Tag Archives: lake okeechobee pollution

Monitoring not Modeling! Meeting Governor DeSantis’ January 10, 2020 Deadline for Updating BMAPs

Executive Order 19-12 “What can we do to achieve more now for Florida’s Environment?”

Sometimes all the bureaucracy of water management makes it difficult to understand how things work. Today, I am going to summarize the goals and requirements of Governor DeSantis’ Executive Order 19-12 Section 1, C. in hopes of giving some simple insight into the responsibility of our state agencies to publicly come together to achieve the Governor’s goal; there are only six months remaining.

https://www.flgov.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/EO-19-12-.pdf

On January 10th, 2019, just days after being sworn into office, Governor DeSantis put forth Executive Order 19-12. This order has multiple components, but today, we will focus on Section 1, C:

It states: “Update and secure all restoration plans, within one year, for waterbodies impacting Soth Florida communities, including Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee, and the St Lucie Estuaries. These updates will ensure the Blue-Green Algae Task Force has the necessary information to provide guidance to the Department of Environmental Protection on maximizing the investments in water quality improvements. 

Blue-Green Algae Task Force: https://floridadep.gov/Blue-GreenAlgaeTaskForce

So in plain language what does this mean?

This means that the Basin Management Actions Plans, the system the state uses to try to improve water quality through lessening phosphorus and or nitrogen runoff have to be “updated” by January 10, 2020.

Prior to the Governor’s Executive Order 19-12, there was no unified update date, nor a clear deadline date. Why? Because state statute doesn’t give one. How come? Because over the years special interest has lobbied our state legislature to make it this way. Governor DeSantis’ order complicates this by giving a hard deadline to find out how these BMAPS are working or not working.

An update is an “update on the status of  implementation at the end of the first phase and  an opportunity to provide recommendations for future phases of the BMAP.”

The three Basin Management Actions Plans that need to be updated include the Okeechobee BMAP; the St Lucie BMAP and the Caloosahatchee BMAP.

Below are maps of these BMAPS; and you can read about the evolution of each one separately by looking it up alphabetically here: https://floridadep.gov/dear/water-quality-restoration/content/basin-management-action-plans-bmaps

The agencies that oversee this process are the Department of Environmental Protection (regulation of water quality standards); the Dept of Agriculture and Consumer Services (BMPs or Best Management Practices); and the South Florida Water Management District (water quantity or “projects)

You will see as you read about these BMAPS they are more of a soft than hard science. These maps were developed to meet a “total maximum daily load” reduction of phosphorus and or nitrogen, overtime – like 20 or 30 years!

To do this, basins and stakeholders are identified, and best management practices for agriculture and other stakeholders are implemented. Then the Dept of Environmental Protection models how much the best management practice will help remove phosphorus and or nitrogen and a certain amount of credit is given for using the Best Management Practice.

It’s kind of like giving a grade based on participation instead of performance. It’s time to raise the bar. In order for the Blue-Green Algae Task Force to have the necessary information to provide guidance to the Department of Environmental Protection on maximizing the investments in water quality improvements,” we must truly know the numbers.

~Monitoring not Modeling!

P.S. Why are the three BMAPs together in the executive order? Lake O is discharged into the St Lucie River and Caloosahatchee so for them to meet their goals, Lake Okeechobee has to meet its goals. For now, we are all connected.

 

 

Martin Health’s C.E.O. Rob Lord, A Hometown “Game Changer” for the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Robert Lord is President and C.E.O. of Martin Health Systems, formally known as Martin Memorial Hospital. “MHS” as it is known for short, is the long time top-employer for Martin County, and a respected and expanding health system.  It has been located in Martin County for 75 years. (https://www.martinhealth.org) The origianl institution sits along the shores of the St Lucie River, near downtown Stuart and has grown into both south Stuart and St Lucie County. It is a literal “lifeblood” of our communtiy.

