In spite of Florida’s significant development, the health of estuarine seagrass is something we expect and treasure. Being the home of baby fish and wildlife, estuaries are often called the “cradle of the ocean.”
According the the USDA, “estuaries are among the most productive natural systems on earth.” Their value? Perhaps priceless. And we are losing money fast.
Today I wanted to share information presented at a Rivers Coalition meeting now posted for the St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon estuary; I will touch on four other sister estuaries as well: Caloosahathcee; Lake Worth Lagoon; Biscayne Bay; and Florida Bay. Being familiar with each, can help us advocate for the value of the greater whole.
I. St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon
Last week, my brother Todd Thurlow, shared satellite and GIS images that show a story of seagrass loss in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon estuary in an area known to locals as Sailfish Flats. I have taken screen shot images of Todd’s website below. The first image was taken in 2007 and the second on 2-24-2021. In spite of yearly variations due to season, temperature, and other natural changes, I think it is clear that seagrass has declined. The real killer is that the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon had once attained the greatest species diversity of any estuary in North America, (Lodge, The Everglades Handbook, 4th Edition, page 175).
Right now, it appears that seagrasses have disappeared in the Sailfish Flats region. The reason? Certainly there are many including the damaging discharges from Lake Okeechobee, and canals C-44, C-23 and C-24. ~Hurricanes? Climate Change? Sea level rise? Fertilizers from local runoff? Destruction of native trees and vegetation? Earlier dredge and Fill? Septic Tanks? Dredging? Beach Renourishment? But some of these things have gone on for decades, so why now such a difference? Please share your ideas and experiences.
To see all images throughout many years visit Todd’s website eyeonlakeo.
-Seagrass loss a visual survey, Sailfish Flats, SLR/IRL, 2007 compared to 2021
I am no expert in the Caloosahatchee, but it is commonly known that if it gets too saline in the upper estuary, the underwater grasses there can die. I am sharing the most recent Sanibel Captive Conservation Foundation “Caloosahatchee Conditions Report” as it shows the organization recommending 2000 cfs from the ACOE (Lake Okeechobee) but will be recommending less or none in the future.
III. Lake Worth Lagoon
Lake Worth Lagoon, once a huge freshwater lake, is now open to the sea. LWL has many issues, but sediment covering seagrasses -especially from the C-51 canal- is a big one. You can learn more at the Palm Beach County’s Environmental Resource Management website.
IV. Biscayne Bay
The South Florida Water Management had an outstanding workshop on Biscayne Bay last December. Seagrass loss was a big topic and they had just had a fish kill. You can learn more here.
V. Florida Bay
Florida Bay has endured significant seagrass loss, especially, most recently in 2015. This year due to 2020 rains, the Bay is having a very good year as recently reported by the SFMWD. (See page 24). Audubon’s Everglades Science Center is a good website to learn about issues of seagrass loss and others facing Florida Bay.
“Seagrasses? What seagrasses?” It must be “Seagrasses! What Seagrasses!”
Lake Worth Lagoon Tour with ERM Director, Deborah Drum
December 14th, 2020. What a beautiful day!
Deborah Drum, Director of Palm Beach County’s Environmental Resource Management Department, ERM, invited me in my capacity as a SFWMD Governing Board member, to tour the Lake Worth Lagoon. I first met “Deb” when she was the ecosystems manager for Martin County. Today she oversees a much larger piece of the water pie. Palm Beach is Florida’s third largest county and has over 1.4 million people! Martin County? Ranking, I’m unsure, but we have just over 161,000 people…
After a quick Covid greeting elbow-bump at Bryant Park, of course we abided by social distancing rules, Deb introduced me to five of her 140 person staff. They were delightful and they informed me of the mission of ERM: to establish, maintain, and implement programs for the protection, preservation, and enhancement of the land and water resources of Palm Beach County.
