Documenting St Lucie River and Lake Okeechobee, Saturday, June 13, 2020
Today’s post includes two sets of photos taken from two different planes: the Supercub and the Baron. The Supercub is the classic yellow “River Warrior” open-air plane, and the Baron is a closed cockpit twin-engine with the distinctive upturned wing-tip. The Supercub can fly low and slow, the Baron can fly higher and faster. Both offer unique perspectives to photograph our waterways.
Dr. Scott Kuhns and Steve Schimming shared photos taken from the Supercub in the morning hours of Saturday, 6-13-20. Scott uses a quality Nikon camera thus his photos offer a wider or closer perspective. Thank you Scott and Steve, long time River Warriors and friends. Their photos reveal the coffee color of the St Lucie following torrential rains.
This next set of aerials was taken by my husband, Ed Lippisch, and myself the same day, 6-13-20, a few hours later, closer to noon. Again, it is important to note the St Lucie area recently experienced particularly heavy rains, only Broward County and parts of Miami- Dade had more. So we can learn about this, I am sharing the most recent Water Conditions Report of the SFWMD for details of all the St Lucie and all south and central Florida. See link under Rainfall Distribution Comparison slide below.
The first group of photos from Ed and I in the Baron is of the St Lucie River and the second set is of algae blooms in Lake Okeechobee. NOTE THE ACOE IS NOT DISCHARGING INTO THE ST LUCIE AT THIS TIME.
We continue to document and thank all who are working towards projects and ways of life that better water quality in the state of Florida. We know what we need to do!
Family friend Scott Kuhns is a great dentist, pilot, and photographer. For years, Scott has been one of our “eyes in the sky,” taking flight over the St Lucie River-Indian River Lagoon -and west out to Lake Okeechobee.
Today, Sunday, May 3, 2020, before noon, Scott forwarded these striking photos. He wrote “I can see some algae at Port Mayaca.”
When I first reviewed the impressive photographs -coast to lake- I found it hard to believe, but indeed looking very closely, there is a wisp of algae close to S-308 at Port Mayaca in Lake Okeechobee.
Can you see it? When things are so beautiful, like right now, it’s easy to miss!
Thanks Scott for your continued service “River Warrior” extraordinaire! We will continue to keep an eye on the water as we move closer to hurricane season.
ST LUCIE INLET, CROSSROADS OF INDIAN AND ST LUCIE RIVERS DIVIDED BY SEWALL’S POINT, ~ALL PHOTOS BY DR SCOTT KUHNS
JUPITER NARROWS & ATLANTIC OCEAN SOUTH OF ST LUCIE INLET
C-44 CANAL at ST LUCIE LOCKS AND DAM, S-80
S-308, CONNECTION OF C-44 CANNAL to LAKE OKEECHOBEE
VERY TIP of S-308 with ALGAE WISPS SLIGHTLY VISIBLE, BUT DEFINITELY THERE
INSIDE STRUCTURE S-308, PORT MAYACA LAKE OKEECHOBEE ALONG C-44 CANAL. S-53 ON ANOTHER CANAL. ALSO FPL COOLING POND SURROUNDED ON WEST BY WHAT APPEARS TO BE SUGARCANE FIELDS
If you live in Martin County, you may have experienced a short lived violent storm this past Sunday, April 26th, 2020. In south Sewall’s Point, early afternoon, the winds exploded in a crash of falling branches, rain, thunder, and hail! Under the deafening sound of our metal roof, Ed and I stood on the porch in amazement, looked at each other and said, “well at least it’s raining,” as presently drought conditions cover much of the state.
The following day, Ed took wing taking these aerial photographs. They are a good example of “local runoff.” No Lake Okeechobee thankfully! Lake O too though looked beautiful after the storm as displayed at the end of this aerial series. Somehow, it always seems most beautiful after the storm…
L-R: ST LUCIE RIVER, SEWALL’S POINT, INDIAN RIVER LAGOON, HUTCHINSON ISLAND, ATLANTIC OCEAN, by Ed Lippisch 4-27-20
INDIAN RIVER LAGOON, ST LUCIE COUNTY, HUTCHINSON ISLAND ~NOTE ST LUCIE POWER PLANT AND SAVANNAHS ON MAINLAND TO WEST
Yesterday, 3-17-19, my husband, Ed, flew the Super-Cub over the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon ~ twenty-one days after the ACOE started discharging from Lake Okeechobee on February 24, 2019.
