Tag Archives: FOS

Lake Okeechobee is Definitely “Point Source Pollution,” SLR/IRL

Algae bloom in Lake Okeechobee is estimated to be 263 square miles as shown in this NOAA satellite image on 7-2-16 shared by FOS on 7-6-16.
Cropped image, full image at end of this post. Red shows algae bloom’s size as calculated and drawn by Todd Thurlow. The present bloom in Lake Okeechobee is estimated to be 239 square miles as shown in this NOAA satellite image on 7-2-16 and shared by FOS on 7-6-16.

In the aftermath of last week’s media frenzy and State of Emergencies, let’s consider the following:

1.This year, the ACOE has been discharging from Lake Okeechobee into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon since January 29th, 2016. This has caused the estuary’s waters to become fresh.

2. Lake Okeechobee is a freshwater lake and this year contains a gigantic algae bloom that was first documented to be 33 square miles located in the south-eastern quadrant of the lake, on May 9th, 2016. This bloom is cyanobacteria/microcystis, a fresh water bloom. It does not grow in salt/brackish water. As the estuary has been made fresh, the cyanobacteria can grow here too. This bloom in the lake is now approximately 239 square miles as calculated by my brother Todd Thurlow. Florida Oceanographic has shared this overlay on a NOAA satalite image.

 

Shared on Facebook by person flying over lake o in early May.
Shared on Facebook by person flying over lake O in early May, bullsugar.org

3. On May 23rd, 2016, Martin County reported that a sample  was taken by DEP (The Florida Department of Environmental Protection) upstream of S-308 at Port Mayaca,  at 24.4 micrograms per liter (mpl) qualifying as a threat to human health by the World Health Organization’s limit of 10 micrograms per liter. According to Mark Perry two more samples were taken on June 15th and came back at 280 mpl and 387 mpl. The government obviously knew this bloom was toxic, but they kept dumping and did not warn people of what could occur.

4. As the the river was becoming full of algae, on May 30th, 2016 my husband Ed Lippisch flew over S-80 taking photos of algae going through S-80 into the east side of the C-44 canal and into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. This was done again later by  Dr Scott Kuhns. The algae has been coming through for months.

5-30-16 Ed Lippisch
S-80 5-30-16 Ed Lippisch

 

S-30 5-30-16 Ed Lippisch
S-30 5-30-16 Ed Lippisch

5. More photos were taken and shared to document the bloom in the lake on June 26, 2016 as citizen were concerned about algae bloom in the St Lucie River and even beaches but no communication from state or federal agencies as to causes was provided. The people had to blow up before the government would do anything.

Pilot Dave Stone Lake Okeechobee bloom 6-26-16
Pilot Dave Stone Lake Okeechobee bloom 6-26-16

6. By June 29th, 2016 the St Lucie River’s bloom was “peaking” and blooms were reported along the river in every area of the county. People were panicking. By June 29th, 2016, finally the Martin County Commission, and then Governor Scott had called for a “State of Emergency”  helpful for recovering monetary losses but not for health protections or stopping the discharges from Lake O.

Jamie Burns week of June 26th, St Lucie River full of algae bloom from Palm City to Sewall's Point.
Jamie Burns week of June 26th, St Lucie River full of algae bloom from Palm City to Sewall’s Point.
Canal off of Sunset Trail near North River Shores, Stuart. Week of 6-29 Duncan family.
Canal off of Sunset Trail near North River Shores, Stuart. Week of June 26th,  Baskin family.

7. After emergency state,  ACOE’s Col Kirk toured the area and thankfully the ACOE temporarily cut back but did not stop releases to the estuaries.

8. At the tail-end of this crisis something very serious happened. This Tuesday it was reported that the bloom at Bathtub Beach tested on June 30th registered at 414 micro grams per liter. 10 qualifies as toxic. This number is off the chart. This number sits on a DEP web site but no one is discussing it. Why not?

Alge bloom at Bathtub Beach week of June 26th. JTL
Alge bloom at Bathtub Beach week of June 26th. JTL
Report on Bathtub Beach DEP
Report on Bathtub Beach DEP

Link to DEP Algal Bloom Monitoring and Response: https://depnewsroom.wordpress.com/south-florida-algal-bloom-monitoring-and-response/

How can something so dangerous to our citizens and wildlife not be stopped when we know where it is coming  from?

