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.
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. 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.
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.
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?
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.
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
Today’s blog was inspired by a question on Facebook by beloved Stuart News reporter, Mr Ed Killer.
Yesterday in my blog post, I wrote that I would be going to Apalachicola this week with the UF Natural Resources Leadership Institute. “Ed” commented and this is what he said:
“Tcpalm Ekiller: I want you to think of something while in Apalachicola Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch : That industry is about a $2 mill /yr industry statewide, with most of that impact in that area. While it stinks for the oyster men that lack of water is a problem, we haven’t been allowed to eat an oyster from our estuary since the 1970s because the DEP downgraded the health of our water to class D. We have (FOS & a few other groups) have added more than $2 million in oyster shell projects to the St. Lucie River to help clean our water knowing we can never harvest the oysters.” Ed Killer
This got me thinking, and I thought, “Yeah, what really did happen to our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon oysters and what is their history? In fact, if I think about it, we are surrounded by mounds of ancient oysters, “Indian mounds” that attest to how plentiful they used to be…
Did you know?
Mt Elizabeth, better known today as “Tuckahoe,” at Indian Riverside Park, is said to stands around 40 feet tall. It is a shell mound built up over thousands of years. It consists of oyster shells and some clam shells that come from the Indian River Lagoon region. You can still see the ancient oysters in the dirt under the modern landscaping today.
The native people of our area did not have to hunt game full-time or at all as they had all they needed from the riches of the estuary. In those days the natural inlets opened and closed on their own as they broke through “Hutchinson Island.” Oysters would have been more plentiful when the inlets broke through as they live in brackish waters.
*Note that the first 1882 chart describes Mt. Elizabeth (Tuckahoe) as located at what is now the top of Skyline Drive (Mt Washington) at the location of Jensen Beach Community Church. The 1883 (lettered 1888) map locates Mt. Elizabeth at what is now Indian Riverside Park at the Tuckahoe Mansion. This can be confusing.
Front page of Todd’s video showing a historic view of seeing Mt Elizabeth from the Shoal off shore in the ocean. Some early sailors mixed up Mt Elizabeth (Tuckahoe with Mt Washington (Sky Line Drive).
So what about after the Native Americans? I remember my mother telling me stories of pioneer accounts, after the St Lucie Inlet was opened permanently in 1892, of people eating oysters “as big as a man’s hand.” One a meal in itself!
Obviously the oysters would grow most plentiful by the inlets, like near Sewall’s Point and today’s Hutchinson Island.
So yesterday I wrote my historian mother, “Mom, do you have any information on oysters in IRL?
And she sent a fabulous historic survey, an old post card from Sewall’s Point, and account from the House of Refuge. Basically at that time too, a lot depended upon the inlets. I am including a lot of information, and more than likely “just a read for the history hardcore,” but you’ll get the idea.
But then the decline….
—it began in the 1920s with C-44 and the connection to Lake Okeechobee and then was exacerbated by C-23, C-24 and C-25. “Canals of Death…”We over drained the land, we built houses and scraped the wetlands for agriculture fields….we threw poison and fertilizer on the lands so things would grow and pests would go away…slowly, ever so slowly it drained back into the rivers….For a time, we “flourished,” but it has caught up to us, and our rivers are dying, as Ed Killer said in we’ve been “downgraded to a Class D.” Oysters can’t live in that…
May we bind together and turn things around because no one is going to do it but us. Nature, just like people can heal. We just have to give her a chance.
I. An 1898 excerpt from a magazine of the day about oyster stew made right at the house of Refuge...shared by Sandra Thurlow.
by John Danforth
Excerpted from “Florida Sport” an article in Shooting and Fishing
December 15, 1898
I have decided on one which happened in 1898 in Dade County, Florida. My wife and myself, in company with Ben Crafts, were living on board a twenty-five foot cabin sloop, which had all the conveniences of a shore camp. We cruised on the Indian River, but most of the time we spent on the St. Lucie River and its tributaries.
Our sloop was built by the Bessey brothers especially for cruising the in Florida waters. The Bessey brothers are educated gentlemen, who have modeled and built nearly all the sailing craft owned by the Gilbert’s Bar Yacht Club, and in our sloop they seemed to get as near perfection as one could ask. We had plenty of room for cooking, eating, sleeping and to carry fresh water, provisions, and tackle of all kinds. We had an outfit, so we could leave the sloop anchored, with the cabin locked, and go for a cruise in the woods for days. My object in securing such a boat was not for catching and killing all we could find, but to better support myself and family by becoming a guide for gentlemen who visit Florida for sport.
