Tag Archives: Lake Okechobee

Is Agriculture’s Use of Glyphosate Feeding Lake O’s Explosive Algae Blooms? Professor Geoffrey Norris, SLR/IRL

Writing my blog allows me to meet many interesting people. Recently, fellow Sewall’s Point resident, and active Vietnam Veterans of America member, Mr. Frank Tidikus, introduced me to Canadian and part-time Martin County resident, Professor Geoffrey Norris who is a geologist and algae fossil specialist with a long career at the University of Toronto.

Professor Norris, his wife, and I met at the Prawnbroker and had a lovely exchange. Dr Norris describes himself as such…

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Professor Geoffrey Norris, Ph.D. FRSC

University of Toronto: http://www.es.utoronto.ca/people/faculty/norris-geof/

...In the 1960s, I lived and worked as a petroleum exploration geologist in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Subsequently, I spent almost 40 years at the University of Toronto in teaching and research in  geology…A  geologist by training, I have a specialized knowledge of fossil algae, their ecology, morphology, and distribution.  I have published hundreds of scientific papers on fossil algae and related topics…

Professor Norris shared two papers composed for his property association at Indian River Plantation on Hutchinson Island along the Indian River Lagoon during the 2016 toxic algae extravaganza. Today, I will share the first entitled: “Blue-green algal blooms in the lakes, rivers, and marine waters of south Florida surrounding Lake Okeechobee.” His second, specifically on Sugarcane, I will provide next week.

Professor Norris’ summary and full paper is below. It is excellent in that it is able to relay complex subjects to the everyday reader interested in water quality and improving the plight of our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.

What is most amazing to me are his comments on glyphosate, most famous for being the active ingredient in Roundup, but now used under many names. Sometimes I hear people screaming so much about Roundup that I tune it out, but Professor Norris’ observations really got to me.

He notes that glyphosate, used excessively in agriculture production around south and central Florida may actually “feed”cyanobacteria (toxic blue-green algae blooms). Also mind-blowing are Professor Norris’ insights into the reproduction of the hungry and ancient cyanobacteria that reproduces through binary fission (copying itself) “producing endless clones” “with no dissipation of mutant genes as a checks and balance to adaptation…”

Yikes! Really?

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Blue-green algae mat St Lucie River July 2016, Snug Harbor, JTL
Well, enjoy the reading the paper. And know, together we are making a difference!

Jacqui

 

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Public maps info shared by Dr Norris, courtesy of USGA
Blue-green algal blooms in the lakes, rivers, and marine waters of south Florida surrounding Lake Okeechobee 

Executive Summary

  • This report provides basic information on blue-green “algae” and explains that they are actually bacteria (cyanobacteria). These blue-green bacteria form blooms in Lake Okeechobee that in turn are released by the Army Corps of Engineers into canals and estuaries of south Florida.
  • The blue-green bacteria grow by using sunlight as an energy source to synthesize elements from the water into more complex compounds used in their cells. When important nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen are present in excess, the bacteria multiply rapidly and accumulate as highly concentrated masses of cells, called blooms.
  • Blue-green bacteria can synthesize nitrates from atmospheric nitrogen, but also need phosphorus dissolved in water to survive and thrive. If phosphorus is scarce in the water, this limits the growth of the bacteria.  If it is abundant, blooms can be triggered.
  • Run-off and back pumping into Lake Okeechobee from surrounding Everglades agricultural lands and upstream from the Kissimmee River watershed is suspected of providing a potential abundant source of phosphorus for blue-green bacteria, in phosphate-rich fertilizers and herbicides such as Roundup (glyphosate).
  • Glyphosate (2-[(phosphonomethyl)amino]acetic acid) is of particular concern, since it has been used heavily in the agricultural areas around Lake Okeechobee and upstream in the Kissimmee River watershed for at least 25 years. Glyphosate provides a source of phosphorus for blue-green bacteria and recent research by others suggest that glyphosate enhances the growth of blue-green bacteria, which become tolerant and absorb glyphosate directly.
  • The blue-green bacterial blooms released into the St Lucie Estuary (principally Microcystis) are formed in freshwater but appear to be tolerant of dilute salinities, and recent research suggests can build up resistance to increased salinities such as are found in estuarine waters.

Blue-green algal blooms in the lakes, rivers, and marine waters of south Florida surrounding Lake Okeechobee

By Geoffrey Norris Ph.D. FRSC

rosalex@interlog.com

6 July 2016

Introduction

I am a property owner in Stuart, Florida and have been alarmed – along with many others – at the spread of blue-green algae (aka cyanobacteria) into the St Lucie River and adjacent areas by water releases from Lake Okeechobee.  There has been much publicity and calls for action over the years but very little appears to have been done to solve this long-standing problem at any level of government, until very recently.  Now, a State of Emergency has been declared by the Governor of Florida.  Recent initiatives, following public meetings in Martin County thanks to the Board of County Commissioners, have been undertaken by Florida Representative Gayle Harrell and Senator Joe Negron and their colleagues in association with Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson and Rep. Patrick Murphy to urge the Army Corps of Engineers to stop immediately the nutrient-laden discharges from Lake Okeechobee.

