Tag Archives: History

Sunrise Rotary’s 2nd Annual Water Forum, Public Health as it Relates to the River

Thank you to Rotarians Mr Larry Lavargna and Ms Elmira Gainey for co-chairing Stuart-Sunrise Rotary’s 2nd Annual Water Forum, Public Health as it Relates to the St Lucie River. There are few instances where so many influential water voices come together to speak on the river as it relates to public health and for a question/answer period after each to boot. A excellent public forum!

I noticed that of all the speakers, Dr Gary Goforth had written out his talk, thus in case you were unable to attend,  I asked if he would share. His words are included below. You can also find many of the presentations recorded and posted at Treasure Coast on Facebook.

The most powerful things happen when we all get involved and include others! Thank you Sunshine-Rotary!

2019 SSRC OUR WATER 2019 Booklet

2nd Annual Rotary Water Forum – October 5, 2019

Public Health as it Relates to the River

Gary Goforth

We are so blessed to live in Paradise!  Like you I love this river, its estuary, its mangroves, its beaches, its near-shore reefs. But as many of you know, it is a Paradise with a tragic problem. Below the surface of this serene river lies poison.

Ms. Sandra Thurlow recently provided the following treasure: In 1885, Homer Hine Stuart, Jr. for whom Stuart is named carried around a small woodcutting representing the confluence of the North Fork and South Fork of the St Lucie Rivers.  This carving showed the river as 20 feet deep at the location of the future Roosevelt Bridge.  Imagine that!

Thirty years later Ernie Lyons described looking down into the River 15-20 ft through clear tea-colored water to a sandy bottom below.

The area behind us was known worldwide as “Giant Tarpon Kingdom” with regular catches of silver kings above 175 pounds. The world record was reported as 220 pounds, caught just up river.

In 1913, the State of Florida decided to construct a canal connecting Lake Okeechobee with the Atlantic Ocean. The primary intent was to divert the overflow of Lake Okeechobee away from its natural course south through the Everglades, thereby allowing the sawgrass plains south of the lake to be developed for agriculture. A secondary benefit was to provide cross-Florida transportation of produce and other commerce.

On June 15, 1923, the first recorded discharges from Lake Okeechobee passed through the newly constructed St. Lucie Canal, which connected the St. Lucie Estuary to the Lake.  But an unintended consequence was the discharge of countless tons of muck and dirty freshwater from the Lake that forever changed the landscape of the St Lucie River and Estuary.

Within 10 years the Martin County Commissioners had asked the State to stop the discharges “for the reason that the continued discharge of a large volume of dirty freshwater has killed all the shell fish, driven all salt water fish from the river, filled the river with hyacinths and so polluted the St Lucie River as to completely take away the attractive features and ruin its commercial value to the community.” (December 15, 1930 MCBCC)

The lake discharges drove out the king tarpons – the 150-200 pounders – and the small city of Stuart recast itself as the “Sailfish Capital of the World.”

Ernie Lyons described the damage in this way:

“We turned our good, sweet water into a cup of poison and changed a laughing little river into a reeking abomination – in the latter part of an ordinary lifetime.  Clean rivers are not “forever and forever” like the sunrise.” (from The Last Cracker Barrel (1976) p 62)

 

As a professional engineer I’ve had the honor of working to protect the environment of south Florida for more than three decades – in the Everglades, in Lake Okeechobee, along the Kissimmee River and its headwaters, and in the magnificent estuaries –the St Lucie and Caloosahatchee. My wife and I raised three kids here along the St Lucie River and I’ve taught my two grandsons to fish and appreciate the incredible biological diversity throughout the river and estuary and near shore reefs.  But unfortunately, we don’t eat the fish we catch in the River because of the public health risk.

  1. I recently had the misfortune of being in the emergency room of our local hospital. One of the very first questions I was asked was if I had had any recent contact with the St Lucie River.
  2. During the 2016 discharges I walked along Stuart Beach with Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch and we collected the names and stories of over 100 people who had gotten sick after coming in contact with the water.
  3. A beautiful dog, Finn, died that summer after morning frolic in the water. Several other dogs suffered acute liver failure, and suffer to this day.

