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.
Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch took me on a driving tour of the C-44 Canal from Stuart to enormous Lake O, which is more like a stormwater treatment pond than a biologically healthy lake. “There are toxic algae blooms across the globe, but only one place where the government dumps it on you: Florida,” she says.
It’s not just the algae from Lake Okeechobee causing headaches along Florida’s east coast; the sheer volume of freshwater discharges is an environmental pollutant that overwhelms the estuary.
The Lake O gunk visible in the satellite view, above, is shown in the detail photo below.
Fishermen are still drawn to Port Mayaca. On the day we visited, I counted nine.
Dinner in hand (speckled perch), Felix Gui, Jr. has been fishing Lake O for 30 years. “The algae doesn’t affect the fish,” he says. “They eat the same, algae or no algae, and I haven’t gotten sick.” Experts have warned against eating fish exposed to the algae.
A Martin County Health Department sign at Port Mayaca warns against contact with the water but I saw no messaging about whether fish caught in these waters is safe to eat.
Enroute home to Stuart, Jacqui and I stopped at deserted Timer Powers Park on the St. Lucie Canal in Indiantown.
At the St. Lucie Lock, a surreal scene of impaired water, above, and a vortex of slime, below, waiting to be flushed downstream.
A pair of jet-skiers signaled for the lock to be opened, and another pulse of algae-laden water is released towards Stuart and the coast.
Wouldn’t want to anyway, thanks.
Further downstream, the algae spreads…
Nearing the coast, Rio Nature Park and the neighboring Central Marine in Stuart are slimed again. This was the epicenter of the infamous Treasure Coast algae outbreak of 2016.
Reporter Tyler Treadway of TCPalm gathered a sample of the polluted water from a canal behind the offices of Florida Sportsman magazine in Stuart.
Staff complaints of headaches, nausea and dizziness prompted Florida Sportsman publisher Blair Wickstrom to temporarily close the office in late July. “It smells like death,” he said.
The Shepard Park boat ramp parking lot in Stuart was nearly empty on the day we visited.
A man on a mission, Mike Knepper, above and below, posts videos on his Youtube channel documenting the degradation of natural Florida.
“It’s totally unacceptable to me what we’re doing to this planet because we’re very rapidly destroying it,” Knepper says. “My children and grandchildren will be paying the price for all the bad decisions we’re making today. I want to be able to look them in the face and say, ‘I tried to make a difference.’”
Dead-end canals along the St. Lucie River with their limited water exchange have been hardest hit by the toxic blue-green algae, which scientists refer to as cyanobacteria.
A growing body of medical research links exposure to cyanobacteria with neurodegenerative diseases including Parkinson’s, ALS and Alzheimer’s. Google it.
Meanwhile, we’re getting conflicting messages from officialdom. Martin County has erected signs warning against contact with the water but the Florida Dept. of Health website, under the heading How to Keep Your Family Safe While Enjoying Florida’s Water Ways, has this to say: “Cyanobacteria/ blue-green algae…are naturally occurring in Florida’s environment and are also found all over the world. They are part of a healthy ecosystem and help support a wide variety of aquatic life.” (http://www.floridahealth.gov/environmental-health/aquatic-toxins/cyanobacteria.html) In other words, Lighten up, Florida. This is just nature being natural.
An open question remains: What will become of the value of the Florida brand when the world fully sees what we have done to our waters?
Even in disaster, strange beauty emerges.
Greg Fedele has lived in his water-front home since 1991. He grieves for his loss. “I have three kids who can’t enjoy the waterways of Martin County like I did growing up.”
The sign at Ocean Blue Yacht Sales in Stuart echoes a wide swath of community sentiment. Asked to describe in a word how the algae outbreak has impacted his business, president Bryan Boyd replied, “Horrible. The last three years, our bay boat sales have been a third of what they used to be.”
A roadside sign seen in Stuart in late July. If you’re wondering what you can do about the ongoing crisis of Florida waters, we are called to consider our own water footprint, learn about the issues and get involved. And never forget that elections have consequences. Vote for Clean Water. (https://www.bullsugar.org/#)
What we have here in Florida is not just a crisis of water, we have a crisis of democracy and civic engagement.