Although I am a property owner and tax payer in Martin County, I am also a Canadian snowbird and therefore do not have a vote, which is a little constraining when trying to influence political decisions.  Therefore, I decided to put my energies into assessing what is known about the current situation of the blue-green blooms.  I am a geologist by training and I do have a specialized knowledge in particular of fossil algae that have been extremely important in oil and gas exploration over the decades gone by.  I am not a biologist but I do have some knowledge of the literature on algae – their ecology, morphology and distribution in various environments.  I have published hundreds of scientific papers on fossil algae and related topics and hope that the following – largely based on biological and agricultural literature – will pass muster.

In the following presentation my aims are twofold:

Firstly, to try and answer commonly asked questions about blue green algae (which are actually bacteria) that might be helpful in clarifying some of the technicalities of a complex subject.

Secondly, to highlight what to my mind is the ultimate cause of the blue-green outbreak:  that is, the heavy application of phosphate-bearing fertilizers and herbicides around Lake Okeechobee together with back pumping of agricultural run-off into the Lake.  In particular I believe that the well-known weed killer glyphosate (e.g. Roundup) may be implicated as a major contributor to the problem.  South Florida and somewhat later Central Florida became major users of Roundup in the early 1990s, long before its popularity spread north into the corn and bean belt.

Feel free to pass this article on to others.  I would welcome comments by email at rosalex@interlog.com

What are blue-green algae?

Well, for starters they are not actually algae at all.  They were discovered in the 19th century by biologists using newly invented high-powered microscopes. They noticed a variety of microorganisms living in water, some of them with green pigments in the cells that allowed photosynthesis to occur, similar to the well-known photosynthesis occurring in the much larger land plants and driven by chlorophyll.  But they were much simpler in organization than the large land plants so were called “algae” (singular alga, from the Latin word for seaweed).  Some of these microorganisms contain a rather different bluish pigment and were therefore referred to as “blue-green”, and in these early days were judged nevertheless to be algae – hence blue-green algae.

It was only later that biologists realized that the blue-green microorganisms were crucially different from algae because they had no nucleus in the cell and their pigment was not organized into a “blob” within the cell like most other algae.  In the scientific literature they are now regarded as bacteria and the blue-greens are referred to as cyanobacteria – that is, photosynthetic bacteria that use a blue-green pigment to facilitate the use of the sun’s energy to produce organic compounds needed by these organisms.

It is important to understand this difference between the blue-green cyanobacteria on the one hand and the “true” algae on the other.  I will come back to the difference between bacteria and algae later, and how this impacts on bloom formation.

Meanwhile, the term “blue-green algae” has gained traction in the news media and is now widely understood to be implicated in the blooms of microorganisms that occur from time to time in lakes and rivers in Florida and elsewhere.  I will use either of the terms “blue-green algae” or  “cyanobacteria” depending on the context, or just the neutral term “blue-greens”.  But remember they are actually bacteria.

What are algal blooms?

An algal bloom is the result of rapid increase or accumulation of algae in a body of water.  They can occur in freshwater (lakes, rivers) or in marine water (estuaries, lagoons, coastal embayments).   Different types of algae (including the blue-green cyanobacteria) produce different blooms characterized by green, bluish, yellow, brown or red colors.  The density of pigmented cells in a bloom is enormous, and measured in the hundreds of thousands to billions of cells per liter (1 liter is almost a quart) depending on the species.

Blooms can be quite localized and appear as a streak on the water or can be very large and visible from space, such as the algal blooms that occur from time to time in Lake Erie and measure tens to hundreds of miles in extent.  The recent blue-green algal bloom in Lake Okeechobee was reported to be more than 30 square miles in extent.

What causes blooms?

Blooms occur naturally when the water contains an excess of nutrients such as phosphorus and other compounds.  This causes an increase in the growth of algae leading to very high concentrations of cells that become visible as colored streaks and patches in the water.  Other factors involved in triggering algal blooms include temperature changes, sunlight intensity, changes in water chemistry and changes in water currents.

What are the red tides that occur in Florida?
A red tide is just another name for a bloom of “true” algae in marine water, and in this case a particular algal group called dinoflagellates.  Red tides can be red but more often occur as greenish or yellowish colored water in the coastal areas of Florida.  The term “harmful algal bloom” is often preferred in referring to these dinoflagellate blooms that do indeed harm wildlife and human life in different ways e.g. toxic shellfish poisoning; respiratory illness; mass fish kills.

So what caused the blue-green algal blooms in Lake Okeechobee?

