I am blogging from my phone so I do not know what this post will look like when it’s published. On my street in Sewall’s Point, there is no power. Not for one second will I complain knowing what so many have lost on Florida’s southwest coast and around the state. Hurricane Ian has only just begun to tell his story. We all will be living with his impact for years.
From the bottom of my heart I am wishing those who are suffering comfort. “West Coasters” are indeed our brothers and sisters. In 2013 when the River Movement was rising from the filth and black waters of the St Lucie and Caloosahatchee’s “Lost Summer” we met at the Sugarland Rally in Clewiston. East & West met to bind for the fight against polluting discharges from Lake Okeechobee, and we indeed planted seeds that inspired a youth movement, and changed water policy and politics throughout the state of Florida. Our influence grew with each terrible event- 2013, 2016, 2018. Over time, this east/west partnership became much, much, more, and yes, like every family, we’ve had our challenges, our problems. The ACOE’s LOSOM, the most recent challenge, publicly pitted us against each other for over three years, but we finally found a fair center for ourselves and others.
The past couple of days, I’ve been thinking about SFWMD Chairman, Chauncey Goss who I sit next to every month at our governing board meetings. Chauncey’s family lives on Sanibel and his father worked to create the special low density, native character of the Island. May it be rebuilt in the same nature respecting spirit.
As we all know, all we have can be taken from us, thus all we really have is that within us. May we be good neighbors to those left in Ian’s path, as it is not just them, we are all forever changed.
As I continue my now popular retrospective series “Keeping Alive the Power of the Pubic Voice,” the next St Lucie River rally documented in my LOST SUMMER photo archives is dated August 20, 2013 –Ten days after the Beach Rally and and seventeen days after the first Rally at the Locks.
This was the infamous “riverlution” rally at the the St Lucie Locks and Dam when Governor Rick Scott visited. Just days prior to this, TCPalm put out their STOP KILLING OUR LAGOON issue. These were indeed incredible times! Below is an excerpt I saved from WPTV reporter Jeff Skrzpek, and some of my archived photos. Many people you’ll see in the photographs continue today to work for a better St Lucie River and Everglades LOSOM system.
The St Lucie “Lost Summer” led to significant changes to Florida water policy as we shall we in upcoming post. The recent wave started in Martin County and continues to crash ashore today.
Excerpt, August 20, 2013 – WPTV
STUART, Fla. — – “Hundreds lined the road, armed with signs and chanted loudly as Governor Rick Scott zoomed by more than 300 protesters on his way to tour the St. Lucie Lock.
“Save our river!” screamed the crowd as the hot sun beamed down sweaty backs.
After arriving, Governor Scott was rushed into fenced area, topped with barbed wire fencing, walking away from the crowd without acknowledging any of the concerned residents. The chants turned from being loud to all out anger…”
-Jeff Skrzypek, WPTV
Below” screen shot of TCPalm’s STOP KILLING OUR LAGOON SERIES. Note Eve Samples! I see Larry Reisman and I think that’s Ed Killer in the back. It is hard for me to see and recognize the others with my now “old eyes.” 🙂
I’ve had so many calls and reactions to my recent post “Keeping Alive the Power of the Public Voice,” that I’m going to keep sharing my photo archives of the “Riverlution.” Yes, today’s modern Florida water advocacy all started here in Martin County.
This next set of archived photos is dated August 10, 2013, Lost Summer (only seven days after the Rally at the Locks,) and labeled “Beach Rally for the River.” Photos reveal a large crowd at Stuart Beach and aerials of a black coffee/green algae St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Terrible!
For me, one of the all time most inspirational photos is in this collection. I am displaying it as the first one. It shows a little boy raising his arms in glee towards the sky as Ed’s original River Warrior -the yellow Cub- plane passes overhead and the flag flies! Save Our River! We are working not just for ourselves but for the future. Please keep the power of the public voice alive for all our Everglades’ rivers during the optimization of LOSOM. The voice of the people must direct policy and we must continue to lead the way!