From the beleaguered springs of North Florida to the sickened rivers and coasts of South Florida, we must understand that no savior is waiting on the horizon who will fix this thing for us.
It took a group effort to create this mess and we need all hands on deck if are to reclaim our waters. Florida needs environmental patriots willing to face down politicians funded by wealthy interests who think nothing of sacrificing our public waters on the altar of their private profits.
We don’t have the luxury of time to get this right. We are losing our waters now. This is our moment. It’s time to set aside our differences and focus on what is at stake, for this is nothing less than a battle for the soul of Florida.
The pictures don’t lie. We the people of Florida bear witness today to nothing less than a crime against nature, and a crime against the children who shall inherit our natural legacy.
A long time ago, Florida political leaders—Republicans and Democrats in common cause—understood there can be no healthy economy without a healthy environment. They wisely enacted laws and regulatory safeguards accordingly.
But that was then and this is now. It’s time to end the popular fiction in Florida that we can plunder and pollute our way to prosperity.
Gov. Reubin Askew said it best when he declared in 1971, “Ecological destruction is nothing less than economic suicide.”
I’m the kind of person who gets attached. I’m loyal to people and things that are good to me. One of those is the Legend Cub, the little yellow airplane that started flying in Stuart in 2013.
As she began to fly over the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon helping spot destruction from Lake Okeechobee discharges, she came to be known by those who saw her from the ground as the “River Warrior.” Over time, she became known far and wide to pilots, guests, reporters, home-owners, boaters, beach-goers, and children. She flew over multiple river rallies tipping wings side-to-side “waving” inspiring thousands of people.
She inspired me too.
When I was too afraid to get up in the air with my husband, it was she who gave me wings. I trusted her to help me tell our River Story and she did. She discovered algae water pouring through S-80 and the gigantic algae blooms documented in Lake Okeechobee…
Looking back on the thousands of photos Ed and I took from her open cockpit, these photos starting with the Treasure Coast Council of Local Governments, were shared and published~during that changing “Lost Summer,” of 2013, and then 2016, and now, 2018.
The River Warrior’s distinctive yellow strutted aerials have been instrumental in gaining statewide and national attention of the government sponsored destruction of our St Lucie River. The little plane gave us our first look from above and she woke us to action, yes, she did.
~Never a stutter and always with a singing engine she flew…
Since 2013, there have been more “Lost Summers,” now complete with disappeared seagrasses, and toxic blue-green algae to boot. She has seen it all. And today, there are now a total of five Cubs in Martin and Lee Counties. Indeed, being so cute and reliable, she stared a trend.
Nonetheless, next week, she is being sold and replaced with a “better” model. For me, there is no better model. She has changed the game; she gave me confidence to fly when I had none; she shall be missed and remembered forever. So if you see her this final week please wave “goodbye” and wish her well.
Farewell and thank you River Warrior plane. May your next adventure be as touching to those around you, as you have been to me. You are, and alway will be, the soul and heart of our river movement legend.
Documenting the discharges, is critical whether by air, on the ground, or from outer space.
The two videos above were taken by me over S-308 at Port Mayaca, the opening from Lake Okeechobee to the St Lucie River, and over S-80 at St Lucie Locks and Dam on Friday, July 20th, 2018. The satellite images below, my brother Todd Thurlow provided, were taken the same day.
It is clear that the blue-green algae/cyanobacteria, covering, at its height, 90% of Lake Okeechobee, has run its course and bloomed. Now, as the “flower falls,” we see what’s left.
As seen in the aerials, and what the satellite images cannot portray, is that the algae is still there just lessened. Flying out over the lake a light green algae film remains over the water, a pastel shadow of its once flourescent self.