First, it is important to understand that blue green algae are uniquely different.  Not only are they photosynthetic bacteria but they are also capable of manufacturing their own supply of nitrates from nitrogen in the atmosphere, one of their crucial nutritional requirements.  So the blue-greens have plenty of nitrogen to live on but they also need other important elements and compounds to thrive.  One of these is phosphorus, which often occurs naturally in water in trace amounts as phosphates.  If phosphorus is scarce, then this limits the growth of the blue-greens even though they have potentially a lot of nitrates available.  The amount of phosphorus available becomes a limiting factor for growth of the blue-green algae.  If phosphorus becomes more abundant in the water, then the blue-green algae thrive and multiply until they become visible as a bloom.  It is believed that high phosphorus concentrations in Lake Okeechobee are capable of triggering blue-green algal blooms.

So where did the phosphorus come from in Lake Okeechobee?

Lake Okeechobee is surrounded by agricultural land that is being intensively farmed.  Run-off from the farmland appears to be entering Lake Okeechobee, and this includes various phosphate-rich fertilizers and herbicides such as Roundup (glyphosate).

But Lake Okeechobee water levels are higher than the surrounding plain.  How can run-off into the Lake happen?

Well, firstly, Lake Okeechobee and the surrounding farmland share a common water table.  Transfer of minerals and soluble organic compounds can occur through the groundwater.  But probably more importantly, until recently it was common farming practice to back pump excess run-off water from the agricultural land into Lake Okeechobee.  Almost certainly this had led to the accumulation of phosphorus and other nutrients in the Lake as well as unused agricultural chemicals.  Aerial transmission into the Lake from crop dusting is also possible.

So now that back pumping has been discontinued will this solve the problem?

Not really, because although farmers now are not allowed to back pump into the Lake, the South Florida Water Management District has responsibility to alleviate the threat of flooding.  They can – and do – back pump surface water from the surrounding land into Lake Okeechobee, if excessive rainfall conditions threaten to flood the communities around the Lake.  Rainwater running off the agricultural land will still contain phosphorus and other compounds derived from fertilizers.  Furthermore, from time to time the Army Corps of Engineers controls the level of Lake Okeechobee by releases of lake water into the canals, which in turn feed into the estuaries around Stuart and other coastal communities.

Are there any other agricultural products that are contributing to the appearance of blue-green algal blooms?

Yes, there is one in particular that is of great concern.  Glyphosate is the active ingredient in the well-known weed killer Roundup.  It is used intensively by farmers over much of North America.  South Florida is one of the areas where it is being used very heavily in agriculture, and has been since at least 1992 (the earliest available data).  A little further to the north, Central Florida’s usage of glyphosate surged in 1993 and continued until 2013 (the last available data) and may also be a source of glyphosate in Lake Okeechobee but originating further upstream in the Kissimmee River watershed and its interconnected lakes.

http://water.usgs.gov/nawqa/pnsp/usage/maps/show_map.php?year=2001&map=GLYPHOSATE&hilo=L

Why is glyphosate of such concern?

Glyphosate is an organic compound with phosphorus as an important component as well as nitrogen in its chemical make-up. It was invented by Monsanto chemists, brought to market in 1974, and its chemical name is N-(phosphonomethyl)glycine (aka 2-[(phosphonomethyl)amino]acetic acid)  –  glyphosate for short and much more easily remembered.  Monsanto’s patent on glyphosate expired in 2000 and since then it has been manufactured by dozens of companies with a significant drop in price and therefore increasing popularity with farmers.  In 2007 it became the most-used herbicide in agriculture in USA.  It works as a weed killer by inhibiting the production of certain plant amino acids and enzymes.  After it has done its deadly work, some of it can break down in the soil into simpler molecules of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and phosphorus.  Excess glyphosate can run off into water, particularly at peak farming times.  Its use has been expanding in the agricultural sector by about 20% per year for the last several years.

So far, so good.  It kills most green plants, if that is what you want.  I personally use it to kill poison ivy on my property.  Unfortunately, it has become apparent through a number of recent laboratory-based studies that glyphosate does not act as a killer for some blue-green algae, aka cyanobacteria.  Firstly, the blue-greens love the phosphorus in glyphosate or its degradation products, which otherwise is a limiting factor in their survival.  They thrive on increased phosphorus.  Secondly and more insidiously, recent research has indicated that glyphosate actually enhances the growth of blue-greens.  The blue-greens apparently have the ability to absorb glyphosate directly from the water and some are tolerant to it or become adapted to it by rare genetic mutations.

OK, but rare genetic mutations are just that – rare!  So what?

Well, you remember that blue-greens are actually bacteria, not true algae.  As such their genetic material is distributed throughout the cell, and they reproduce by binary fission producing endless clones.  There is no “mix-and-matching” of chromosomes and genes such as occur in nucleated organisms using sexual reproduction that tends to dissipate the effects of mutant genes.  Once a cyanobacterium has undergone a mutation, that mutant gene is replicated again and again as the cell divides.  It produces clones of the mutant cell, and if that mutant has an advantage (such as resistance to or affinity for glyphosate), it will rapidly spread.