When Ed arrived home, I asked, “So how was it?”
“Brown,” he replied.
“Like dark coffee brown, or kind of like that weird mixed greenish-brown?”
He looked at me, and smiled. “Jacqui, it was brown.”
“OK, I said, I’ll take a look at your photos.”
So here are the photos from Ed’s flight from Witham Field in Stuart, over Sewall’s Point and Hutchinson Island, then out west to S-80 to see the “Seven Gates of Hell” where you can see the one gate discharging now at an average of 250 cubic feet per second, down from an average of 500 cubic feet per second. As you can see from the SFWMD chart below, there has been other runoff locations as well, but the majority is from Lake Okeechobee.
Thank you to my husband Ed, for showing us that right now, the river is brown.
The following phots are of Caulkins Water Farm, a former orange grove that died due to citrus greening that now holds water from the C-44 Canal. This is a wonderful thing! As local ag-man Mr. Hadad, told me once, “Jacqui we spent 100 years taking the water off the land, and we’ll spend the next 100 years putting it back on.” The later photos are of S-80 again with view of C-44 canal leading west to Lake O.(https://www.facebook.com/CaulkinsWaterFarm/)
The following photos are when Ed headed back to Witham Field going once again over the St Lucie Inlet over the Atlantic Ocean. You can see the water looks blue north of Sailfish Point north of the inlet with nearshore reefs visible. Plume is also visible south of St Lucie Inlet. Also in photos is the winding Jupiter Narrows and St Lucie River in the area of Stuart and Rio. You can see Langford Landing with scraped orange soil and docks built into river still under construction since 2015.
As you may have heard, on Thursday, February 21, 2019, I was appointed to the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board, by Florida’s Governor, Ron DeSantis.
Of course, I am very excited!
Today I wish to share my written comments of this very special day. Please note, just as when I served on Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission 2017-2018, this blog and all comments now fall under Florida’s public records laws.
Thank you Governor DeSantis! Thank you everyone who is here in spirit today, everyone who has been part of this journey to save our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. I will begin with some words from our beloved Ernie Lyons, who worked as the editor of the Stuart News for many decades leading the charge to save our river:
“What men do they can undo, and the hope for our river is in the hundreds of men and women in our communities who are resolved to save the St Lucie.”
Yes, there have been many before us, but in 2013’s LOST SUMMERwe continued Ernie Lyons’ passion through TC Palm, the River Warriors, and the River Kidz.
And it was the River Kidz that really gave us a new perspective…
We as adults, know, there are many things we disagree on, but there is one, we do not, for sure. We wish a better water future for all children, of all communities, in South Florida.
This goal unifies us all.
When I was a kid, and Stuart was not very populated, my friends and I used to build forts on the edge of the St Lucie River. The giant Australian Pines had fallen with their twisted roots exposed, and we played for hours pretending we were pirates on a ship. We’d splash in the water and drop anchor. We’d try not to cut our feet on sharp oyster beds as we retrieved our gold, or get stung by a stingray when we were catching a fish in the thick seagrasses.
Today such a thing is not possible. There are few oysters, little seagrass, and sometimes the water is toxic. Yes toxic. Can you believe it? Toxic water.
Generation after generation we have ignored the science and the signs. In our excitement to develop cites and towns and build the greatest agriculture empire on earth, waterbodies across South Florida have become “impaired.” Some no longer healthy: the St Lucie River, the Indian River Lagoon, Lake Worth, Lake Okeechobee, Biscayne Bay, Florida Bay, the Caloosahatchee, and numerous creeks and rivers like the New River and the Miami, are now not much more than dead canals.
It is said: “For what profits a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his own soul?”
The soul of Florida is water!
I believe that with the leadership of our new governor, and people like Congressman Brian Mast, former Senate President Joe Negron, and Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuzez, who I know from serving on our state’s Constitution Revision Commission, and others, we will lay the groundwork to give Florida back her soul.