(Email to comment: LakeOComments@usace.army.mil)
Beach Rally for the River, August 10, 2013, Stuart, Florida (Thurlow archives)
As we move into the LOSOM optimization process, let’s recall the power of the public voice that started this St Lucie “riverlution” in 2013. Today in 2021, the River Kidz have all grown up, we have all gotten older, and a slew of new advocates are involved. But as was clear at yesterday’s Rivers Coalition meeting, the movement is still going strong. It got me looking through my photo archives. Amazing! I wanted to share. Let’s all keep alive the power of the public voice for all our rivers – it started here.
TCPALM “Something remarkable happened on the Treasure Coast in 2013. Was it a short-lived phenomenon or the beginning of a sustained movement?”
The beginning of a sustained movement for sure!
~Photos from RALLY AT THE LOCKS, August 3, 2013. Over 5000 people attended having seen surfer Evan Miller’s Facebook post call to action due to the “Lost Summer.”
Today, May 12th, at 9:45 A.M. Governor Rick Scott is scheduled to sign Senate President Joe Negron’s “Senate Bill 10” in of all places Clewiston. Clewiston is “America’s Sweetest Town” and the headquarters of U.S. Sugar Corporation…
According to the article in the Glades County Democrat announcing the signing: “Earlier this week Senate Bill 10, a move to secure funding for a water storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee was approved. In its amended form, Senate Bill 10 became a measure that we in the Glades could stand behind. The bill no longer stated that additional farmlands be taken out of production but rather the state would utilize the property that it already owns to create a reservoir with a much smaller footprint.”
Although I am scratching my head, you know what? Sometimes you just have to be happy for what you get, no matter where you get it. I am tremendously thankful to Governor Scott for signing the bill ~ although I do wish he had decided to sign it in Martin County since we’ve worked so hard to get it.
When I read the announcement officially last night, it got me thinking about Clewiston before I went to sleep. It brought back memories of 2013 and famed paddle boarder Justin Riney’s idea to hold the Sugarland Rally in Clewiston on September 1st, 2013 to unite the movement. This was one of the early rallies for the river during the devastation of the “Lost Summer.”
Since Governor Scott is going to sign in Clewiston I think it’s a good time to walk down memory lane and be proud of how far we’ve come and to get ready for how far we have to go! The point of the location of the Sugarland Rally was to “meet halfway.” Hopefully Governor Scott is thinking the same, in that Joe Negron helped us meet half way and we are all thankful.
Now let’s remember the past, enjoy today, and then take it to the finish line!
“The Sugarland Rally will unite the east and west coasts of Florida in a peaceful, historic demonstration to speak out against the pollution of our estuaries from Lake Okeechobee discharges. We support both immediate and long-term solutions, but ecosystems and communities along the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Estuaries are in crisis. We cannot afford to wait for ecological and economic collapse. We urge all stakeholders–especially local, state and federal governments–to act immediately. We chose Clewiston as a central location to unify east and west at Lake Okeechobee, the source that is polluting our estuaries, and because we believe Florida’s sugar industry can be part of the solution. Please don’t misinterpret our intentions–we are NOT holding a rally at Clewiston to protest or point fingers at “Big Sugar.” It’s quite the opposite, actually. We invite Florida’s powerful sugar industry to join us in crafting an immediate solution to the ecological and economic crisis caused by discharges from Lake Okeechobee.” (Press release from Justin Riney, Aug. 2013)
Regarding Senate Bill 10, and the recent changes made to the bill~
I thought I would just go on-line and compare the first bill to the second with its amendments…kind of like juxtaposing town ordinances between first and second reading. Well, I learned over the past week, that this is not as easy as I had anticipated. In fact, to interpret well, I think I need a lawyer, or to become one.
Nonetheless, today I have gathered information to help us understand what is/has happened with Senate Bill 10. The essence of its changes is encapsulated in these recent words by Senate President Joe Negron about the bill:
“Harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee have flooded communities on the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers with massive amounts of toxic algae that destroyed estuaries and harmed the local and state economies. Unfortunately, incidences like these are not unique in our state and are a symptom of the lack of attention to water resource development. The lost summer must be a wakeup call for all Floridians.”