A more familiar example is the recent rise to prominence of so-called superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics.  Human infections are often related to bacteria that enter the body, and are treated by the intake of prescribed antibiotics as a course of treatment for a number of days.  If the antibiotics are not taken for an adequate period of time, the residual bacterial population includes mutants that resist the drug in question, and in turn that drug becomes less and less effective against new infections. This way a superbug is created e.g. MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).  So think of the blue-greens as bacteria (which they are) and glyphosate as an antibiotic (which it is).  Those blue-green cyanobacteria that survive the glyphosate thrive as mutants and have the capacity to spread widely.

Do blue-green blooms last forever?

No.  Eventually the blue-green bloom uses up available resources and requires more nutrients than are available leading to a decline in the number of cells in the water column.  Also in temperate climates, the onset of winter temperatures can put an end to algal blooming for that season.

Then what happens?

The blue-green cells die off and sink to the bottom of the lake or estuary.  Other bacteria move in and use the debris from the dead blue-greens as a source of carbon, and use oxygen in the water to fuel their own growth.  This in turn leads to oxygen depletion that can be very severe.  Without oxygen in the water, normal aquatic life becomes impossible and a dead zone is created: fish move away, and other organisms die that can’t move into more oxygen-rich environments.

How many blue-green algae/cyanobacteria exist?

About 2500 living species have been described in the literature but probably double or treble that number exist and await discovery and description.  They have a very long geological history.  Fossilized blue-greens have been discovered in rocks 3.5 billion years old.

How many are harmful?

Only a dozen or so species are actually harmful when they form blue-green blooms and emit toxic substances.  In the recent outbreak, Microcystis aeruginosa has been identified as a bloom-forming cyanobacterium together with a couple of others.

So which blue-greens are responsible for the Lake Okeechobee and St Lucie River blooms?

The Florida Dept of Environmental Protection (DEP) took a number of samples from sites in Martin County and adjacent areas from Late May to Late June 2016 and the results are available at their website:

https://depnewsroom.wordpress.com/south-florida-algal-bloom-monitoring-and-response/

Most samples are reported as “mixed algae; no dominant species in the sample”, but a few are reported with more detail (numbers are depth in meters):

Martin County

St. Lucie River, Central Marine Marina (N 27° 12′ 55″, W -80° 15′ 18″)

0.3 Dominant taxon: Microcystis aeruginosa
Martin County

Dire Point Canal (N 27° 12′ 24.47″, W -80° 16′ 16.90″)

0.3 m mixed algae; no dominant species in sample though specks of Microcystis aeruginosa present.
Martin County

SE Harbor Pointe Dr. (N 27° 12′ 12.44″, W -80° 12′ 44.77″)

0.3 m mixed algae; no dominant species in sample though specks of Microcystis aeruginosa present.
Martin County

C-44 and S. Fork Mouth (N 27° 7′ 46.13″, W -80° 15′ 58.02″)

0.3 m mixed algae; no dominant species in sample though specks of Microcystis aeruginosa present.
Martin County

S-80 (N 27° 06′ 41.87″, W -80° 17′ 06.08″)

0.5 m Dominant taxon: Planktolyngbya limnetica
Martin County

Lake Okeechobee – Port Mayaca S 308 C Upstream Lake Side

N 26° 59′ 6″

W -80° 37′ 16.5″

Water column Dominant: Microcystis aeruginosa
Hendry County

Lake Okeechobee near Channel Marker 9B

N 26° 46′ 36.6954″

W -80° 54′ 8.676″

Water column Co-dominant taxa: Microcystis aeruginosa and Dolichospermum circinalis

Clearly, Microcystis appears to be important in several blooms, but quantitative and qualitative data are not provided for the majority of samples, making further evaluation impossible at this time. Dolichospermum (aka Anabaena) is a well known blue-green that produces nerve toxins and liver-damaging toxins, as does Microcystis. Planktolyngbya limnetica is another well known toxic blue-green.

How adequate has the sampling and analysis program by DEP been?

It is difficult to say for sure, since DEP only provides results of their program, not the sampling and analytical strategies themselves.  However, from what can be gleaned from their website it would seem that during the month of June 2016 DEP collected 24 samples from 7 counties (Martin, Palm Beach, St Lucie, Lee, Charlotte, Hendry, Glades) over a 29 day period, covering a transect from the Atlantic coast to the Gulf of Mexico (Stuart/Palm Beach to Fort Myers).  Of those 24 samples, 83% were reported “mixed algae; no dominant species in the sample” without further details.  I would judge this to be a token response to what is clearly a major emergency.  The analytical results appear to be lackluster to judge from details available on the website.  No doubt DEP activities are constrained by their budget, but the lack of urgency in attempting to characterize these blooms is disappointing at best and may eventually be judged negligent to some degree.

What is known about Microcystis aeruginosa?