I don’t know if you have had a chance to read it word for word, but if you have not, you must. This incredible executive order recently given by Governor DeSantis, number 19-12 actually reads, as he quotes President Theodore Roosevelt:
“….A primary mission of my tenure is to follow in the words of President Theodore Roosevelt by having Florida treat its natural resources as assets, which it must turn over to the next generation, increased and not impaired in value.”
I shall do all I can to serve with honor, our new governor, and to leave all children of all South Florida a better water future.”
The day began with smoke, smoke off the sugarcane fields.
Yesterday, Ed and I took a flight from Stuart to Everglades City, passing Chokoloskee and photographing the EAA Reservoir lands along the way. It is huge out there in the “Everglades,” seemingly endless. The easiest way to get one’s bearings is to look for the Miami and New River Canals that run south of Lake Okeechobee. Highway 27 parallels the New River Canal; where the red balloon is located above is the area east of where the EAA Reservoir will be constructed. For more specifics see link (https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/tag/a-1-aerial/)
For Ed and I the flight, although hazy, was an opportunity to learn to recognize from the air Water Conservation Area 3, just south of the EAA Reservoir Area. The water conservation area lands are not located in Everglades National Park, but water quality is protected.
“To me these are the Everglades,” Ed said looking down.
“They are but they aren’t,” I replied. “They are part of the Central and South Florida Project, they are not natural; they are controlled. When they are too full from EAA water, the water from Lake O is not allowed to go south. If too full, from rain, or otherwise the animals can drown. Trapped on the tree islands raccoon, and deer, and panther together. Terrible.”
“Why can’t the water just flow south,” Ed asked.
“Lot of reasons, people like to say it’s because of an endangered bird, but its bigger than that, mostly because we have chosen to make it that way, and powerful entities keep our legislature from changing it in spite of what the voters say.” (SFWMD Constraints: https://apps.sfwmd.gov/SystemConstraintsDataApp/)
Ed did not reply.
We looked forward to what appeared to be little hills. The cypress domes of Big Cypress National Park reflected in the sunlight, and I could see “end of the earth” Chockoloskee right next to Everglades City in the distance. Pretty…
I can understand why people like to live down there so far away from everything. But they too can not escape our problems ~not with water.
Yesterday, I called in for the final conference call of Governor-elect Ron DeSantis’ Transition Advisory Committee on the Environment, chaired by our own, Congressman Brian Mast. It was very, very interesting. Highlights of the call were recorded by TC Palm’s Ali Schmitz:
As a member of the public, I was able to listen-in on the call ~this one focusing on Agriculture, and make my recommendation.
Having served on the Constitution Revision Commission in 2018, I am especially drawn to the importance of government structure. DeSantis’ originally posted environmental policy statement listed Accountability for Water Quality. Right now, many Floridians wonder “who is charge,” who answers for our present lack of water quality? Some even think, understandably so, that it is the Army Corp of Engineers. It is not. Under the law, the state of Florida is responsible for water quality, but with “three cooks in the kitchen,” (DEP, Water Management Districts, and Dept of Agriculture) this is difficult. So with my time on the call, I asked for centralization of enforcement of water quality standards and a strong Lead Agency:
CENTRALIZE THE ENFORCEMENT OF WATER QUALITY STANDARDS. A Majority of water quality regulation is currently housed at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). However, certain water quality standards and monitoring reside within the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) which is overseen by the Commission of Agriculture. DeSantis will work with the Florida legislature to move all components of water quality regulation within the Executive Branch to DEP. This will increase uniformity and ensure that the Secretary of DEP, who is accountable to the Governor, has the tools necessary to meet the water quality standards that Floridians deserve. ~DeSantis for Governor website Sept. 2018.
As we all know, the inauguration is January 8th, 2019. Very exciting! Congratulations Governor DeSantis! And awesome that Congressman Mast is by your side!!
Before we get too excited, let’s not forget…
Today, I will post the website of Governor-Elect Ron DeSantis on the environment so we can remember what was promised and hold the governor and all members of the Transition Advisory Committee on the Environment accountable for next four years. Looking forward to a governor who will protect the environment on day one!