Powerful words from a Senate President. And between the lines we see that he is trying to build bridges to garner more support…as the powers that be have been repeatedly clubbing the bill over the head, in form with their outdated ideology.
So the bill has changed, it may be slightly wounded but it is still alive, and the dramatic destruction of our St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon has become the seed of change for our entire state. Wow. This is fitting as Martin County has a history of inspiring change and being a leader when it comes to the environment.
Ernest Lyons, the great “Stuart News” newspaper man, and others are in their graves smiling I am sure. He may even be smoking a cigar.
Nonetheless, we must remain the epicenter of this state-wide change…we must keep foucs.
The toxic destruction from Lake Okeechobee is a not by accident, but a rather a state and federally sponsored decision embedded in a power culture that has ruled for over one-hundred years. It is time to crack this wide open, thus even though the bill is morphing Senate Bill 10 must keep the EAA land purchase and reservoir component.
And although it has grown to include others, it still has this critical component.
The Florida Wildlife Federation states:
“Unfortunately SB10 has been substantially amended to include funding for water supply developments (pipes and pumps)…The bill changes the direction of the state’s major land acquisition programs from conservation purposes, to acquisition and improvements to land and water areas to protect, restore, and DEVELOP, water resources…These amendments are concerning…” I trust FWF’s concerns are warranted and should be looked at.
Now for the fun part! Below you can compare the two bills, it has gone from 14 to 27 pages!
The press releases following help interpret the bill’s intent. Below the Florida Senate links are two reporter’s insights that I feel are quite helpful, Isadora Rangel of TCPalm and Nancy Smith from Sunshine State News.
In closing, we must never give up because we are destined to change the long-standing culture of drainage and destruction for the St Lucie River/ Indian River Lagoon and now for the great state of Florida.
MORE PROJECTS ADDED
Bradley also added projects to garner support from lawmakers across the state. Those include:
• Creating a loan program to help government and private entities pay for water storage projects that prevent it “from being discharged to tide or otherwise lost to protect the waters of the state.” The loan would pay up to 75 percent of the project and give priority to alternative water supply in areas with limited water sources or that are threatened by salt water intrusion.
• $20 million for grants to help local governments convert septic tanks to sewer systems or remove muck in the Indian River Lagoon and the St. Lucie and Caloosahtachee rivers, as Gov. Rick Scott has proposed;
• $35 million per year for the restoration of the St. Johns River and its tributaries or the Keystone Heights Lake Region;
• $2 million annually for septic-to-sewer conversions, stormwater projects, muck removal and other water quality projects in the Florida Keys.
Sunshine State News, Nancy Smith
The Coast-to-Coast Comprehensive Water Resource Program includes the following:
— Acceleration of the timing and funding for the state share of the Everglades Agricultural Area Storage Reservoir Project. The bill authorizes the purchase of land for the project from willing sellers in the EAA and does not authorize the use of eminent domain.
— Funding of the state share of all existing Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) projects in the integrated delivery schedule (IDS), including the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Project, the C-43 West Basin Storage Reservoir Project, the C-44 Reservoir Project, the Western Everglades Restoration Project, the C-111 South-Dade Project, and the Picayune Strand Restoration Project.
— Direction to the Army Corps of Engineers to begin the reevaluation of the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule to take into account repairs to the dike and new southern storage features to increase storage in the lake as early as possible.
— A new bonding program, building on the Florida Forever model that recognizes the need to bond for water resource protection and development across Florida. The bill transfers the remaining $3.3 billion of existing bonding authority from Florida Forever to the Florida Coast-to Coast Water Resources Initiative. The bill does not create additional bonding capacity.
— A new revolving loan financing program and statutory tools to allow the state, water management districts and local governments, to develop and operate water storage and supply facilities to service regional populations addressing the growing need for water supply in the state.
— Dedicated LATF funding to expand Legacy Florida to include projects addressing water quality and restoration with the St. John’s River and the Florida Keys.