Certainly our own dirty water runoff, fertilizer, and our own disgusting septic tanks exacerbate the situation, but they did not start this algae debacle. Dumping from Lake Okeechobee did. This needs to stop.

Under present water law Lake Okeechobee is does not quality as “point source pollution.” If it did a permit would be required to dump into our estuaries. The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) is the point source discharge permit program authorized by Section 402 of the Clean Water Act.

“All point source discharges to surface waters (“Waters of the United States”) must have an NPDES permit. Permits are issued by EPA and authorized state programs.”

And the bloom? As mentioned, it is getting bigger.

Yes, according to Florida Oceanographic Society, it has grown from 33 square miles to approximately 239 square miles, almost half the lake.

Maybe if it fills the entire lake it won’t only be point source pollution, but the government will get the point. The government is now regretfully poisoning its own people. Laws must be changed. The state’s pluming must be changed. Lake Okeechobee is definitely the point–the point of our point source pollution.

Link to NPDES: https://www.epa.gov/npdes

 New calculations estimate the algae bloom in Lake Okeechobee to be 239 square miles. Based on the latest images from NASA on July 2nd, the algae bloom has grown from 33 square miles on May 9th to now take up almost 1/3 of the lake. "This toxic algae is what has been discharged into the St. Lucie Estuary and the Indian River Lagoon, making its way through our waterways and onto local beaches. We need to stop the discharges from Lake Okeechobee and send the water south the Everglades, where it is desperately needed." - Mark Perry, Executive Director

New calculations estimate the algae bloom in Lake Okeechobee to be 239 square miles. Based on the latest images from NASA on July 2nd, the algae bloom has grown from 33 square miles on May 9th to now take up almost 1/3 of the lake.
“This toxic algae is what has been discharged into the St. Lucie Estuary and the Indian River Lagoon, making its way through our waterways and onto local beaches. We need to stop the discharges from Lake Okeechobee and send the water south the Everglades, where it is desperately needed.” – Mark Perry, Executive Director (Image created and calculated  from NOAA image by Todd Thurlow)

Latest Coverage via Florida Oceanographic Society:
Watch Full Video of WPBF 25 News Special: Algae Crisis from 7/6
Reeking, Oozing Algae Closes South Florida Beaches, New York Times
Toxic Algae Bloom Severely Impacts Local Businesses, CNN
Florida’s Biggest Lake Fouls Coastlines, Orlando Sentinel
Scientist Cautions Blue-Green Algae Can Have Serious Health Impact, WPBF News
Toxic Algae Bloom Crisis Hits Florida, Drives Away Tourists, Tampa Bay Times
Algae Stink Mucking Up Beaches, Business, Stuart Residents Say, WFTV News

NPDES:https://www.epa.gov/npdes

Getting the Numbers Straight With U.S. Sugar, SLR/IRL

 

This pie chart shows an average of Lake O discharges in acre feet to the estuaries from 1996-2015. (Dr Gary Goforth 2015)
This pie chart shows an average of Lake O discharges in acre feet to the estuaries from 1996-2015. (Dr Gary Goforth 2015)

After last Thursday’s WRAC meeting at the South Florida Water Management District, I left somewhat miffed.

(http://www.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/xweb%20about%20us/meetings)

The numbers seemed wrong….

These meetings are difficult to follow, and almost surreal at times.  On Thursday, this was especially true with “paid” protesters yelling outside against the option land purchase, and afterwards the group’s slick sun-glassed/suit-wearing organizer coming inside to pat one of the WRAC members on the back.

I sat there thinking “life really is stranger than fiction,” no wonder south Florida satirist and writer Carl Haaisen says almost all of his material is “simply out of the newspapers…”

Another oddity for me was when Bubba Wade, representing US Sugar Corporation, during WRAC members’ comments referencing “2013,”  in defense of not purchasing the option lands, quoted the acre footage of water to the St Lucie Estuary/IRL as “4.5 million acre feet annually,” —and thus justifying that if the 26,000 acre option lands located south of the lake were purchased, even with that water “exchanged,” it would never be “enough…”

I’m thinking to myself: “445,000—4.5 million…I saw  “that” number in a Palm Beach Post article too, but I swear it said billion and not million acre feet….where are these numbers coming from? Is Bubba using the right numbers? I think they are wrong….Am I wrong?”