 

2016 was a watershed year in understanding the relationship between the discharge of polluted water from the Lake and public health. The media began to focus on toxic blue green algae – particularly the microcystis form.   While parts of our beloved estuary were covered in foul smelling neon green guacamole, the media began reporting on the effects of microcystis and human health.  An Ohio State University study reported that those of us in Martin and St Lucie County have twice the national average rate of death for non-alcoholic liver disease.  They correlated this high rate with one thing – discharge of polluted water carrying blue green algae from Lake Okeechobee. This particular form of blue-green algae – microcystis – carries a dangerous toxin that can cause serious liver disease which can lead to death.  Additional human health risks have also been identified – Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease.

In the last year – thanks to the efforts of Congressman Brian Mast – the Corps of Engineers acknowledged for the first time that Lake discharges to the estuaries carrying microcystis are toxic to humans, and the US Government makes these discharges knowingly and with the understanding that they are poisoning us – the public that they serve.

Numerous public health advisories have been issued in our region in association with lake discharges – warnings to the public to avoid contact with the water.  But none have ever been issued when Lake water is sent south – the environmental conditions south of the lake are not advantageous for sustaining toxic blooms.  So the alternative to knowingly poisoning the public are clear – send the water south.

Col. Kelly is now in charge, and we are truly grateful for his leadership.  As the Corps revises its operation schedule of the Lake, I am sure that Col. Kelly will ensure that the public health, economies and environment of our region are given equal weight as the public health, economies and environment of the area south of the Lake.  Hundreds of millions of dollars in economic loss are felt by the regions around the estuaries during years of heavy lake discharges. Public health is adversely affected. There is no acceptable level of lake discharges.  There is no level of Lake releases to the St Lucie Estuary that is beneficial.

Lake discharges contain pollutants include toxic blue green algae, sediment (muck), low salinity water, and nutrients.  However, even if all the Lake water was sent south, our beloved St Lucie would still be in trouble.  Our local watershed has its challenges – particularly high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in agricultural runoff.  Our watershed suffers from the same lack of pollution regulation as the Lake Okeechobee watershed: landowners are not held accountable for pollution from their property.

But the problem is not just ag runoff – WE ALL ARE RESPONSIBLE.  For the St Lucie Estuary, approximately 5-10% of the total nitrogen loading is from our septic tanks.  If you have a tank – have it inspected and maintained.  Water quality data show an improvement in nitrogen levels due to positive actions taken by the City of Stuart, Martin County, Port St. Lucie and homeowners – conversion of more than 8,000 septic tanks to centralized sewer.  The City of Stuart has one of the best programs for converting septic tanks to sewers: a voluntary system that allows homeowners the option of waiting until their tanks or drainfields need replacing before hooking up.  But converting septic to sewer doesn’t solve the problem of nutrient overload – it just moves the problem to other areas.  The majority of the residuals from wastewater treatment plants are returned to our watersheds as “biosolids” that contain high concentrations of phosphorus and nitrogen.  An article in this morning’s Stuart News documented the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in dolphins, and the researchers attribute much of the problem to pharmaceuticals that pass generally untreated through centralized sewers and are returned to the watershed through biosolids.     We still need a better strategy for managing biosolids.  Sen. Harrell – we look to you for leadership in the Legislature to require additional oversight and regulation of the application of all biosolids in our watershed.

The Florida Legislature is the single most influential group that can positively affect the public health in the state of Florida.  The Legislature has an obligation to understand that allowing continued pollution of Lake Okeechobee and the estuaries will directly and adversely impact the health of the public you represent.  Unless the State begins holding landowners accountable for the pollution they generate, there is absolutely no reason to believe that our water quality will improve and as a result, our public health will continue to decline.  No matter if the Corps and SFWMD implement all the projects on the books – there will still be Lake discharges of toxic water to our estuaries – and unless the Legislature reverses its direction, the water quality and public health problems will persist.

