If you are from Martin or St Lucie County, I’m sure you remember….how the river movement came to an unexpected raging head during the Summer of 2013. It was after the River Kidz had held a gathering at the locks; and after the public had been screaming the St Lucie River was a putrid mess; it was after the Stuart News had been writing; and it was after organizations that had been working for years continued to bang their fists. Yes, after all this, that something new occurred…a surfer named Evan Miller posted on Facebook to protest the damaging discharges from Lake Okeechobee at St Lucie Locks and Dam. Evan had no idea! Social media was new. Shockingly, over 5000 people attended the event: mothers and fathers, children, grandparents, business people, local city and county politicians, environmentalists, people from afar, long time residents and newbies…..”everyone” was there…even Senator Joe Negron…
Things were never quite the same after this as a true movement materialized, and the seriousness of the matter was exposed. The event was reported across the state catching the attention of Florida’s most powerful and influential.
Shortly after, more protest were called by Miller who with help from Leon Abood, the beloved chair of the Rivers Coalition, reactivated and expanded the local Citizens 4 Clean Water chapter drawing members mostly from the younger generation.
Well, Evan called me yesterday and said “times are calling for a new kind of protest” and the young people of C4CW are calling for prayer and meditation, rather than protest in support of what is called the Negron Bill, Senate Bill 10, that calling for land purchase in the EAA for a reservoir.
“Wow,” I thought. How does the saying go? “God works in mysterious ways…”
C4CW’s Facebook page reads: “Rock painting with Children For Clean Water begins at 4pm at Sandsprit Park. Viral photo of thousands in prayer 5:30 pm. See everyone there to support the SB 10 bill in legislation now. Let’s get that land! #buytheland #senditsouth https://www.facebook.com/events/1874182396131037/?ti=icl
3443 SE St Lucie Blvd
Stuart, FL 34997
C4CW’s Mission Statement: Take the challenge and become a Citizen For Clean Water by becoming part of the revolution to bring forward people who will lead the way for a cleaner and brighter tomorrow. When you become a Citizen For Clean Water you are taking on the responsibility of taking care of your environment teaching others your knowledge and stepping up to make a leading example for the rest of the world by becoming a voice for the voiceless. http://www.citizensforcleanwater.org
Committee Members: Senator Bradley, Chair; Senator Book, Vice Chair; Senators Braynon, Hukill, Hutson. Mayfield, and Stewart
Yesterday, January 11th, Florida’s Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources met in Tallahassee. The Legislative Session has not formally started, but as most things in life, the most important stuff happens ahead of time….”in committee.”
The topic was “Discussion and testimony relating to the options for reducing harmful Lake Okeechobee discharges and Everglades Restoration.”
This meeting is being held because of Senate President Joe Negrons’ proposal to buy 60,000 acres of land in the EAA south of Lake Okeechobee for a Reservoir.
Yesterdays’ meeting was just informational, but first impressions are very important. And anything can be killed in committee.
I think the meeting went very well. “Everyone was represented:” East Coast; West Coast; Florida Bay; The Glades and agencies or organizations of those who presented. I thought it was great. Great to see people in power and those with knowledge talking about this important issue. Remember that just a few years ago, many in Tallahassee thought the Indian River Lagoon was a movie from the 50s.
Many people drove over 12 hours to speak but Chair Bradley did not allow public comment. Bullsugar, River Kidz, Glades Residents, Islamorada, Florida Bay, CaptainsForCleanWater, Stuart residents, Ft Meyers residents, Realtors, Hotel Owners, Business Owners and more…This is very disappointing, but certainly “The Powers That Be” knew everyone was there, and surely “They” are taking about it behind closed doors. It makes an impression when the chamber is full because those politicians know that for every person there, there are hundreds, if not thousands behind him or her who did not come…The “Powers that Be” know this. And Senator Negron knows who came too. Surely he does. He appreciates this! He is motivated by this!
Having a full-house in a sub-committee room is not an everyday occurrence for these folks. Unlike our county government the State is not as practiced at this. They generally get to operate in a vacuum–Tallahassee being so far away! Not good!
Time was short and messages many, so Chair Bradley decided to cut the meeting presenters basically in half. Thus not all the presenters who came were allowed to speak either.
Those who presented were: Senate lawyer for the committee, Ashley Istler; UF’s Wendy Graham; ACOE’s Lt Col. Jennifer Reynolds; Independent, Dr Gary Goforth; and Exec. Dir of the SFWMD, Pete Antonacci .
Those moved to January 25th were: Dr Tom Van Lent, Everglades Foundation; Drew Bartlett, DEP; and Ernie Barnett, EAA Landowners.