At the time of which I write the Caribou (our sloop) lay at anchor about a half mile off the mouth of Hup-pee creek in the full moon of June. I had planned to be on the ocean beach at night to welcome the big turtles which come there to deposit their eggs in the sand where they hatch. When their work is done they disappear and are not seen again until the next year at about the same time. From where we lay at anchor to the U. S. Government house of refuge was eight miles across the Indian River. At the house of refuge it was only a stone’s throw from the Indian River to the Atlantic Ocean. The wide sand beach extended north and south as far as the eye could reach was a good place for turtles to come.
We hoisted the mainsail, then the anchor, and as the Caribou moved out Ben set the jib. With the stiff breeze that was blowing we were soon bowling along at lively speed, and it was only a short time when I called Ben to let go the jib. We hove to just off the house of refuge, took in the mainsail, let go the anchor, and soon had things snug for the night. Ben shelled oysters, my wife lighted the gasoline stove, and in a short time we had an oyster stew that was what Ben called “real filling.”
II. 1883 Historic survey as shared by Sandra Thurlow, compliments of surveyor Chappy Young.
S. Coast and Geodetic Survey
E. Hilgard, Superintendent
Topographical Sheet No. 1652
Locality: South End of Indian River
1883 Chief of Party:
S. Coast and Geodetic Survey Office
Washington, Feb. 7th, 1883
Plane Table Sheet No. 1652 Scale 1/20,000
East Coast of Florida Indian River
From Eden Post Office or Richards Southward to Pecks Lake, and including St. Lucie River
Surveyed by E. L. Taney Aid USC&GS in 1882-83, B. A. Colonna Asst. C&GS. Chief of Party
S. Coast and Geodetic Survey
E. Hilgard, Superintendent
On the west Shore of Indian River the ground rises eighty feet above the level of the ordinary height of water in Indian River the higher ridges give quite a pretty land fall when seen four or five miles off shore quite overtopping the land and forest between Indian River and the ocean. On the east shore of Indian River and between it and the ocean the mangrove swamp is about on a level with the water in the River at ordinary stages and near the beach is from 3 to 15 feet above ocean high tide. I had a signal scaffold 45 feet high on top of a hill 82 feet high on the West Side of Indian River (Blue Hill?) from this scaffold I had a fine view of the county to the westward which consisted of numerous parallel ridge of sand with intervening saw-grass ponds the major axis of all of which extended in a northerly & southerly direction. Cattle-men that I met at the St. Lucie P. O. informed me that it was a succession of these ridges back to Okeechobee and that the old government wagon road which ran north and south and was back about 4 to 12 miles from the river was still passable and ran for the most of the distance along such ridges. Nearly all of this country rest on a foundation of marine conglomerate called Cochina [coquina] which is at various depths but occasionally crops out rising from 3 to 5 feet above mean ocean tides. This cochina differs very much in structure from that of Beaufort N. C. and other places north of here, large shells are seldom found in it and some of it presents the appearance of course white or yellow sand stone. When burned it makes a fairly good shell lime and when wet can be readily cut into building blocks with an axe. The sand of which the soil is almost exclusively formed is white or yellowish, it underlies all of the streams, saw-grass ponds, mangrove swamps & two or three feet generally bringings (?) the white sand even in mangrove and other swamps. It is impracticable to dike any of the low grounds because the water on a rise would come in from the bottom. — Whenever pine is indicated there will be found a growth of underbrush of various kinds and ranging in height from 1 to 10 feet. The pine timber itself is of little or no value being of stunted growth and the underbrush is scrub oak, whorttlebun (?), low saw-palmetto etc. etc. Where hard wood is depicted, except the mangrove swamps, the land is always best for cultivation, such hard wood land is called “Hammock-land by the natives and seems to owe its fertility to the fact that cochina lies near the surface and like an impermeable clay holds those chemicals that are gathered from the decaying vegetation, among the trees growing in these hammocks are those locally known as Palmettos, Mastics, Rubber trees, Live Oaks, Iron wood trees, the Crabwood trees and a great variety of others. There are various course grasses growing along the Ocean shore, and several varieties of running cactus, prickly pear in se and mixed in every when, a decided feature on the level sand wastes and elsewhere along the ocean side and occasionally west of the Indian River is the Scrub palmetto, a species of palm that although it has a trunk from 4 to 8 inches in diameter and from 3 to 20 feet in length runs along the ground like a vine and among them progress is very difficult for their trunks cross each other in mast confusion and their leaves are just about 