This philosophy really translates into building restoration projects and is a shift from what I’m used to for the St Lucie River where the focus is more on managing and advocating against the ongoing crisis of poor water quality. Today I will give an overview of some of the hundreds of projects that have been constructed costing millions of dollars. This is a complicated generational feat and today occurs with the coordination of Palm Beach County’s Deb Drum and Staff, and the complex help of hundreds of hands-on volunteers and members of the business community. See “mission” link above for more information on the history of this program.
So how does it work in Palm Beach County?
FOCUS ON PROJECTS
Since the 1990s, the Palm Beach County environmental resources department has implemented hundreds of projects. In order to achieve this, relationships have been forged with the business and development community that in turn, indirectly, provide millions of dollars in materials for creating habit and other environmental projects in Palm Beach County.
As an example, Jennifer, Baez, Environmental Program Supervisor explained that it is more cost effective for developers to share such materials for island or reef building, than to dispose of such items. Wow. Developers helping the environment? Now that’s a paradigm shift for my thinking!
~This cooperation has been forged over decades and is now ingrained in Palm Beach County culture.
For example, if FDOT is building a new bridge, they save and coordinate with the county for the best pieces of throw-away cement to be used for an inland or offshore reef. Or say a new marina is being built, or expanded, by Rybovich Super Yacht Marina, and there is tons of sand and rock that have been excavated- well rather than throw it away or haul it to the dump, the business contacts the county and this material is put to work for the environment! I guess one could say it is “give and take.” In any case, for Palm Beach County this model is working.
Once riding along the beautiful lagoon in the boat, I was fascinated to listen as Deb’s’ staff, TJ Steinhoff, Environmental Technician; Jennifer Baez, Environmental Program Supervisor; Jeremy McByran, Palm Beach County Water Resource Manager; and Mathew Mitchell, Environmental Manager as they told me the story of their years of building Lake Worth Lagoon creations and the measurable benefit to fish, birds and wildlife.
“It must be fun to know you are doing something positive every day. And then seeing those results.” I noted.
All four agreed. They love working for Deb and for Palm Beach County. But let me be clear, just because the focus is one projects, this does not mean there are no water quality issues…
-Bryant Park, Lake Worth Lagoon
-Staff ready for boat tour covered for Covid-19: TJ Steinhoff, Environmental Technician; Jennifer Baez, Environmental Program Supervisor; Jeremy McByran, Palm Beach County Water Resource Manager; and Mathew Mitchell, Environmental Manager
-Rip-rap in from of a hardened shoreline, the beginnings of a Living Seawall project at Bryant Park
-A look at the water of the Lake Worth Lagoon on December 14, 2020
-The 5 photos below are of large human-created Islands, restoration projects, in the Lake Worth Lagoon.
Below: Jennifer Baez, PBC Environmental Project Supervisor points to one of the many mangrove, native vegetation, sand islands built on top of “dead holes.” These areas were once devoid of life because they are so deep, and were the unintended consequences of dredge and fill in the Lake Worth Lagoon that took place many decades before environmental laws regulated such activities.
Jennifer explained how ERM identifies these deep holes, carefully works around muck, and then fills the depression with sand -in turn forming an island- that creates wildlife habit, seagrass beds, and eventually mangrove forests. She says one very obvious benefit of theses projects has been that Palm Beach County now has the most southerly nesting/foraging area of American Oyster Catchers.
In springtime, the bright orange, black and white birds with their fluffy, adorable chicks are attracted to these human made islands near Bryant Park.
Deb Drum, Director ERM and yes she is smiling under that mask! 🙂 -Showing off more project islands!
-The Southern Boulvard Bridge rebuild (below) is an example of materials used for a reef in Lake Worth Lagoon as seen on depth finder screen of Mathew Mitchell below. Mathew said he is very proud to be part of this project and explained that through technology and hands on visits he is documenting how the reef is improving fish habitat.
ISSUES OF WATER QUALITY
As I mentioned, just because Palm Beach County primarily focuses on restoration, doesn’t mean that the Lake Worth Lagoon doesn’t have water issues. Before the late 1800s, Lake Worth was a many miles long fresh water lake with no outlet to the ocean. Today there are two inlets and although the water body is now technically an estuary, salinities can be as high as the ocean due to heavy flushing from its inlets. Also due to fresh water inputs, like the C-51 Canal, salinity can swing up and down.