There was a common theme: “we need more water storage everywhere. North, South, East and West and concerns about where the reservoir should first be or if it should be….
This is clearly a very exasperating experience for many. But isn’t it great that we are actually talking and learning about it. Together.
2016 has been an incredible year, and 2017 will be as well. In 2016, both Lake Okeechobee and the St Lucie River blew up with toxic algae, and #GladesLivesMatter was established as a voice for a way of life that could be lost…
As far as 2017, as I write this post, deals are being cut, and advocates on both sides are working to get legislative support for their positions. But during this season of light, may we also remember our interests, as they hold things we share in common rather than apart: a Healthy Lake Okeechobee and St Lucie River, as well as Local Economic Prosperity for All are certainly goals both the Glades and the Coast desires…right now, in most areas of our combined worlds, this does not exist…
Yesterday, I toured the Glades once again with former Pahokee mayor, J.P. Sasser, someone I don’t always agree with, but definitely get along with. Someone who is teaching me a ton about the Glades, a history linked to my history, the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon….
Along the journey, a noteworthy thing happened right of the bat at Canal Point, our first stop. Here, I met an older gentleman fishing along the original locks of the historic West Palm Beach Canal. As I was taking photos, I thought I should introduce myself.
“Hello,” I said, extending my hand.
“Catching much?” I asked.
“Not today, but usually, yes.”
“Do you live around here?” I inquired.
“Wow Tequesta? That’s pretty far away…”
“Not really,” he said. “Maybe thirty minutes. I used to come here with my father in the 1950s.”
“And where are You from?” He inquired.
The fishing line bobbed in the water. I saw noticed a dead gar fish float by. The water doesn’t look so good, I thought.
“Have things changed a lot?” I asked.
“Yes they have,” he said, “but not a lot out here at Canal Point. That’s why I come.”
An alligator silently swam the shoreline…
“You know your bridge is here.” the fisherman softly said,” pulling on the line.
“Wow, funny you should know that…my mom…she’s a historian. Torry Island right? They used part of the Roosevelt Bridge in Stuart to build out in here in Belle Glade in 1938. It’s still here today…a swing-bridge….right?”
He looked at me holding his gaze. “Right young lady, the bridge is here….”
J.P. called from the car. The fisherman and I locked eyes.
“The bridge is here.” I repeated.”The bridge is here.”
As we drove away, I wrote something on my notepad: “2017 #GladesCoastMatters … ”
Torry Island Bridge is located in Belle Glade about a 15 minute drive around Lake O from Canal Point.
“The story of the bridge’s origins flow smoothly from Corbin… The 1928 hurricane that ravaged the Glades set in motion the chain of events that would bring the bridge to Belle Glade. The storm destroyed the original dike that surrounded the lake. To build the replacement dike, the federal government spooned out a canal, separating Torry Island from Belle Glade, and used the dirt for the dike. The new canal, called the Okeechobee Waterway, needed a bridge. In 1938, state contractors built the Point Chosen Bridge, replacing a pontoon bridge with a swing bridge that was built in 1916 and relocated from the St. Lucie River near Stuart. The bridge consisted of the movable portion and wooden trestles on each end.” Associated Press article, 2009.
My recent Glades tour with former Pahokee mayor, JP Sasser, lasted seven hours, and one of the most unexpected things I got to see was Storm Water Treatment Area 3-4. I have read about the STAs, flown over the STAs, and have had many discussions with engineer, Dr Gary Goforth, who is an “Architect of the STAs,” but nothing prepared me for what I felt when I unexpectedly saw an STA from the ground, or the other mystery I’d learn about that day.
So just about when my tour of the Glades was over, JP looked at me and ask: “Do you want to see the where the big reservoir was supposed to be?”
“Yes!” I exclaimed.” The reservoir? Hmmm. I’d heard stories of “the reservoir” but I really didn’t get it. Why didn’t it get finished? And what is it today? And then of course river advocates like me are supporting Senate President Joe Negron’s reservoir. What’s the deal with all these reservoirs? So confusing…
JP stopped the car, his blue eyes dancing: “We’ll have to drive south….”
“Please!” I begged, knowing I may never have this opportunity again.
So JP turned the steering wheel 180 degrees in the middle of all the sugar fields and headed south of Belle Glade on Highway #27– driving right along the historic North New River Canal that I did know something about.
We drove, and we drove, and we drove…through sugar field after sugar field. And then, there it was, to my right, what appeared to be blowing reeds surrounded by shallow sparkling waters, silver and white, reflecting clouds in a blue sky. Birds flew by. It was beautiful. Miles long. My eyes welled up, and I thought about how amazing it was to see water in this place…”It’s like…..the Everglades….”