— Funding to aggressively address the retrofitting or conversion to central sewer systems of outdated septic systems consistent with Gov. Rick Scott’s leadership on this issue.
— Provisions that encourage reuse by establishing a water reuse grant program, specifically to assist wastewater treatment facilities to expand capacity to make reclaimed water available for reuse.
I hope you and your family had a happy Father’s Day. The water was beautiful this weekend, so I thought today I would compare some aerial photos my husband Ed and I took this weekend to some we took in June of 2013 during the “Lost Summer.” No wonder we all fight for clean water and fewer discharges from Lake Okeechobee and area canals. What a difference!
Of course other than “history,” rain has a lot to do with discharges into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, and it has not been raining too much lately— thus the blue waters rather than the ugly dark brown plumes. It is important for all of us to understand why our paradise sometimes turns into a disgusting toxic mess so we can keep working for policy to change this problem.
The first and worst part of the problem lies in southern Martin County—the C-44 canal built by the Flood Control District of the era and later the Army Corp of Engineers to connect Lake Okeechobee to the South Fork of the St Lucie River. This canal was connected in 1923 for agriculture and transportation. So now, not only is there the agricultural lands’ runoff from the C-44 basin that pours into the river, but also the periodic often huge releases from Lake Okeechobee. In spite of claims that this lake water is “only 30%” of total discharge water coming into the estuary, when it comes it is tremendous, filthy, and always a killer.
I think a decent metaphor would be that one could drink alcohol all time (from the C-23, C-24, C-25) and have problems like an alcoholic but function, however, if one downed two bottles of gin in a short period of time, one would kill oneself. Lake Okeechobee and its periodic huge slugs are death each time for our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
Next we must recognize the other problem-part of our canal system in the northern region…
After a tremendous hurricane/storm and flooding (because we are a swamp….) in 1947 the state of Florida and the federal government worked to appropriate monies for the Central and South Florida Flood Project which created the plumbing system we know today for all South Florida.
The part “we got” was the building of canals C-25, C-24 and C-23. The state and federal government acted like this was “just for flooding” but it wasn’t. It was also to allow for more agriculture and development in the region by draining the lands. (Mostly citrus and development of Port St Lucie). These canals were built and “improved” throughout the 50s and 60s and expanded the water being drained into the St Lucie River by about five times!
So now water from Okeechobee and St Lucie counties, and even water that had been flowing north into the St Johns River, through Indian River County and beyond— drains into the St Lucie River! (The headwaters of the St Johns River started flowing north in the marshes west of Sebastian and Vero—they have been directed to the SLR…)
Crazy isn’t it?
You know these “guys” —these politicians and business people, knew they were killing the river. They were just so driven by the pay-off of citrus/agriculture and cheap lands to sell….that they didn’t care…The river dies slowly so many of them did not see the “close to total death” —what we see today…but they knew what they were doing.
There were those who objected trying to protect the river’s fishing industry and wildlife….But their voices were not enough to stop the train….sound familiar?
The map above shows the “expanded watershed” in yellow and pink going into the St Lucie River. This is why I very much object also when I hear “how 70-80%” of the water polluting the St Lucie “is from our local watershed.”
Like we are supposed to feel responsible? Most of it’s not local!!!!! Plus it is the SFWMD’s job to oversee these canals. FIX THEM!
The moral of the story though is that the “local watershed” does not exist anymore….
“Wealth (agriculture and development) at the expense of the environment….” The story of our state.
Of course the grand irony is that we all came here for the “environment” ….the water, the fishing, the wildlife, the beauty…..
So here we are in Martin County living in a world where the pendulum swings between “paradise and hell.”
Paradise is not what it used to be, but it is still here. We saw some of it this past weekend…And we could bring back more if we really tried….If we want it, our job is to get more of the water coming into the St Lucie River/IRL back onto the land, going south, and returned or held north, and not draining or being released into our watershed.
There is alway hope we could do it faster. We must make hope a reality….all of us.