-The SFWMD measures saqilinties in the LWL
Lake Worth Lagoon Water Quality issues are most affected by canal, area runoff, and sometimes Lake Okeechobee discharge into the lagoon. The C-51 is the canal of that continually drains unfiltered and untreated into the Lake Worth Lagoon. The C-51 carries contaminants and nutrient pollution from agriculture and urban development into the lake-lagoon-estuary. Deb Drum explained that sediment coming from this canal is extremely problematic causing a muck-layer throughout the lagoon. This impedes seagrass development and is a serious issue that is being addressed.
Although the Lake Worth Lagoon was not built as am overflow water outlet for the Central and South Florida Plan, like the St Lucie and Calooshahatee were, Lake Okeechobee discharges are sometimes directed its way through the C-51 canal. This is a controversial issue and of course local advocates of the Lake Worth Lagoon would prefer not to have this excessive polluted fresh water.
-Jennifer and Deb in front of the C-51 Canal structure opening into Lake Worth Lagoon, note look of water. The C-51 basins are tremendous. All this runoff all ends up in the LWL.
C-51 Canal is the long blue line coming from the west connected to other interior canals. It then runs along Southern Boulvard as in the image below. The curve south occurs around the Palm Beach International Airport, then turns east discharging into the LWL. Water Quality is being address methodically through Basin Management Action Plans.
KEEP ON RESTORING!
So in the meantime, Lake Worth Lagoon’s water quality ails, but Palm Beach County keeps restoring…
Below shows a recent island restoration project near Southern Boulvard. This project addresses resiliency by protecting a nearby neighborhood seawall. In time, native plants will grow in and wildlife will arrive. People are allowed on beach area but if OysterCatchers are nesting, the area is taped off by FWF so the birds can nest in peace.
-Jeremy McBryan, Palm Beach County Water Resource Manager.
Well, I could go on and on but the bottom line is that Palm Beach County is proactive. I am impressed! I learned so much about the mission of ERM and the Lake Worth Lagoon. I really had no idea about all of the amazing restoration work being done by Palm Beach County. Now for us all to push the state on Water Quality and to do our own part in our own backyards by avoiding fertilizer and chemicals that run right off into the water. This would actually be a huge start.
Very impressive Deb! Thank you to you and to your amazing ERM staff!
Before Hurricane Dorian came this way, my brother, Todd, was helping me answer a question. ~One I think will be interesting to you as well…
“Where were the rapids of Lake Worth Creek?” Yes, rapids!
To answer the question, we must first recognize that Lake Worth Creek has been altered as we can see comparing the images above and below.
This change happened slowly over time, but most notably in 1894 with the completion of the Intracoastal Waterway from Jacksonville to Maimi. The Google Map below shows the Intracoastal today. The 1855 survey above shows Lake Worth Creek pre-development. In both images, it’s the area between Jupiter Inlet and Lake Worth- the historic area of Lake Worth Creek.
To learn where these rapids were located let’s read an excerpt from Palm Beach County’s MANAGEMENT PLAN FOR FRENCHMAN’S FOREST NATURAL AREA, FCT PROJECT # 96-011-P7A, June 1998.
