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…
In the lessons above, I have been sharing the archives of Mr Fred van Vonno who worked as a Planner (GS-11) from June 1978 until 1982 for the Department of Interior, National Park Service, Regional Office, Atlanta Georgia.
According to his wife, Nicki, his work involved assessing the recreational potential of rivers and trails and Fred was the Study Coordinator for the Loxahatchee and Myakka Wild and Scenic River studies.
One of the documents Mr van Vonno saved was the 1982 Wild and Scenic River Study, DraftEnvironmental Impact Statement. This declaration led to the Loxahatchee River being designated Florida’s first Wild and Scenic River. An incredible feat!
You may ask, “what is an Environmental Impact Statement anyway?” Basically, it is a rigorous requirement of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 and thankfully it is still protecting the environment even today.
The FINAL Loxahatchee EIS is available on line. As of publishing this blog post, the DRAFT is too. It is always interesting to see the evolution of a document and to see what ends up on its pages, and what does not…
Please see link below for the DRAFT Wild and Scenic River Study, Environmental Impact Statement, July 1982, Loxahatchee River, Florida and thank you Mr van Vonno for saving!
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was signed into law on January 1, 1970. NEPA requires federal agencies to assess the environmental effects of their proposed actions prior to making decisions. The range of actions covered by NEPA is broad and includes:
making decisions on permit applications,
adopting federal land management actions, and
constructing highways and other publicly-owned facilities.
Using the NEPA process, agencies evaluate the environmental and related social and economic effects of their proposed actions. Agencies also provide opportunities for public review and comment on those evaluations.
On this page:
What does NEPA require?
How do federal agencies carry out the NEPA requirements?
What does NEPA require?
Title I of NEPA contains a Declaration of National Environmental Policy. This policy requires the federal government to use all practicable means to create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony.
Section 102 in Title I of the Act requires federal agencies to incorporate environmental considerations in their planning and decision-making through a systematic interdisciplinary approach. Specifically, all federal agencies are to prepare detailed statements assessing the environmental impact of and alternatives to major federal actions significantly affecting the environment. These statements are commonly referred to as Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) and Environmental Assessments (EA).
Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love maps! Today I opened a map entitled “Physical, Hydrological, & Biological Characteristics of the Loxahatchee River Estuary, Florida, U.S Geological Survey,” that may not have been unfolded since the year I graduated from Martin County High School in 1982.
In June of 2020, my mother and her dear friend Nicki van Vonno, shared with me documents belonging to Nicki’s late husband, Frederik W. van Vonno. In 1979, as a student, “Fred” wrote a paper that he presented to his Georgia Institute of Technology professor, entitled: “Environmental Considerations in Wild and Scenic River Studies.”
As we know, the Loxahatchee River was designated a federal Wild and Scenic River shortly thereafter, in the momentous year of 1985. It was Florida’s first!
So this map is part of the history of the Loxahatchee becoming a Wild and Scenic River. There is a lot to talk about in Mr van Vonno’s documents, but I want to begin with this map. It will be our guide over the coming days. There are sections listed: Introductions, Purpose and Scope, Methods, History, Physical and Hydrologic Characteristics; Sediment; and Summary and Concluding Remarks -by Benjamin McPherson, Maryann Sabanskas, and William Long -all of the Department of the Interior’s Geological Survey. You can peruse all of these sections if you click on map below.
For purposes of time, and our goal to learn beginnings today, I will focus only on the historical building and demise of this great river, Loxahatchee.
History of the Estuary from map
The Loxahatchee River estuary owes its existence to a rise in sea level and an increase in rainfall. About 15,000 years ago, the shore of the Atlantic Ocean was several miles east of more than 300 feet lower than its present location and altitude at Jupiter Inlet. The climate was windy, cool, and dry. From about 15,000 to 6,000 years ago, sea level rose relatively rapidly at a rate of more than 3 feet per century. Near the end of this period, modern vegetation and climate became established and the rise in sea level slowed. Sometime near the end of the rapid rise in sea level and several thousand years ago, tidal waters began to flood the estuary embayment. Prior to this time, the embayment was probably a flood plain or a freshwater marsh. From the time of the first tidal flooding to about 1900, the shape and bathymetry of the estuary were modified solely by natural processes of sedimentation and erosion…
The rest I will paraphrase:
In 1900 came the “progress” of man bringing with it two big shifts: 1. the dredging and permanence of the Jupiter Inlet which allowed much more salt water into the delicate estuary, and a familiar foe, over-drainage – Ground water levels were lowered and fresh water inflows reduced.
