National Workshop, Draft Report.
The new program founded in 2013, is incredibly interesting. Harbor Branch, right here in “our own back yard,” has taken a world leadership role in one of the planet’s most important issues, one we all know quite well, the anthropogenic pressures that threaten the ecological benefits of estuaries. Harbor Branch is opening scientific dialogue on these pressures and the evolving technology that may help “save” them, by scientists sharing their experiences on such issues, scientists from all over the world. (http://ourglobalestuary.com)
Dr Megan Davis, Interim Director of Harbor Branch, co-chairing with Dr Antonio Baptista and Dr Margaret Leinen, along with other local and world scientists are leading this project.
It is noted in their publication that “comparing and contrasting estuaries and management approaches worldwide is essential to capturing and a gaining from lessons learned locally.”
The report also notes and I quote that “estuaries are vital to the planet and their extraordinary productivity that supports life in and around them…Nearly 90% of the Earth’s land surface is connected to the ocean by rivers, with much of the water that drains from lands passing through wetlands and estuaries…cleaning species like mangroves and oysters are being limited by stressors caused by humans, such as water withdrawals, hydropower operation, navigation, and the release of fertilizers, contaminants, and municipal wastes. These pressures are increasing and threatening the balance of the systems.”
As one reads on, the report discusses that population growth and land-use choices not only near the estuaries but also many miles upstream can have a significant effects on estuaries. It is noted that “as farm production methods have evolved to increase yields, more nutrients have made their way to the water causing algae overgrowth to the point of suppressing seagrass. These pressures can cause disease and death in fish, marine mammals, birds, and other animals.” Land development also impacts estuaries with its runoff and diversion or redirection of water.
The largest estuaries in the world are listed in the report are not in the United States. 1. Ganges, Indian, Bangladesh, Nepal; 2 .Yangtze (Chang Jiang), China; 3. Indus, Indian, China, Pakistan; 4. Nile, Northeastern Africa; 5. Huang He (Yellow River), China; 6. Huai He, China; 7. Niger, West Africa; 8. Hai, China; 9. Krishna, Indian; and 10. Danube, Central and Eastern Europe.
Personally, I had only heard of half of those places and it made me think about the millions of people living around estuaries all over the world and how much I really don’t know. How small we are comparatively…
Although of course the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon is not one of the largest river basins in the world, we were listed under “Estuaries are Receiving More Attention” along with Chesapeake Bay. The section notes water quality is compromised in part by excess nutrients and inland freshwater discharges and diversion of water that historically flowed south through the Florida Everglades. It notes seagrass die offs, manatee, pelican and dolphin mortality, septic, agriculture and lawn fertilizer issues…
About half way down the paragraph under Indian River Lagoon, it says: “Public outcry and accompanying media attention achieved critical mass in 2013, helping convince several municipalities to enact more restrictive fertilizer ordinances and the state legislature to appropriate over 200 million in support for observation and systems remediation for the Lagoon and Everglades.”
Once again, like the Dr Seuss children’s book, Horton Hears a Who, where the residents of Whoville together shout WE’RE HERE, WE’RE HERE, finally to be heard, the Treasure Coast is noted for its efforts, this time in a document that will be shared around the world!
Thank you to Harbor Branch for its continued leadership and efforts in ocean and estuary research and thank you to the people of the Treasure Coast or “Whoville” who have been heard and continue to help save the Indian River Lagoon.
There are many types of pollution that affect the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon but two words you will hear over and over are “point” and “non-point pollution.” These are important words to understand especially today as we fight to save our rivers.
Point pollution is basically pollution that you can pin-point coming out of a “pipe.” Point pollution is associated with industry. For instance, a waster water treatment plant that has a pipe releasing into the river is point pollution. In the late 1800s and early 1900s some residences, businesses and industries just let their pollution and or sewage go directly into the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon. Yuk!
This practice improved with the advent of sewer systems, septic and organized cities but there were/are still direct pipes releasing very unclean water until very recently. Recognizing the impacts of discharges from wastewater treatment plants, the Florida Legislature passed the Indian River Act (Chapter 90-262) in 1990 requiring waste water treatment plants to cease discharging their effluent, somewhat processed poop, into the lagoon. Because it was easy to pinpoint exactly where these industrial wastewater points are/were located, it is fairly easy to regulate them.
The lagoon and we have befitted from the Indian River Act 90-262 but we still have problems.
Non-point pollution, unlike point source pollution, is pollution that is hard to pin-point because it is coming from “everywhere.” On average it rains 50 inches each year along the Treasure Coast. Highways, parking lots, people’s yards, leaky septic tanks, and agriculture all combine to create a cocktail of oils, heavy metals, fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, viruses, bacteria and other pollutants that run from flowing rain water into area canals and then straight into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
To complicate things more, cities and counties can regulate residential applications (for instance many have recently passed strict fertilizer ordinance outlawing the use of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer application during rainy season,) but cities are not allowed to regulate agriculture even if is located in their city or county.
Agriculture is exempt from such laws. Agriculture is regulated and overseen by the Florida Department of Agriculture.
The Department of Agriculture recognizing the need to abate fertilizer and chemical runoff does promote “best management practices,” helping farmers work to lower phosphorus and nitrogen runoff but this is voluntary and not required. Most farmers do comply but it is not easy to judge and measure so agriculture runoff continues to significantly add to river pollution across our nation and state as we know from our C-44 canal that dumps mostly agriculture basin runoff into our rivers.
You will often hear people say, “We must stop pollution at the source!” This is a good idea and our state and federal agencies are doing it with point source pollution but not with non-point source pollution.