The seven aerials at the end of this blog post were taken by my husband, Ed, this afternoon, July 22, 2018 around 4pm. The tremendous green shock is gone, but squiggly lines of nutrient bubbles remain, and blue-green algae visibly lines the eastern shoreline to be sucked into the gates…
Will another gigantic bloom arise? Another flower to replace the dropped blooms of yesterday? Only time shall tell…
One thing is certain. Nutrient pollution (Phosphorus and Nitrogen) is destroying Florida’s waters, and unless non-point pollution, especially fertilizer runoff from the agriculture community, is addressed, faster than Florida’s Basin Management Action Plan requires- pushed out 30 or more years, we are will be living with reoccurring blooms indefinitely.
Timely quote for thought by the late Mr Nathaniel Reed 1933-2018
“…The fact that the Department of Environmental Protection and the Everglades Foundation have at last identified every polluter in the vast Okeechobee headwaters is an astonishing feat. The sheer number of polluters is mind-boggling.
The failure to enforce the possibly unenforceable standard (best management practices) shines through the research as testament to the carelessness of our state governmental agencies about enforcing strict water quality standards within the watershed.
There is not a lake, river nor estuary in Florida that is not adversely impacted by agricultural pollution.
As one of the authors of the 1973 Clean Water Act, I attempted late in the process to include agricultural pollution in the bill, but the major congressional supporters of the pending bill felt that by adding controls on agricultural pollution the bill would fail.
Now, 54 years later, fertilizer and dairy wastes are the main contributors to the pollution of the waters of our nation. Algal blooms are all too common even on the Great Lakes.”
My brother Todd looked through near 1000 historic satellite images to create this video of Lake Okeechobee images from 1972-2013. Wait until 2014-2018 are added! That will say a lot. But wait, it’s interesting to note, that in this video, one can see a substantial algae bloom in Lake Okeechobee in 1979.
The state of Florida has known for decades how passive “environmental protection” would add-up, that Lake O is eutrophic, and sick. The lake was made to over-flow and we contain it. We should know, you can’t contain an “ocean…”
~“The consequences of ignoring ecological planning and environmental protection could be economically devastating in a way not commonly foreseen.” Environments of South Florida Present and Past, by Patrick J. Gleason 1974.
LAKE OKEECHOBEE REGULATION SCHEDULE (LORS) http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Portals/44/docs/h2omgmt/LORSdocs/2008_LORS_WCP_mar2008.pdf
The second she said it, I was at full attention. This past Tuesday, Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation Director, Ms. Rae Ann Wessel, spoke on the Army Corps of Engineers Periodic Scientists Call. In seven years of listening, in seven years of agency and public comment, I had never heard, seriously, and scientifically, someone address South Florida’s greatest taboo.
Ms Wessel said something like this:
Part of the LORS (Lake Okeechobee Release Schedule 2008) addresses “shared adversity.” Lake Okeechobee is approximately 470,000 acres. Would it be possible to put the water the Corps plans to release from the lake over approximately 484,000 acres of crop lands just south of the lake, rather than into estuaries? The Caloosahatchee algae situation is already at its absolute worst…
You could hear a pin drop…
Wessel was recommending options to the Army Corps and stakeholders regarding the ACOE restarting discharges to the estuaries. Since the previous week’s call, due to NOAA images showing 90% of the lake covered in cyanobacteria blooms, and crisis of algae in both estuaries, the Governor and other powerful politicians asked the federal agency to temporarily stop discharges considering all options before discharging, once again.
Just the previous day, before Wessel’s comment, after viewing the putrid algal mess in the Caloosahatchee, Gov. Rick Scott called for a State of Emergency encompassing seven counties.
Some history, earlier this year, the Caloosahatchee was almost begging the South Florida Water Management District and ACOE for water, but was denied. Now the Caloosahatchee is receiving so much water, with algae to boot, that they are experiencing a toxic summer similar to what the St Lucie experienced in 2016. The Caloosahatchee has had it especially tough this year.
The elephant in the room, or perhaps better described as the Tyrannosaurus rex in the room, is that with Lake Okeechobee over 14 feet, and the fact that we are now approaching the most turbulent part of hurricane season, the ACOE “has to start releasing again,” like now! And everybody knows this.