As newspaper man and famed environmentalist Ernie Lyons said: “What men do, they can undo…..and the hope for our river is in the hundreds of men and women in our communities who are resolved to save the St Lucie…” (Ernest Lyons, Editor and reporter, Stuart News)
The “Be Floridian” program was born over a decade ago of the Tampa Bay area. This program has many elements, but most noteworthy is that “strict” fertilizer ordinances evolved collaboratively along the counties and cities of Florida’s “southerly” east coast.
Today, Tampa Bay has more seagrass than it did in the 1940s. This is in spite of the area’s high population. Certainly, they have different issues than we, and “no Lake O,” but the goal is clear: “if they did it there; we can do it here…improve our waters.”
On Florida’s east coast, in 2010, the peninsular Town of Sewall’s Point, my community, was the first to implement in a strong fertilizer ordnance. With the 2011-2013 melt down of the Indian River Lagoon due to super-algae blooms killing approximately 60% of the northern/central lagoon’s seagrasses, and the toxic “Lost Summer” of excessive dumping from Lake Okeechobee and area canals along the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, communities all along the Indian River pushed their governments to implement strong fertilizer ordinances. —Making a statement that they were “fed-up” with dead waters, and were willing themselves to put “skin in the game.”
In case you don’t know, there are variations, but basically a “strong fertilizer ordinance” is one that does not allow fertilization with phosphorus and nitrogen during the summer rainy/hurricane season.
Recently there was an article in the “Stuart News” asking the question of whether or not these strong fertilizer ordinances are “working” along the IRL. The expert on hand replied it is “too soon to tell…”
I beg to differ, and here is why.
Of course they are working.
A four-year old can tell you they are working.
I use this analogy a lot when discussing Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades Agricultural Area’s 700,000 acres south of the lake blocking the natural flow of water from the northern estuaries to the Everglades.
In spite of the sugar and vegetable empires south of the lake trying to convince us that it is water from Orland and the Kissimmee River killing our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, any four-year old studying the River Kidz program will point to the area directly south of the lake as biggest problem forcing the water up and out the estuaries rather than allowing it to flow south as nature intended…We need a third outlet south of the lake. There is too much water to hold it all north. End of story. I don’t need a study to tell me this. I know it. A four-year old knows it. You know it.
Back to fertilizer….last night it rained hard here in Sewall’s Point. My rain gauge says two inches. Seemed like more than that. If my yard had been fertilized of course that fertilizer would have gone into the gutter and down the drain and into the Indian River Lagoon. You can go out and watch this from my driveway.
It must be noted that until the ACOE and SFWMD (collaborating at the direction of our government) stop dumping from the lake and out over expanded canals, we will never know our “area’s” levels of phosphorus and nitrogen.
For example, the ACOE began releasing into our SLR/IRL this January and just stopped a few weeks ago, so if a scientist had done her or her study recently, they would be measuring nutrients that came into our river from “other places” too.
But we, here, are doing our part and can feel good about this…keeping our house in order will help push order in the houses of the state and federal governments that are presently quite un-orderly.
Enforcement? Let’s focus on education. As we can see. It’s working! Five years ago people weren’t even aware that fertilizer was an “issue.”
As a sidebar before I close, I recently had the pleasure of meeting Mr Woody Woodraska who headed the SFWMD in the 1980s before it was under the anvil of the governor and the state legislature. The topic of visiting Cuba arose. My husband Ed and I will be visiting Cuba this fall with our church, St Mary’s.
Mr Woodraska said: “Oh, you are going to love it..”
In the course of telling his story visiting as a competitor in the Ernest Hemingway competition, he alluded to Cuba’s long repressed economy and how this kept fertilizers, via the agriculture industry, from ruining Cuba’s waters, fish and wildlife. Thus overall, Cuba’s waters are healthy and beautiful today.
We here in Florida, on the other hand, have developed every piece of land right up to edge of every river, some with septic tanks, and torn out the native plants and replaced with plants that we must fertilize; agriculture is a corporate producer going through literately tons of fertilizer every day; canals not only to drain our land, but we build houses along them; a turf grass industry flourishes in South Florida that sells 25% of all turf-grass in the WORLD; wonderful universities, like my alma mater and family connected University of Florida, do research and watch the industry’s back to “keeping our economy rolling!”
