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Is Agriculture’s Use of Glyphosate Feeding Lake O’s Explosive Algae Blooms? Professor Geoffrey Norris, SLR/IRL

Writing my blog allows me to meet many interesting people. Recently, fellow Sewall’s Point resident, and active Vietnam Veterans of America member, Mr. Frank Tidikus, introduced me to Canadian and part-time Martin County resident, Professor Geoffrey Norris who is a geologist and algae fossil specialist with a long career at the University of Toronto.

Professor Norris, his wife, and I met at the Prawnbroker and had a lovely exchange. Dr Norris describes himself as such…

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Professor Geoffrey Norris, Ph.D. FRSC

University of Toronto: http://www.es.utoronto.ca/people/faculty/norris-geof/

...In the 1960s, I lived and worked as a petroleum exploration geologist in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Subsequently, I spent almost 40 years at the University of Toronto in teaching and research in  geology…A  geologist by training, I have a specialized knowledge of fossil algae, their ecology, morphology, and distribution.  I have published hundreds of scientific papers on fossil algae and related topics…

Professor Norris shared two papers composed for his property association at Indian River Plantation on Hutchinson Island along the Indian River Lagoon during the 2016 toxic algae extravaganza. Today, I will share the first entitled: “Blue-green algal blooms in the lakes, rivers, and marine waters of south Florida surrounding Lake Okeechobee.” His second, specifically on Sugarcane, I will provide next week.

Professor Norris’ summary and full paper is below. It is excellent in that it is able to relay complex subjects to the everyday reader interested in water quality and improving the plight of our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.

What is most amazing to me are his comments on glyphosate, most famous for being the active ingredient in Roundup, but now used under many names. Sometimes I hear people screaming so much about Roundup that I tune it out, but Professor Norris’ observations really got to me.

He notes that glyphosate, used excessively in agriculture production around south and central Florida may actually “feed”cyanobacteria (toxic blue-green algae blooms). Also mind-blowing are Professor Norris’ insights into the reproduction of the hungry and ancient cyanobacteria that reproduces through binary fission (copying itself) “producing endless clones” “with no dissipation of mutant genes as a checks and balance to adaptation…”

Yikes! Really?

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Blue-green algae mat St Lucie River July 2016, Snug Harbor, JTL
Well, enjoy the reading the paper. And know, together we are making a difference!

Jacqui

 

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Public maps info shared by Dr Norris, courtesy of USGA
Blue-green algal blooms in the lakes, rivers, and marine waters of south Florida surrounding Lake Okeechobee 

Executive Summary

  • This report provides basic information on blue-green “algae” and explains that they are actually bacteria (cyanobacteria). These blue-green bacteria form blooms in Lake Okeechobee that in turn are released by the Army Corps of Engineers into canals and estuaries of south Florida.
  • The blue-green bacteria grow by using sunlight as an energy source to synthesize elements from the water into more complex compounds used in their cells. When important nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen are present in excess, the bacteria multiply rapidly and accumulate as highly concentrated masses of cells, called blooms.
  • Blue-green bacteria can synthesize nitrates from atmospheric nitrogen, but also need phosphorus dissolved in water to survive and thrive. If phosphorus is scarce in the water, this limits the growth of the bacteria.  If it is abundant, blooms can be triggered.
  • Run-off and back pumping into Lake Okeechobee from surrounding Everglades agricultural lands and upstream from the Kissimmee River watershed is suspected of providing a potential abundant source of phosphorus for blue-green bacteria, in phosphate-rich fertilizers and herbicides such as Roundup (glyphosate).
  • Glyphosate (2-[(phosphonomethyl)amino]acetic acid) is of particular concern, since it has been used heavily in the agricultural areas around Lake Okeechobee and upstream in the Kissimmee River watershed for at least 25 years. Glyphosate provides a source of phosphorus for blue-green bacteria and recent research by others suggest that glyphosate enhances the growth of blue-green bacteria, which become tolerant and absorb glyphosate directly.
  • The blue-green bacterial blooms released into the St Lucie Estuary (principally Microcystis) are formed in freshwater but appear to be tolerant of dilute salinities, and recent research suggests can build up resistance to increased salinities such as are found in estuarine waters.

Blue-green algal blooms in the lakes, rivers, and marine waters of south Florida surrounding Lake Okeechobee

By Geoffrey Norris Ph.D. FRSC

rosalex@interlog.com

6 July 2016

Introduction

I am a property owner in Stuart, Florida and have been alarmed – along with many others – at the spread of blue-green algae (aka cyanobacteria) into the St Lucie River and adjacent areas by water releases from Lake Okeechobee.  There has been much publicity and calls for action over the years but very little appears to have been done to solve this long-standing problem at any level of government, until very recently.  Now, a State of Emergency has been declared by the Governor of Florida.  Recent initiatives, following public meetings in Martin County thanks to the Board of County Commissioners, have been undertaken by Florida Representative Gayle Harrell and Senator Joe Negron and their colleagues in association with Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson and Rep. Patrick Murphy to urge the Army Corps of Engineers to stop immediately the nutrient-laden discharges from Lake Okeechobee.

Although I am a property owner and tax payer in Martin County, I am also a Canadian snowbird and therefore do not have a vote, which is a little constraining when trying to influence political decisions.  Therefore, I decided to put my energies into assessing what is known about the current situation of the blue-green blooms.  I am a geologist by training and I do have a specialized knowledge in particular of fossil algae that have been extremely important in oil and gas exploration over the decades gone by.  I am not a biologist but I do have some knowledge of the literature on algae – their ecology, morphology and distribution in various environments.  I have published hundreds of scientific papers on fossil algae and related topics and hope that the following – largely based on biological and agricultural literature – will pass muster.

In the following presentation my aims are twofold:

Firstly, to try and answer commonly asked questions about blue green algae (which are actually bacteria) that might be helpful in clarifying some of the technicalities of a complex subject.