5 feet high and have sharp edges. On the west side of the river among the pines and in the lands along the edges of the saw grass ponds there was nice tender grasses on which deer feed, and I never ate more delicious venison than here. The Indians of whom there are 3 or 400 back in the Glades, remnants of the Seminoles, always burn off the underbrush as much as they can about January or February. The saw grass ponds to which I have alluded are of fresh water generally very shallow and cut up by narrow sloughs or streams, these streams are seldom over 4 feet deep and have hard sandy bottoms on which various water grasses grow. The sawgrass itself has generally in the dry season only 3 or 4 inches of water about its roots but in the wet season the water rises 2 or three feet, the blades of this grass are from 3 to 10 feet long, about an inch wide and their edges are serrated, touch and very sharp. They rapidly cut out the clothing. If there is any hotter place than one of these saw grass ponds when the sun shines down and the myriads of mosquitoes swarm in our face stinging by tens and twenties, I hope it is not on top of the earth. Wherever these saw grass ponds run parallel to the River and within a mile or so of it excellent water can be had had by setting a flour barrel at the river side along the foot of the bluff. But on the east side of Indian River and between it and the Ocean good water is unknown for when fresh it is so strongly impregnated with lime that it is far from wholesome. —The mangroves grow to a greater height here than elsewhere within my experience. The natives divide it into two varieties, the Black and the red. I had the black mangrove cut down from one of the lines of sight that measured 85 feet from roots to top. When season[ed] the mangrove wood looks much like mahogany and is very hard, it takes a high polish. When burned the ashes are very strong in potash, a fact that may prove of value some of these days because the trees are so assessable. The old Gilbert’s Bar entrance, now closed, is shown on this sheet. Whenever the salt and fresh waters meet the mangrove flourishes and such has been the case at Gilbert’s Bar. Once fine oysters grew there and all kinds of fish belonging in these waters were abundant but since the inlet closed the oysters have died and the fish are gone except a few bass and catfish. Just outside however and along the old Gilbert’s Bar (Cochina Reef) there are lots of them Barracuda, Pompano, Bluefish, Cavallies, Green Turtle, Mullet, Sea Bass and a beautiful fish much resembling our Spanish mackerel but having more beautiful colors and very game. Trolling them I have seen them take the hook and bound 5 to 10 feet clear of the water. I had thought the blue-fish game and the taking of it fine sport but one of these beauties far exceeds any thing I ever saw for punk rapidity of motion and beauty of form and color. From October to April the climate is delightful and Indian River is the boatman’s paradise, from May to Sept. the heat although seldom above 85˚ and the mosquitoes and other insets are very troublesome. In all of the waters represented on this sheet eelgrass grows luxuriantly and it is the favorite food and principal feeding ground of the manatee. I have seen a heard of ten feeding in the St. Lucie at one time, they go to bottom, eat, rise, blow the water in a spray from their nostrils and in a few seconds they sink again. Like other grazing animals they feed early in the morning and late after-noon principally. They are very careful of their young and I never saw one turn to flee until the calf was well started. There are a great number of Coots in these waters in the fall & winter and a few ducks. In the woods there are quail, or partridge, and wild turkeys. Very many small birds of various colors migrate from these shores to the Bahama Ids., every winter returning about the first of May. The country in 1880 had but one settlement, it now has several and the tide of immigration seems to be setting towards it. Settlers have located up the St. Lucie near the forks and they are prospecting in every direction. The influences of ocean tides are not felt within the limits of this sheet in the Indian River. During rainy season the water rises one or two feet higher than in the dry season and at all times the prevailing wind exercises great influence— A Northern making high water, a South Easter or S. Wester— making low water. The mean rise and fall of the ocean tide is about 1.8 foot and the prevailing current along the coast is to the Southward. The edge of the Gulf Stream is only 2 or 3 miles off shore and an easterly wind throws it much nearer in-shore the prevailing Southerly current is supposed to be the eddy from the Gulf Stream. The limit of this sheet marks what is probably the northern limit of the successful growth of the Cooco Nut Palm, Oranges, Pineapple, Bananas and sugar cane flourish. The tomato and other vegetables ripen in April, Sweet Potatoes grow the year round and I have eaten from one which I was informed was of two years growth. There was not a horse, an ox, a mule within the limits of this sheet, broken to harness in 1882-3.