Yeah…rolling right over our fish, and our wildlife, and over ourselves as we see our own economy suffering from dirty waters.
Whew. I need a cup of coffee.
Sorry to be so opinionated, but I just can’t stand it. Fertilizer that is. In fact I have a file on my computer called DEATH BY FERTILIZER. Here are some pictures; thanks for reading my rant, have a good day, and I will not say “happy fertilizing!” 🙂
The National Research Council’s book “Clean Coastal Waters, Understanding and Reducing the Effects of Nutrient Pollution,” National Academy’s Press, 2000, is the best book I have read on this subject. It can be ordered on line.
My husband came home from the airport yesterday, I was on the couch in the living room reading. “Have you had a good afternoon?” He asked.
“Awesome,” I replied. “I have been reading the most wonderful document that contains all of the important information about the entire Indian River Lagoon.” I energetically held up my gigantic copy of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and NOAA- Indian River Lagoon, Draft Report for 2014. (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/coastal/sites/indianriver/plan.htm)
Ed smiled and looked at me like he usually looks at me in such instances. “That’s great,” he ironically replied, “government publications are my favorite too, how exciting…”
I am not always enamored with government publications, but I am with this one, especially as it is not finalized yet and the agencies are taking comment from the public.
What I like best about the document is that is deals with the entire lagoon, not just one section, including the lagoon’s four aquatic preserves: 1. Banana River; 2. Malabar to Vero Beach; 3. Vero Beach to Ft Pierce; and 4. Jensen Beach (really just south of the City of Ft Pierce) to Jupiter Inlet.
According to the document, “each of the four aquatic preserves comprising the IRL System was classified by the state of Florida as OFWs or “Outstanding Florida Waters, “in 1979 (Rule 62-3-2.700 (9) F.A.C.
I was 15 years old at that time. I remember those waters and how they shaped and enriched my life growing up here in Stuart. To think that these “Outstanding Florida Waters,” are now “impaired” makes me sad and makes me angry.
It has been coming for years, but in 2011 through 2013 the lagoon system really “crashed” with the “super-bloom” and brown tides in the central and northern lagoon, killing more than 60% of the area’s seagrass and leading to two federally designated “Unusual Mortality Events” of the endangered manatee, and the protected bottle nosed dolphin.
And also in 2013 the months long toxic algae outbreak in the southern lagoon… This occurred due to blue-green “microcysis aeruginoas” algae water released by the ACOE from Lake Okeechobee, into the St Lucie River/IRL system. The SLR/IRL system was already over stressed from discharges coming from local canals C-44; C-23; C-24 and C-25…the lake Okeechobee water was the nail in the coffin so to speak.
I think there is a disconnect here. Aren’t these waters protected?
According to the publication, the mission statement of the Florida Coastal Office/Department of Environmental Protection is the following:
1. protect and enhance the ecological integrity of the aquatic preserves;
2. restore areas to the natural condition;
3. encourage sustainable use and foster active stewardship by engaging local communities in the protection of aquatic preserves; and
4. improve management effectiveness through a process based on sound science, consistent evaluation, and continual reassessment.
I will refrain from bashing of the Department of Environmental Protection as I do not think our fair state’s leadership over the past hundred and fifty plus years has helped them attain their mission. How do you “direct” an agency to protect something and then simultaneously promote over drainage of natural systems, channelizing, overdevelopment along the lands of these once “outstanding waters,” and allow water districts to over-grant permits for aquifer withdrawal for more agriculture and development?
Another irony I have to add here is that these once “outstanding waters” are what helped bring people to our locations and supported their high real estate values. That is changing as some people are now leaving. Last year, in the Town of Sewall’s Point, although the real estate market improved overall in the county, our property values only increased 0.13%. As a “desirable” water front community with some of the highest property values in the county, this came as a surprise and is certainly directly linked to the “lost summer” and toxic waters of 2013.
