When I was a kid growing up in the 60s and 70s in Stuart, summer vacation meant carefree swimming at the Stuart Causeway, the beach, and the Sunrise Inn. This was such an anticipated time of year that my parents would splurge and buy us new bathing suits from TG&Y.
Here I am pictured with my little sister, Jenny, outside our family home on Edgewood Drive. We were proudly displaying our matching new bathing suits!
Today, things are different. It is important for parents to check the water first. Is it safe? Has an algae bloom been reported? Is the Army Corp dumping Lake Okeechobee?
Today, I share two websites: Martin County, and the Martin County Dept. of Health. Both have been updated to reflect today, and though it’s not all “good news” with this much open government, I am confident things are on their way to getting better.
While I was at my brother and sister-in-law’s house yesterday, dropping off my niece, Mary, I heard a shriek from upstairs. Mary’s sisters had put vaseline on her door knob so that she couldn’t get inside her bedroom. I head them all yell out: APRIL FOOLS!
It brought back memories of a long forgotten youth. It was funny.
There was something else that happened yesterday, April 1st, 2015 along the Treasure Coast but it was no joke. The ACOE stopped the flow of nutrient and sediment filled Lake Okeechobee water to the St Lucie River/Southern Indian River Lagoon—-TEMPORARILY.
This is actually an amazing example of something good in world that seems dictatorial and insensitive most of the time. During the ACOE Periodic Scientists Calls over the past weeks the stakeholders of the NOAA, Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge, Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, SRWMD, FWCC, FDEP, FDACS, City of Sanibel, Ft Meyers Beach, Lee County, Martin County, St Lucie County, Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation, Florida Farm Bureau Federation, Audubon, other members of the public such as Mark Perry representing Florida Oceanographic, and a few I am sure I have forgotten (sorry) agreed, and weather allowed for the discharges to be halted so that Martin County can proceed with bacteria testing in hot spots of the St Lucie River.
I think this is amazing. And this gives me hope that one day there will be an agreement in other areas of our government bureaucracy to redirect and halt the damaging discharges indefinitely. Getting agreement and support on this as asked by Martin County from all agencies and stakeholders and then the final say from the ACOE was no small feat. Thank you everyone.
The rest of this blog post will show photos taken yesterday by my husband, Ed Lippisch while the plane was piloted by friend, Scott Kuhns. The photos show the S-80 structure that connects Lake Okeechobee to the St Lucie River at a standstill yesterday. A beautiful sight. Wouldn’t it be great if one day it will were a museum piece to remind us of a time when we were so were “so stupid.”
I am also sharing Martin County Health Department data on bacteria levels of enterococcus, (basically, bacteria found in human and or animal waste ). Any reading over 35 is “bad,” and shown in yellow or red. The data goes back to 2012 when Senator Negron helped increase funding for even more testing. At one point in 2013 the test site at C-23 canal was changed to the Sandbar.
Just so you know, there were releases in 2012, but I do not know the dates, it was later in the year as I remember the River Kidz holding a protest at the Locks; in 2013 the ACOE/SFWMD dumped from May 8th through Oct 21–this was our lost summer; in 2014 there was no dumping but you will see bacteria levels were still often high; and in 2015 the dumping starting early, January 16th and did not stop temporarily until yesterday, April 1st 2015.
The other data is from Florida Oceanographic done by their volunteer team.
Hope you had a fun April Fools and we all know that although I am in a better mood today than yesterday, the health of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, is no joke.
FROM FLORIDA OCEANOGRAPHIC BASED ON ACOE PERIODIC SCIENTISTS CALL, both 3-26-15.
RE Martin County bacterial tracking Report:
3/26/2015 update: Samples collected on Monday, March 23, 2015 at the Roosevelt Bridge and Leighton Park Bridge (old Palm City) are still exceeding acceptable ranges for enterococcus bacteria. The advisory to avoid contact with the water at both locations is still in effect to ensure chronic conditions do not exist. Samples will be collected again on Monday, March 30, 2015.
RE Lake Okeechobee Releases:
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District will be continuing discharges at S-79 at the same level as last week. However, the target discharges are reduced at S-80. The target flows over a 7-day period will be an average of 2500 cfs at S-79 and 500 cfs at S-80 cfs. These discharges will be made in a pulse-like manner (see attached). These releases will start Friday, 27 March 2015 at 0700 hrs and end on Friday, 03 April 2015 at 0700 hrs.
RE: FOS Water Quality Report:
Upstream of the Roosevelt Bridge river conditions are much the same as last week; downstream there has been no significant improvement.
Thanks to all for your reports this week. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me via firstname.lastname@example.org .
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.