You’ll see that after the rain event, the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon looks terrible even with out Lake Okeechobee discharges. This is caused by directed water runoff from C-23, C-24, C-25, C-44 and “local” coastal runoff. Naturally, the river never took all this water. Humans made it this way, and we must fix it.
Soon after the torrential rain, the Army Corp of Engineers made things even worse and started dumping from Lake Okeechobee through the C-44 Canal into the St Lucie River by opening up the gates at S-308 and S-80.
My husband, Ed, first flew over Lake O on June 1st, just by chance. At this time, he spotted algae on the lake and took a photo. Ironically, the next day, the Army Corp started dumping from Lake Okeechobee on June 2nd!
After another long, hot summer, the Army Corp finally stopped discharging in the fall~October 5th… Take a look at the photos and remember to enjoy the blue water when it is here, but NEVER FORGET! Only though looking back, will we have the determination to change the future.
LAKE OKEECHBEE DISCHARGES ADDED
City of Stuart, June 9 2018.
Rio near Central Marine, week of June 12, 2018
LAKE O: Week of June 16th, June 25th, and July 22nd. Cyanobacteria (blue green algae) blooms and then subsides. ~All the while, this water is dumped into the St Lucie River by the Federal Govt.; the water quality is terrible and this the responsibility not of the Feds but of the State of Florida.
October 5, the ACOE stops dumping from Lake O. The blooms stop almost right away but the damage remains….
What should be normal, was a gift on Christmas Day, blue water in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. The peninsula of Sewall’s Point shone like the gem it is surrounded by aquamarine on both sides: the St Lucie River on its west, and the Indian River Lagoon on its east…
Feeling like the Bahamas, rather than the toxic-sludge we had to endure ~coming mostly from Lake Okeechobee this past summer, 2018, and yes, remember 2016, and 2013….the destruction must stop!
As 2019 edges into the picture, we will once again have to give everything we have to fight for clean water and encourage our state and federal government to support legislation “sending the water south.”
Seeing these beautiful blue waters once again is certainly encouraging. Now to keep the Army Corp and South Florida Water Management District at bay long enough, as projects proceed, and allow our precious seagrass beds to return so baby fish can once again hide, swim, and grow to maturity in these waters; once christened the “most bio-diverse in North America.”
Thank you to my dear husband, Ed, for these photos all taken 12-25-18. And from both of us, “Merry Christmas!”
Photo below as a comparison ___________________________________________________________________________
Recently, the Florida House of Representatives announced its committee appointments made by new House Speaker Jose Oliva. Today, I will note those appointed to environmental committees which, of course, function in the dark ages, bound together with agriculture. Advocates should know these key players and build relationships now, and during the committee process that beings January 8, 2019 ~not once Legislative Session begins in March. Too late!
So here we go…
The really all-powerful Speaker of the House is Jose Oliva who will reign from the end of 2018 to 2020. He is from Miami Lakes and is C.E.O. of Oliva Cigar Co. Read about him below and the committees and representatives over which he has great influence. Congratulations to him on attaining this leadership role that very few achieve.
Speaker Oliva’s environmental appointments are below with an article or two giving background on each appointee. Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee Chair, Rep. Holly Raschein is from Key Largo and a Health Care Special Projects Manager. Vice-chair, Rep. Rick Roth is from West Palm Beach and his heritage is linked to a multi-generational family-farm in the Everglades Agricultural Area. Holly has a track record supporting environmental issues such as the EAA Reservoir and Rick works for the environment within the goals of the EAA Environmental Protection District and the 1994 Everglades Forever Act. Read below about both representatives and what they have to say.
Interestingly, Holly Raschein also serves on the Subcommittee for Agriculture as and Natural Resources as vice-chair to, chair, Chuck Wesley, a College Administrator from Newberry (near Gainesville). Rep Wesley notes that “sustainable agriculture and the environment are some of his top goals.” You can read what he wrote in an op-ed for below. All this sounds good. But what does that really mean? Our job is to hold all of these politicians accountable.