Secondly, to highlight what to my mind is the ultimate cause of the blue-green outbreak:  that is, the heavy application of phosphate-bearing fertilizers and herbicides around Lake Okeechobee together with back pumping of agricultural run-off into the Lake.  In particular I believe that the well-known weed killer glyphosate (e.g. Roundup) may be implicated as a major contributor to the problem.  South Florida and somewhat later Central Florida became major users of Roundup in the early 1990s, long before its popularity spread north into the corn and bean belt.

Feel free to pass this article on to others.  I would welcome comments by email at rosalex@interlog.com

What are blue-green algae?

Well, for starters they are not actually algae at all.  They were discovered in the 19th century by biologists using newly invented high-powered microscopes. They noticed a variety of microorganisms living in water, some of them with green pigments in the cells that allowed photosynthesis to occur, similar to the well-known photosynthesis occurring in the much larger land plants and driven by chlorophyll.  But they were much simpler in organization than the large land plants so were called “algae” (singular alga, from the Latin word for seaweed).  Some of these microorganisms contain a rather different bluish pigment and were therefore referred to as “blue-green”, and in these early days were judged nevertheless to be algae – hence blue-green algae.

It was only later that biologists realized that the blue-green microorganisms were crucially different from algae because they had no nucleus in the cell and their pigment was not organized into a “blob” within the cell like most other algae.  In the scientific literature they are now regarded as bacteria and the blue-greens are referred to as cyanobacteria – that is, photosynthetic bacteria that use a blue-green pigment to facilitate the use of the sun’s energy to produce organic compounds needed by these organisms.

It is important to understand this difference between the blue-green cyanobacteria on the one hand and the “true” algae on the other.  I will come back to the difference between bacteria and algae later, and how this impacts on bloom formation.

Meanwhile, the term “blue-green algae” has gained traction in the news media and is now widely understood to be implicated in the blooms of microorganisms that occur from time to time in lakes and rivers in Florida and elsewhere.  I will use either of the terms “blue-green algae” or  “cyanobacteria” depending on the context, or just the neutral term “blue-greens”.  But remember they are actually bacteria.

What are algal blooms?

An algal bloom is the result of rapid increase or accumulation of algae in a body of water.  They can occur in freshwater (lakes, rivers) or in marine water (estuaries, lagoons, coastal embayments).   Different types of algae (including the blue-green cyanobacteria) produce different blooms characterized by green, bluish, yellow, brown or red colors.  The density of pigmented cells in a bloom is enormous, and measured in the hundreds of thousands to billions of cells per liter (1 liter is almost a quart) depending on the species.

Blooms can be quite localized and appear as a streak on the water or can be very large and visible from space, such as the algal blooms that occur from time to time in Lake Erie and measure tens to hundreds of miles in extent.  The recent blue-green algal bloom in Lake Okeechobee was reported to be more than 30 square miles in extent.

What causes blooms?

Blooms occur naturally when the water contains an excess of nutrients such as phosphorus and other compounds.  This causes an increase in the growth of algae leading to very high concentrations of cells that become visible as colored streaks and patches in the water.  Other factors involved in triggering algal blooms include temperature changes, sunlight intensity, changes in water chemistry and changes in water currents.

What are the red tides that occur in Florida?
A red tide is just another name for a bloom of “true” algae in marine water, and in this case a particular algal group called dinoflagellates.  Red tides can be red but more often occur as greenish or yellowish colored water in the coastal areas of Florida.  The term “harmful algal bloom” is often preferred in referring to these dinoflagellate blooms that do indeed harm wildlife and human life in different ways e.g. toxic shellfish poisoning; respiratory illness; mass fish kills.

So what caused the blue-green algal blooms in Lake Okeechobee?

First, it is important to understand that blue green algae are uniquely different.  Not only are they photosynthetic bacteria but they are also capable of manufacturing their own supply of nitrates from nitrogen in the atmosphere, one of their crucial nutritional requirements.  So the blue-greens have plenty of nitrogen to live on but they also need other important elements and compounds to thrive.  One of these is phosphorus, which often occurs naturally in water in trace amounts as phosphates.  If phosphorus is scarce, then this limits the growth of the blue-greens even though they have potentially a lot of nitrates available.  The amount of phosphorus available becomes a limiting factor for growth of the blue-green algae.  If phosphorus becomes more abundant in the water, then the blue-green algae thrive and multiply until they become visible as a bloom.  It is believed that high phosphorus concentrations in Lake Okeechobee are capable of triggering blue-green algal blooms.

So where did the phosphorus come from in Lake Okeechobee?

Lake Okeechobee is surrounded by agricultural land that is being intensively farmed.  Run-off from the farmland appears to be entering Lake Okeechobee, and this includes various phosphate-rich fertilizers and herbicides such as Roundup (glyphosate).

But Lake Okeechobee water levels are higher than the surrounding plain.  How can run-off into the Lake happen?

Well, firstly, Lake Okeechobee and the surrounding farmland share a common water table.  Transfer of minerals and soluble organic compounds can occur through the groundwater.  But probably more importantly, until recently it was common farming practice to back pump excess run-off water from the agricultural land into Lake Okeechobee.  Almost certainly this had led to the accumulation of phosphorus and other nutrients in the Lake as well as unused agricultural chemicals.  Aerial transmission into the Lake from crop dusting is also possible.

So now that back pumping has been discontinued will this solve the problem?

Not really, because although farmers now are not allowed to back pump into the Lake, the South Florida Water Management District has responsibility to alleviate the threat of flooding.  They can – and do – back pump surface water from the surrounding land into Lake Okeechobee, if excessive rainfall conditions threaten to flood the communities around the Lake.  Rainwater running off the agricultural land will still contain phosphorus and other compounds derived from fertilizers.  Furthermore, from time to time the Army Corps of Engineers controls the level of Lake Okeechobee by releases of lake water into the canals, which in turn feed into the estuaries around Stuart and other coastal communities.

Are there any other agricultural products that are contributing to the appearance of blue-green algal blooms?