I ask Sen. Harrell to work with the Legislature to hold the state’s Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) accountable for protecting our environment.  Their current program for improving water quality going into the Lake is terribly broken.  Pollution loading to the lake reached an all-time high in 2017.  And compounding this problem is that annual DEP reports to the Governor and legislature and public are misleading – as they allege that pollution loads are decreasing – when the reality – as documented by the SFWMD – is that average pollution loads are higher than the Starting Period.  For 2017 the measured phosphorus loads to the Lake were 60% greater than they reported in their annual report.  For 2018, the measured loads were 40% greater than they reported.  Who holds the DEP accountable for transparency and accuracy in reporting to the Governor, the Legislature and the public?  Sen. Harrell – please demand accountability on the part of DEP.

USEPA recently established draft guidelines for microcystin in water. We urge the legislature to direct DEP to expeditiously embrace and adopt those guidelines to protect human health. We support Col. Kelly’s efforts to prevent Lake discharges to our estuary that contain blue green algae, and urge him to adopt the microcystin guideline into the new version of the Lake operating manual.

I want to thank Ms. Thurlow-Lippisch on behalf of the SFWMD – for exploring more ways to sending Lake water south through the STAs, into the Everglades and on to Florida Bay. The SFWMD is also the agency responsible for collecting water quality data documenting the state of the water.  Thanks to the leadership of Ms. Thurlow-Lippisch, they are initiating steps to establish a regulatory program that if done properly will hold landowners accountable for reducing nutrient pollution.  The SFWMD will need our support as they develop an effective program – and we the public need to turn out and support them in their efforts.

We’ve heard Col. Kelly and others describe projects to be completed in the next 2-3 years.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first discharges from the Lake with a promise to stop the toxic discharges?!

I’d like to end with a challenge for all of us from an idol of mine – Timer Powers – Timer was a former Martin County commissioner and water management board member and Executive Director:

“The greatest challenge in front of us is to take the steps that are necessary to assure that our younger generation has the rivers, the creeks and the critters that are at the heart of our whole society.  There’s not many people representing the critters, and if we fail to represent those who can’t represent themselves, either nature or people, then we have failed.”

So to my fellow clean water advocates – let’s rise up to meet this challenge!  We can do this people!

Thank you all, and to the Rotary for bringing us all together on this beautiful day along side this beautiful estuary!

 

Since 1970, Lake O reported as “Sick”-dying of eutrophication

eu·troph·i·ca·tion
/yo͞oˌträfəˈkāSH(ə)n/
noun
  1. excessive richness of nutrients in a lake or other body of water, frequently due to runoff from the land, which causes a dense growth of plant life and death of animal life from lack of oxygen.

    6-16-18  Lake O cyanobacteria bloom, JTL

Although once known for her great life and beauty, modern-day Lake Okeechobee, has been dying for years…

Since the early 1970s, scientists were forecasting the imminent demise of the huge lake due to the tremendous influx of fertilizers and waste (oddly termed “nutrients”), especially from the Kissimmee River. The river had been channelized  in the 60s, made straight, for flood control and the “benefit” of creating more agricultural lands. This was done by none other than the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and, of course, supported by Florida politicians.

All of these problems were one of the reasons that Florida politicians reversed course and took action in the 1970s to do something for the environment.  According to the book River of Interests “during the 1972 legislative session, the Florida Legislature passed several land and planning measures, including an authorization of a major study on eutrophication of Lake Okeechobee.

Although, I could not find any of the original reports of the Florida Department  of Environmental Regulation, (the original name of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection – God forbid we say the word regulation!), I did come across the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency National Eutrophication Survey of 1977.

It is interesting to read, as if we are watching the soap opera General Hospital, where one can come back after many years and the same plot is playing out. In our soap opera episode today, most glaringly shown by non-point pollution still causing over 95% of the contamination. (https://www.epa.gov/nps/basic-information-about-nonpoint-source-nps-pollution)

Nonetheless, there have been positive changes in the characters!

