Loxahatchee Lesson 2
Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love maps! Today I opened a map entitled “Physical, Hydrological, & Biological Characteristics of the Loxahatchee River Estuary, Florida, U.S Geological Survey,” that may not have been unfolded since the year I graduated from Martin County High School in 1982.
In June of 2020, my mother and her dear friend Nicki van Vonno, shared with me documents belonging to Nicki’s late husband, Frederik W. van Vonno. In 1979, as a student, “Fred” wrote a paper that he presented to his Georgia Institute of Technology professor, entitled: “Environmental Considerations in Wild and Scenic River Studies.”
As we know, the Loxahatchee River was designated a federal Wild and Scenic River shortly thereafter, in the momentous year of 1985. It was Florida’s first!
So this map is part of the history of the Loxahatchee becoming a Wild and Scenic River. There is a lot to talk about in Mr van Vonno’s documents, but I want to begin with this map. It will be our guide over the coming days. There are sections listed: Introductions, Purpose and Scope, Methods, History, Physical and Hydrologic Characteristics; Sediment; and Summary and Concluding Remarks -by Benjamin McPherson, Maryann Sabanskas, and William Long -all of the Department of the Interior’s Geological Survey. You can peruse all of these sections if you click on map below.
For purposes of time, and our goal to learn beginnings today, I will focus only on the historical building and demise of this great river, Loxahatchee.
History of the Estuary from map
The Loxahatchee River estuary owes its existence to a rise in sea level and an increase in rainfall. About 15,000 years ago, the shore of the Atlantic Ocean was several miles east of more than 300 feet lower than its present location and altitude at Jupiter Inlet. The climate was windy, cool, and dry. From about 15,000 to 6,000 years ago, sea level rose relatively rapidly at a rate of more than 3 feet per century. Near the end of this period, modern vegetation and climate became established and the rise in sea level slowed. Sometime near the end of the rapid rise in sea level and several thousand years ago, tidal waters began to flood the estuary embayment. Prior to this time, the embayment was probably a flood plain or a freshwater marsh. From the time of the first tidal flooding to about 1900, the shape and bathymetry of the estuary were modified solely by natural processes of sedimentation and erosion…
The rest I will paraphrase:
In 1900 came the “progress” of man bringing with it two big shifts: 1. the dredging and permanence of the Jupiter Inlet which allowed much more salt water into the delicate estuary, and a familiar foe, over-drainage – Ground water levels were lowered and fresh water inflows reduced.
The once fresh water inputs going into the Southwestern Fork (far left/down) from Hungryland Slough and the Loxahatchee Marsh -part of Loxahatchee Slough we talked about in Loxahatchee Lesson 1- were tamed by the huge C-18 canal. The Everglades connection severed.
The Northwest Fork’s water (middle) was reduced due to development of the Central and South Florida Plan, all of the giant historic canals that are managed today by the South Florida Water Management District. Creeks Kitching and Cypress remain, but are anemic. A portion of this Northwest Fork -from Riverbend Park to Dickinson State Park is the area that was deemed “Wild and Scenic” in 1985. In spite of this status, cypress trees have been replaced by mangroves due to less fresh water input and more salt water input.
The North Fork (far right) is surrounded by development but a small portion looks untouched in its upper region.
All things life changing begin with a dream. My writings will follow Fred van Vonno’s dream.
The Loxahatchee is one of thousands of United States rivers that have been negatively transformed by agriculture and development; but, the Loxahatchee has more hope than most. In future blog posts we will explore this studying the Wild and Scenic designation and how this “dream come true” is not over yet.