The once fresh water inputs going into the Southwestern Fork (far left/down) from Hungryland Slough and the Loxahatchee Marsh -part of Loxahatchee Slough we talked about in Loxahatchee Lesson 1- were tamed by the huge C-18 canal. The Everglades connection severed.
The Northwest Fork’s water (middle) was reduced due to development of the Central and South Florida Plan, all of the giant historic canals that are managed today by the South Florida Water Management District. Creeks Kitching and Cypress remain, but are anemic. A portion of this Northwest Fork -from Riverbend Park to Dickinson State Park is the area that was deemed “Wild and Scenic” in 1985. In spite of this status, cypress trees have been replaced by mangroves due to less fresh water input and more salt water input.
The North Fork (far right) is surrounded by development but a small portion looks untouched in its upper region.
All things life changing begin with a dream. My writings will follow Fred van Vonno’s dream.
The Loxahatchee is one of thousands of United States rivers that have been negatively transformed by agriculture and development; but, the Loxahatchee has more hope than most. In future blog posts we will explore this studying the Wild and Scenic designation and how this “dream come true” is not over yet.
When I was a kid, my brother, sister and I lived on Edgewood Drive in Stuart. My parents were great about teaching us to appreciate, respect and love wildlife. Today, many of our actions would be frowned upon. We fed the animals, and at one time or another, had wild pets. It was wonderful!
This weekend unable to garden trapped inside by relentless rain, I started thinking to myself “what did the ecosystem of my childhood backyard really look like?” That was the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Could I find anything that looked like it today? Does my yard, today, resemble it at all?
So I took a drive to the old neighborhood.
St Lucie Estates looks a lot the same but our family house has been knocked down and replaced by one much larger. Also every lot is developed. When I was growing up, our house was surrounded by a number of empty lots and as kids we roamed freely. These undeveloped lots allowed my siblings and I to have native nature right in our “backyard.”
I racked my brain to think of where I might find a comparable lot to the ones in St Lucie Estates. I wanted to see what plants were on it. What trees. The color of the sand.
I drove east on East Ocean Boulevard.
Near Kingswood Condominium I found one lot that looked a lot like the ones I ran around in as a kid. Although drained and full of invasives, the space held a few recognizables: a sand pine, a stand of sand oaks, yucca, palmettos, prickly pear cactus, and other flowering plants and grasses whose names I never learned.
Seeing the Kingwood lot brought back a lot of memories and I thought about how this once familiar habitat is basically gone. This rare Florida Scrub has been covered with shopping malls and subdivisions most sporting heavily fertilized floratam along with a variety of ornamentals.
I wondered why developers just cleared the natives. I am realizing that my childhood home must have been a Florida Scrub environment. For goodness sake, one of our favorite wild friends was the very smart Scrub Jay! We never thought that our house may have destroyed their favorite bushes. We just smiled and lifted our arms strong and high -palms perfectly flat balancing one nut. Always, they came. So smart! So consistent!
Of course Scrub Jays are now a threatened species whose habitat is considered to be one of the most endangered in the world…
~The location of my childhood backyard.
After getting the photos from Kingwood, I decided to drive north to Jensen to visit Hawk’s Bluff off of Savannah Road. Here I could walk and remember the some of the sights of my childhood. This is one of the few places the Florida Scrub Ecosystem has been saved.
~The wind whistled through the trees. I felt timeless. The rain had brightened the usually muted colors. I sat on the bench. Lake Henderson’s grey and purple reflection resembled a Monet. It was beautiful!
I was alone in my childhood backyard…
I raised my arms above my head, hands upright bent -perfectly flat.
Would a Scrub Jay come to visit?
I held my arms up until I could no longer -putting them down- I got up to walk my adult path.
Visit #1 one of the last undeveloped lots near Kingswood Condominium, East Ocean Drive, Stuart, Florida, still reveals native scrub vegetation:
She ran upstairs returning with a little booklet entitled “Under the Cocoanuts, Lake Worth, Dade County, Florida, by Porter and Potter, Real Estate Agents, 1893.” Mom said her friend and fellow historian, Mrs. Marjorie Watts Nelson, had gifted a copy of the famous little book and that it was cherished.
I carefully looked through it and understood why…
Today, I would like to share this historic booklet. I believe pages 15 and 19 are missing, but it remains a priceless read. The beautiful artwork was created by George Wells Potter, of Porter and Potter, a star citizen and gifted artist whose drawings remain an outstanding record of the day.
On December 8, 2018, I attended beloved environmentalist Mr Nathaniel P. Reed’s memorial service held at the Hobe Sound Bible Church. It was a wonderful gathering for an unforgettable man who is an example for us all on how to best protect our treasured Florida.