After the meeting, I even walked up to Mr Wade, who I have met on many occasions and feel I have a good working relationship with saying: “Bubba, where did you get your numbers?  I am almost sure the St Lucie River, no maybe the estuaries received around 1.5 million acre feet of water in 2013, not 4.5 million acre feet to the SLR. What are the numbers? If we can’t agree on what numbers we are talking about, how we ever agree on anything at all? ”

Bubba was talking out loud trying to figure where he got his numbers, and I was wondering where I got mine as well…in the end we just stared at each other…

When I got home I consulted Dr Gary Goforth. I have interpreted and put into laymen terms what he wrote to me below.

It shows that the numbers change depending on what years one is talking about, and over how long a period of time.

First of all…. : For calendar year 2013, 1.584 million acre feet of Lake water was sent to the estuaries… The St Lucie gets about 20% of that…. But in figuring out “distribution,” one does not just look at one year….Dr Goforth shared again his hand out from last month’s SFWMD Governing Board meeting:

The chart below shows in acre feet, the “distribution of Lake Okeechobee releases from  water years 1996-2015.” “20 years” of reference, gives a more accurate estimate of the long-term average of annual values than a shorter time period. Of course every year annual flows vary. For years 1996-2015 the average number of acre feet to the SLR/IRL  is 270, 224.

This pie chart shows an average of Lake O discharges in acre feet to the estuaries from 1996-2015. (Dr Gary Goforth 2015)
This pie chart shows an average of Lake O discharges in acre feet to the estuaries from 1996-2015. (Dr Gary Goforth 2015)
This chart, taken from the ACOE and SFWMD and shown here in a slide presentation by Mark Perry of Florida Oceanographic, shows a 10 year period from 1996-2005.
This chart, taken from the ACOE and SFWMD and shown here in a slide presentation by Mark Perry of Florida Oceanographic, shows a 10 year period from 1996-2005.

The above chart is different as it shows a ten-year, not a twenty-year average, 1996-2005). Here the number, 442,000 looks more like  Bubba’s 4.5 million acre feet. (I found this chart in Mark Perry’s presentation on his website at Florida Oceanographic.)This must be the chart Bubba Wade was referring to…?

Which number is better? Which number is correct? That depends what one is trying to prove. Right? 🙂

In any case, when quoting numbers, it is good to know which reference chart one is quoting. One one should also reference which chart one is using….This goes for me as well as for Mr Wade of U.S. Sugar….

Heading of Dr Goforth's chart showing estimated releases from Lake O to SLR from 1931-2013.
Heading of Dr Goforth’s chart showing estimated releases from Lake O to SLR from 1931-2013.
A section of Dr Goforth's chart 1988-2013.
A section of Dr Goforth’s chart 1988-2013. Years 1988-2013 showing acre feet flows from Lake O to SRL.
Lake Okeechobee conversion sheet, Everglades Coalition break out session, 2015.
Lake Okeechobee water/conversion sheet, Everglades Coalition break out session, 2015.

_______________________________

WRAC, SFWMD, (http://www.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/xweb%20about%20us/wrac)

Mr Malcom (Bubba) Wade, US Sugar Corporation, (http://www.ussugar.com/press_room/bios/wade_bio.html)

Dr Gary Goforth: (http://garygoforth.net)

Florida Oceanographic/Mark Perry’s power point presentations: (http://www.floridaocean.org/p/233/advocacy-environment#.VSKHyrrRwl8)

_____________________________________

This photo is to reference a comment on this blog:

Page 16 of Jeff Kivett's System constraints document, SFWMD, 2015 as shown to respond to blog comment. 4-7-15
Page 16 of Jeff Kivett’s System constraints document, SFWMD, 2015 as shown to respond to blog comment. 4-7-15
This is THE photo where the 4.5 million acre feet comes from. Thank you to Christine Stapleton of the Palm Beach Post for sharing when I asked where she got her sources for her article referred to in comments in this blog post.  THE PROBLEM with the slide is that this is referring to ALL WATER into the estuaries: "local runoff" and Lake Okeechobee water. This conversation is not about ALL WATER/"LOCAL" runoff water---it is about Lake Okeechobee and how the ACOE and SFWMD make us take this water that IS NOT  OURS. The 4.5 M number makes it sound like it is not possible to fix lake O. This is untrue. IT is fixable at 1.5 million acre feet or even twice that much. If nothing else the issue could be alleviated.
4-7-15: This is THE source where the 4.5 million acre feet comes from. (Jeff Kivett’s SFWMD constraints doc.) Thank you to Christine Stapleton of the Palm Beach Post for sharing when I asked where she got her sources for her article referred to in comments in this blog post. THE PROBLEM with the slide is that this is referring to ALL WATER into the estuaries: “local runoff” and Lake Okeechobee water. This conversation, this blog post, the land purchase south of the lake,  is not about ALL WATER/”LOCAL” runoff water—it is about Lake Okeechobee water and how the ACOE and SFWMD make us take this water that IS NOT OURS. The 4.5 M number mentioned by Mr Wade or Ms Stapleton makes it sound like it is not possible to “fix” lake O, or to buy enough land that would help the estuaries or hold clean, and convey water,. This is untrue. It is “fixable” at 1.5 million acre feet or even twice that much. If nothing else the issue of lake O being the toxic nail in our estuaries could be half way alleviated. 

If “Off With Their Heads” is Not an Option, What is? Documenting the Destructive Discharges 2015, SLR/IRL

Reenactment of canon fire at the Castillo, St Augustine, 2015. (Photo Ed Lippisch)
Reenactment of canon fire at the Castillo, St Augustine, 2015. (Photo Ed Lippisch)
Flying north at convergence  of SLR/IRL at St Lucie Inlet.  (Photo Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, 3-18-15.)
Flying north at convergence of SLR/IRL at St Lucie Inlet. Brown polluted-sediment water of Lake Okeechobee fills the estuary turning a usually blue/green area dark brown. (Photo Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, 3-18-15.)
Standing at the St Augustine Bride over the Matnazas River. (Photo Ed Lippisch 2015)
Standing at the St Augustine Bridge over the Matnazas River. (Photo Ed Lippisch 2015)

My photos of dark waters of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon were taken on Wednesday, 3-18-15 as my husband, Ed, flew us to St Augustine for a Thurlow Family trip my mother organized, in “America’s oldest city.”

Seeing the destructive view of the discharges on our way north was not a good visual, but before we’d left St Augustine, I had learned that their river, very much like the Indian River Lagoon, is named “The Matanzas” meaning “River of Slaughter” in memory of Spain’s Don Pedro Menendez ‘ and his men’s decapitation of the shipwrecked colony of French Huguenots  in 1565. During the massacre, the river “ran with blood…” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matanzas_River)

Today our river runs with death as well, albeit a different kind…but we do not live in an age where if you are trying to displace someone, or don’t support their belief system, you chop their heads off….So what then can we do other than try to entice our dear government, to purchase land south of Lake Okeechobee to store, clean and convey water south the Everglades?

We can ask them to “document” what is happening….That sounds reasonable.

I have been reading the book: “Conservation in Florida, It’s History and Heros” by Gary L. White. Originally “the Department of Natural Resources,” the precursor to today’s  Department of Environmental Protection, did what it could to protect resources rather just be in charge of permits to destroy such.

I think until the Department of Environmental Protection removes the word “protection” from its name, it still has an obligation to “protect” which also means to “document.”

Seagrasses—fish species—-coral reefs and fish species–oysters—-marine mammals—birds—-aquatic plants——–all that is being lost….

It’s pathetic that the agency is not doing this already. Documenting loss forces state and federal agencies to “do something.” Otherwise, the destruction just continues and everyone “forgets” life was ever there. We owe this to future generations if nothing else.

If you agree, would you please contact the “Department’s” new Secretary, who is a cabinet member of Governor Scott. Please ask him if the agency could document what is happening here is the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon or maybe “protect” it in some way since that word it is still in their name….

