Today I would like to briefly remember 1997 and 1998 and recall why this year is so important to our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon history. I would also like to note for some who may not know why these years are being brought back into the ACOE/SFWMD discussion this year.
Today’s slide is complements of a recent document shared by our friend, Dr Gary Goforth. (http://garygoforth.net) “Draft – Wet Season 2015 Lake Discharges – December 9, 2015.” This slide shows that Lake Okeechobee today is lower than it was in 1997.
Why is Dr Goforth comparing 1997? He is comparing 1997 because in 1997-98 there was a strong El Nino (rainy winter), just as we are experiencing right now in 2015/2016.
Certainly we have all noticed how much it is raining this winter so far!
The difference as far a Lake O management in 1997-98 was that there was no”LORS” schedule then….The 2008 LORS or “Lake Okeechobee Release Schedule” did not go into place until 2008 so prior to that year the lake was allowed to be over a foot higher. Since 2008, the lake is required to be lower because of work and safety issues on the Herbert Hoover Dike.
It is important that as we move forward to also look back. We must remember what happened in 1997-98, a similar El Nino to what is happening right now…. 1997-98 were not good years for the river…So much water was released into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon in 1997-1998 that there were more reported fish lessons than ever before– due to too much and too long of exposure to fresh water. This is also why, in 1998,the Rivers Coalition was born. (http://riverscoalition.org)
Today and will share some history, and today I will honor Mr Leon Abood, who has led the Rivers Coalition of Martin County for the past seventeen years…
In 1998 a terrible thing was happening. An uncanny number of fish in the St Lucie River had lesions, and for the very first time, numerous algae blooms were being reported the river. The ACOE and SFWMD had been releasing fresh water from Lake Okeechobee into the estuary for a longer period of time than “typical” due to high rains and high water levels in Lake Okeechobee; this had occurred before, but this time something was different. Really different.
“Fish with lesions? Disgusting. And those poor fish! What’s going on?”
Fishermen were confused and furious; the public was just learning the extent of the problems in their beloved St Lucie River; and real estate agents were desperate because they could not sell houses. All were watching the economic vitality of Martin County and its essential natural system (that brought residents here in the first place) collapse.
The standing motto of the day became: ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!
Agencies as usual declared uncertainty of why the fish were so sickly, everyone looking at everyone else…In time, very quietly, studies did verify that high levels of fresh water in brackish systems allow a bacteria to grow that promotes lesions, as a fish’s delicate slime coat is compromised….It was Lake Okeechobee exacerbated by the other canals….
This is taken into account today before decisions are made…When possible, “pulse releases” became more common rather than giant long-lasting slugs of water into the system….
As far as “the river,” other groups had been fighting for the St Lucie River/Southern Indian River Lagoon since the 1950s, but now it was time for “business!”
In a fit of fury and desperation, the Realtor Association, on May 12th, 1998, formed the “Rivers Coalition.” The group was built from the earlier formed El Nino Task Force and focused on group rather than individual membership.
Founding members in 1998 included the St Lucie River Initiative, the Realtor Association of Martin County; Stuart/Martin Chamber of Commerce; Treasure Coast Builders Association; Martin County Conservation alliance; Economic Council; Florida Oceanographic Society; Marine Industries Association; Audubon of Florida; Audubon of Florida; and the Martin County Farm Bureau.
Leon has led the coalition through the horrors of fish lesions, toxic algae blooms, releases from Lake Okeechobee and area canals, along with Mr Karl Wickstrom–a law-suit against the federal government, and has been the face and front man of the river for a confused and desperate public. His calm and authoritative demeanor gives people confidence. He is a true leader, calm when surrounded by controversy and sharks at every turn.
Leon’s goal has always been that all stakeholders are to take part: business, environmental, and residential…. and to bring information forward for the public so they can make “logical and intelligent decisions about what is going on.” He has helped achieve this important goal. —And without information and discussion there is no change…
Since 1998, the Rivers Coalition has grown and evolved but always remained a consistent “voice for the river.” Without the voice the Rivers Coalition, our river situation would not have the statewide recognition and there would not be the pressure on government to fix the problems.
We all know, it is a problem of monumental proportion, TO MOVE WATER SOUTH and not through our estuary, that will take generations. Knowing this, Leon Abood gave the first “go ahead” to support the River Kidz in 2011 so they could one day “take the baton.”
Please read more about Leon Abood and the accomplishments of the Rivers Coalition below on Rivers Coalition link.
Leadership for the future will be made soon. Leon will not walk-away until he has given his blessing and guided new leadership. After 17 years of investing heart and soul it’s not as easy as “passing the baton,” and the River Kidz are just a tad too young. We are going to need some leaders just a bit older….:) He has a few in mind…
Why is he leaving?
After 17 years, he is tired. And Leon simply wishes to spend more time with his wife Georgia, a well-known artist; they love to travel to Europe specifically Paris and Italy. What do they say in real estate? In life too, “Time is of the Essence….”
Thank you Leon, you will never be replaced, and you will always be remembered!
Know the Rivers Coalition will have a rebirth with you always at its side.