After the service, I walked back into the church to say my own private prayer for Mr Reed. It was so peaceful; and the flowers were the most beautiful I had ever seen. A true “La Florida.” I share my photos today. Mr Reed’s spirit lives on in all of us who fight for Florida and our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
The day began with smoke, smoke off the sugarcane fields.
Yesterday, Ed and I took a flight from Stuart to Everglades City, passing Chokoloskee and photographing the EAA Reservoir lands along the way. It is huge out there in the “Everglades,” seemingly endless. The easiest way to get one’s bearings is to look for the Miami and New River Canals that run south of Lake Okeechobee. Highway 27 parallels the New River Canal; where the red balloon is located above is the area east of where the EAA Reservoir will be constructed. For more specifics see link (https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/tag/a-1-aerial/)
For Ed and I the flight, although hazy, was an opportunity to learn to recognize from the air Water Conservation Area 3, just south of the EAA Reservoir Area. The water conservation area lands are not located in Everglades National Park, but water quality is protected.
“To me these are the Everglades,” Ed said looking down.
“They are but they aren’t,” I replied. “They are part of the Central and South Florida Project, they are not natural; they are controlled. When they are too full from EAA water, the water from Lake O is not allowed to go south. If too full, from rain, or otherwise the animals can drown. Trapped on the tree islands raccoon, and deer, and panther together. Terrible.”
“Why can’t the water just flow south,” Ed asked.
“Lot of reasons, people like to say it’s because of an endangered bird, but its bigger than that, mostly because we have chosen to make it that way, and powerful entities keep our legislature from changing it in spite of what the voters say.” (SFWMD Constraints: https://apps.sfwmd.gov/SystemConstraintsDataApp/)
Ed did not reply.
We looked forward to what appeared to be little hills. The cypress domes of Big Cypress National Park reflected in the sunlight, and I could see “end of the earth” Chockoloskee right next to Everglades City in the distance. Pretty…
I can understand why people like to live down there so far away from everything. But they too can not escape our problems ~not with water.
Since I was a girl, I always saw Florida Trend Magazine on my parents’ coffee table. It represented, and still does, the face of business in Florida. And typically that is all that is reported, of course, straight business. I must say I was ecstatic to yesterday receive my January 2019 issue of Florida Trend and see that water quality issues were reported multiple times. A turning point.
Thank you Florida Trend Magazine, because we all know in Florida, clean water is good business. And when we make it business to clean up our waters, we all win!
Yesterday, I called in for the final conference call of Governor-elect Ron DeSantis’ Transition Advisory Committee on the Environment, chaired by our own, Congressman Brian Mast. It was very, very interesting. Highlights of the call were recorded by TC Palm’s Ali Schmitz:
As a member of the public, I was able to listen-in on the call ~this one focusing on Agriculture, and make my recommendation.
Having served on the Constitution Revision Commission in 2018, I am especially drawn to the importance of government structure. DeSantis’ originally posted environmental policy statement listed Accountability for Water Quality. Right now, many Floridians wonder “who is charge,” who answers for our present lack of water quality? Some even think, understandably so, that it is the Army Corp of Engineers. It is not. Under the law, the state of Florida is responsible for water quality, but with “three cooks in the kitchen,” (DEP, Water Management Districts, and Dept of Agriculture) this is difficult. So with my time on the call, I asked for centralization of enforcement of water quality standards and a strong Lead Agency:
CENTRALIZE THE ENFORCEMENT OF WATER QUALITY STANDARDS. A Majority of water quality regulation is currently housed at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). However, certain water quality standards and monitoring reside within the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) which is overseen by the Commission of Agriculture. DeSantis will work with the Florida legislature to move all components of water quality regulation within the Executive Branch to DEP. This will increase uniformity and ensure that the Secretary of DEP, who is accountable to the Governor, has the tools necessary to meet the water quality standards that Floridians deserve. ~DeSantis for Governor website Sept. 2018.
As we all know, the inauguration is January 8th, 2019. Very exciting! Congratulations Governor DeSantis! And awesome that Congressman Mast is by your side!!
Before we get too excited, let’s not forget…
Today, I will post the website of Governor-Elect Ron DeSantis on the environment so we can remember what was promised and hold the governor and all members of the Transition Advisory Committee on the Environment accountable for next four years. Looking forward to a governor who will protect the environment on day one!
You’ll see that after the rain event, the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon looks terrible even with out Lake Okeechobee discharges. This is caused by directed water runoff from C-23, C-24, C-25, C-44 and “local” coastal runoff. Naturally, the river never took all this water. Humans made it this way, and we must fix it.