Therefore, Rae Ann was looking for options, for sharing adversity, and this was fair as the Calloosahatchee has bore most of the adversity this year. She wasn’t talking about flooding the cities in the EAA, she was inquiring about flooding the fields, by less than a foot of water that would evaporate quickly at that extension and depth, maybe stressing but not killing the crops. Sugarcane in particular, is a hardy and durable crop for intermittent periods of water.
Shared adversity… Certainly, the estuaries have have their “fair” share…
So why does the ACOEhave to dump to the estuaries? Why is it taboo to talk about flooding the fields? Because although the 2008 LORS talks about shared adversity the EAA is federally protected by an older and more important document.
The ACOE in not a teacher picking favorites, they are the military taking orders from Congress.
First, the Corps would build a levee from northwest Palm Beach County to the south of Dade County along the east coast, thereby preventing flooding fromthe Everglades to the coastal communities. Second, the Corps would modify control facilities and levees around Lake Okeechobee in order to create more water storage, and it would increase the discharge capacity from the lake in order to prevent flooding. Third, the Corps would create three water conservation areas in Palm Beach, Broward and Dade counties for water storage. Fourth, the Corps would construct canals, levees, and pumping stations to protect 700,000 acres of agriculture south of Lake Okeechobee in Palm Beach, Hendry, and Glades counties, known as the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA). Fifth, the Corps would build canals and water control structures to handle drainage in Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Martin, and St. Lucie counties.
This bolded section is the key, this is why Rae Ann Wessel’s question rung so loudly in the silence of the ACOE call. For the ACOE, it is “understood,” that no matter the case, even with LORS, and in spite of “shared adversity,” that 700,000 acres of agriculture fields, south of Lake Okeechobee is to be protected from flooding destruction.
But as we all know, nothing lasts forever.
Just like other laws of our great county, some do, indeed over time, become outdated for the times. Things change. Among other issues, in 1950, when the Central and South Flood Project law was structured and voted upon to protect the crops in the EAA as part of flood control 2.81 million people lived in Florida. Today, 20 million people reside here. In the old days, the discharges did not have the impact as they do today, the rivers were healthier, and the Lake, it wasn’t so polluted. But now, seventy years later, water quality, pollution, and human health issues have risen to a point of question. “In emergency situations”, is discharging cyanobacteria water from Lake Okeechobee into the now heavily populated areas along the estuaries to prevent flooding of the Everglades Agricultural Area in the state’s best interest, or is it archaic, like the T-Rex in the room?
It might be time to re-evaluate South Florida’s greatest taboo.
Ed and I have just returned from vacation. Ironically leaving June 28th, the day the ACOE announced a nine-day reprieve due to algae in Lake Okeechobee; and returning July 8, the day before the ACOE may open S-308 into the St Lucie River once again.
It was a great trip and the weather was excellent.
Ed was our pilot, and we flew with stops from Stuart to Michigan. It was remarkable to sit in the airplane and see the land below me ~ever changing from swampland, to farmland, to cites, to forest, to mountains, to rivers, and peppered with hundreds of lakes….
When we finally approached the Great Lakes Region, I was looking for the algae I had read so much about, and yes, there were some lakes turned green. But not in the vast northern waters of Lake Michigan, or Lake Huron, these lakes were deep mirrors of blue.
“The water here looks like the Bahamas,” Ed noted. We both looked in wonder at their hue.
Sometimes, I awoke at night, thinking of home. Thinking about how there is nothing like it, in spite of the many wonders of our great county. In spite of the beautiful, blue, icy waters of Lake Michigan.
On the way home to Stuart, I asked Ed if we could fly inland over Lake Okeechobee just to see. It was midday and the clouds had popped up and I knew we’d have to do my least favorite thing, fly though them. As the turbulence engulfed the airplane, I closed my eyes and prayed. And then finally, as always, we were through.
The lake opened up before us like an ocean.
I could clearly see the algae at about three thousand feet. It was visible roughly a mile off the lake’s east coast out into the lake for as far as the eye could see. Ed flew west and then circled around. The green masses of algae had been pushed into geometric designs by the wind, and they were everywhere. We flew for miles over the middle of the lake and beyond. To my surprise, the repetitive, endless, formations of cyanobacteria caused something unexpected to happen. Rather than my usual disgust, or anger for the destruction of the St Lucie, I felt myself begin to tear-up. “This poor lake,” I thought to myself. “I know you were once so beautiful even mythical; what have we done to you?