Yes, there is one in particular that is of great concern.  Glyphosate is the active ingredient in the well-known weed killer Roundup.  It is used intensively by farmers over much of North America.  South Florida is one of the areas where it is being used very heavily in agriculture, and has been since at least 1992 (the earliest available data).  A little further to the north, Central Florida’s usage of glyphosate surged in 1993 and continued until 2013 (the last available data) and may also be a source of glyphosate in Lake Okeechobee but originating further upstream in the Kissimmee River watershed and its interconnected lakes.

http://water.usgs.gov/nawqa/pnsp/usage/maps/show_map.php?year=2001&map=GLYPHOSATE&hilo=L

Why is glyphosate of such concern?

Glyphosate is an organic compound with phosphorus as an important component as well as nitrogen in its chemical make-up. It was invented by Monsanto chemists, brought to market in 1974, and its chemical name is N-(phosphonomethyl)glycine (aka 2-[(phosphonomethyl)amino]acetic acid)  –  glyphosate for short and much more easily remembered.  Monsanto’s patent on glyphosate expired in 2000 and since then it has been manufactured by dozens of companies with a significant drop in price and therefore increasing popularity with farmers.  In 2007 it became the most-used herbicide in agriculture in USA.  It works as a weed killer by inhibiting the production of certain plant amino acids and enzymes.  After it has done its deadly work, some of it can break down in the soil into simpler molecules of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and phosphorus.  Excess glyphosate can run off into water, particularly at peak farming times.  Its use has been expanding in the agricultural sector by about 20% per year for the last several years.

So far, so good.  It kills most green plants, if that is what you want.  I personally use it to kill poison ivy on my property.  Unfortunately, it has become apparent through a number of recent laboratory-based studies that glyphosate does not act as a killer for some blue-green algae, aka cyanobacteria.  Firstly, the blue-greens love the phosphorus in glyphosate or its degradation products, which otherwise is a limiting factor in their survival.  They thrive on increased phosphorus.  Secondly and more insidiously, recent research has indicated that glyphosate actually enhances the growth of blue-greens.  The blue-greens apparently have the ability to absorb glyphosate directly from the water and some are tolerant to it or become adapted to it by rare genetic mutations.

OK, but rare genetic mutations are just that – rare!  So what?

Well, you remember that blue-greens are actually bacteria, not true algae.  As such their genetic material is distributed throughout the cell, and they reproduce by binary fission producing endless clones.  There is no “mix-and-matching” of chromosomes and genes such as occur in nucleated organisms using sexual reproduction that tends to dissipate the effects of mutant genes.  Once a cyanobacterium has undergone a mutation, that mutant gene is replicated again and again as the cell divides.  It produces clones of the mutant cell, and if that mutant has an advantage (such as resistance to or affinity for glyphosate), it will rapidly spread.

A more familiar example is the recent rise to prominence of so-called superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics.  Human infections are often related to bacteria that enter the body, and are treated by the intake of prescribed antibiotics as a course of treatment for a number of days.  If the antibiotics are not taken for an adequate period of time, the residual bacterial population includes mutants that resist the drug in question, and in turn that drug becomes less and less effective against new infections. This way a superbug is created e.g. MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).  So think of the blue-greens as bacteria (which they are) and glyphosate as an antibiotic (which it is).  Those blue-green cyanobacteria that survive the glyphosate thrive as mutants and have the capacity to spread widely.

Do blue-green blooms last forever?

No.  Eventually the blue-green bloom uses up available resources and requires more nutrients than are available leading to a decline in the number of cells in the water column.  Also in temperate climates, the onset of winter temperatures can put an end to algal blooming for that season.

Then what happens?

The blue-green cells die off and sink to the bottom of the lake or estuary.  Other bacteria move in and use the debris from the dead blue-greens as a source of carbon, and use oxygen in the water to fuel their own growth.  This in turn leads to oxygen depletion that can be very severe.  Without oxygen in the water, normal aquatic life becomes impossible and a dead zone is created: fish move away, and other organisms die that can’t move into more oxygen-rich environments.

How many blue-green algae/cyanobacteria exist?

About 2500 living species have been described in the literature but probably double or treble that number exist and await discovery and description.  They have a very long geological history.  Fossilized blue-greens have been discovered in rocks 3.5 billion years old.

How many are harmful?

Only a dozen or so species are actually harmful when they form blue-green blooms and emit toxic substances.  In the recent outbreak, Microcystis aeruginosa has been identified as a bloom-forming cyanobacterium together with a couple of others.

So which blue-greens are responsible for the Lake Okeechobee and St Lucie River blooms?

The Florida Dept of Environmental Protection (DEP) took a number of samples from sites in Martin County and adjacent areas from Late May to Late June 2016 and the results are available at their website:

https://depnewsroom.wordpress.com/south-florida-algal-bloom-monitoring-and-response/

Most samples are reported as “mixed algae; no dominant species in the sample”, but a few are reported with more detail (numbers are depth in meters):

Martin County

St. Lucie River, Central Marine Marina (N 27° 12′ 55″, W -80° 15′ 18″)

0.3 Dominant taxon: Microcystis aeruginosa
Martin County

Dire Point Canal (N 27° 12′ 24.47″, W -80° 16′ 16.90″)

0.3 m mixed algae; no dominant species in sample though specks of Microcystis aeruginosa present.
Martin County

SE Harbor Pointe Dr. (N 27° 12′ 12.44″, W -80° 12′ 44.77″)

0.3 m mixed algae; no dominant species in sample though specks of Microcystis aeruginosa present.
Martin County

C-44 and S. Fork Mouth (N 27° 7′ 46.13″, W -80° 15′ 58.02″)

0.3 m mixed algae; no dominant species in sample though specks of Microcystis aeruginosa present.
Martin County

S-80 (N 27° 06′ 41.87″, W -80° 17′ 06.08″)

0.5 m Dominant taxon: Planktolyngbya limnetica
Martin County

Lake Okeechobee – Port Mayaca S 308 C Upstream Lake Side

N 26° 59′ 6″

W -80° 37′ 16.5″

Water column Dominant: Microcystis aeruginosa
Hendry County

Lake Okeechobee near Channel Marker 9B

N 26° 46′ 36.6954″

W -80° 54′ 8.676″

Water column Co-dominant taxa: Microcystis aeruginosa and Dolichospermum circinalis

Clearly, Microcystis appears to be important in several blooms, but quantitative and qualitative data are not provided for the majority of samples, making further evaluation impossible at this time. Dolichospermum (aka Anabaena) is a well known blue-green that produces nerve toxins and liver-damaging toxins, as does Microcystis. Planktolyngbya limnetica is another well known toxic blue-green.