The Frenchman’s Forest Natural Area (located right under Frechman’s Passage, JTL) is part of a broad coastal swale that was separated from the Atlantic Ocean by coastal sand ridges and from the Loxahatchee Slough by a broad pine flatwood ridge. It was part of the headwaters of the former Lake Worth Creek, a meandering blackwater creek that flowed northward to join the Loxahatchee River near its mouth at the Jupiter Inlet. The earliest accounts of the site date from the 1840s, and were from U.S. Army Topological Engineer reports made during the Second Seminole Indian War (Corbett 1993). Eighty men from Fort Jupiter moved up Lake Worth Creek in seventeen canoes. Approximately two miles north of the natural area, they reached the “rapids”, a series of muck terraces that disappeared during periods of high water, but helped hold water at a higher level in the upstream sawgrass marshes. Another series of muck terraces may have been present 0.25 miles north of the natural area. After getting past these barriers, the troops entered a large sawgrass marsh, where they pulled the canoes for a mile to a haulover path over the sand ridge separating the marsh from Lake Worth. The southeastern portion of the natural area was part of the sawgrass marsh, and the soldiers may have crossed through the site. Once they reached Lake Worth, the soldiers raided Seminole Indian villages along its shores, capturing guns and canoes. The soldiers had followed an old Indian route for traveling between Jupiter Inlet and Lake Worth. When the last Seminole Indian war ended in 1859, pioneers began to use this route for coastal travel. Charles Pierce (1970) described his family’s travel to Lake Worth by small boat via this route in 1873. He noted his father’s difficulty in finding the right channel through the sawgrass to the haulover. Pierce and his family were among the earliest permanent settlers on the shores of Lake Worth. Pierce also provided the first direct reference to the natural area, noting that the bird rookery on Pelican Island (present-day Munyon)…
Another source we can use comes from the Atlantic and Gulf Coast Canal and Okeechobee Land Company 1881 Prospectus where it documents the advantage of making the cut through Lake Worth Creek. Nine lines from the bottom it mentions the rapids: “There is a depth of five feet of water in the channel from its mouth to the rapids…”
And the last shared source is from an 1884 USGS Survey Report noting the difficulty of working through the sawgrass route from Haulover Head on Lake Worth to the Rapids of Lake Worth Creek.
Fascinating and historic information, but what about X marks the spot? Where were those rapids?
Using the above information, below (look for yellow arrow) Todd shows more specifically on a topo map from his video “Lake Worth through the Haulover and Sawgrass Route to Jupiter Inlet – 1883” showing where Lake Worth Creek’s rapids may have been located. On today’s map that is very close to Frenchman’s Passage/Frenchman’s Creek.
Next time you’re in the area give a shout out to the once rapids of the former Lake Worth Creek, a wonder of old Florida that we shouldn’t forget!
9:16am 9-16-19: I was close! My brother just texted me this: Hey Jacqui. Sorry Dorian interrupted our discussion of the Falls. It was actually near the creek called Frenchman’s Creek on the old topos not Frenchman’s Passage which is a neighborhood today about a mile and a half south and inland from the old creek/rapids. 😬
Frenchmans Creek still appears on Google maps. It is where Cypress Island Marina is today off of Palmwood Road.
She ran upstairs returning with a little booklet entitled “Under the Cocoanuts, Lake Worth, Dade County, Florida, by Porter and Potter, Real Estate Agents, 1893.” Mom said her friend and fellow historian, Mrs. Marjorie Watts Nelson, had gifted a copy of the famous little book and that it was cherished.
I carefully looked through it and understood why…
Today, I would like to share this historic booklet. I believe pages 15 and 19 are missing, but it remains a priceless read. The beautiful artwork was created by George Wells Potter, of Porter and Potter, a star citizen and gifted artist whose drawings remain an outstanding record of the day.
West Palm Beach Canal 1940 Aerials and 1958 Topo, Todd Thurlow
You will see:
0:06 1940 USDA Aerial Index of Palm Beach County
0:20 Eight 1949 and 1950 1:24K USGS Topo maps
0:45 Pinner Island (now known as Ibis Isle)
1:01 1940 USDA Aerial – West Palm Beach Canal outlet to Lake Worth
1:40 Lake Clarke area where the Palm Beach Canal now crosses under I-95
– The road “s” turning over the canal is actually the Seaboard Air Line Railroad (now CSX)
– The Florida East Coast Railway is 0.6 miles to the east (the next canal crossing downstream)
1:54 Lake Clarke – on the 1950 Palm Beach USDA Topo
2:54 Morrison Field Airbase (later renamed Palm Beach International Airport).
