Tag Archives: lake okeechobee gates

Stormy Weather and the Toxic Algae Bloom of Lake Okeechobee, SLR/IRL

 

Radar weather from 4-29-15. My phone, JTL.
Radar weather screen shot from 4-29-15. My phone, NOAA site. JTL.

The past two days, I feel like I have been a guest on the TV series “Storm Chasers,” except I have been running from the storms.

Yesterday, I decided I really needed to go look at Lake Okeechobee myself to see the toxic  algae bloom that has been reported through social media, TC Palm, and the internet. –The algae bloom that inspired Senator Negron to ask Col. Dodd of the ACOE to refrain from opening the gates, which they did not do. On Tuesday’s, at 2:00 PM, are the Army Corp of Engineers’ “Periodic Scientist Call for Lake Okeechobee” of which I have participated in for almost three years…

“Perfect,” I thought, “I’ll go to the lake for the call a bit early and take some photos. I will be out in Palm City around that time anyway; it’s  really not that far…” The drive is about 20 miles.

Sign at Port Mayaca, Indiantown.
Signs at Port Mayaca, Indiantown.JTL

In spite of the previous day’s inclement weather, I had not checked the weather closely as I can never figure out how to get radar maps on my phone. Not checking the weather, turned out to be a big mistake.

satellite photo of Lake O, NOAA.
Satellite photo of Lake O, NOAA. If you look closely, you can see the C-44 canal connecting the St Lucie River in Stuart to the Lake O. This canal runs along Highway 76 in Martin County.
Map SFWMD showing canals and basins. Note S-308 or structure s-308 at Lake O and S-80 down the C-44 canal. Both of these structures have to open to allow water to flow into the C-44 canal to the St Lucie River, Indian River Lagoon.
Map SFWMD showing canals and basins. Note S-308 or “structure 308” at Lake O, and S-80 east along the C-44 canal. Both of these structures have to open to allow water to flow into the C-44 canal to the St Lucie River, Indian River Lagoon.

Around 1:00 PM, as I approached Port Mayaca going west along Highway 76, suddenly grey clouds in the distance converged overhead spilling out over the sky like black oil. Huge bright lightning bolts struck the ground in the direction of the lake, thunder followed almost immediately;  rain dumped out of the sky. …”Oh no, not again…” I thought.

The winds screamed across the landscape. Large trucks coming towards me in the opposite direction splashed wakes hitting my car full force.  Eventually, I pulled over at the entrance of DuPuis Wildlife Reserve;” the water was rising on the dirt road. Looking at my surroundings, I realized I was next to the Port Mayaca graveyard where thousands of people were buried in a mass grave after perishing in the 1928 hurricane. I turned on the radio, my windshield-wipers whipping back and forth. The unnerving sound of the Emergency Broadcast System blared and a calm computerized voice said: “Tornado warning for western Martin County.”  Shaking, I forced my self to try to find radar on my phone. I found a written tornado warning for Indiantown. I was at ground zero.

All alone with the elements, I wondered what possessed me to do such a thing….I closed my eyes…I prayed…

Within thirty minutes the storm had passed. Thankfully it was not my day to die. I shook off my fear, got my self together, and completed my drive to the lake.  This is what I found:

S-308 as, the structure that allows water from Lake Okeechobee to enter the C-44 canal, SLR/IRL.
S-308 as, the structure that allows water from Lake Okeechobee to enter the C-44 canal, SLR/IRL. Lake O is in the background.
Closer view of S-308 with the beginning of the C-44 canal before its gates.
Closer view of S-308 with the beginning of the C-44 canal before its gates. The lake is behind the dike structure.
Algae bloom on west side of S-308.
Algae bloom on west side of S-308 gate.
West side of S-308 showing all gates.
West side of S-308 showing all gates. Algae bloom visible.
Close up of western side of S-308.
Close up of western side of S-308.
Edge of S-308 structure standing on dike, looking east over Lake Okeechobee.
Edge of S-308 structure standing on dike, looking east over Lake Okeechobee.
East side of S-308 facing the lake.
East side of S-308 facing the lake.
Turning around to see the rim canal. Dike on left of photo. Lake on other side of dike.
Turning around from S-308 structure to see the rim canal. Dike on left of photo. Lake on left side of dike.

The lake seemed oddly calm after such rage. You could hear a pin drop. I looked around…

Storms tend to break up algae blooms, but under the right conditions of heat and over nitrified water (over-fertilized basically), they come back. In my opinion, this toxic algae issue really forces us all, from the public, to city government, to the office of the Governor, to the state legislature, to the President of the Untied States, and Congress,  to ask ourselves the most critical of questions.

“Is it legal for a federal agency to knowingly release toxic water into a local community?”

To me this is situation is different than a toxic algae bloom simply forming in a localized body of water. What we are talking about here is toxic algae being purposefully transferred from one body of water to another, by the government no less…This seems wrong. Un-American.

Then of course there is the other issue, flooding south and around the lake. As I experienced yesterday, things happen very fast around this giant lake, this “big waters,” this Lake Okeechobee.

Take a look again at the first photo I show of S-308 from the bridge. This photo gives perspective of how fragile this dike and structure-gate system is. It is like trying to hold back an ocean with a cement wall. There has got to be a better way to keep our families, healthy and safe….

S-308 as, the structure that allows water from Lake Okeechobee to enter the C-44 canal, SLR/IRL.
S-308 is the structure that allows water from Lake Okeechobee to enter the C-44 canal, SLR/IRL. That is Lake O. in the background and the mouth of the C-44 canal in the foreground. This is not much to stop “an ocean of water”…These gates are one set of gates that allow toxic water to endanger communities along the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. 

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Learn about toxic algae blooms: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algal_bloom)