The state of Florida needs to “wake up.” The Town of Sewall’s Point is a microcosm for the rest of the state. So what can we do to help? Speak up!
Please if you have time and interest, check out Indian River Lagoon System Management Plan, Draft Report 2014 below. Even if you don’t read it all, which is almost impossible, keep it as an electronic resource, and MAKE A COMMENT to the DEP. Even if it is just one that you appreciate that they are reevaluating their management plan and how much the IRL means to you.
It is only through the continued pressure of a caring public that the Indian River Lagoon will be resurrected and its “living waters” will run through our cities again.
I am well aware that the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon have location specific e. coli bacteria problems, as well as “overall water quality problems,” due to our local canals. This summer has been a great example of such with our SLR/IRL waters colored putrid brown all the way to the St Lucie Inlet just from releases from C-44, C-23, and C-24 canal basin runoff releases.
This is why it is beyond my comprehension, that with such terrible local water issues, our state and federal agencies can legally and in good conscious, “if necessary,” on behalf of flood control, release more nutrient, sediment filled waters into our SLR/IRL through Lake Okeechobee when they know that those waters often contain Microcystis Aeruginoas, a cyanobacteria that can produce health threatening toxins through its blue-green algae blooms.(http://www.doh.wa.gov/CommunityandEnvironment/Contaminants/BlueGreenAlgae.aspx)
In 2013, the Martin County Health Department, through spokesperson, Bob Washam, urged residents to avoid contact with the algae in the entire estuary from the St Lucie Canal to the St Lucie Inlet. Luckily with our local, “yuk” releases, we have not had that situation occur yet in 2014.
I have had two personal experiences witnessing these blue-green blooms. The first was during a boat ride into Lake Okeechobee, September 5, 2009, and the second was last year (2013) with the Everglades Foundation team, at the St Lucie Locks and Dam when the ACOE was releasing. As we walked over the gates, I clearly saw bright blue-green algae on the side of the dam allowing in Lake O water. Believe it or not, the SRWMD was testing the water right there… Mark Perry from Florida Oceanographic was with me and I ask him:
“Mark, is that “toxic” blue-green algae?”
“Yes, blue-green algae can be toxic is most prevalent in fresh water systems. It is often in the lake.”
“And they are releasing it into our river?!”
I stood there in a daze….amazed.
Then I recalled the boat trip I had taken with my husband and dogs in 2009, and how we had seen the blue-green algae clearly along the edges of the locks while going into the lake and I had videotaped it. I am including some photos I took of that video below.
When Senator Rubio visited Stuart on behalf of the SLR/IRL, I told this story….I have told it many times at many official meetings to no avail. I think it a significant issue. Anyway…
So far this year, with the releases from our local canals, toxic algae, or Cyanobacteria, has not been reported in the SLR/IRL. It could be in the future, but it is less likely than when the ACOE is releasing from the lake. Why? Because often when they release from the lake it is TREMENDOUS amounts of freshwater, even more than comes from our local canals. Plus the blue-green algae is already in the lake as its fresh.
According to Bob Washam, blue-green algae was first reported around 1995 and it was blue! They thought it was a paint spill. The outbreaks have been more common since this time the worst being in 1998. Whether blue or green in color, it is bright. Very bright. You can see it.
How could our government, in essence, “poison its own people,” and how can we allow this, especially when we can see it?
We must push our government for change. Health, safety and welfare is something we rightfully deserve. Send the water south.
Last week, I took my fourteen year old niece, Natalie, to a meeting with me, to meet Florida’s brand new, only seven weeks old in the position of Lieutenant Governor, Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami; he is the first hispanic ever to hold this office.
The purpose of the meeting was to “educate” the new lieutenant governor about issues concerning the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. I had Natalie for Spring Break and since she has been a member of River Kidz (http://riverscoalition.org) since she was ten, I figured I’d put her to work.
I said, “Natalie, just be honest and polite. Shake his hand, look him in the eye, smile and then tell him how you and your family were affected by the releases from Lake Okeechobee and the other canals last summer, the “Lost Summer.”