How adequate has the sampling and analysis program by DEP been?

It is difficult to say for sure, since DEP only provides results of their program, not the sampling and analytical strategies themselves.  However, from what can be gleaned from their website it would seem that during the month of June 2016 DEP collected 24 samples from 7 counties (Martin, Palm Beach, St Lucie, Lee, Charlotte, Hendry, Glades) over a 29 day period, covering a transect from the Atlantic coast to the Gulf of Mexico (Stuart/Palm Beach to Fort Myers).  Of those 24 samples, 83% were reported “mixed algae; no dominant species in the sample” without further details.  I would judge this to be a token response to what is clearly a major emergency.  The analytical results appear to be lackluster to judge from details available on the website.  No doubt DEP activities are constrained by their budget, but the lack of urgency in attempting to characterize these blooms is disappointing at best and may eventually be judged negligent to some degree.

What is known about Microcystis aeruginosa?

Quite a lot.  It is the most common harmful algal bloom-forming species in freshwater.  The cells are tiny but colonies can be macroscopic in size and contain gas vesicles that allow the colonies to be buoyant and float to the surface of the lake.  It produces both neurotoxins and hepatotoxins that contaminate the water and have been known to kill  dogs, other large animals and livestock in general that drink the polluted water.  The toxins may be carcinogenic.   Microcystis has a drastic effect on dissolved oxygen in the water that can lead to mass fish kills.

Can blue-green algae live in salt water?

This depends on the species.  Many truly marine blue-greens are known in seas and oceans where they play an important role in nitrogen fixation and are important components of the marine ecosystem.  In the case of Stuart and the St Lucie inlet and estuary, these natural estuarine waters have been diluted and/or replaced by fresher water discharges from Lake Okeechobee as shown in recent Florida Oceanographic Society water quality reports:

http://www.floridaocean.org/uploads/docs/blocks/867/160630.pdf

In turn this has allowed freshwater blue-greens such as Microcystis to establish colonies and blooms in areas that otherwise would support more saline organisms.  So, for example, on June 30th 2016, the north and south forks of the St Lucie River, the St lucie River adjacent to Sewells Point, and the Manatee Pocket were reporting salinity values in the range of zero to 13 parts per thousand, areas which otherwise would be in the range of 15 to 30 parts per thousand.  Hence some of these diluted saline waters can now support freshwater blue-greens.

Alarmingly, recent laboratory-based research has shown that some blue-greens – such as Microcystis – can build up resistance to increased salinity and, therefore, if this happens in the natural habitat can expand their range from freshwater to higher salinities.

What can be done to improve the situation?

If you have a vote at any level of government, contact your elected politicians to highlight the urgent nature of the blue-green blooms and to bring pressure to bear to use available resources to solve the matter.

  • Stop the back pumping of run-off water by anyone into Lake Okeechobee.
  • Curtail the heavy application of phosphorus-rich agricultural chemicals in farmland surrounding Lake Okeechobee.
  • In particular, request a thorough scientific investigation into the effects of glyphosate (Roundup) on blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) and their blooms.
  • In the long run, demand that the dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee be rebuilt with a view to diverting southwards the impounded waters back into the Everglades.
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    Dr and Mrs Norris
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Cheerio!

“What The Muck?!” SLR/IRL

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Flying over the black gold of the EAA. JTL
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Fields in Pahokee, JTL

Road Trip Series.

Since I began my Glades “Road Trip” Series, I have read three books by Lake Okeechobee historian, Laurence E. Will: Okeechobee Hurricane, Swamp to Sugar Bowl, and A Cracker History of Okeechobee.

These books hold amazing stories of the Glades; if Mr. Will hadn’t written, there would be very few first-hand accounts of farming that became a Florida mega-industry just over the first half century of the 1900s. Today, I will transcribe some of his most interesting descriptions of Lake Okeechobee, the magical landscape that was transformed into today’s contoversial Everglades Agricultural Area, for none other than its MUCK.

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EAA below Lake Okeechobee. (Public map SFWMD)
pond apple mac stone 916de13305c68a6d2fd5e4f9e8ff95b
Photo of pond apples also know to locals as custard apples in Big Cypress- shared on Flicker by photographer Mac Stone, allow us to envision what this incredible forest looked like. 32,000 acres rimming the southern and eastern shore of Lake Okeechobee. The best muck built up over thousands of years under these roots that worked like a seine as the lake overflowed its edge then running south through the sawgrass. The Everglades….

When I was on my recent tour with former mayor of Pahokee, J.P. Sasser, I learned the nick-name for Pahokee is “The Muck,” named so for the “black gold” soil that accumulated over thousands of years under the roots of a custard apple forest that rimmed the lake. (Kind of like fresh water mangroves today in the Indian River Lagoon.)

When one drives deeper into the Glades, one finds similar nick-names or “muck mottos,” that have to do with the muck. For instance, Belle Glade’s motto is “Her Soil is Her Fortune;” Clewiston’s is “America’s Sweetest Town,” and South Bay’s refers to its highways, “Crossroads of South Florida,” named so for its intersection of two major roads, East-West State Road 80, and North-South, U.S. Highway 27, roads that get one into the muck, or out of it….

Will first experienced the Lake in the early 1900s as a boy when his father was developing Okeelanta, located about four miles below today’s South Bay. Okeelanta, today a mill location for the Fanjul holdings, was located not in an apple custard forest, but rather in the miles of sawgrass lying south. Although the soil here is excellent, it is different, more peaty and not as “mucky.” Thus the most productive lands lie closer to the lake, deep in the MUCK.