A huge thing that has changed is that the Belle Glades sewage treatment plant, that once discharged into the Hillsborough Canal and was back pumped into Lake O, ~approximately 1/3 of the year, no longer does. This is no surprise. When I was a kid in Stuart in the 70s, there were still houses along the Indian River Lagoon that discharged sewage directly into the river! GROSS!

So I guess the plot has changed bit, but not enough yet to save Lake Okeechobee. We need to change the channel and do what we have known we need to do since I was ten years old…

Me, my sister Jenny, and me brother Todd in the 1970s…

You can read the full 1977 report at this long link below:

https://nepis.epa.gov/Exe/ZyNET.exe/9100D2F8.TXT?ZyActionD=ZyDocument&Client=EPA&Index=1976+Thru+1980&Docs=&Query=&Time=&EndTime=&SearchMethod=1&TocRestrict=n&Toc=&TocEntry=&QField=&QFieldYear=&QFieldMonth=&QFieldDay=&IntQFieldOp=0&ExtQFieldOp=0&XmlQuery=&File=D%3A%5Czyfiles%5CIndex%20Data%5C76thru80%5CTxt%5C00000013%5C9100D2F8.txt&User=ANONYMOUS&Password=anonymous&SortMethod=h%7C-&MaximumDocuments=1&FuzzyDegree=0&ImageQuality=r75g8/r75g8/x150y150g16/i425&Display=hpfr&DefSeekPage=x&SearchBack=ZyActionL&Back=ZyActionS&BackDesc=Results%20page&MaximumPages=1&ZyEntry=1&SeekPage=x&ZyPURL

Book River of Interests, ACOE: http://141.232.10.32/docs/river_interest/031512_river_interest_2012_complete.pdf

The Heart of the 1947 Central and South Florida Project, the SFWMD

Everglades National Park, JTL

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.

The country as a whole was empowered with its post World War II success and prosperity, and with that same determination, the U.S. Congress came to Florida’s rescue…

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.

As Florida matured came Governor Claude Kirk, a republican,  in 1968, who was advised by environmentalist Nathaniel Reed. Then came Governor Reubin Askew, a democrat. The Florida Legislature, seeing the destruction of the state’s natural resources, passed a very important piece of legislation, the “Florida Water Resources Act,” today’s Chapter 373 in Florida Statures. (http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=0300-0399/0373/0373ContentsIndex.html)

This law created five Florida water management districts with expanded responsibilities for regional water resources management including environmental protection not just flood control.

Accordingly, the Central and South Florida Flood Control District changed its name, but not its heart, becoming the South Florida Water Management District, we know today…(https://www.sfwmd.gov)

Everglades National Park, JTL

Building New Bridges, Remembering the Old: 1934, “Franklin D. Roosevelt Highway Bridge,” SLR/IRL

I continue to share my mother’s historic documents for those who love and appreciate history. Today’s original 1934 Stuart Daily News publication is very impressive, oversized, with aerial photographs and pride-filled words lauding the City of Stuart, and her  Roosevelt Bridge as part of  the new “Gateway to the Gulf of Mexico.”

This gateway, of course, was the Cross State Canal that was federally funded through “navigation” with the dual use to discharge Lake Okeechobee water, that Nature would have flowed south to Florida Bay, into the northern estuaries enhancing “Fishing, Hunting, and Sports on the Beautiful St Lucie….Lake Okeechobee, and Caloosahtchee River….”

In 1934, an era of Man Over Nature, both men and women did not know their determination to control the environment  and its waters would, eventually, kill almost everything they loved.

And here we are today…

But as my hero Ernie Lyons, editor environmentalist of a later newspaper, the Stuart News said: “What men do they can undo.”

I believe this.

New bridges must be built. Not just of concrete but of the heart.

Bridges between people and politics. Bridges between corporations and children. Bridges between agriculture giants and fish. Bridges between developers and a new way to live. Why? Because like it or not, we are a Florida Water Family. All connected. All bridged together by depending on this place.