3:37 SFWMD Offices south (left) of the canal across from the airport
4:11 Wide fade-in of 1940 USDA Aerial Index – ponds and bogs of western Palm Beach County
4:21 The northern end of what is now the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge
(aka WCA1 – Water Conservation Area 1)
4:41 1958 USGS 1:250K Topo Quad showing western Palm Beach County
4:49 Twenty Mile Bend
5:05 Eastern portions of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA)
5:46 Canal Point at the western end of the Palm Beach Canal
Palm Beach County is a fascinating place, especially, as in 1925, Martin County was born of it. We are connected, as is everything in this water-world of South Florida.
Today, I feature another incredible “Time Capsule Flight” by my brother, Todd Thurlow. I have recently been studying Palm Beach County and Todd’s flights help me understand what was, what is, and would can be. Palm Beach County is interesting as unlike Martin County, it has been developed very far west into the historic Everglades.
When I made a big deal out of this, my mother gave me a book published in 2000 entitled OUR CENTURY, a conglomeration of articles by the Palm Beach Post. A historian, my mother smiled saying, “Jacqui, Palm Beach County always planned on going west…”
The first article I came upon was about Louis Perini, the father of “Westward Expansion.” Eliot Kleinberg writes: “In the mid 1950s West Palm Beach was only a mile wide. But a single land deal set off a westward land rush now limited only by the Everglades…”
And to the Everglades it certainly went!
To learn some canals while were at it, you’ll see that Lake Okeechobee is connected to the historic West Palm Beach Canal, which is connected to the C-51 Canal, which in turn drains the C-51 Basins to the Lake Worth through Structure-155. Like the C-44 Canal, both lake water and basin water can be transported through the C-51 canal damaging the water quality in Lake Worth ~Sound familiar? Very similar to the plight of the St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon. Tremendous amounts of precious fresh water wasted to tide, destroying ecological habitat and property values along the way. We must do better!
In any case, it is an amazing thing to really see that we are living in what once was indeed a beautiful marshy swamp.
Enjoy Todd’s flight “West Palm Beach 1940 Aerials and 1958 Topo;” it’s time-travel into Florida’s past and into her future. Again here is the video.
Senator Joe Negron, Senate Appropriations Chair, and leader of the “Senate Hearing on the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee,” brought home more money for the IRL compared to any other water body in the state: $231,998,021. Our springs comrades who have been publicly fighting ten years longer than us, brought home 30 million. Tallahassee is wondering who this new kid on the block is, us….
Whether you are a fan or not, it must be noted that Senator Negron stuck his neck out, possibly compromising his senate presidency, to get our “name on the map” as far as Tallahassee goes. Prior to last year, most “good ‘ol boys in Tallahassee would have said, “Indian River Lagoon…Hmmmm? Creature of the Indian Lagoon, ain’t that a movie?”
Nonetheless, I do not pretend to think that these monies alone will cure the lagoon’s ills, as the gorilla in the room has not been addressed “head on and in its entirety:” the releases from Lake Okeechobee through S-308 and S-80. I believe this will come in time if we keep fighting.
In my opinion, the biggest part of change is the first step. With the outrage of the public over the “Lost Summer’s” toxic St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon, and the support of Senator Negron, one of the few people in a the legislature with the seniority and status to act somewhat independently of demanding party pressures to conform, we have taken the first step forward to fixing the lagoon. Actually, a leap.
WE MUST CONTINUE, YES! But let’s be happy that we have made public progress on a state level more than ever before, and let’s look at what we received, as we should be aware of the gift of public monies from people all over our great state and be full of gratitude.
It’s a lot to go over, but it is important, so I will simply go down the list and summarize. Let’s look at the map as well. Please remember the SLR/IRL is part of the greater Everglades system, from the Kissimmee River area in Orlando, south to the Tamiami Trail in Dade, and beyond to Florida Bay. So anything done to help “the system,” helps us move water south, and with our health as well.
Here we go!
1. $32,000,000 for Water Quality storage in Storm Water Treatment Area 1 in Palm Beach County. Water storage is key to stop releasing so much into the estuaries.