Quite a lot.  It is the most common harmful algal bloom-forming species in freshwater.  The cells are tiny but colonies can be macroscopic in size and contain gas vesicles that allow the colonies to be buoyant and float to the surface of the lake.  It produces both neurotoxins and hepatotoxins that contaminate the water and have been known to kill  dogs, other large animals and livestock in general that drink the polluted water.  The toxins may be carcinogenic.   Microcystis has a drastic effect on dissolved oxygen in the water that can lead to mass fish kills.

Can blue-green algae live in salt water?

This depends on the species.  Many truly marine blue-greens are known in seas and oceans where they play an important role in nitrogen fixation and are important components of the marine ecosystem.  In the case of Stuart and the St Lucie inlet and estuary, these natural estuarine waters have been diluted and/or replaced by fresher water discharges from Lake Okeechobee as shown in recent Florida Oceanographic Society water quality reports:

http://www.floridaocean.org/uploads/docs/blocks/867/160630.pdf

In turn this has allowed freshwater blue-greens such as Microcystis to establish colonies and blooms in areas that otherwise would support more saline organisms.  So, for example, on June 30th 2016, the north and south forks of the St Lucie River, the St lucie River adjacent to Sewells Point, and the Manatee Pocket were reporting salinity values in the range of zero to 13 parts per thousand, areas which otherwise would be in the range of 15 to 30 parts per thousand.  Hence some of these diluted saline waters can now support freshwater blue-greens.

Alarmingly, recent laboratory-based research has shown that some blue-greens – such as Microcystis – can build up resistance to increased salinity and, therefore, if this happens in the natural habitat can expand their range from freshwater to higher salinities.

What can be done to improve the situation?

If you have a vote at any level of government, contact your elected politicians to highlight the urgent nature of the blue-green blooms and to bring pressure to bear to use available resources to solve the matter.

  • Stop the back pumping of run-off water by anyone into Lake Okeechobee.
  • Curtail the heavy application of phosphorus-rich agricultural chemicals in farmland surrounding Lake Okeechobee.
  • In particular, request a thorough scientific investigation into the effects of glyphosate (Roundup) on blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) and their blooms.
  • In the long run, demand that the dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee be rebuilt with a view to diverting southwards the impounded waters back into the Everglades.
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    Dr and Mrs Norris
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Cheerio!

Knowing the Hurricane Disaster Map of Lake Okeechobee, Road Trip, SLR/IRL

As you know, we are on a Road Trip. We are driving through not only to learn about the Glades, but also to learn about ourselves. Whether we realize it or not, we are all connected. We are related by history, by the drainage of the Everglades, and by a “better water future” we have no choice but to build together.

This map  of the Glades is from the Florida Memory Project. It maps flood damage from two great hurricanes. Notice that the 1926 Hurricane damaged mostly the western part of the lake near Moore Haven, where as the 1928 Hurricane most intensely hit the eastern communities around Belle Glade. The towns/areas of Canal Point, Pahokee, Bacom Point, Belle Glade, South Bay, Lake Harbor, Bare Beach, Clewiston, Moore Haven and Newell all had to rebuild. “Chosen” near Belle Glade was chosen to be lost…

 

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These past hurricanes define the history and the nature of some of the people of the Glades. The ones who “made-it” are survivors beyond anything we can possibly envision.

As Mr Lawrence E. Will an old family, a  politician,  and a prolific writer from the area wrote in HURRICANE:

“One word describes it. It was Hell. A raging inferno of rolling, swirling waters, of shrieking, demoniac winds, of lashing rain and of darkness, black and absolute. There were no atheists that night on the shores of Okeechobee! Then for the those still living came the second phase of hell; the phase of desolation and despair; of searching in the flooded woods and marshes, in elder clumps and sawgrass for the horrible remains of family and friends and neighbors; of loading them into trucks by unending scores; and finally of burning them in help of dozens when they could no longer be transported. It is hard to know which hell was worse…”

As we know in the 1930s the Herbert Hoover Dike was built to avoid such a disaster from happening again…but there is always the question of whether it will or not. It is dangerous to live on the low side of a dike.

As advocates of the St Luice River/Indian River Lagoon, we must be sensitive when discussing Senate President Joe Negron’s proposal for 60,000 acres to be purchased south of the lake to store, convey and move water south to the Everlgades. One can see how shouts of “Send the Water South” may send some people living south of the lake “over the edge…”

We must always make clear that when discussing Everglades resoration and improved health of the St Lucie River/Indin River Lagoon, safety, and economic prosperty for the Glades communties comes first. We know and respect their past…

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Chosen: http://www.pbchistoryonline.org/page/chosen

Hurricanes: http://www.pbchistoryonline.org/page/-hurricane

Our Honest Law-Breaker Common Ancestor, The Real McCoy. SLR/IRL& Glades

1921

 

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Bill McCoy

Glades Road Trip Series: 

Remember phone books?

When looking through old ones you can find clues to Martin County’s historical ties with The Glades. Finding things in common is important as we work to improve relations, communications, and our waters.