Yes, it is important we know and communicate with who is in charge. I hope you will reach out to all of them through letter best, but email, or phone call helps too. I wish all my readers a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Thank you for reading my blog in 2019. I’m looking forward to seeing what 2019 will bring…
For more information on Florida House of Representatives go here https://www.myfloridahouse.gov. Look at their calendar, see when committees meet, follow what they are reviewing and call, write their office to let them know how much you love Florida and that water is key!
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.
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 eutrophicationof 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.
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…
You can read the full 1977 report at this long link below:
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.
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.
For me, the best thing about Election Day 2018 was the passage of Constitutional Amendment 9. But that will not be the end of it. Now it is the job of the state legislature to implement the amendment and for us to keep watch that they do.
What does that mean?
Basically, this means that the language that makes up the ballot amendment must be put into the Florida Constitution and “implemented,” or fulfilled. To be “implemented” the ballot language that composes the amendment must be inserted and followed.
Amendment 9 was made up of two parts. During the Constitution Revision Commission process, I had sponsored Proposal #91 Prohibiting Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling, and Commissioner Lisa Carlton had sponsored Proposal #65 Prohibits Vaping in Enclosed Indoors Workplaces. These two proposals made it through the arduous CRC committee process and then were “bundled” by the CRC Style and Drafting Committee relating as “Clean Air and Clean Water.” Thus on the ballot, married, what were P#91 and P#65 composed a new whole: Amendment 9 ~ Prohibiting Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling; Prohibits Vaping in Enclosed Indoors Workplaces.
As everyone who followed the election knows, the #RoadToTheBallot wasn’t easy, and Amendment 9 was criticized unmercifully by the press, and even went before the Florida Supreme Court. In the end, the court supported the bundling and the people of Florida did too. The voters read, studied, and decided for themselves, Clean Air and Clean Water in Florida is very, very important. The required 60% passage was exceeded; the amendment passed by 68.92%!
The people have spoken and now the state Legislature must do its work and implement the amendment by placing the ballot language into the Florida Constitution. See the language that comes off the Florida Division of Elections website below.
There have been times in the past, as with Amendment 1 2014, Florida’s Water and Land Conservation Initiative, where the state legislature did not follow the intent of the language once it was in the constitution. They interpreted it rather to benefit the state power structure. Some say this is partially because the language was vague and a court case was brought to try to clear up the amendment’s interpretation by the state legislature.
Thankfully, the language of both P#91 Prohibiting Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling and #65 Prohibits Vaping in Enclosed Indoors Workplaces are legally solid, specific, and should not leave any cracks open to be perverted by the state legislature. Nonetheless, we must keep a very watchful eye, as when it comes to Florida’s Legislature there is always the chance for corruption…
Read this article below to see why….
What do they say? “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely….” And who is the most powerful of all? The State Legislature!
New push for offshore drilling as Florida awaits recount results
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.
I am back from the “River of No Return,” and before I return to writing about the toxic algae crisis, I’d like to share my experience…
Camping? Are you kidding me?! I had not been camping since my parents took the family to Boy Scout Island to see the full moon over the Indian River Lagoon ca. 1978. Five nights, six days camping and rafting in Idaho with friends, the Wigleys, was great fun, but I am certainly aware that I am in no condition to survive in the wilderness!
Let’s remind ourselves – Where’s Idaho? Far out west, just east of Washington and Oregon, and just west of Montana and Colorado. Although a different world, dealing with fires not hurricanes, we do have a connection. We both have federally protected scenic rivers.
The Middle Fork of the Salmon River, A.K.A. the “River of No Return,” was one of the first eight rivers to be protected under the federal Wild & Scenic Rivers Act in 1968: (https://rivers.gov). In Florida, we have two designated Scenic Rivers: Indian River Lagoon neighbor, the Loxahatchee River, and the north central Florida’s Wekiva River: (https://www.rivers.gov/florida.php). Only a handful of U.S. rivers hold this special, protected status.
The Middle Fork of the Salmon with clean, clear water, challenging rapids, and spectacular mountain and desert scenery flows free for 104 miles. Nonetheless, due to dams along the connected Snake River, the salmon, for which the river is named, are far and few between compared to the pre-gold rush times when the native Shoshone “Sheepeater” people could “walk across” this river of salmon.