Enterococcus: Bacteria normally found in the feces. Two types, Enterococcus fecalis and Enterococcus fecium, cause human disease, most commonly in the form of urinary tract and wound infections. Other infections, including those of the blood stream (bacteremia), heart valves (endocarditis), and the brain (meningitis) can occur in severely ill patients in hospitals. Enterococci also often colonize open wounds and skin ulcers, and are among the most common antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Medicine-Net
*The Martin County Health Department tests for Enterococcus (E) in area waters: According to their interpretation, 0-35 cfu of E./100 ml river water =GOOD; 36-104 cfu E/100 ml river water=MODERATE; and 105 cfu E./ml River water is POOR (“cfu” relates to number of viable cells per milliliter.)
In November 2012, some members of the public were worried that the Martin County Health Department (MCHD) did not have enough support. Due to the pushing of a few members at a Rivers Coalition meeting, Senator Joe Negron, during the legislative budgeting process, added specific funding for MCHD to sample three new sites weekly. In turn, with input from the Rivers Coalition and the help of Bob Washam of the MCHD, the three test locations were chosen and the public began regularly checking bacteria levels in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon on the MCHD website.
Before the senator intervened, the sites being tested in the river were the Roosevelt Bridge; the Jensen and Stuart Causeways, and the north fork of the St Lucie River in St Lucie County.
The new test sites included Bessey Creek, close to the mouth of the C-23 canal, in Palm City; Leighton Park, at the base of the Palm City Bridge; and Sandsprit Park, near the Manatee Pocket in Stuart, close to the inlet. The Department of Environmental Protection also conducted/s periodic testing.
In early June of the 2013, the bacteria numbers really spiked. This occurred after heavy rains caused storm water to run through local canals C-23, C-24, and C-44 into the river, as well as polluted fresh water discharges from Lake Okeechobee through C-44, that had begun on May 8, 2013 by the Army Corp of Engineers.
The areas waters were looking dark and ugly, and most of the river was off limits to the public due to high Enterococcus levels. By mid June, there were a number of reports from people that had visited the Sandbar, located just inside the mouth of the St Lucie Inlet, that they and their children were feeling ill with stomach aches and diarrhea after contact with the water.
(Photo of water in St Lucie River two miles from Sandbar w/ high bacteria and toxic blue green algae, photo by Jenny Flaugh, July 2013.)
Because of the popularity of the Sandbar area and the complaints to the health department, Bob Washam, MCHD, together with Mark Perry, of Florida Oceanograpic, decided to drop the Bessey Creek site and change testing to the Stuart Sandbar. When the tests came back, the Sandbar reading was a high 192 cfu/100 ml river water/or POOR. So signs were posted at the Sandbar, at the hight of the summer season; it was off limits to the public. Shocking.
Just for comparison, I am going to share the highest readings at the other sites in June and July of 2013. The highest readings were as follows: Roosevelt, 1620 cfu; Sandsprit, 640 cfu; Leighton, 3020 cfu; and Bessey Creek, 1560 cfu. As mentioned about 105 cfu per 100 ml of river water is considered POOR.
For a comparison to “today,” the latest readings on April 21, 2014 were: Roosevelt, 58 cfu; Sandsprit, 7cfu ; Leighton Park, 94 cfu and the Sandbar, 30 cfu . So even without super heavy rains or releases from Lake Okeechobee, readings can be moderate to borderline poor. (The Leighton site had been in the poor range just a few just weeks ago but is coming down…)
It is important to know that bacteria levels are absolutely exacerbated by the releases from Lake Okeechobee that bring in polluted fresh water from outside of our basin as far away as from Orlando, but Lake Okeechobee is not the only cause. Local canals’ runoff, poorly cared for septic tanks, farm and domestic animals, along with other sources in both Marin and St Lucie Counties, even Okeechobee, anywhere water runs into our rivers from a basin, play an important role in the bacteria water puzzle.
To understand the sources of fecal pollution, Martin County is presently conducting a water quality monitering study in partnership with Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch. The study is tracking DNA results leading “back,” through attachment to isotopes, to either human, cow, horse, dog and/or bird feces.
At this point, studies are inconclusive, and helpful data is not expected until rainy season begins June 1st through November 30th.
We can’t dream that things here in Stuart used to be “perfect.” When I was a kid growing up in Martin County in the 60s and 70s there were some businesses that legally dumped their raw sewage into the St Lucie River and boaters were allowed to dump waste straight into the river. There were fewer people here then, yes, but it is still disgusting by today’s standards. I grew up swimming and water skiing in these waters. I never got sick and back then no one was monitoring the bacteria in the river
In conclusion, we don’t need to panic, we just need to be careful, and to be thankful for the progress we have made; most important, we must continue to improve the situation and “fix it.”
Thank you to Bob Washam, formerly of the MCHD, for his years of dedication and for his help with composing specifics of this article.