My mother, historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow, came across this ad, when looking in a 1921 Stuart City Directory. She writes: “The McCoy Brothers became rum-runners and owned what is now Sailfish Point. What is interesting to me is that in the 1920s, they were taking passengers and freight across the state through Lake Okeechobee via the West Palm Beach Canal.”

As we are learning from our Road Trip series, the West Palm Beach Canal was built in 1917 and intersects with Lake Okeechobee at Canal Point. What we might not know is that the McCoy’s Hutchinson Island land then known as “Coral Strand” became today’s Sailfish Point.

The brothers knew and loved the St Lucie Inlet area well enough to buy this land and establish their business there. The “Everglades Line” was probably one of many. Perhaps the brothers drank ice tea on their way from Sailfish Point down the Indian River Lagoon to Lake Worth’s entrance to the West Palm Beach Canal and through Lake Okeechobee? Although they were famous rum-runners, the most well-known brother, Bill, did not drink!

His obituary notes:

William Frederick McCoy (1877 – December 30, 1948): Bill McCoy was an American sea-captain and rum runner smuggler during the Prohibition in the United States. In running alcohol from the Bahamas to the Eastern Seaboard, he became world-famous as his merchandise was uncut and clean. Thus the saying the “Real McCoy.” McCoy himself never touched liquor and was considered an “honest law-breaker.” He also took pride in the fact that he never paid organized crime, politicians, or law enforcement for protection.

I think we can consider Bill McCoy a Glades/Martin County honest law-breaker common ancestor. “The Real McCoy” a symbol and foundation for building better relations from the Coast to the Glades?

I don’t know about you, but I can’t  think of a better place to start. 🙂

Map-of-Canals-1924-St-Archives 2
Map of Canals 1924 Florida Archives.
Coral Strand
1950 map by Ben McCoy of the “Coral Strand” and its riches, today known as Sailfish Point.
Sailfish Point Cropped
South Hutchinson Island aerial showing mosquito ditches through mangroves and other vegetation. 1952 courtesy of Thurlow Archives.
IMG_8594 sailfish
Google map showing Hutchinson Island with Sailfish Point south next to St Lucie Inlet. East is Atlantic Ocean and west is the Indian River Lagoon and Sewall’s Point.
Lake O
Lake Okeechobee.

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Documenting the Destructive Discharges, Speak Out! 3-9-15, SLR/IRL

Confluence of St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon between Sewall's Point and Sailfish Point, Hutchinson Island, 3-8-15 showing releases from Lake Okeechobee and area canals. (Photo Ed Lippisch)
Confluence of St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon between Sewall’s Point and Sailfish Point, Hutchinson Island, “The Crossroads,” 3-8-15 showing releases from Lake Okeechobee and area canals. (Photo Ed Lippisch)

Usually, my husband, Ed, does not like it when I ask him to “do things”…like take out the trash or blow leaves off the driveway. But he always likes it if I ask him to go up in the plane. He did so yesterday, and was able to visually document the polluted discharges pouring into our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.

Yes, once again.

The Army Corp of Engineers (ACOE), and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) agreed to have the Army Corp start releases this year on January 16, 2015 at 200 cubic feet per second (cfs) through S-308 into the C-44 canal which is attached to the South Fork of the St Lucie River, and then in turn is connected to the Indian River Lagoon “my town,” Sewall’s Point.

Exhausting isn’t it?

The ACOE is now discharging at a rate of “950 cfs.” This rate goes up and down. It is going up because Lake Okeechobee is not going down…

SLR basins. SFMWD, 2015.
This SFWMD basin map also shows S-308 at Lake O, the C-44 canal, S-80 at St Lucie Locks and Dam, SLR/IRL.

Today I will share Ed’s photos and show how to “see” how much the ACOE is releasing at S-308. (Structure 308) which is located at Port Mayaca, in Indiantown, Martin County.

Ofcouse, there are discharges from area canals C-44, C-23, C-24 and C-25 as well, but today for simplicity’s  sake, I will focus on the lake discharges today, which in my opinion, are the worst of all anyway—because they are not at all “ours.”

So—–

You can search “Jacksonville, ACOE” or just go to this link: (http://w3.saj.usace.army.mil/h2o/reports.htm). You can then very quickly check two things: Lake Okeechobee’s level and how much the ACOE is dumping at S-308 from the lake.

To do so, after accessing the site, go to “Current Lake Okeechobee Water Level” at the top left:  Always one day behind or so, the latest date reported is 3-7-15– Lake O is at 14.71 feet. Then go back to the main page to the last link: “Port Mayaca Lock, S-308 Spillway.” View by date; the last date shows 873 cubic feet per second (cfs)  being discharged. 

Front page of ACOE Lake O website, 2015.
Front page of ACOE Lake O website, 2015.
3-9-15 Lake O level   14.71 feet NVGD. (A certain amt of feet above sea level>)
3-9-15 Lake O level 14.71 feet. NVGD.
S-308 report shows 8 cfs on 3-8-15 going into C-44 or SLR.
S-308 report shows 873 cfs on 3-7-15 going into C-44 or SLR.