I wiped the tear from my eye, so sad for what is happening to the waters of my beloved Florida. Ed turned the plane, and we headed home…
S-308 algae was visible about a mile off the east coast of the lake and on and off, sometimes heavy, inside of the S-308 structure and in the C-44 canal to S-80 at St Lucie Locks and Dam.
S-80 was open and algae could be seen going through the gates from the C-44 canal
Home at last. Sewall’s Point Park River Kidz FDOT recycled sign art
If this is true, and with Ed Killer posting, I believe it is, the ACOE will start releasing again Monday, 6-25-18. I did not know this until I read his post.
Today, my husband Ed and I were flying other people over Florida as usual, and during our flight I took this video expecting maybe some algae in C-44 but instead also found the gigantic bloom against the gates of S-308 in Lake Okeechobee leading into C-44/SLR.
So I wrote on Facebook:
I am so over this, but cannot fail to report. According to Ed Killer ACOE will start discharging from Lake O tomorrow in spite of Governor’s Emergency Order. Look at this algae mess waiting at gates of Port Mayaca. Write ACOE’s LTC Jennifer Reynolds and politely ask for ACOE to wait and to have DEP test again: email@example.com (JTL-S-308 video taken 6-24-15 at 12pm) #toxic2018
As Monday is tomorrow, and I fly to DC with the River Kidz tomorrow, I am posting this now. I truly believe considering the circumstances, that the ACOE should refrain from discharging at S-308 or S-80. And the state’s FDEP (Florida Department of Environmental Protection) should have this water tested, again, as bloom has changed.
To just dump this on the people of Martin County along the St Lucie River is a crime.
PLEASE WATCH THE VIDEO
Entrance to Caloosahatchee on west side of lake and near Clewiston Bloom is all through lake.
I could never do what I do without the people who help me. My husband, his pilot friends, the everyday people sending me “toxic-algae” imagery, the River Warriors community, and when it comes to striking the bull’s-eye, my science-studied-lawyer, little brother, Todd.
Just hours ago, Todd forwarded these images from satellites, Landsat 7, and Sentinel 2, clearly showing a large algae bloom photographed yesterday in Lake Okeechobee. 102 square-miles of it!
So Florida state agencies, and others…
…Do not tell me the algae comes from our river. It does not. We have been through this before….
The algae, that can become toxic, and maybe already is, starts in, and comes from the crock-pot of Lake Okeechobee. The Army Corp of Engineers should stop discharging right now. Right when the Colonel sees these images. And these images have been seen, because NASA makes these images available to the Corp.
When a satellite image like this is made public, it cannot be ignored.
The ACOE should close the gates of S-308 until DEP has tested all edges of this large bloom. And work for never discharging when there is an algae bloom in Lake Okeechobee.
Since my husband, Ed, accidentally spotted an algae bloom in Lake Okeechobee, while running new engines on the Baron, I have posted many photos on Facebook and the word is out.
Nonetheless, for purposes of documentation, I am going to post some of the photos again on my blog for historical purposes and for those who do not use Facebook.
~Ed noticed the “lines of algae” in the lake on June 2, two miles or so northwest of Port Mayaca, the day after the ACOE started discharging from Lake O into the St Lucie River. Absolute chance, fate, or a tip from above, however you decide to look at it.
Since this time others have documented on the ground and DEP should be testing for toxicity.
So, after seeing the bloom on Friday, Ed went back the following day on Saturday in windy conditions so I stayed home–in the yellow plane, the Cub, getting more pictures of bloom, looking about the same but more dispersed from rain perhaps. These photos at lower altitude also include drainage structures around the lake, as well as the destruction of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon at Sewall’s Point and the St Lucie Inlet.
Photos will continue to be taken as we once again, document the discharges, and once again have seen first-hand, like we did in 2016, without the warning of our government, that the algae that contaminates the St Lucie River starts in Lake Okeechobee.