Tag Archives: Mother Nature

Climate Change-How Would We Plan Our Historic Subdivisions Differently Today? Indian River Lagoon

Port Sewall development map 1911. (courtesy of Sandra henderson Thurlow.)
Port Sewall development map, 1911. (Courtesy of Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)

I have wanted to share this Port Sewall land development map for a while as it is so interesting to observe.

Port Sewall, established in 1911, was one of our area’s first “planned developments.” It consisted of lands from the Hanson Grant that Captain Henry Sewall acquired through his family line. The infamous Hugh Willoughby later joined him and they formed the Sewall’s Point Land Company, which according to Sandra Henderson Thurlow’s book The History of Sewall’s Point: ” built the Sunrise Inn, dredged for a yacht turning basin, and planned to develop a deepwater port.”

Due to the Great Depression of the 1920s theses dreams evaporated but left this map that became the basis for part of South Sewall’s Point, Stuart,  St Lucie and Old St Lucie Boulevard,  Port Sewall, and Golden Gate.

The body of water in the Port Sewall map is today’s Willoughby Creek. The original name Oyster Creek, was changed. This is fitting as today when I look over the edge of the little bridge on Indian Street, I do not see many oysters, only manatees swimming around in dirty looking water.

Today, I pose what may be an odd question but it is one I think about in light of my Florida League of Cities meetings  and friends that force me to think about climate change and where things are going in the future of South Florida.

This is not “bad,” it is just change. Just 12,000 years ago there were mammoths, mastodons, saber toothed cats, 17 foot tall sloths and broad horned bison walking around looking for watering holes and hoping not to get “bow and arrowed” by a paleo-Indian. Things change. Times change. Slowly. We must adapt.

As a side note, a few years ago my husband Ed and I visited his birth city of Buenos Aries, Argentina. We noticed, just like Ed’s father told us, Argentina’s development was further back from the river. Most of the lands along the water bodies were left for “everyone” along with  wildlife and to promote the area’s fishing. This was prompted by periodic flooding and storms. Just like we have here….

“We,” on the other hand, have completely built out to the edge of the water, right up in fact or over every little creek and rivulet.

It may be a rhetorical question, but if we had it so do all over again, how would we develop our lands to ensure the integrity of the surrounding waters, giant hammocks, upland forests, forks, creeks, wetlands, and shorelines?

As a Sewall’s Point commissioner of seven years, one the “craziest” things I have ever heard was that FEMA would help our town buy out some of the shoreline houses that have experienced repetitive flood losses. Hmmmmm….But we would lose the tax base I thought…..but then if the water is coming up, and the storms seem to be getting stronger, and it is my responsibility to plan for the future of the town….is this really such a crazy thought?

Ft Lauderdale is doing this…..Miami is doing this…..

Most certainly many elements have added to the degradation of the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon. Intense coastal development is right up there.

As we move forward in light of climate change, there may be opportunities to offset that destruction. These changes are not something anyone is ready for or wanting to discuss.

Nonetheless, Mother Nature just may force the conversation. We should start thinking now, what exactly we are going to say to her, because she is coming…


Broward County Planning map: (http://gis.broward.org/maps/webPDFs/SeaLevelRise/PriorityPlanningAreasForSeaLevelRise.pdf)

Miami/South Florida collaborative Planning: (http://bondsforschools.dadeschools.net/Files/Miami-Dade%20County%20Presentation_March182014.pdf)

The ACOE’s “Periodic Scientists Call” and the Indian River Lagoon

S-80, Connecting Lake Okeechobee to the St Lucie Canal or C-44
S-80  connecting Lake Okeechobee to the St Lucie Canal or C-44 controlled by the ACOE. (Photo JTL)

“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” George Orwell 

I used to think it was the Colonel of the Army Corp of Engineers who single handedly had control to open the gates at S-80 and S-308 to allow the waters  of Lake Okeechobee to flow into the St Lucie River, Indian River Lagoon. (http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Missions/CivilWorks/LakeOkeechobee.aspx)

But since February of last year,  I have gotten more insight.

As an elected official, I am allowed to sit in on the Army Corp of Engineers “Periodic Scientists Call” that occurs about once every two weeks.  Last year I was invited to sit in with Martin County and I have attend ever since.

No experience has helped me understand the south Florida water process as much as  consistently sitting in on these calls.

The call is a meeting of the scientific stakeholders to give their input to the ACOE before the Corp makes  its “guidance” for Lake Okeechobee, and usually the following Thursday, after, meeting with the SFWMD,  a “recommendation.”

As you can imagine,  the call is run by the US Army, so it  is very systematic and the language is filled with acronyms and science jargon. For the first six months, I was basically a silent  idiot listening to a foreign language. But slowly I have been catching on.

Thankfully some things are totally predicable. For instance, every call the first thing that is accomplished after reading the rules of the call, is that  the roll call is taken. I like to listen to who is there: ACOE? Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission? City of Sanibel? Ft Meyers? Martin County? St Lucie County? NOAA? Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection?  Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services? SFWMD? Broward County? Highlands County? Osceola County? Tribal Nations? Lee County? Ding Darling? Congressmen and other elected representatives? Members of the public? Other?

Then a leader from the ACOE  gives a short power point presentation that reviews rainfall; precipitation outlooks by the SFWMD and NOAA; Lake Okeechobee inflows and outflows;  operational band standing; SFWMD position analysis; Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS); and then finally a “guidance” for a “decision.”(http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Media/NewsReleases/tabid/6071/Tag/2128/lake-okeechobee-regulation-schedule.aspx)

Next, each stakeholder, one at a time, gives an update on their specialty and makes their case for their interest. Public members are then allowed to speak and and the again the ACOE leader goes through everyone one more time to see if if anyone has  new comments based on the other just shared.

The calls are scientific and unemotional. However, there times of tension and difficulty like last year when the ACOE began releasing to the St Lucie River, Indian River Lagoon and Caloosahatchee on May 8th and continued steadily, then intensely, through September 21, 2013. This tension may start up again soon, as the lake is higher than they wish for this time of year and it has been a wet winter. The “decision” should become public today.

I have to say that after sitting in on all these calls, the Army Corp often holds back when the LORS chart, and maybe even the SFWMD, says to “release.” But in the end, the inevitable occurs.

Although I appreciative of the hard working men and women who run the ACOE, I do think the overall system fails to take into account the long term survival needs of the natural system which includes “us,” and favors the security of resources of the sugar industry and agriculture south of the lake.  It is easy to fall back on  “flood control” each time the lake rises, and dump east and west, but the system is more far reaching and has greater demands than just that. The water they are dumping, 1.7 billion gallons on average a day, is simply wasted due to an outdated system. (FOS, Mark Perry)

On a deeper level, the intertwined culture of the SFWMD, the ACOE and agriculture, especially the sugar industry, is one going back over 100  years. Their connection runs deep and is a cultural one, one that has allowed them to control water and politics for their own interests in South  Florida, past and present.

But times change and world views evolve. Personally, I am pushing for a future  a little less Orwellian, and a little more respectful, of our natural resources and Mother Nature.