Jonathan P.  Steverson DEP Secretary: 850-245-2011. Mr Tom Frick is in charge of Environmental Restoration for our part of the state; his number 850-245-7518. (http://www.dep.state.fl.us

You can reference what Florida Oceanographic states on its website: (http://www.floridaocean.org)

In the St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon area, several “protected areas” are now bing impacted, including two “state aquatic preserves:”

“1. The Indian River Lagoon National Estuary,” running from south of Ft Pierce to Jupiter Inlet that is a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA,) as well as an Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA,) “Essential Fish Habitat for Seagrass.” 2. Another area being impacted by the Lake Okeechobee discharges is the “St Lucie Inlet State Preserve Reefs, and Nearshore Reefs” nominated by NOAA for “National Marine Sanctuary Designation.” 

The SLR/SIRL estuary,coastal-ecosystem and habitat has been documented by Dr Grant Gilmore, formerly of Harbor Branch, and others to be “the most bio diverse estuary in North America with habitat for more than 4,000 species of plants and animals, including 36 endangered and threatened species.”

–Where is the protection for these areas? Where are the agencies that are charged with enforcing these protections? 

2.
2. IRL and SLR converge at Crossroads by St Lucie Inlet then IRL runs north between starting at Sailfish Point and Sewall’s Point. This area has been documented as the most bio diverse marine environment in North America.
3.
3. Sailfish Point
4.
4. Sailfish Flats
5.
5. Sailfish Flats
6. Jensen Beach Bridge
6. Jensen Beach Bridge

 

My nieces look over the Matanzas River from the Lighthouse in St (Photo Jenny Flaugh 2015) .
My nieces look over the Matanzas River from the Lighthouse in St Augustine. (Photo Jenny Flaugh 2015) .

 

Understanding Why Sometimes Some Things Don’t Make Sense, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Waters in St Lucie River on west side of Sewall's Point, (Photo Ed Lippisch)
Lake O water and some area canal water flowing through SLR after ACOE opened  S-308 on 1-16-15. (Waters in St Lucie River east of Roosevelt Bridge) Photo taken  1-25-15 by  Ed Lippisch)

One thing to remember is that the St Lucie River and many parts of the Indian River Lagoon are “impaired,” as determined by the state of Florida at least by 2002 and 2008:

SLR impairment: (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/southeast/ecosum/ecosums/SLE_Impairment_Narrative_ver_3.7.pdf)

IRL impairment: (http://waterwebprod.dep.state.fl.us/basin411/indianriver/assessment/G5AS-IRL_Low-Res-Merge.pdf)

This basically means any number of things, but mostly, that there is too much “nutrient” (phosphorus and nitrogen) in the water. This comes from many sources and all of the sources should be addressed. These nutrients encourage algae blooms, sometimes toxic,  destroying seagrasses, water clarity, and other “life.”

So no matter how “good” today’s water quality reports may be, or how good the water looks, or whether the Martin County Health Department reports “acceptable” levels of bacteria in the water, the waters of our area are “impaired.” This is especially true, “under the water” where one really can’t see unless you dive in with a mask and flippers.

The state saw this “impairment” status coming for decades due mostly to Florida’s  development boom and the gigantic and historic role of agriculture, but…..

Yes, the key word is “but,” it happened any way…

 

More recently, on January 16th of 2015, the Army Corp of Engineers (ACOE) started dumping from Lake Okeechobee into the SLR/IRL again. This is early in the year to start dumping and historically this foreshadows a bad summer—-BUT Lake O. was high and the ACOE and South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) like to have 3 to 4 feet of “freeboard” in the lake so if a hurricane comes in summer and the diked lake fills with  3-4 feet of water, the Herbert Hoover Dike doesn’t break. They don’t like the lake to be over 15.5 feet or so.  It is “best” if the lake is around 12 feet by summer–BUT they will never tell you that——something to do with “water supply…”

Chart  releases 2-15-14 by the SFWMD showing releases from Lake O since January into SLR/IRL.
Chart releases 2-24-14 by the SFWMD showing releases from Lake O since January into SLR/IRL.

The above chart provided by the SFWMD shows all releases since January into the SLR/IRL. Blue is Lake O. The ACOE stopped for one week starting  February 17th so Martin County could complete a bacteria study.

During this time I went up in the plane with my husband; the water looked great in the Crossroads by Sewall’s Point and the St Lucie Inlet as it was an incoming tide and releases had been halted.

One might think: “Oh the water is healthy again!”

Remember, it is not.