2. $3,000,000 for Best Management Practices (BMPs) for farmers in the St Lucie, Lake O, and Caloosahatee watersheds. It is difficult to swallow more public money going to help farmers with pollution runoff, but there is no other way to do this. We must continue to help fund them, big or small. This is a historical issue as they have been here since the 1800s in many cases. I look at it like “grandfathering” with an extra requirement, as in real estate. The good news is that as time goes on, agriculture businesses will have higher standards to avoid pollution fertilizer, pesticides and fungicide runoff that is killing our waterbodies. Hopefully we can make changes before the rivers and springs die off completely.
3. $40,000,00 for the C-44 Storm Water Treatment Area/reservoir in Martin County. This will offset local drainage farm and urban runoff along the C-44 canal, not water from Lake Okeechobee. We must clean our local runoff as well as it is responsible for around 50% of the destruction to our estuary and on an everyday basis.
4. $2,000,000 CERP Picayune Strand east of Naples in Collier County. This area is important to the southern glades and needs monitoring and vegetative management for water flow and storage and improvement. Hopefully it will help some panthers too!
5. $5,000,000 C-111 South Dade. This is a crucial water delivery system to allow more water to “go south.” A must.
6. $5,000,000 Kissimmee River Restoration. The all time worst thing ever done in Florida other than dike Lake O and redirect the water to the estuaries, was to straighten the Kissimmee River. (Hold my tongue!) Restoration of the ox bows must continue. So far the ACOE has restored about 22 miles of the 56 miles of what was once 153 miles of gorgeous serpentine like, vegetative, wildlife filled, cleansing waters.
7. $18,000,000 C-43 STA along Caloosahatchee River. This is the equivalent of C-44 STA/reservoir for the Caloosahatchee. Only fair. C-43 is a must. They take up to three times the polluted runoff from Lake Okeechobee that we do!
8. $20,000,000 IRL muck removal in northern lagoon. The northern IRL has lost 60% of their seagrasses and has 2 Unexplained Mortality Events including manatee, dolphin, and pelican die offs. Give them what they need! Sediment/muck fills the lagoon over the years from canal runoff covering seagrasses; when stirred up, it releases legacy pollution. GET THE MUCK OUT!
9. $2,075,000 Lake Worth Lagoon. Lake Worth does not get the attention it needs being in development happy Palm Beach County. This area was once full of sea grass and life but not after years of receiving dump water from Lake O, like us, but through a different canal. Local advocate, Lee Shepard, is a great advocate for this part of the lagoon. Let’s help!
10. $4,000,000 Water Quality research for Harbor Branch and ORCA. Although it is hard to justify “more tests,” as we can all see the lagoon is dying, these new, scientific studies will help us find sources to our pollution issues that the legislature can’t ignore. Septic leakage, especially, is difficult to trace without such systems. LOBOS and Kilroys, please help us!
11. $1,000,000 Oyster recovery programs for St Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers. Millions of dollars worth of oysters, natural and deployed by government programs, died during the fresh water discharges of 2013 and years before. One oyster can filter 50 gallons of water a day. Government in action….
12. $90,000,000 NUMBER ONE NECESSITY is raising the Tamiami Trail in Dade County so water is not blocked off from going south. They should raise the whole road as the road built in the 1920s cuts off the flow of water south to the Everglades for the entire state. (Another environmental nightmare to fix.)
13, $2,7769,585 This money will be used for pump improvements etc to move more water south and cut away vegetation blocking water “going south,” or hold water in the C-43/44 reservoirs that would go into the estuaries.
14. $2,076,728 The Loxahatchee is one of two “Wild & Scenic Rivers” in the state of Florida and home to tremendous amounts of wildlife. Helping with storm water runoff and preservation is key for the health of this important part of the Everglades System.
15. $2,076,718 The St Lucie Rivers Issues Team has a long history of working with local governments for “close to home” projects along the SLR/IRL. Kathy LaMartina at its helm, South Florida Water Management District. Thank you!
Grand total= $231,998,021
I am grateful to the state legislature, especially Senator Negron, and I must note Governor Scott did not veto one line. But please know everyone, the “fight for right” along the Indian River Lagoon has just begun!