House of Refuge No. 2 was the best dwelling within the limits of the sheet and Doctor Baker; was the only place that look[ed] like a home. The Rattle Snake and the largest I have ever seen being from 6 to 7 feet long but they are not very numerous, Alligators are no longer numerous and they have learned to be very shy. Raccoons and opossums are so thick that it is difficult to raise domestic fowls. The wild cats from about 4 ft. 6 ins. from tip to tip when extended, Black Bears come to the beach every year from about the 1st of June and comb it for turtle eggs. When they arrive they are nice and fat and are very good eating but after running (?) up and down the beach so much they get very thin. We were told that a bear could be seen almost any night and once we went over and got one but the mosquitoes were so bad that we did not try it again.
The prettiest land on this sheet is the peninsula laying between the St. Lucie River and the Indian River from Mt. Pleasant South to the point. It is high hammock land, with coquina, foundation and covered by a heavy growth of hard wood and underbrush with now and then a pine. This country had quite a population in it once, just before the Seminole outbreak, and for a time after it, the settlers had oranges, lemons and limes, some of the old trees are still to be found in the vicinity of Eden P. O. and the limes are very fine but the oranges are bitter and the lemons not bearing.
Asst. U. S. G & C. S.
Chief of Party
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.
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….
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)
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?
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…”
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.
Another factor in all of this is—— if you look at the SLR/IRL reports from Florida Oceanographic (http://www.floridaocean.org) over 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!
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….
The article also notes “two key” very threatened and very profitable agricultural industries: sugarcane and oranges.
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!
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.
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 Aphanomycesinvadans 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.
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.)
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?!”
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.”
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.
Right now there are two “Unusual Mortality Events/UMEs” occurring in the Indian River Lagoon and another along the Atlantic Coast. Hundreds of marine mammals and pelicans have died but fortunately the IRL UMEs have slowed down.
The UME for Indian River Lagoon manatees “and pelicans” started in 2012; another for Indian River Lagoon bottle-nosed dolphins that do not usually leave the lagoon began in 2013; and the third for larger Atlantic coast dwelling/migrating bottle-nosed dolphins stated around 2012/13. According to state and federal agencies, the Indian River Lagoon UMEs are “mysterious,” but thankfully “they” can say they know the Atlantic dolphin UME is “morbillavirus,” or dolphin measles.
Interesting how in the Indian River Lagoon, the UMEs coincide with the also “mysterious” loss of 60% of its seagrasses since 2009/10; this situation really “crashed” and became public in 2013, simultaneous with the dumping from Lake Okeechobee and the peoples’ River Movement in Martin and St Lucie Counties in the southern lagoon.
For every day folk, unlike our federal and state agencies, there is no “mystery,” there simply is not enough left for the animals to eat. While being so critical, I should note a commonly spread falsehood, “that the releases from Lake Okeechobee are causing the die off in the northern/central lagoon,” is untrue. Certainly they negativelyaffect and help cause disease in the souther lagoon, but Brevard and Volusia counties, over a hundred miles north, are too distant for the releases to be killing these animals directly. Particularly northern lagoon dolphins who are very territorial and generally stay in either the north.
Nonetheless, it is worth noting that the southern lagoon right now, especially the Ft Pierce area, is one of the few half-way healthy areas remaining, so dumping that is pushed up to Ft Pierce Inlet, from Stuart, is part of an overall death for the IRL: north and central horrid algae blooms and UMEs, and then the southern lagoon’s problems with Lake Okeechobee releases and its other canals causing seagrass loss, up to 85% according to Florida Oceanographic’s Mark Perry.
So UMEs in the IRL and seagrass loss are related and the agencies recognize this connection but still consider the UMEs a “mystery.”
To close, one of the concerns of Stephen McCulloch, former director of the marine mammal department at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, is that southwardly migrating dolphins along the Atlantic coast could enter the Indian River Lagoon, or a rare lagoon dolphin may exit an inlet and interact with oceanic dolphins then spreading morbillavirus among the already “mysteriously sick” Indian River Lagoon dolphins.
McCulloch is concerned if the virus entered the lagoon, it could “kill them all.”
There were fewer than one thousand in the lagoon loosely documented before the 2013 IRL dolphin UME and now it is accepted that over 10 percent of those have died. This, as all marine mammal health, is a very serious matter.