We drove until we got to the SFWMD’s STA 3-4 entrance gate and I asked JP to pull over so I could get a picture. I was unsure…So to JP, a Glades local, this area has to with “the reservoir,” but here we are at an STA? As I was pondering, we drove further into Broward County and JP pointed out many new-looking pump stations to send water south. I couldn’t stop wondering about “the reservoir.”
When I got home I did some research.
I believe, in short, this is the story. Please chime in if you know more.
After lawsuit/s due to long-standing polluted EAA water impacting southern lands, and after “acts of the Legislature,” in the 1990s a “Settlement Agreement,” was obtained. Thus the state of Florida had to construct 32,000 acres of storm water treatment areas (STAs) in the EAA (Everglades Agricultural Area) to clean water leaving the EAA and going into Water Conservation Areas and Everglades National Park.
By 2000 the first of six had been constructed, and by 2004 the first water ran through. Thus the building of the STAs is associated with the law suits. At the same time, Congress was working legislatively on CERP, the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. It was approved by Congress in 2000. But it was moving too slowly, so in 2006, Florida’s state legislature approved LOER (Lake Okeechobee and Estuary Recovery Plan) and under Jeb Bush chose 8 projects of CERP to “accelerate.”
One of the “Acceler 8” projects was the A-1 Reservoir. This reservoir was to be located basically right above STA 3-4 and it had three water components, one for agricultural use; one for the environment; and one for people.
Well time moves on and we are now post Jeb Bush, and into Charlie Crist’ governorship who in 2008 announced that the SFWMD would be negotiating with United States Sugar Corporation (USSC) to acquire as much as 187,000 acres of their land for Everglades Restoration! Lots of internal fighting. Environmentalist are excited about historic land acquisition, but many others are irritated that Everglades Restoration (CERP/Acceler 8) will be halted in order to purchase lands. Other sugar companies in the EAA are impacted as they share mills with USSC. US Sugar surprised everyone with this announcement. Not very nice! Some people in the ag industry are furious. Politics. Lawsuits. But such an opportunity!!! The Great Recession hits. The A-1 Reservoir and its 3 components are halted in order to possibly purchase the USSC lands.
Even more lawsuits ensue including one from the Miccosukkee who want the reservoir completed as their lands are being depleted. Time is of the Essence.
The recession gets worse…the USSC land deal falls apart. Fewer lands are purchased. In 2010 Tea Party and “Jobs” Governor Rick Scott comes to power and negotiates with the Federal Government over of a law suit that included creating Numeric Nutrient Criteria for Phosphorus coming out of the EAA. “10 parts per billion” becomes the number. Some feel he sold out, others think it’s good.
In any case….the SFWMD now implements what the District had been planning as things were falling apart and money got tight, not a 3 part deep reservoir but rather a shallow Flow Equalization Basin, or FEB, in the A-1 reservoir lands above STA 3-4.
Thus the “Restoration Strategies,” law suit brought to the table by Rick Scott and State Legislature funded the A-1 Reservoir FEB and has more to come. What is important to note is that the A-1 FEB and the STAs were created to clean EAA sugar/agricultural runoff, due to lawsuits, not to hold, clean, and convey overflow Lake Okeechobee water that is destroying the estuaries…This is different.
And that’s why we environmentalist are talking about “a reservoir” today…a reservoir that would help the estuaries…because we don’t have one.
On the way home, JP and I talked.
He is concerned that Negron’s 60,000 land purchase for a deep water reservoir could take so much land out of sugar production that one of the EAA’s four mills would not have enough cane to process, close, and put people out work. Pahokee cannot afford this…
“This stinks,” I thought to myself. “Do we have to choose?” Why can’t people in the Glades and the Environment flourish? Everything is so confusing around here. This too should not be a mystery…
Before we begin today’s lesson, two major changes must be recognized. First after almost a year, the ACOE halted the destructive Lake Okeechobee discharges to the St Lucie River. These releases began January 29th, and lasted through November 4th, 2016.
And on Tuesday, November 8th, Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election over Hillary Clinton, an election considered the most remarkable and unpredictable in over 100 years…
Now back to our Road Trip series:
Most recently we have traveled to Canal Point, the first town south of the Martin County line on the east side of Lake Okeechobee. This almost forgotten little town has an amazing history, and holds the seeds of today’s expansive Everglades Agriculture Area and of United States Sugar Corporation itself.
The easiest way to take this drive through history is a timeline. So let’s crank up the car and begin!
1914-1918 – World War 1. Sugar rationing across the nation.