Soon after the torrential rain, the Army Corp of Engineers made things even worse and started dumping from Lake Okeechobee through the C-44 Canal into the St Lucie River by opening up the gates at S-308 and S-80.
My husband, Ed, first flew over Lake O on June 1st, just by chance. At this time, he spotted algae on the lake and took a photo. Ironically, the next day, the Army Corp started dumping from Lake Okeechobee on June 2nd!
After another long, hot summer, the Army Corp finally stopped discharging in the fall~October 5th… Take a look at the photos and remember to enjoy the blue water when it is here, but NEVER FORGET! Only though looking back, will we have the determination to change the future.
LAKE OKEECHBEE DISCHARGES ADDED
City of Stuart, June 9 2018.
Rio near Central Marine, week of June 12, 2018
LAKE O: Week of June 16th, June 25th, and July 22nd. Cyanobacteria (blue green algae) blooms and then subsides. ~All the while, this water is dumped into the St Lucie River by the Federal Govt.; the water quality is terrible and this the responsibility not of the Feds but of the State of Florida.
October 5, the ACOE stops dumping from Lake O. The blooms stop almost right away but the damage remains….
What should be normal, was a gift on Christmas Day, blue water in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. The peninsula of Sewall’s Point shone like the gem it is surrounded by aquamarine on both sides: the St Lucie River on its west, and the Indian River Lagoon on its east…
Feeling like the Bahamas, rather than the toxic-sludge we had to endure ~coming mostly from Lake Okeechobee this past summer, 2018, and yes, remember 2016, and 2013….the destruction must stop!
As 2019 edges into the picture, we will once again have to give everything we have to fight for clean water and encourage our state and federal government to support legislation “sending the water south.”
Seeing these beautiful blue waters once again is certainly encouraging. Now to keep the Army Corp and South Florida Water Management District at bay long enough, as projects proceed, and allow our precious seagrass beds to return so baby fish can once again hide, swim, and grow to maturity in these waters; once christened the “most bio-diverse in North America.”
Thank you to my dear husband, Ed, for these photos all taken 12-25-18. And from both of us, “Merry Christmas!”
Photo below as a comparison ___________________________________________________________________________
Recently, the Florida House of Representatives announced its committee appointments made by new House Speaker Jose Oliva. Today, I will note those appointed to environmental committees which, of course, function in the dark ages, bound together with agriculture. Advocates should know these key players and build relationships now, and during the committee process that beings January 8, 2019 ~not once Legislative Session begins in March. Too late!
So here we go…
The really all-powerful Speaker of the House is Jose Oliva who will reign from the end of 2018 to 2020. He is from Miami Lakes and is C.E.O. of Oliva Cigar Co. Read about him below and the committees and representatives over which he has great influence. Congratulations to him on attaining this leadership role that very few achieve.
Speaker Oliva’s environmental appointments are below with an article or two giving background on each appointee. Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee Chair, Rep. Holly Raschein is from Key Largo and a Health Care Special Projects Manager. Vice-chair, Rep. Rick Roth is from West Palm Beach and his heritage is linked to a multi-generational family-farm in the Everglades Agricultural Area. Holly has a track record supporting environmental issues such as the EAA Reservoir and Rick works for the environment within the goals of the EAA Environmental Protection District and the 1994 Everglades Forever Act. Read below about both representatives and what they have to say.
Interestingly, Holly Raschein also serves on the Subcommittee for Agriculture as and Natural Resources as vice-chair to, chair, Chuck Wesley, a College Administrator from Newberry (near Gainesville). Rep Wesley notes that “sustainable agriculture and the environment are some of his top goals.” You can read what he wrote in an op-ed for below. All this sounds good. But what does that really mean? Our job is to hold all of these politicians accountable.
Yes, it is important we know and communicate with who is in charge. I hope you will reach out to all of them through letter best, but email, or phone call helps too. I wish all my readers a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Thank you for reading my blog in 2019. I’m looking forward to seeing what 2019 will bring…
For more information on Florida House of Representatives go here https://www.myfloridahouse.gov. Look at their calendar, see when committees meet, follow what they are reviewing and call, write their office to let them know how much you love Florida and that water is key!
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.
“Florida’s Summer of Slime: Stuart and Lake Okeechobee,” photo essay by John Moran, August 2018
I reported last month on the plight of the Caloosahatchee River and its befouled waters flowing from Lake Okeechobee; delivering slime to waterfront neighborhoods in Fort Myers and Cape Coral along the way to the Gulf Islands of Southwest Florida.