SLR/ILR Crossroads 2-22-15. (Photo JTL)
SLR/ILR Crossroads 2-22-15. (Photo JTL)
SLR/IRL convergence waters between Sewall's Point and Sailfish Point 2-22-15. (JTL)
SLR/IRL convergence waters between Sewall’s Point and Sailfish Point 2-22-15. (JTL)

Another factor in all of this is—— if you look at the SLR/IRL reports from Florida Oceanographic (http://www.floridaocean.orgover the entire time of the recent releases,  measuring salinity; visibility; and dissolved oxygen, the reports are quite good. And they are good, but this does not remove the “impaired status” of the river. 

I apologize they are out-of-order below, but I could not achieve better with out great time and effort.

You can click on the images to enlarge the reports. These charts basically show a consistent grading of  “B to A”  water quality in the SLR/IRL since January 8, 2015—- other than the South Fork which of course is where the water from Lake Okeechobee is coming into the St Lucie River through C-44!

Anyway, to repeat again, one must remember that at all times and in all places right now no matter how pretty or how good a chart looks,  our St Lucie River and parts of the Indian River are “impaired.”

We must work to improve the status of our rivers by lessening  area freshwater canal runoff; our own “personal pollution” though fertilizer, septic and other stuff we put on our yards and down the sink; from roads/cars–Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) canals are everywhere and have no “cleaning;”  and most of all, we must work to one day redirect as much water away from Lake Okeechobee as possible.

The purchase of land in the Everglades Agricultural Area south of the lake is about the only place this can be achieved.

It is all so confusing sometimes, BUT one thing is for sure, the more we learn, the more we can help and inspire others to clean up our rivers!

 

FOS
FOS 1. 1-8-15
2.
2.

photo 1 photo 2 photo 5 photo 3

FOS charts out of order showing water quality.
FOS charts out of order showing water quality.

 

 

The Future of Oranges, Sugarcane, and Drainage Gates, National Geographic, SLR/IRL

National Geographic magazine's February 2015 issue article "Treading Water," discusses among other things, the loss/threat to sugarcane south of Lake Okeechobee. (NG, photo of page 119.)
National Geographic’s February 2015 issue has an article entitled “Treading Water,” which discusses among other things, sea level rise and the future loss/threat to sugarcane and oranges south and around Lake Okeechobee in Florida. (NG, photo of page 119.)

My husband Ed was out of town on Friday, so I thought I would get some reading done on something other than the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. That evening, with the dogs at my feet, I began reading the February issue of National Geographic magazine, a publication my parents filled our family home with, and I have kept subscribing to as a window to the outside wonders of our world.

After reading articles on the terrible trauma of “blast force” to US soldiers that served in Iraq and Afghanistan; Hawaiian identity and the sea; and the amazing microscopic revelations of mites; —–at the very end of the magazine, there was an article entitled: TREADING WATER about climate change, seal level rise, and South Florida.

The article focused quite a bit  on a Dutch company that sees “profit rather than loss” in floating houses in trendy Miami, but also mentioned a few things that had little silver lining such as an insert on page 112, entitled, “Home on the Water.” This insert briefly noted the 2,100 miles of canals, (that we are all so familiar with), that have been built over the past century to drain the Everglades and empty the state’s water mostly into the Atlantic Ocean. (FOS, 1.7 billion gallon a day on average….)

According to the article, if there is two feet of sea level rise, conservatively predicted by 2060, the gates  draining the lands around lake Okeechobee and the Everglades,  “will no longer work…”

I’ll be 95 in 2060….hope I can get out of the nursing home to see….

National Geographic page 112. "Given two feet of sea level rise, more than 80 % of the gates will no longer work."
National Geographic page 112. “Given two feet of sea level rise, more than 80 % of the gates will no longer work.”

The article also notes “two key” very threatened and very profitable agricultural industries: sugarcane and oranges.

National Geographic magazine's February 2015 issue article "Treading Water," discusses among other things, the loss/threat to sugarcane south of Lake Okeechobee. (NG, photo of page 119.)
National Geographic magazine’s February 2015 issue article “Treading Water,” shows locations of sugarcane in the Everglades Agricultural Area, and orange groves both north and south Lake Okeechobee.  (NG, photo of page 119.)

Food for thought….