When it was our turn, Natalie went first. She did exactly what I had asked. She shook his hand, looked him in the eye and smiled saying:” My name is Natalie and I live in North River Shores. Last summer, because of the releases from Lake Okeechobee, my family and I could not use the new wakeboard we got for Christmas, because the river was off limits with toxic algae blooms. Also we did not go fishing like we usually do. The water was gross…”
At this point, as there were others standing around listening and waiting to meet Mr Lopez-Cantez too, I did my typical control-freak move and “nicely” butted in just to qualify a piece of information so my comrades couldn’t claim I was using Natalie for purposes of propaganda.
“Natalie, we should mention, that the other canals were releasing too; you know the C-23 and C-24; the C-23 is the one your sister did her Science Fair Project on…”
Natalie looked and me and the Lieutenant Governor looked at me. Natalie nodded her head, and Mr Lopez-Cantera honestly asked: “Don’t all the canals here connect to Lake Okeechobee?” Silence.
“I’m glad you asked, I said. It’s all very confusing.” I drew a picture as Natalie explained that C-44 does connect to the lake, but C-23 and C-24 do not. She also explained that the C-23 and C-24 are very polluting canals, but it has been only when the heavy releases from Lake Okeechobee come, on top of the releases from our local canals, that the river goes completely toxic.
I told a story that is well known. Prior to the releases from Lake Okeechobee, the South Florida Water Management District had taken samples of toxic algae, “microcystis aeruginosa,” a type of cyanobacteria, from Lake Okeechobee at Port Mayaca , and the Army Corp of Engineers knew this, before they opened the gates at S-308 and S-80 allowing the water to flow into the St Lucie Canal and St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
I relayed that Mark Perry speaks on this situation often, reiterating again, that the river became toxic not while our own, although they be disgusting canals, were releasing, but only when the massive water from the Lake Okeechobee was allowed in…
The Lieutenant Governor looked surprised, “Who is Mary Perry? ” he asked. “Mark Perry is the executive director for Florida Oceanographic,” I replied. Mr. Lopez-Cantera wrote down Mark’s name.
Our fifteen minutes were up, I gave the Lieutenant Governor a booklet of aerial photos my husband and I took of the river during the summer of 2013; he did a double take when he saw the cover but it was time to go.
Nonetheless, he did not rush us off, and as we were getting up to go, he told Natalie about being a big wake boarder himself in Miami in younger days. We took a photo for Natalie’s album and then Natalie and I were off to walk the dogs and bake cookies since it was too windy to go to the beach.
I commend the Lieutenant Governor for coming to Stuart and meeting with local stakeholders to learn about the Indian River Lagoon, St Lucie River and Lake Okeechobee. I’m sure he has people pulling at him from all directions, but he came here.
As distasteful as politics is, at the end of the day, change for our rivers will come through the steady work of building relationships. By knowing our politicians, whether they be republican or democrat, the face to face experience makes it harder for them to forget us when the vote is before them.
I’m hoping when it comes time for a vote, or in the future when the possibility of sending the water south is real, Lieutenant Governor Lopez-Cantera, or what ever his position is at that time, will remember the nice kid named Natalie from Stuart, and her story about not being able to wakeboard in the toxic St Lucie River during the lost summer of 2013.
These shocking photos taken last summer have helped to keep up the pressure on Martin and St Lucie’s counties legislative delegation and others in both Tallahassee and Washington DC for change along water bodies releasing into the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon and future hope for future water storage and a flow way south.
Also, the Stuart News and Scripps Newspapers continues to post lagoon article almost every day. The business community, students, and retired, everyday people are still up in arms.
There are both short and long term goals to save the Indian River Lagoon and St Lucie River, but the public’s collective memory is the greatest hope for a better future as we advocate, partake, and lobby for clean water.
As you go out this weekend and Spring Break begins for our area young people, recall last year’s late spring, summer and fall when the public could not go out or into our area waters.
And when you have a chance, call your local, state and federal officials and nicely ask: “How’s it coming with those water issues, and when are you up for reelection?”