Next up on our Summer of Slime photo tour is a visit to Stuart and Lake O…Stuart and environs is a glistening jewel born of water. It may well top the list of Florida cities in shoreline per capita. There’s simply water everywhere. Two forks of the St. Lucie River, the Indian River Lagoon, canals and peninsulas and islands, and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. Stuart is pictured above; below is neighboring Hutchinson Island.
But it wasn’t Stuart’s reputation for abundant clean water that drew me south from Gainesville with my cameras. In effect, I’ve become a traveling crime scene photographer—and slime is the crime. A devastating outbreak of toxic algae has once again hit the St. Lucie River and the Treasure Coast, fueled by the polluted waters of Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee River basin to the north. Damaging headlines trumpet the story to the nation and the world and Governor Scott has declared a state of emergency. It’s déjà vu all over again.
My hosts in Stuart were water blogger Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch and her husband, Ed Lippisch.
Ed took me up for a photo flight in his Piper Cub so I could get the big picture.
Seen from a small plane at 500 feet, Florida is a beautiful place.
Here’s Lake Okeechobee and the western terminus of the St. Lucie C-44 Canal. Administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Port Mayaca Lock and Dam has the capacity to discharge 14,800 cubic feet of water per second downstream to Stuart and the St. Lucie River Estuary, 26 miles away.
Sugar industry representatives say the water coming out of Lake Okeechobee is not the problem and that the algae outbreak in Stuart is primarily caused by Stuart’s own septic tanks and urban stormwater. This claim is contradicted by the extensive algae mats seen along the C-44 Canal between the Port Mayaca and St. Lucie Locks, well upstream from Stuart.
Lake Okeechobee historically drained south to Florida Bay, not east and west to the Atlantic and Gulf. The C-44 canal was built in 1916 to divert floodwaters to the coast.
A view of the St. Lucie Lock and Dam, several miles southwest of Stuart. On the day of my photo flight in late July, the dam gates were closed, visibly holding back algae from flowing downstream. Look closely and you can see what some people call The Seven Gates of Hell.
The St. Lucie Lock and Dam are an integral part of South Florida’s complex web of water management structures, born of an age when the Everglades was reviled as a watery wasteland and America was driven to drain it.
Below the St. Lucie Lock and Dam, in Palm City and Stuart, you can still find waterfront homes untouched by the algae bloom. But that’s no consolation for the thousands of Martin County residents whose lives are in upheaval once again this summer. The familiar pattern of algae outbreaks is fueled by fertilizer, manure and urban sources of nutrient pollution, including septic tanks.
All of this is compounded by denial and neglect by elected officials and agencies to whom we entrust the important work of environmental protection and public health.
Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch took me on a driving tour of the C-44 Canal from Stuart to enormous Lake O, which is more like a stormwater treatment pond than a biologically healthy lake. “There are toxic algae blooms across the globe, but only one place where the government dumps it on you: Florida,” she says.
It’s not just the algae from Lake Okeechobee causing headaches along Florida’s east coast; the sheer volume of freshwater discharges is an environmental pollutant that overwhelms the estuary.
The Lake O gunk visible in the satellite view, above, is shown in the detail photo below.
Fishermen are still drawn to Port Mayaca. On the day we visited, I counted nine.
Dinner in hand (speckled perch), Felix Gui, Jr. has been fishing Lake O for 30 years. “The algae doesn’t affect the fish,” he says. “They eat the same, algae or no algae, and I haven’t gotten sick.” Experts have warned against eating fish exposed to the algae.
A Martin County Health Department sign at Port Mayaca warns against contact with the water but I saw no messaging about whether fish caught in these waters is safe to eat.
Enroute home to Stuart, Jacqui and I stopped at deserted Timer Powers Park on the St. Lucie Canal in Indiantown.
At the St. Lucie Lock, a surreal scene of impaired water, above, and a vortex of slime, below, waiting to be flushed downstream.
A pair of jet-skiers signaled for the lock to be opened, and another pulse of algae-laden water is released towards Stuart and the coast.
Wouldn’t want to anyway, thanks.
Further downstream, the algae spreads…
Nearing the coast, Rio Nature Park and the neighboring Central Marine in Stuart are slimed again. This was the epicenter of the infamous Treasure Coast algae outbreak of 2016.
Reporter Tyler Treadway of TCPalm gathered a sample of the polluted water from a canal behind the offices of Florida Sportsman magazine in Stuart.
Staff complaints of headaches, nausea and dizziness prompted Florida Sportsman publisher Blair Wickstrom to temporarily close the office in late July. “It smells like death,” he said.
The Shepard Park boat ramp parking lot in Stuart was nearly empty on the day we visited.