There is much talk in Idaho about removing dams, and of course a huge conflict with stakeholder farming entities. Sound familiar? Whether is the Florida Everglades’ River of Grass diversion to the St Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers, or Hells Canyon Dam in Idaho, people are looking for ways to undo some of what has been done to kill the rivers of the United States. Water is meant to flow, and when it does not, eventually sickness sets in, not only for wildlife and fauna, but for people too. It was Stuart’s famed environmentalist and Stuart News editor, Ernie Lyons, who said it best: “What people do, they can undo…” and this I believe is our journey, everywhere.
Since pictures speak louder than words, I will stop here, and say that even though the river was beautiful, and I was super excited to sees two bears, mountain sheep, eagles, and a plethora of other awesome animals – the most memorable experience I have no photo of, ~just a memory~ of endless stars in a black velvet sky with the Milky Way so thick and bright I felt like I could touch it, that I was it…
Remembering that we all are but a flicker in the grand scale of time, and most certainly, part of something much greater than ourselves.
“Florida’s Summer of Slime: Stuart and Lake Okeechobee,” photo essay by John Moran, August 2018
I reported last month on the plight of the Caloosahatchee River and its befouled waters flowing from Lake Okeechobee; delivering slime to waterfront neighborhoods in Fort Myers and Cape Coral along the way to the Gulf Islands of Southwest Florida.
Next up on our Summer of Slime photo tour is a visit to Stuart and Lake O…Stuart and environs is a glistening jewel born of water. It may well top the list of Florida cities in shoreline per capita. There’s simply water everywhere. Two forks of the St. Lucie River, the Indian River Lagoon, canals and peninsulas and islands, and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. Stuart is pictured above; below is neighboring Hutchinson Island.
But it wasn’t Stuart’s reputation for abundant clean water that drew me south from Gainesville with my cameras. In effect, I’ve become a traveling crime scene photographer—and slime is the crime. A devastating outbreak of toxic algae has once again hit the St. Lucie River and the Treasure Coast, fueled by the polluted waters of Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee River basin to the north. Damaging headlines trumpet the story to the nation and the world and Governor Scott has declared a state of emergency. It’s déjà vu all over again.
My hosts in Stuart were water blogger Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch and her husband, Ed Lippisch.
Ed took me up for a photo flight in his Piper Cub so I could get the big picture.
Seen from a small plane at 500 feet, Florida is a beautiful place.
Here’s Lake Okeechobee and the western terminus of the St. Lucie C-44 Canal. Administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Port Mayaca Lock and Dam has the capacity to discharge 14,800 cubic feet of water per second downstream to Stuart and the St. Lucie River Estuary, 26 miles away.
Sugar industry representatives say the water coming out of Lake Okeechobee is not the problem and that the algae outbreak in Stuart is primarily caused by Stuart’s own septic tanks and urban stormwater. This claim is contradicted by the extensive algae mats seen along the C-44 Canal between the Port Mayaca and St. Lucie Locks, well upstream from Stuart.
Lake Okeechobee historically drained south to Florida Bay, not east and west to the Atlantic and Gulf. The C-44 canal was built in 1916 to divert floodwaters to the coast.
A view of the St. Lucie Lock and Dam, several miles southwest of Stuart. On the day of my photo flight in late July, the dam gates were closed, visibly holding back algae from flowing downstream. Look closely and you can see what some people call The Seven Gates of Hell.
The St. Lucie Lock and Dam are an integral part of South Florida’s complex web of water management structures, born of an age when the Everglades was reviled as a watery wasteland and America was driven to drain it.
Below the St. Lucie Lock and Dam, in Palm City and Stuart, you can still find waterfront homes untouched by the algae bloom. But that’s no consolation for the thousands of Martin County residents whose lives are in upheaval once again this summer. The familiar pattern of algae outbreaks is fueled by fertilizer, manure and urban sources of nutrient pollution, including septic tanks.
All of this is compounded by denial and neglect by elected officials and agencies to whom we entrust the important work of environmental protection and public health.