1917- The West Palm Beach Canal is constructed, intersecting at Canal Point, allowing transportation of goods and internal land development around Lake Okeechobee
1918-After the war, Congress holds hearings about concerns that the county should “never again” get into a position where domestic sugar production is just 1.7 billion. The United States Department of Agriculture opens a sugarcane research central at Canal Point that still operates today-a hundred years later.
1920- The American Legion and Federation of Women’s Clubs mount a national lobbying campaign against the high price of sugar. West Palm Beach chapters lead in support of the effort.
1920- Englishman, F.E. Bryant, already a successful farming business man in Lake Worth, forms the Florida Sugar and Food Products Company working with G.T. Anderson at Canal Point. They buy land and build the first sugar mill by 1921 and encourage expanded sugar farming.
1922-Flooding of some cane fields…they plod on…
1923- 900 acres of sugarcane in Palm Beach County, 800 of it in Canal Point. This is a real success.
1924- Connors’ Highway constructed allowing access in and south of Lake Okeechobee for more sugar farming and development
1924- More flooding of cane fields– a major set back so Bryant merges his faltering company into a “better capitalized” company in Clewiston. The name of this company is Southern Sugar Company.
1926 Florida land booms slows, beginnings of the Great Depression for Florida
1928 Hurricane- an historic Category 4/5 hits Lake O area coming through West Plam Beach. Up to 3000 people die. Many are never found.
1931 Businessman and General Motors executive, Charles Stewart Mott purchases Bryant’s failing Southern Sugar Company renaming it United States Sugar Corporation. This is the hugley successful and profitiable Clewiston “US Sugar Corporation” that we know today. http://www.ussugar.com
When I drove through Canal Point a couple of weeks ago, I had no idea that this little town held so much history. A history that eventually and unintentionally led to the diking of Lake Okeechobee and the destruction of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
*Thank you to the book Black Gold and Silver Sands, by James D Synder, and the Palm Beach Historical Society as sources.
Today’s Canal Point is easy to drive right through on one’s way to Pahokee, but the little town has an important past and seeded a great future. As we learn about it, we learn about ourselves, all part of South Florida’s giant drainage and development scheme that continues today. In the future, together, we must work to improve water quality that has been destroyed by development of the Everglades. In studying this area, one thing is clear, almost all has fallen away except the USDA Department of Agriculture Sugarcane Station still standing today, almost 100 years later: https://www.ars.usda.gov/southeast-area/canal-point-fl/sugarcane-field-station/
So how did Canal Point get on the map?
According to the book, Black Gold and Silver Sands, by James D. Snyder, Gilbert A Watkins, an expanding lumber dealer from “nearby” West Palm Beach, acquired lands in the area after 1896 when Hamilton Disston, (the man who first drained Florida’s swamp) died. The lands purchased by Watkins included 4,337 acres near the eastern lakeshore of Lake Okeechobee. Disston’s Southern States Land and Timber owned all the even-numbered, square mile sections east of Lake Okeechobee to the then Broward County line.
In 1917 when the West Palm Beach Canal was dug at the determination of the state’s Internal Improvement Fund, the board developing the state, it was decided to go through Mr Watkin’s property. He became more than a timber owner but a developer as the little town grew. Sugarcane sprouted up as well, and laid the foundation for the success of today’s largest EAA sugarcane cooperations.
The little town that came to be known as Canal Point eventually outpaced Pahokee, Okeechobee and Moore Haven. Tomorrow we will learn more about the United States Department of Agriculture’s Sugarcane Reasearch Center, and the road that got it there….Connors’ Highway. “Fingy” Conners– as his finger had been cut off.
I think one of the most difficult parts of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon/Lake Okeechobee problem is to understand how much Lake Okeechobee water we are talking about….
I recently asked Deb Drum of Martin County, Dr Gary Goforth and my technology-wiz brother, Todd, the following question:
“Do you know how many acre feet of water came just from S-308, (Lake Okeechobee), into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon? ”
I got great information from all. Deb Drum from Martin County summarized most simply:
“From January – October 2016, SLE has received about 630,000 acre feet of water (1 foot of water over 630,000 acres)…”
In an ideal world the St Lucie River would receive NO discharges from Lake Okeechobee as there was no natural connection to the lake or its watershed.
The Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council EAA map I have been using for my series, “Who Owns the Land? Mapping Out Florida’s Water Future,” shows us the 700,000 acres that comprise the Everglades Agricultural Area south of Lake Okeechobee.
Now picture this…
If all the water that was discharged into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon in calendar year 2016 were to have gone instead into the Everglades Agricultural Area, 630,000 acres of its 700,000 acres would be covered in one foot of water….
That’s a lot of water! In fact, almost all of the EAA would be completely covered in water. And this of course is not taking into account the Caloosahatchee that receives about three times as much water.