Here is a moving account by Will about the land of muck in “Cracker History of Lake Okeechobee:

“Before the dredges crashed through the custard apple woods to start the first canals, the lake most always stayed high and clear, unbroken except for those islands Kreamer, Torry, and Observation. When I first saw the lake it was still wild. Excusing the trifling settlements at Utopia, Ritta, and Tantie, a score of fishing camps, and the openings to four unfinished canals, it’s swampy shores hadn’t changed since Zachary Taylor found the redskins or probably not since DeSoto anchored in Tampa Bay. It sill was just as the good Lord had fashioned it. The lake was lonely Mack, silent and mysterious as well. But I tell you boy, it was beautiful, and sort of inspiring too.”

Will was absolutely pro development, pro farming/agriculture,  but he, like most of the old timers, recognized the tremendous awe-inspiring beauty of the place.

Most all the natural beauty the lakeside shoreline in Martin County, where the FPL Power Plant is today, and north to the town of Okeechobee has also been radically altered as well.

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FPL solar plant and “cooling pond” in Martin County looking west towards “Barley Barber Swamp.” This area was once a forest of mostly giant cypress trees and others. JTL

Excerpts by Lawrence E. Will:

“Dense forest ringed the lake around. Along its northern half water oak, maple, cypress, potash, rubber and palmetto trees crowded each other on the lakeshore ridge…the south shore and half way up the eastern side was something else… Here were custard apples, a solid belt of tropical trees, blanketed with a moonvine cover, which stood, two miles or more in width, without break or opening, from near Clewiston’s Sand Point, slap around to Port Mayaca. 32,000 acres of custard apple woods there were, the most of these trees, I wouldn’t doubt, on the whole blamed continent of America.”

“…Although the shores were for the most part black muck, low and flat, there were some fine sandy beaches too. Along the east side for eighteen miles lay beautiful East Beach…”

“Now if Zachary Taylor or Hamilton Disston could return to Okeechobee they would find that farmers have exterminated the custard apple woods. Highways, service stations, super markets and housing projects have replaced the cypress, rubber and maple trees along the ridge. A levee occupies the onetime shore and drainage has lowered by half a dozen feet the water’s elevation. Tractors cultivate the former seining grounds, and unless you as old–and no amount, as some of us, your never heard of town of Tantie, Utopia or Ritta. Civilization has re-made the lake and I’d be the last to say it isn’t better so, but the lakeshore’s one time natural beauty is long gone, and man, wasn’t that old lake a fascinating place.” 

Well, to the land of Lake Okeechobee! For all she was, and for all she is. It’s enough to make one exclaim:”What The Muck?!!!”

__________________________

Agriculture’s Eradication of the Mythical Pond Apple Forest, Lake Okeechobee, SLR/IRL: https://www.google.com/amp/s/jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2015/04/15/agricultures-eradication-of-the-mythical-pond-apple-forest-lake-okeechobee-slrirl/amp/?client=safari

Black Gold and Silver Sands, Snyder/Historical Society of Palm Beach County https://floridafoodandfarm.com/book-reviews/turning-soil-gold-silver-look-back-palm-beach-county-agriculture/

Lawrence E. Will: http://museumoftheglades.org

war map
War map of the Everglades created during the Seminole Wars, 1856.

*Custard Apples are also known as Pond Apples. The old photos of the trees are from Mr Will’s books or the Florida Memory Project.

photo pond apple
Pond apple blossom. Photo by Lisa Jefferson, 2015.

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Proposed land purchase in the EAA, Senator Joe Negron 2016/17.

Stofin Co. Inc, part of the Fanjul Empire, Mapping Out Florida’s Water Future, SLR/IRL

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The Fanjul Brothers, Plantation Services Land Report 2012

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“Who Owns the Land? Mapping Out Florida’s Water Future.”

Stofin Co. Inc. is #7 on the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council’s (TCRPC) map of land ownership in the Everglades Agricultural Area, (EAA). These lands lie on the eastern side of the EAA and comprise 7,189 acres. Stofin Co. is affiliated with Fanjul Corporation more widely known to river activist as “Florida Crystals.” As we know, Fanjul Corporation is a large sugar and real estate conglomerate with interest in Florida, the Dominican Republic and soon to be in the brothers’ homeland, Cuba, once again. The family is very influential in all politics and donates extensively to both the Democratic and Republican parties.

We can see by doing just a bit of research that some of the same officers of Fanjul Corporation are also listed in Stofin Co. Inc. such as Erik J. Blomqvist and Luis J. Hernandez.

Fanjul Corp. Sunbiz (http://search.sunbiz.org/Inquiry/CorporationSearch/SearchResultDetail?inquirytype=EntityName&directionType=Initial&searchNameOrder=FANJUL%20M516461&aggregateId=domp-m51646-9316409f-936a-40c1-9bc9-3acc902edee5&searchTerm=fanjul%20corp&listNameOrder=FANJUL%20M516461)

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Fanjul Corp. Sunbiz 2016

Stofin Co. Inc., Sunbiz (http://search.sunbiz.org/Inquiry/CorporationSearch/SearchResultDetail?inquirytype=EntityName&directionType=Initial&searchNameOrder=STOFIN%201856420&aggregateId=domp-185642-9100e283-b064-4a5f-8083-da9865fd09e3&searchTerm=stofin%20co%20&listNameOrder=STOFIN%201856420)

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Stofin Co. 2016 (Note many of same officers) 

Looking at our TCRPC map I have colored #7 parcels in orange just as #2 Okeelanta Corp. and #3 New Hope Sugar Co. were. As we learned earlier those too are Fanjul Corp. lands. I have just added a purple dot to differentiate. So far all in ORANGE below is Fanjul holdings.