Sea level rise is a factor I deal with as a commissioner in the Town of Sewall’s Point and have been exposed to through the Florida League of Cities. The sea has risen before and it is rising again. Too bad humanity is speeding things up, but we are…

After listening to many state agencies and scientists speak on the issue, I  personally do not believe Florida will be abandoned or”sink.” I think it will rise in new form, adapting to change as humanity has done for thousands if not millions of years.

Nonetheless,  if I owned sugar groves in the Everglades Agriculture Area, I’d have an exit strategy; if I worked for the Army Corp of Engineers, or South Florida Water Management District, I would reexamine the plumbing; and if I were Florida’s governor, or legislature, I would be talking to scientists about the advantage of fresh water on the land south of lake, pushing back salt water coming up from below and providing drinking water in the future to all those people living on floating houses in Miami…

So much for reading about the “rest of the world”…our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon/ Everglades issues are inescapable!

________________________________________________

National Geographic Magazine: (http://www.nationalgeographic.com)

FOS: (http://www.floridaocean.org)

Town of Sewall’s Point: (http://sewallspoint.org )—FEMA houses being lifted, flood map changes are just a few of the things the town is dealing with in regard to sea level rise.

Fresh Water Pollution, a Destructive Force in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Fresh water releases from local canals C-23, C-24 C-44 and polluted fresh water from Lake Okeechobee cover near shore reefs off of Stuart and Jupiter Island, 2013. (Photo Ed Lippisch)
Fresh water releases from basin runoff through local canals C-23, C-24, and C-44 as well as  polluted fresh water from releases from Lake Okeechobee through C-44, cover near shore reefs off of Stuart and Jupiter Island. (Photo MC archives,  2011.)

The concept that fresh water is a “pollutant” is sometimes confusing as we typically associate pollution with heavy metals, nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen from fertilizer, and muck accumulation, on the bottom of the river, from sediments running off of lands, through canals. Believe it or not, too much fresh water is just as polluting and has dire consequences for the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.

This is historically ironic as well, as when the Ais Indians lived in this area,  the St Lucie River was a large fresh water “stream.” Throughout history, most of the time, the “St Lucie,” was not connected to the ocean. The natural inlet at what was later called “Gilbert’s Bar” by the Spanish was  sometimes open, sometimes not, but never for too long, and the inlet opening was much smaller and shallower than today’s St Lucie Inlet.

Yes, we are going back,  before we go forward, but history is important to know!

The “St Lucie Inlet” was permanently opened by hand using shovels, in 1892, by local pioneers who wanted access to the ocean for trade and communication. They had no idea that by doing this they would create “the most bio-diverse estuary in North America.”

As the salt water came in and mixed with the fresh water of the St Lucie and the “fresher than today’s water” of the Indian River Lagoon, one ecosystem, a freshwater ecosystem was destroyed by the salt, and another was born.

Over time, more fish and critters entered the St Lucie/ Southern Indian River Lagoon than at any other time in known history. The forks of the St Lucie, north and especially north, remained more “fresh” as the salt water usually did not go up that high into those areas. Perfect! Salt and fresh water fishing! It was a unique situation and as mentioned in the day before yesterday’s blog, presidents and other famous people swarmed to the St Lucie for its amazing fishing during this era, and all enjoyed.

Then things changed. In the late 1920s and early 30s, due to flooding  of agricultural lands and bad hurricanes killing people living and working in the southern area surrounding the lake, the Army Corp built the C-44 canal from Lake Okeechobee to the south fork of the St Lucie River.  Then in the 50s and 60s they built canals C-23 and C-24 as part of the Central and South Florida Flood System, another “flood protection project.”  Although all of these drainage programs helped agriculture, especially the sugar industry south of the lake, and citrus, in mostly St Lucie and parts of Okeechobee counties, as well as greedy developers, it did not help the St Lucie River. In fact, these drainage canals have been slowly killing the St Lucie and Indian River Lagoon ever since.

How?

Through many things, but believe it or not, mostly through fresh water.

Once the estuary (St Lucie/IRL) became brackish, a mixture of fresh and salt water, this delicate balance was important to the fish, mammals and others critters that made the river/lagoon their home in this new found paradise.