 

Here are some more photos Ed took yesterday, 3-8-15, of the SLR/IRL.

East side of Sewall's Point, 3-8-15 showing St Lucie River.  (Ed Lippisch)
West side of Sewall’s Point, 3-8-15 showing St Lucie River. (Ed Lippisch)
West side of SEwall's Point, 3-8-25. (Ed Lippisch)
East side of Sewall’s Point, 3-8-25 showing Indian River Lagoon. (Ed Lippisch)
Southern tip of of Sewall's Point at Crossroads. (3-8-15.) (Ed Lippisch)
Southern tip of of Sewall’s Point showing SLR in foreground and IRL in background. 3-8-15. (Ed Lippisch)
Known as the "Crossroads" this area off of Sewall's Point is the confluence of the SLR/IRL. The St Lucie Inlet is just off of the the tip of S.Hutchinson Island and is known as Sailfish Point. 3-58-15. (Photo Ed Lippisch)
Known as the “Crossroads” this area off of S. Sewall’s Point is the confluence of the SLR/IRL. The St Lucie Inlet is just off of the tip of S.Hutchinson Island and is known as Sailfish Point and is blocked in the far upper right of this photo. 3-8-15. (Photo Ed Lippisch)
Confluence of St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon between Sewall's Point and Sailfish Point, Hutchinson Island, 3-8-15 showing releases from Lake Okeechobee and area canals. (Photo Ed Lippisch)
St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon near Sewall’s Point and Sailfish Point, Hutchinson Island. “Crossroads.” (Photo Ed Lippisch)
inlet
SL Inlet in distance, 3-8-15.  (EL)
3-8-15. IRL. (EL)
3-8-15. IRL. East of Sewall’s Point. (EL)

When Ed got home, he said I was lucky I did not go up with him as it was windy which means bumpy…He also said the plume looked different from what we have seen before. It looked “chalky” as is seen in these two photographs below and extended about two miles off shore and further south of the St Lucie Inlet.

I am no scientist, but I would imagine this is silt/suspended solids in the water as everything is “stirred up” from the wind. Suspended solids falling on and smothering our reefs….

Plume off St Lucie Inlet, 3-8-15. (EL)
Plume off St Lucie Inlet, 3-8-15. (EL)
Plume another view 3-8-15, 3-8-15.
Plume another view 3-8-15. (EL)
Map showing reefs in Marin and Palm Beach counties. The reef in MC is directly impacted by the discharges from Lake O. (map courtesy of state.)
Map showing reefs in Marin and Palm Beach counties. The reef in MC is directly impacted by the discharges from Lake O. (map courtesy of state.)

 

In closing, I must thank my husband for the photos, and I must point something out.

This area around Sewall’s Point and Sailfish Point, this “confluence” of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, in the not too distant past, has been documented as the most bio-diverse estuary in North America  (Dr. R. Grant Gilmore, senior scientist with Estuarine, Coastal and Ocean Science, Inc., (ECOS)(http://www.floridaoceanscouncil.org/members/bios/gilmore.htm).) 

The map below allows us to see where these precious seagrass beds are/were located. The map above shows where our “protected” near shore reefs are located just outside the St Lucie Inlet where the discharges go out to sea. These reefs are the northern most “tropical reefs” on the east coast of Florida…

SFWMD seagrass map, 2015.
SFWMD seagrass map, 2015.

I think it is a truly a sin that the ACOE and SFWMD year after year discharge onto these productive sea grass beds and near shore reef habitats that are the breeding grounds for thousands of fish and sea creatures. Its loss is felt all the way up the food chain, including “us.”

Where is the Department of Environmental Protection? Where is the Florida Wildlife Commission? Where is NOAA?

Not to mention, last year a designation of  “Critical Wildlife Area,” —the first in 20 years for Florida—for 30 plus species of nesting and resting  protected birds, was established on “Bird Island,” located  just 400 feet off south Sewall’s Point….”Now” is right before nesting season’s height. Where will the birds find food when the seagrass beds are covered in silt and the water is so dark they can’t really see? Chances are these releases will continue.

Don’t our state agencies have a duty to protect? Don’t they have a voice or has it been muffled? Not a word? Not a peep. Where is our governor? Isn’t this money? Isn’t the productivity our of waterways linked to our businesses? Our real estate values? Where is our local delegation? Have we all become numb to this destruction? Beaten down and manipulated so long we that have no reaction?

It breaks my heart.

Our state and federal government entities responsible for “protection” especially should hang their heads in shame.

If nothing else “speak out” about how bad it is. Recognize the loss. Address the “constraints,” killing this ecosystem and local economy. Take leadership!

Be true to our heritage. We are the United States of America. Be brave. Speak out!