It is interesting to compare the TCRPC map with the historic maps also below and note the “shape” of the original “river of grass” before it was dammed and destroyed by agricultural development in the EAA. Note how the river veered off to the right, or in an eastly direction. Surveyor, Chappy Young’s map shows the westerly development over the years into the “Everglades’ agreeed boarder” from the east. We have swallowed her up in every direction. She needs to be restored. It only makes sense that some of the overflow water from Lake Okeechobee destroying the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon is allowed to go south again. Thank you for reading my blog and for caring about the health of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon and the Florida Evergldes.

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Everglades Unknown early map from negative
Historic map from 1948 book “Lake Okeechobee” written in 1948 by Alfred Jackson and Kathryn Hanna as part of the Rivers of America Series.
war map
War map of the Everglades created during the Seminole Wars, 1856.
line for everglades
West of the red lines shows the edge of what was once the Everglades in South Florida. Development has crept and continues to creep over this edge. (Photo/map courtesy of Chappy Young,/GCY Surveyors, 2014.)
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Senator Joe Negron’s proposed aquisition map in the EAA, 2016.

Stofin Co. Inc. (http://www.companies-florida.com/stofin-co-inc-1fym6/)

Stofin donations to politicians: (http://archive.tcpalm.com/news/indian-river-lagoon/health/ken-pruitts-lobbying-firm-harvested-150000-from-florida-crystals-since-2012-investigation-finds-ep-3-332700741.html)

Stofin donations to political parties: (https://www.opensecrets.org/industries/indus.php?cycle=2016&ind=A1200)

King Ranch, King of the EAA, SLR/IRL

“Who Owns the Land in the EAA? Mapping Out Florida’s Water Future.”

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Today we learn about King Ranch, #4 on the TCRPC map of land ownership in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA).

King Ranch is full of history and mystique and part of Texas’ long US history with Mexico. They are “Americana” even on the road. Perhaps you have gotten behind a truck with their brand symbol? Maybe you own one of those trucks? King Ranch is a huge company and  has many different interests.

One of King Ranch’s major interests in Florida is Consolidated Citrus and they have an office in Indiantown in Martin County.

Not everything has been a royal flush for King Ranch. Over the decades the company has had to change out their fields because of the loss of orange groves due to canker and citrus greening. In Martin County alone basically 98% of the groves are fallow. A terrible loss.  But to remain King, one must adapt, and they have according to Stuart Magazine “growing sod, corn and sugar, as well as testing out perennial peanuts and organic rice.”

So as the orange groves die, some are replaced with sugarcane.

You may recall articles about Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature a couple of years back going to visit King Ranch in Texas with the support of U.S. Sugar Corporation money?  Yes, “these guys are buds.” They do business together and they play chess together. There are kings, queens, knights, rooks, and pawns.

So according to the map, King Ranch owns 19,755 acres in the Everglades Agricultural Area.” I have colored this in dark blue. They may not be the largest land owner, but considering their influence they certainly are King.

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Negron’s proposed land map
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TCRPC map of land ownership in the EAA 2016

*Mr. Mitch Hutchcraft of King Ranch serves on the South Florida Water Management District. He was appointed by the Governor.

King Ranch web site: http://king-ranch.com

King Ranch: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Ranch

Stuart Magazine article: https://www.stuartmagazine.com/features/farmers-martin-and-st-lucie-counties-work-grow-their-fair-share-despite-seasons

Citrus: http://king-ranch.com/operations/citrus/

Sugar: http://www.scgc.org

Consolidated Citrus: https://www.youtube.com/user/ConsolidatedCitrus

Texas Observer, King Ranch and Florida Politicians: https://www.texasobserver.org/king-ranch-heart-texas-sized-scandal/

New Hope Sugar Corporation; Can We Create More Than Hope? SLR/IRL

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TCRPC EAA map 2016
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Senator Negron’s possible land acquisition map 2016/17

 

 

 

 

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“Who Owns the Land South of the Lake? Mapping Out Florida’s Water Future.”

Today we discuss #3, New Hope Sugar Corporation. It is difficult to find much information on the company, however, it is part of the Fanjul family’s holdings. It is also the same name, as we learned yesterday, as the Fanjul charity: New Hope Charities whose mission is to help families in the Glades.

Let’s look at the charity again…

Their website reads: “New Hope Charities was incorporated as a 501(3)(c) charity in 1988 offering support to remote, distressed and underserved segments of society. The first program implemented by New Hope distributed food to needy families living in the “Glades” area of western Palm Beach County. Currently, we operate a multi-service center in Pahokee, Florida, the second poorest city in the United States. The Family Center consists of a Day Care Center, a Youth Center, an Education Center, a Health Center, basketball courts, and an open field for soccer, baseball and football.”

Now back to the land…

I have colored in New Hope Sugar Corp. in the same orange highlighter as Okeelanta Corporation, but added a red dot to differentiate. New Hope Charities above mentions Pahokee as the nation’s second poorest town. Pahokee is south of the Martin County Line along the rim of Lake Okeechobee; it is not far away.  The point of my blog series is to show landholdings, but I think the “New Hope” theme lends itself to a discussion on something more.

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New Hope Sugar Corp orange with red dot, #3. Fanjul holdings.
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Map south of Lake O, Pahokee is marked

I have been blogging for four years now,  it is becoming clear to us all that there is a bridge to be crossed, a hand to be held if we are going to go any further. Since the beginning of our river journey there have been cries from the interior of the state/south of the Lake. Cries of fear that we want to “send the water south” and destroy their cities and livelihoods…Even thought we know this isn’t so, this is understandable— and let there be no mistake about it: #GladesLivesMatter

I think it is time we talk about this openly. We must address the fears and the realities  and we must begin to help…because there is so much help we can do for these communities and for a better water future for our state.

What got me thinking on all this was researching New Hope Sugar Corporation, #3 on the TCRPC map. I realized I have never thought that much about these areas south the Lake, except maybe when my father told me some of the best football players come from Pahokee and Belle Glade. I have driven through before and I have flown over. But have I ever walked inside? No I have not. After I finish this “land south of the Lake series” I think it is time to go inside this world and see how we can help.