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I have known and admired the Lord family since my childhood. Bobby Lord, Robert Lord’s father was a local celebrity in Stuart’s early days as he is a County & Western legend. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bobby_Lord )I attended both elementary and middle school, and graduated from Martin County High School in 1982 with Robert’s younger brother, Cabot.

I cannot express how much it meant to me last Thursday to see “Robby” Lord, accomplished attorney, now President and C.E.O. of  Martin Health Systems, in his position of leadership and influence, speak in support for Senate President Joe Negron and Senate Bill 10. A bill intended to purchase land south of Lake Okeechobee for a reservoir to begin what must happen to save our river: “clean and send more water south.”

Having known the Lord family all these years, I have followed Rob’s career, especially as my sister, Jenny,  is physician recruiter, and has served the hospital loyally for almost 20 years.

So, Bravo Rob Lord! You have created a “hometown game-change,” and as we all know, it is not easy to speak up. There are tremendous pressures to conform and accept things as they are. Over the past few years, outside powers have moved into our area influencing and blurring the lines.

I believe that Rob’s speaking out will clear the blurred lines and change the playing field forever. There is no mistaking it. Lake Okeechobee’s discharges are a health issue and must be stopped. Our state and federal government can ignore this no longer in spite of the influences of power.

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2016, 239 sq. miles algae bloom in Lake O at S-308 entrance to C-44 and St Lucie River
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St Lucie River 2016 toxic algae bloom brought on by Lake O discharges into SLR

Excerpt from speech:

“…Good morning, my name is Rob Lord. I am President and C.E.O of Martin Health System .. I care deeply about the impact of Lake Okeechobee discharges on the estuaries. I grew up on the Indian River Lagoon. My family moved here in 1969. I have fished these water with my father, my grandfather, and my brother and nephews and nieces. No one values this eco-system more than my family. We watched it change. As CEO of Martin Health System this has been a significant challenge for us. This past year blue-green algae came to our community. We needed to post this sign in our emergency room. We treated this very much like we needed to treat the Ebola situation….”

Dr. Steven Parr, Director of Emergency Medicine at Tradition Medical Center noted  there are studies occurring now to determine whether the toxins trigger certain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS also known as Lou Gherig’s disease.

You can view the entire speech here:

MHS: https://www.martinhealth.org/martin-health-system-takes-stand-on-senate-bill-10-for-the-health-of-the-community

Rob Lord, CEO MHS
Rob Lord and Dr Parr of MHS
Rob Lord and Dr Steven Parr

Former blog on Senate Bill 10 explaining intension: https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2017/01/29/presidient-negrons-memorandum-to-the-florida-senate-senate-bill-10protecting-coastal-counties-from-polluted-discharges-slrirl/

Understanding High Bacteria Levels in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Clear water off of the Stuart Sandbar, but is it clean?
Clear beautiful water off the Sandbar, Stuart; but is safe to swim? (Photo, Jacqui  Thurlow-Lippisch, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, 2012)

Enterococcus: Bacteria normally found in the feces. Two types, Enterococcus fecalis and Enterococcus fecium, cause human disease, most commonly in the form of urinary tract and wound infections. Other infections, including those of the blood stream (bacteremia), heart valves (endocarditis), and the brain (meningitis) can occur in severely ill patients in hospitals. Enterococci also often colonize open wounds and skin ulcers, and are among the most common antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Medicine-Net

*The Martin County Health Department tests for Enterococcus (E) in area waters: According to their interpretation, 0-35 cfu of E./100 ml  river water =GOOD; 36-104 cfu E/100 ml river water=MODERATE; and 105  cfu E./ml River water is POOR (“cfu” relates to number of viable cells per milliliter.)

In November 2012, some members of the public were worried that the Martin County Health Department (MCHD) did not have enough support. Due to the pushing of a few members at a Rivers Coalition meeting, Senator Joe Negron, during the legislative budgeting process, added specific funding for MCHD to sample three new sites weekly. In turn, with input from the Rivers Coalition and the help of Bob Washam of the MCHD, the three test locations were chosen and the public began regularly checking bacteria levels in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon on the MCHD website. 