_________________________________________________

Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection: (http://www.dep.state.fl.us) 

Florida Wildlife Commission: (http://myfwc.com)

NOAA/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: (http://coralreef.noaa.gov)   (http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/)

Sugarland Road Trip to the Caloosahatchee, Celebrating 50 Years of Friendship along the St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon

Martin County High School Class of 82 friends celebrated their 50th birthday on the Caloosahatchee, the sister river to the St Lucie.
Girlfriends from the Martin County High School Class of 1982 celebrating our 50th birthdays in Sanibel/Captiva, the area of the Caloosahatchee River, Lee County, Florida.

This past weekend, my girlfriends from high school decided to travel across the state to celebrate our 50th birthdays!

photo

It was a great time. We stayed in the area of the Caloosahatchee River which is the sister river the the St Lucie River. Both rivers have been plumbed to take overflow waters from Lake Okeechobee that Nature meant to flow south to the Everglades. The Caloosahatchee, in fact, is the “bigger sister,” in that when the rains come, she takes three to four times as much polluted, fresh water as we do—she is longer and larger than ourself. Ironically now, year long,  the river needs constant small releases of fresh water from the lake as she becomes too saline. The system is suffering as is the St Lucie.

Caloosahatchee River was the first estuary to be channelized and connected to Lake Okeechobee in the late 1800s by Hamilton Disston.
Caloosahatchee River was the first estuary to be channelized and connected to Lake Okeechobee in the late 1800s by Hamilton Disston. (Photo, CRCA)

“Caloosahtchee” means “river of the Calusa,” after the native peoples who lived and thrived there thousands of years ago.

So how does the Calooshatchee compare to the St Lucie? Well, according to the Caloosahatchee River Citizens Association, (CRCA), as sea levels receded after the last ice age, a series of lakes connected by wet prairies fed a tiny lake in the center of a valley feeding a “tortuously” long, crooked river that flowed slowly west to the Gulf of Mexico. So the Calooshatchee like the St Lucie drained to the sea but was never “connected” to Lake Okechobee. 

But then entered “modern man.”

In 1881, investor and business man, Hamilton Disston, bought four million acres of Florida lands for development and agriculture getting the state out of debt.  His first project was to drain the land around lake Okeechobee.

He dynamited the water fall between Lake Flirt and the Caloosahatchee and connected an old Indian passage from the Caloosahtchee to the lake. With that and the dredging and channeling of the mouth of the Kissimmee, the lake dropped tremendously, and although Disston committed suicide in a bathtub after the Panic of 1893, he inspired those following him to continue the drainage machine that has formed the Florida  we know today.

After the floods and hurricanes of 1926 and 1928  the Caloosahatchee was straightened, deepened, and widened, draining surrounding agricultural lands and controlling flood waters.  The “improvements” continued again in the the 1950s as more people moved into the area.

The story of the Calooshatchee is very similar to the St Lucie.

On another note, one of the most interesting parts of getting to the Caloosahatchee with my friends was driving “under” Lake Okeechobee taking Highways 441, to 80, to 27 and passing through the sugar towns of Belle Glade, South Bay, Clewiston and La Belle. It was a  three and a half hour drive from Stuart to Captiva and most of the drive was through the Everglades Agricultural Area.

The Everglades Agricultural Area is 700,000 acres south of Lake Okeechobee.
The Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) is 700,000 acres south of Lake Okeechobee. To drive through them one drives just south of the lake.

As we were driving through we were amazed to think that historically the waters of Lake Okeechobee went south,  as today, south of the lake,  it is sugar fields for as far as the eye can see! And for many, many miles you are driving right next to the dike.

“This is kind of weird…”

Mile upon mile of sugar fields is the view while  traveling south of the lake.
Mile upon mile of sugar fields is the view while traveling south of the lake.
Southern dike around Lake Okeechobee looks more like a hill of grass.
Southern dike around Lake Okeechobee looks more like a hill of grass.

I reminded my friends of the hurricane of 1928 and the thousands of migrant workers that were killed with no alert of the coming doom. The small dike around the southern lake certainly did not look like it would hold if another monster storm came. We talked about how clueless we were as kids to the environmental effects of agriculture on our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon compared to what the children are learning today.

Of course we need agriculture but to have 700,000 acres completely cut off water flow south of the lake is an accident waiting to happen and a death sentence for our St Lucie Indian River Lagoon and for the Caloosahatchee.

As I talked about a possible third outlet to the lake, I told my friend Jill not to speed because if we were stopped, and I was in the car, we would all certainly go to jail!They laughed knowing I am an advocate for the St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon an often contentious issue when it comes to sugar farming.

Once in Captiva, we had a great time, paddle boarding, riding bicycles, swimming, and going out in Sanibel/Captiva Island.

Such a wonderful time would not have been possible had the Army Corp and South Florida Water Management District been releasing masses of polluted, fresh water from Lake Okeechobee. United  we are on both sides of the state, that there has to be another option for Lake Okeechobee’s water coming through our estuaries–we are sisters!

A beautiful sunset over the convergence of Pine Island Sound and the Caloosahatchee.
A beautiful sunset over the convergence of Pine Island Sound and the Caloosahatchee , our sister river.