We have got start a conversation including the Glades communities, a plan to help the poverty in Pahokee and Belle Glade and other Glades communities. We have to talk about Everglades Restoration as a plan for everyone.  I am sure the Fanjul’s New Hope Charities with same name as their Sugar Corporation is doing great work, but why couldn’t Everglades restoration offer something more? Because in order to create more than hope, we must move beyond charity…

 

Links:

Glades Lives Matter: http://www.ussugar.com/news/icymi-glades-lives-matter/

New Hope Sugar Corp: Links: http://listings.findthecompany.com/l/29385192/New-Hope-Sugar-Company-in-West-Palm-Beach-FL

SunBiz: http://search.sunbiz.org/Inquiry/CorporationSearch/SearchResultDetail?inquirytype=EntityName&directionType=Initial&searchNameOrder=NEWHOPESUGAR%202486740&aggregateId=domp-248674-74190f46-1014-4027-89fb-78bffb22106a&searchTerm=new%20hope%20sugar%20corp&listNameOrder=NEWHOPESUGAR%202486740

Board of Dir. New Hope Charities: http://www.newhopecharities.com/about/our-board-of-directors/

Pahokee: http://www.cityofpahokee.com/Pages/index

Pahokee: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pahokee,_Florida

Pakokee: http://www.city-data.com/picfilesc/picc86312.php

Poorest Communities in Florida: http://www.onlyinyourstate.com/florida/poorest-cities-fl/

Excerpt NY Times Article, 2013… In the Glades, the “official” jobless rate has always been a joke because so few people are even on the books. Many of the agricultural jobs disappeared as vegetable production turned into sugar growing, now largely mechanized.

NY Times Article of Football Pahokee and Bell Glade and Hope of a Better Life: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/03/opinion/sunday/football-as-a-way-out-of-poverty.html?_r=0

New Hope Charities: http://www.newhopecharities.com

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Pahokee from the air, 2014 JTL
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Black gold around Pahokee known as THE MUCK

Okeelanta Corporation, Mapping Out the Future of Water, SLR/IRL

file-page1-2.jpgToday I will continue my series “Who Owns the Land South of Lake Okeechobee? Mapping out the Future of Water.” Hurricane Matthew caused a slight interruption, but now we shall continue. 🙂

Here we go!

Number two on the TCRPC map (above) is Okeelanta Corporation. “Okeelanta is a division of Florida Crystals, the word is a combination of two made into one. “Okee,” coming from “Okeechobee,” and “lanta,” coming from “Atlantic.” Cleverly named for a location between Lake Okeechobee and the Atlantic Ocean. Okeelanta was a historic town founded by writer and politician Laurence E. Will’s father. The town stood about one mile below South Bay. It was destroyed in the 1928 Hurricane: http://www.pbchistoryonline.org/page/okeelanta

I’m not sure if the company Okeelanta is named after the town, but I believe it was bought, and I know it is now owned by the Fanjul family of Cuba who owns Florida Crystals. As many of us know, the Fanjul family came to South Florida because of Fidel Castro’s 1959 Marxist Revolution. The family moved to Florida along with other wealthy, dispossessed families. Here with the support of the US Government the Fanjuls rebuilt their fortune as the US grew to be a leader in the world sugar trade, at the expense of the Florida Everglades.

In regards to the map, it must be noted that compared to US Sugar Corporation, the Fanjul family are relative”newcomers.” This is why their land holdings are further south of Lake Okeechobee. They acquired lands as the industry expanded after 1960.

Sometimes I say “until the Cuban Revolution there were only 100,000 acres of sugar cane in the EAA.” This is probably off, but you get the point. As Laurence E. Will in his historic book noted in a previous post: “After the Cuban Revolution, for a short time our government permitted the unrestricted panting of sugar cane…”

Again I stress that the expansion of these lands by the US Government is what allowed this area to be convered from Everglades to sugar fields, and it is only our state and national governments that can encourage and fairly compensate land owners for lands purchased in the EAA to allow water storage in an area that should never have been 100% developed in the first place. We have to encourage land owners to please be a part of the solution of allowing storage of excess water and helping more clean water move south…

According the TCRPC map Okeelanta owns 86,793 acres of land in the Everglades Agricultural Area, (EAA.) A lot!

I have colored in the #2s  with orange highlighter so you can see these lands more clearly and how the intersect with Senator Joe Negron’s circles for possible proposed land acquisition. Remember that 9 days ago I colored in United States Sugar Corporation’s (USSC) lands in purple crayon. They are #1.

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So now we can clearly “see” what lands are owned by USSC and by Okeelanta.

“Okeelanta Corporation, a sugarcane company, engages in farming, milling, packaging, and distributing sugar cane. It has a 67,000 acres facility that includes cane fields, a mill, refinery, packaging and distribution center and a power plant. The company was incorporated in 1984 and is based in West Palm Beach, Florida. Okeelanta Corporation operates as a subsidiary of Florida Crystals Corporation.”

As we shall see in future posts, the Fanjul holdings have various names, thus they own more land than noted in the map above. Like them or not, the family is clever just like the name “Okeelanta” and infamous for their political influence. The two most well known brothers are noted for ties to different political parties:  Alfonso Fanjul, Democratic Party while Pepe, contributes to Republican Party. For the record the other brothers names are Alexander and Andres. And they have a sister. Her name is Lillian Banjul Azqueta and she is president and founder of New Hope Charities.

As controversial as the family is, they do a lot of good for the poor Glades communities and they own what we want. We must work together for a better water future for Florida that includes our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.

Vanity Fair article IN THE KINGDOM OF BIG SUGAR: http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2001/02/floridas-fanjuls-200102

New Hope Charities: http://www.newhopecharities.com.

Okeelanta Corp.: http://broward.jobing.com/florida-crystals-okeelanta-corporation

Florida Crystals: https://www.floridacrystals.com

Fanjul Bros. WIKI: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fanjul_brothers

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Senator Negron’s proposed land purchase map 2016/17

“Old Granddaddy,” United States Sugar Corporation-Who Owns the Land in the EAA…SLR/IRL

Who Owns the Land in the EAA…SLR/IRL, Part 1

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US Sugar Corp. Clewiston, Fl 2013, JTL

 

file-page1-2Today we start learning about land owners inside the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) as listed on the above map; some will own land within Joe Negron’s proposed circles for land acquisition, and some will not. In any case, we should know them all.

