Tag Archives: Impairment st lucie river

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.
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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 Long Deteriorating “Fishing Ground of Presidents,” St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Harold R Johns, posing with a large tarpon, early 19920s, Stuart, St Lucie River. (Photo from Stuart on the St Lucie by Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)
Harold R. Johns, posing with a large tarpon, early 1920s, Stuart, Florida, St Lucie River. (Photo from Stuart on the St Lucie by Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)

When the pioneers permanently opened the St Lucie Inlet in 1892, it killed the freshwater grasses that filled the waterways creating a brackish estuary that due to the convergence of tropical and temperate zones, and the nearby warmth of the Gulf Stream, became “the most diverse estuary in North America.” (Gilmore)

After a short period of time, sportfishing thrived in the area, and fishing guides called Stuart the “fishing grounds of presidents” as US president, Grover Cleveland, vacationed and fished the area in 1900 and years after.

In spite of long standing issues with the health of the estuary,  as late as the 1970/80s Dr Grant Gilmore of Harbor Branch documented over 800 species of fish living and breeding in the then healthy seagrasses around Sailfish and Sewall’s Point at the convergence of the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon. This was a larger variety of species in one place than any other area in United States. (Gilmore)

"Goliath Grouper" called "Jew Fish" at the time, Stuart. ca. 1920s. (Thurlow Collection)

“Goliath Grouper” called “Jew Fish” at the time, Stuart. ca. 1920s. (Thurlow Collection)

Going back to the the 1930s, the 1938 Blue Book, a popular annual fishing publication of the time, lauds fishing throughout the entire Stuart area:

“The City of Stuart located approximately 20 miles south of Fort Pierce is world renowned for its fishing. Located as it is…it offers a variety of fishing similar to Fort Pierce but somewhat more pronounced, particularly with regards to the tarpon, sea trout, snook, channel bass, bluefish, crevasse jack, pompano and ladyfish. It’s fresh water fishing is particularly good far into the back county among the Sloughs with their tributary and drainage canals to Lake Okeechobee and the many drainage canals through this territory. These Sloughs and Canals offer splendid fishing for black bass, as well as for the larger game fish from the salt water, such as  th snook and tarpon, that make their way into Stuart Harbor and on up into the both and south branches of the St Lucie River. –Particularly good fishing for these species can be had at the St Lucie Locks about 12 miles inland south of Stuart…”

All photos from Stuart on the St Lucie, Sportfishing chapter, by Sandra Henderson Thurlow.
All photos from Stuart on the St Lucie, Sportfishing chapter, by Sandra Henderson Thurlow.

IMG_5769 IMG_5767

It is interesting to note that although the Blue Book piece, written in 1938, celebrates Stuart’s fishing, one can find evidence of tension regarding the releases from Lake Okeechobee in the literature of the day as early as 1925.

Fearing the onslaught of development in the booming twenties and the changes brought on by the connection and building of the C-44 canal from Lake Okeechobee to the South Fork of the St Lucie River, beginning in 1923, the South Florida Developer’s, November 10th, 1925 headline reads:

Article 1925, South Florida Developer. (Thurlow collection.)
Article 1925, South Florida Developer. (Thurlow collection.)

“Fish Will Leave the River As City Grows, Fisherman Assert, Sewage and Oil Sure Death to a Favored Sport is Verdict.”

The article quotes commercial fishermen who know that  the over abundance of fresh water from Lake Okeechobee will chase away the salt water fish and that the oil on the water from development, perhaps from cars and road runoff,  if excessive, won’t allow the fish to sufficiently breathe.

Fishing guide Phil O’Brian is quoted as saying: “I know the ways of the sea fish. They can’t stand fresh water; and they won’t stand sewer water. We have the fresh water now mixin’ in from Lake Okeechobee and we’ll soon have the sewer water.”

These pioneers are probably rolling over in their graves should they have learned about the story of the St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon most recently.

The St Lucie River was labeled “impaired” by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in 2002 mostly due to pesticides and heavy metals from agriculture and urban pollution runoff accumulating in the sediment from all area canals, especially C-44 and Lake Okeechobee. In a way, just like the 1920s fisherman foresaw…

The fight against the area canals and Lake Okeechobee continues today, and if by the grace of God we can undo some of the hands of history, the St Lucie and Indian River Lagoon will surely heal herself and we once again could be the ” Fishing Grounds of Presidents…”

…but then we might have to get rid of that green and sprawling golf course at the Floridian.

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FDEP Impairment St Lucie River: (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/southeast/ecosum/ecosums/SLE_Impairment_Narrative_ver_3.7.pdf)