#FLWaterFamily

I will end with words from my mother, historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow:

“Jacqui, This is a very large book that was published to celebrate the dedication of the original Roosevelt Bridge on January 8, 1934.  The pages are supposed to face each other so “Stuart–‘Atlantic Gateway to the Gulf of Mexico'” run together. The sentence at the bottom should be “The City of Stuart Invites You to Winter on the Beautiful St. Lucie River.” A gentleman who lives in Rio, Richard Lewis Miller,  shared the original in honor of his father, Alvin Richard Miller 1906-1976.” Mom (http://www.sandrathurlow.com)

Links:

Sandra Henderson Thurlow, website:http://www.sandrathurlow.com

Joe Crankshaw, Transformation of Stuart, TCPalm, http://archive.tcpalm.com/news/in-10-year-span-roosevelt-bridge-transformed-sleepy-little-stuart-ep-405274002-349339071.html/

Former Blog post on subject, JTL: https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2018/04/12/city-of-stuart-atlantic-gateway-to-the-gulf-of-mexico-1937-staurt-daily-news/

The Fisherman, by Ernest Lyons ~SLR/IRL

1953 Stuart Fishing Guide, courtesy of Sandra Henderson Thurlow, Thurlow Archives.

I think for this Friday’s blog post, I will keep it short as the words of the late Ernest Lyons resonate for themselves, especially for those of us who knew our waters in better days.  This poetic piece fills one with inspiration to see healthy waters once again, but reminds us, that in spite of all our troubles, the force of beauty remains.

In her email to me ~sharing this piece, my mother simply wrote:

“This was in a 1953 Fishing Guide. The man in the photo is Capt. Francis A. Adams. Ernie surely could write. He never went to church but….” Mom

Enjoy.

The Fisherman, by Ernest Lyons

His is a measure of the peace that comes to the man of wide waters and in quiet places. Clouds, sea, and rain, the wind and sun accept him into their company.

He sees the creatures that the Lord hath wrought in the deeps…the sawfish with its armored flail, the remora with sucking cups atop its head to fasten onto shark or ray, the mullet always fleeing. He feels the presence of creation’s magic close at hand.

He knows the beauty of the morning and bright fullness of the day upon the sea and rivers. He sees the swift and dreadful, the timid, and the fierce. And within him there is wonder that such miracles should be.   

Biography, Ernest Lyons: http://www.flpress.com/node/63

Sandra Henderson Thurlow, local historian: http://www.sandrathurlow.com

Florida Water, A Thing of the Past? SLR/IRL

My mother gave me a late birthday present: antique post cards and a bottle once filled with “Florida Water,” a popular tonic sold for health and beauty around the world. Believe it or not, “Florida Water” is still selling across the globe, and has been since 1808 ~for 210 years!

It was poignant to receive such a rare and special gift from my mother because if Murray & Landman began marketing Florida water today, the product would not be so romantic; in fact, the branding  would more look like war.

“Florida Water,” a thing of the past?

Not if we fight to win.

TCPalm reporter Tyler Treadway holds a container of Florida Water in July 2018, Photo by John Moran
Posted on #toxic18, Florida’s new image

LINKS:

Florida Water Cures: http://www.nydailynews.com/making-splash-old-fashioned-florida-water-cures-ails-ya-smells-good-article-1.828293

Florida Water, History WIKI: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florida_Water

Florida is Losing it’s Brand:

Graham Brink, Business Columnist: Toxic algae blooms from Lake Okeechobee are a stain on Florida, Tampa Bay Times: https://www.tampabay.com/news/business/tourism/Brink-Toxic-algae-blooms-from-Lake-Okeechobee-are-a-stain-on-Florida-_169667590

Julie Dermansky, Fueled by Pollution and Unsound Policies, Toxic Algae Overtakes Florida Beaches and Waterways,https://www.desmogblog.com/2018/08/02/pollution-policies-toxic-algae-red-tide-cyanobacteria-florida-lake-okeechobee