#1 United States Sugar Corporation, “Old Granddaddy”

When talking about United States Sugar Corporation, (USSC), we must remember that we are talking about “Granddaddy,” the oldest of the sugar producers of the EAA. Granddaddy is listed on the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council’s map as owning 140,451 acres of EAA land. I have colored the #1s in with a purple crayon to get a better idea of how these lands line up with Joe Negron’s  circles. This non-tech approach I’m sure has my brother Todd cringing, but for me, a former 8th grade teacher, it works! Mind you it is just a “guestamation.” 🙂

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Perusing the #1s I’ve colored in, we see vast land holdings. USSC has a long history in Florida, rising from the ashes of the failed Southern Sugar Company of Clewiston of the late 1920s to their Godlike political and production influence today. USSC owns some of the “muckiest of the muckland” closest to the lake, as they were there first. They own the most black gold….

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General Collection Florida Memory, Clewiston  ca.1929.

How did they rise to such power?

It was auto industry legend Charles Stewart Mott’s applied business principles and a twist of fate in the American political climate that lifted USSC to its tremendous status. Let’s review…

Mr Lawrence Will, well-known historian for people like my mother wrote in his 1968 book, “Swamp to Sugar Bowl:”

“…although Southern Sugar Company owned some 100,000 acres  of the best land around the lake, under U.S.  government regulations, the state of Florida was permitted to produce only nine tenth of the one percent of the nations needs. However, when Fidel Castro took over Cuba the Everglades reaped the benefit. For a short time our government permitted the unrestricted planting of sugar cane. Oh Brother, you should have seen how cow pastures and vegetable fields were plowed up and planted! Now we have 189,500 acres of sugar cane in the Glades.

By the 1980s USSC became a leading sugar producer in the United States as they are today. The key here is the effect on our waterways due to the politics of the Cuban Revolution.

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Jumping ahead to 2007/8, an unprecedented opportunity was presented: Granddaddy offered a full buy out. USSC was on the table. Incredible!  But not everyone liked then Governor Charlie Christ nor did the legislature appreciate him taking the situation into his “own” hands…nor did all trust US Sugar. The state had been implementing CERP since 2000. Now this giant opportunity was a gift but a wrench as well. Environmentalists were excited but wary. Politicians took sides. Other sugar companies fumed.Tempers flared. Blame. Intrigue. Posturing…Sound familiar?

Anyway, by the time the Great Recession bit down on the nation full force in 2010, a smaller land purchase had been negotiated by the SFWMD, and the drama of Florida politics and sugar was playing out. The land sale was but a shadow of its former self for Everglades Restoration and USSC left an option on the table through 2020 just in case there’s ever money in system again.

Exhausting.

where option?
After the SFWMD killed the EAA US Sugar Lands option, where do we go from here? (Map Everglades Foundation, River of Grass 2008.)

So …Granddaddy is still in control. But before we leave him, let’s remember this:

One of the unintended consequences of the proposed 2008 USSC “failure” we forget to talk about (sometimes in the excitement of hoping one day USSC  will willing want to see their lands again,) was the halting of “more than a dozen projects already under way in 2008.

…among them (was) a massive reservoir in western Palm Beach County that was seen as a major step toward restoration of the Everglades.” (New York Times.) This reservoir would have alleviated discharges to the estuaries. This would have been a reservoir similar to the one we wish to create now.

Yes, the A-1 Reservoir, as it was known, was hit on two sides: halted for the USSC land purchase, and it also collided with yet another water issue, a law suit with the federal government over water quality standards, RESTORATION STRATEGIES. This one was guided to a close by then new Governor Rick Scott.

Thus the A-1 Reservoir became a shallow rather than a deep water reservoir. She never came into her full glory…

In in any case, the deep water reservoir needs to be back at the top of the list. Maybe if he’s in a good mood this year, Granddaddy can help her out. 🙂 Let’s be sweet and see what happens…becasue nothing will happen with out Granddaddy….

_________________________

A-1 Reservoir SFWMD 2006: https://my.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/pg_grp_sfwmd_wrac/portlet_wrac_archive_reportsdocs/tab772049/wrac_090606_eaa_waldeck.pdf

Restoration Strategies, State of Florida http://www.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/xweb%20protecting%20and%20restoring/restoration%20strategies

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“What is on the horizon out there ?”

Palm Beach History On-Line:(http://www.pbchistoryonline.org/page/charles-stewart-mott)

Money in Politics over the years, US Sugar Corp. (USSC PAC):
(https://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/lookup2.php?cycle=2016&strID=C00234120)

USSC website: http://www.ussugar.com

USSC website History: http://www.ussugar.com/history/

Charles Steward Mott, Paternalism: https://books.google.com/books?id=L61EXdbA0tMC&pg=PA122&lpg=PA122&dq=paternalism+mott&source=bl&ots=QicMQ4XVTZ&sig=lLjrrQibXcZ5AOc_L_X9i1IfYFk&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwir79Cc27TPAhXM5yYKHe0lDdIQ6AEIJDAC#v=onepage&q=paternalism%20mott&f=false

CERP 2000, today:http://141.232.10.32/pm/projects/project_list.aspx

Tampa Bay Times US Sugar Leaving 2008 :http://www.tampabay.com/features/clewiston-the-town-that-sugar-built/644408
http://ufdcimages.uflib.ufl.edu/IR/00/00/37/82/00001/FE75400.pdf

New York Times, USSC sell off: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/13/us/13everglades.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FUnited%20States%20Sugar%20Corporation&action=click&contentCollection=business&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=collection&_r=0

New York Times Everglades and USSC Selloff: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/08/us/08everglades.html?action=click&contentCollection=U.S.&module=RelatedCoverage&region=Marginalia&pgtype=article