Perhaps one day every yard and every agriculture field will have to take a portion of their land to hold rain runoff so the pollutants seep into the earth before they go to our waterways? Perhaps one day the Department of Environmental Protection and the US Environmental Protection Agencies will become more hard-core rather than coming up with programs like TMDLs and BMP–Total Maximum Daily Loads for phosphorus and nitrogen and Basin Management Action Plans, because although those will help over time, like 30 years, we don’t seem to have a lot of time left.
RECENT HEADLINE: “FUNDING FOR 82 Million in NEW RESEARCH/CAUSES/CONTROL OF ALGAE BLOOMS IN US AND IRL– SPONSORED BY U.S. SENATOR BILL NELSON D-FL”
As much as I am thankful for the politicians and policy makers who have recently gotten monies allotted to fight the “toxic algae in Florida’s waterways,” I am slightly miffed. From what I understand, and have learned over the past years, much of the research to understand these problems has already been accomplished, particularly by the National Research Council.
In 2008, when I was just beginning to really plow in and try to understand why the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon issues were happening and basically at the time being ignored publicly and politically, I was recommended to read “Clean Coastal Water, Understanding and Reducing the Effects of Nutrient Pollution,” published by the National Research Council in 2000.
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is a non-profit organization in the United States. Members serve pro bono as “advisers to the nation on science, engineering, and medicine”. Election to the National Academy is one of the highest honors in U.S. science. The academy was signed into law under the presidency of Abraham Lincoln in 1863. These public documents are available to all and these agencies give presentations to the US House and Senate and have done such on “algae blooms in coastal waters.”
The National Academy of Sciences is part of the National Academies, which also includes:the National Academy of Engineering (NAE); the Institute of Medicine (IOM); and the National Research Council (NRC).
It is an honor to be a member or to do research for a member and nearly 200 members have won nobel prizes. These scientists and their affilliatoins are the “best of the best.”
Locally, Dr Brian LaPoint working in St Lucie County, helped with the publication. He is from Harbor Branch/FAU. Also Dr Margaret Leinen, the Executive Director of Harbor Branch at the time, now of Scripps Oceanography in California, was invited to speak before Congress on the subject.
So, in 2000, the National Research Council’s book Clean Coastal Waters, Understanding and Reducing the Effects of Nutrient Pollution, was published and it is very clear in its studies, and recommendations. I will quote from the executive summary:
“What common thread ties together such seemingly diverse coastal problems as red tides, fish kills, some marine mammal deaths, outbreaks of shellfish poisonings, loss of seagrass habitats, coral reef destruction, and the Gulf of Mexico’s dead zone? Over the past 20 years, scientists, coastal managers, and public decision makers have come to recognize that coastal ecosystems suffer a number of environmental problems that can, at times, be attributed to the introduction of excess nutrients from upstream watersheds…the driving force is the accumulation of nitrogen and phosphorus in fresh water on its way to the sea. For instance, runoff form agricultural land, animal feeding operations, and urban areas, plus discharge from water water treatment plants and atmospheric deposition of compound releases during fossil fuel combustion all add nutrients to fresh water before it reaches the sea.”
On page 34 the writers note:
” Inorganic fertilizer accounts for more than half of the human alteration of the nitrogen cycle. Approximately half of the inorganic nitrogen fertilizer ever used on the planet has been used in the last 15 years… The increased use of commercial fertilizer over the last 50 years has contributed to dramatic increases in per acre crop yields. But it has also brought problems, (e.g., adverse changes in soil properties and offsite environmental problems caused by runoff.)
Later in the book nutrient pollution is recognized as an enormous, complex and difficult issue but the NAS’s advice is to implement policies in a coordinated effort, locally, state and nationally to control nutrient pollution at its sources. Guidance for this is provided in chapter 9 “Source Reduction and Control.”
For me as a Sewall’s Point commissioner, our commission fought and passed a strong fertilizer ordinance in 2010, and since that time many others have as well along the Indian River Lagoon. This is just a start and local governments will have to do more in the future.
NAS states nutrient pollution problems come from “agricultural land, animal feeding operations, and urban areas plus discharge from water water treatment plants and atmospheric deposition of compound releases during fossil fuel combustion all add nutrients to fresh water before it reaches the sea.” We along the coast in cities, etc..qualify as the “urban areas.” And locally that is all we have the jurisdiction to control. The rest, particularly agriculture issues of “best management practices” and more, has to come from the state and federal governments.
So back to Senator Bill Nelson, who I admire very much, and who grew up in the Melbourne area along the IRL, spearheaded a recent bill by the US Senate that will “fund research into the causes and control of large algae blooms.” This is terrific, but guess what? “We” basically already know the causes.
Let’s get some nerve politicians, and use this money to help and demand those who are not making fast enough efforts to lower their output of nitrogen and phosphorus. Let’s break the wall of not being allowed to implements restrictive laws on the agriculture industry that is protected by the “”right to farm act;” and let’s assist them in the funding they need to make these changes and find other ways to grow crops or different crops to grow…
Lets continue dealing, moving and helping dairies and animal operations close to waterbodies; let’s implement even stricter laws on water treatment plants like the one along the Banana River in the Coca Beach area, in the northern central lagoon, where all the Unusual Mortality Events (UME) occurred last year of manatee, dolphin, and pelican deaths, and the majority of the 60% seagrass loss in the IRL since 2009 has occurred.
Atmospheric compounds? Perhaps require /inspire higher emission standards for cars in our Treasure Coast and continue the fight for clean air on a National/Global level through are Congressional representatives. Learn to “make money” for people from this problem rather than limiting people. No easy task…
“Invasion of government,” you may say. “Yes it is.” And I don’t like it either, but at this point in order to to save the SLR/IRL, is their any other way?
If we need the local data, then lets get it, but I do believe we already know where to start and I do believe we already know what to do.