Before the senator intervened, the sites being tested in the river were the Roosevelt Bridge; the Jensen and Stuart Causeways, and the north fork of the St Lucie River in St Lucie County. 

The new test sites included Bessey Creek, close to the mouth of the C-23 canal, in Palm City;  Leighton Park, at the base of the Palm City Bridge;  and Sandsprit Park, near the Manatee Pocket in Stuart, close to the inlet. The Department of Environmental Protection also conducted/s periodic testing.

In early June of the 2013, the bacteria numbers really spiked. This occurred after heavy rains caused storm water to run through local canals C-23, C-24, and C-44 into the river, as well as polluted fresh water discharges from Lake Okeechobee through C-44, that had begun on May 8, 2013 by the Army Corp of Engineers.

The areas waters were looking dark and ugly, and most of the river was off limits to the public due to high Enterococcus levels.  By mid June, there were a number of reports from people that had visited the Sandbar, located just inside the mouth of the St Lucie Inlet, that they and their children were feeling ill with stomach aches and diarrhea after contact with the water.

photo of algae

(Photo of water in St Lucie River two miles from Sandbar w/ high bacteria and toxic blue green algae, photo by Jenny Flaugh, July 2013.)

Because of the popularity of the Sandbar area and the complaints to the health department, Bob Washam, MCHD,  together with Mark Perry, of Florida Oceanograpic, decided to drop the Bessey Creek site and change testing to the Stuart Sandbar. When the tests came back, the Sandbar reading was a high 192 cfu/100 ml river water/or POOR. So signs were posted at the Sandbar, at the hight of the summer season; it was off limits to the public. Shocking.

Just for comparison, I am going to share the highest readings at the other sites in June and July of 2013.  The highest readings were as follows: Roosevelt, 1620 cfu; Sandsprit, 640 cfu; Leighton, 3020 cfu; and Bessey Creek, 1560 cfu. As mentioned about 105 cfu per 100 ml of river water is considered POOR.

For a comparison to “today,” the latest readings on April  21, 2014 were:  Roosevelt, 58 cfu; Sandsprit, 7cfu ; Leighton Park, 94 cfu and the Sandbar, 30 cfu . So even without super heavy rains or releases from Lake Okeechobee, readings can be  moderate to borderline poor. (The Leighton site had been in the poor range just a few just weeks ago but is coming down…)

It is important to know that bacteria levels are absolutely exacerbated by the releases from Lake Okeechobee that bring in polluted fresh water from outside of our basin as far away as from Orlando,  but Lake Okeechobee is not the only cause. Local canals’ runoff, poorly cared for septic tanks, farm and domestic animals, along with other sources in both Marin and St Lucie Counties, even Okeechobee, anywhere water runs into our rivers from a basin, play an important role in the bacteria water puzzle.

To understand the sources of fecal pollution, Martin County is presently conducting a water quality monitering study in partnership with Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch. The study is tracking  DNA results leading “back,” through attachment to isotopes, to either human, cow, horse, dog  and/or bird feces.

At this point, studies are inconclusive, and helpful data is not expected until rainy season begins June 1st through November 30th.

We can’t dream that things here in Stuart used to be “perfect.” When I was a kid growing up in Martin County in the 60s and 70s there were some businesses that legally dumped their raw sewage into the St Lucie River and boaters were allowed to dump waste straight into the river. There were fewer people here then, yes, but it is still disgusting by today’s standards.  I grew up swimming and water skiing in these waters. I never got sick and back then no one was monitoring the bacteria in the river

In conclusion, we don’t need to panic, we just need to be careful, and to be thankful for the progress we have made; most important, we must continue to improve the situation and “fix it.”

______________________________

Thank you to Bob Washam, formerly of the MCHD, for his years of dedication and for his help with composing specifics of this article.

To check bacteria levels, visit the Martin County Health Department’s website (http://www.floridahealth.gov/CHD/Martin/MCHD_Internet_Site.htmland look for “river and beach water sampling results.”