Briefly, I will summarize some of the killer effects of fresh water on its residents:

1. Fish: When there is too much fresh water the fish get lesions. This is from a fungus that only can live and operate in a fresh environment. The name of the fungus is Aphanomyces invadans and its spores get into fish skin when temperatures are low and water is fresh causing horrible lesions. More lesions have been reported over time in the St Lucie River that any other site in Florida according to the FDEP report at the end of this blog. The worst outbreak was in 1998 after the ACOE had been releasing fresh water from Lake Okeechobee in the winter months due to heavy rains. Thousands of fisherman were reporting fish with lesions; it is well accepted in the literature of our state agencies that this outbreak was connected to the gigantic releases of fresh water from Lake O.

Striped mullet with lesions. St Lucie River, 1998. (Photo, DEP State of Florida.)
Striped mullet with lesions. St Lucie River, 1998. (Photo, DEP State of Florida.)

2. Bottle nosed dolphins: Dr Gregory Bossert formerly, of Harbor Branch, has done extensive research into lobo-mycosis, an awful skin disease, in dolphins of the SLR/IRL. The highest number of dolphins with lobo in the entire 156 mile Indian River Lagoon system from Jupiter to New Smyrna Beach, are in the Stuart to Sebastian area. Dr Bossert’s 2009-20014 “Application for a Scientific Research Permit” to NOAA states on page 59:

“Water quality in the central and southern segments of the lagoon, is influenced by infusion of water from flood control drainage canals, e.g., in particular, run-off form agricultural watersheds and fresh water releases from Lake Okeechobee. (Sime, 2005.) Discharges from these sources introduce higher amounts of nutrients, metals, pesticides and suspended solids into the system (Woodward-Clyde, 1994). Analysis of spatial distribution of presumptive cases showed that the highs rates occurred in the IRL  segments 3 and 4 confirming our earlier observations.” (Mazzoil, 2003/Rief, 2006).”

(Sections 3 and 4 are the “south central” and “south” IRL/SLR-from-south of Sebastian Inlet, to Stuart’s St Lucie Inlet. IRL dolphins are “site specific” staying usually in a 30 mile range. The St Lucie River is considered part of the southern IRL.)

S. Indian River Lagoon Dolphin with lobo mycosis. (Photo Dr Gregory Bossert.)
S. Indian River Lagoon Dolphin with lobo mycosis. (Photo Dr Gregory Bossert.)

3. Seagrasses: Seagrasses are the basis of health for the entire SRL/IRL. Seagrasses that live in an “estuary” need sunlight and brackish (part salt/part fresh) water to survive. among other problems, the fresh water releases cause turbidity in the water so the grasses can’t get light and they die. Mark Perry of Florida Oceanographic states that during the Lake Okeechobee and canal releases from 2013, that lasted five months, up to 85 percent of the seagrasses died around the St Lucie Inlet. All nursery fishes are affected by this and of course it goes right up the food chain. Manatees, an endangered species, that live exclusively off of seagrasses, are very affected and reduced to eating drift algae that in some cases kills them. Dolphins are swimming around saying: “Where are the fish?!”

Unhealthy looking seagrasses coated in algae as seen 6-14 near Sewall's Point at low tide. (Aerial photo, Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch)
Unhealthy looking seagrasses coated in algae as seen 6-14 near St Lucie Inlet at low tide. (Aerial photo, Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch)

4. Near shore reefs: The reef system in our area is the northern most of a tropical reef system that goes all the way south to the Keys. It cannot survive with fresh water dumping sediment on its delicate system and altering the salinity of the St Lucie Inlet. Insaine. These reefs are supposedly “protected.”

Freshwater pollution and near shore reef, St Lucie Inlet. (Photo JTL, 2013)
Freshwater pollution and near shore reef, St Lucie Inlet. (MC archives, 2011.)

I could go on and on, but I will stop here. I’m sure you get the point. Salinity is a delicate and important part of a healthy estuary. Generally short lived fresh water releases during heavy rains by our local canals are bad enough, but long term dumping of Lake Okeechobee releases on top of that, is certain death. It must stop. Send the water south.

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FDEP, SLR Impairment/fish lesions: (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/southeast/ecosum/ecosums/SLE_Impairment_Narrative_ver_3.7.pdf )

WETLANDS Volume 25, SFWMD, Estuary in Distress: (SRL/IRL:http://www.evergladesplan.org/pm/recover/recover_docs/cems/cem_st_lucie_irl.pdf)