River Kidz was started in 2011 in the Town of Sewall’s Point by two 5th grade girls, Evie Flaugh and Naia Mader after a public call to action by Stuart News/Scripps columnist, Eve Samples for “younger members of the Rivers Coalition.” The group swelled to over 300 Facebook and event attending member by 2013. Today there are River Kidz chapters in St Lucie County and across the state in Lee County as well. These kids serve as an inspiration to adults.
I believe, politicians are changing water policy because of these kids.
Over the years I have collected and photographed their art work, slogan, and their letters to politicians. Today, I am going to share some of their slogans. For fun and just to review, a “slogan” is defined as:
1. a phrase expressing the aim or nature of an enterprise, organization,or candidate; a motto.
2. a phrase used repeatedly , as in advertising or promotion.
and 3. (my favorite). A battle cry of a Scottish clan.
These slogans span from 2011 to 2014. They are from different children, including the students from the honors class at Felix A. Williams Elementary in Jensen; St Josephs Catholic School in Stuart, and the Pine School in Stuart. Public and private schools alike have embraced the message: “Speak out, get involved and raise awareness, because we believe kids should have a voice in the future of our rivers.”
Enjoy, and “stay strong” for the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon!
Last week, on a hazy smoked filled afternoon, Ed and I flew over Lake Okeechobee and the once mighty Kissimmee River. There was the normal stress involved with me giving Ed directions and the fun of an adventure. It went something like this:
“Oh there it is, the Kissimmee’s opening to the lake, over there!”
I can’t fly north of “over there,” it’s off limits; it’s a near a bombing range or air force base…” says Ed, shooting me a serious glance.
“What a bombing range-air force base? You’re kidding, close to of some of the state’s richest wildlife habitat? How symbolic…”
Ed rolls his eyes, I can feel it. But he tries harder…
Somehow, Ed talks to Miami Air Traffic Conrol and we get lucky. It is a Sunday and we are allowed to fly over at least part of the area I wish to see.
On the way, we fly over the southwest area of the lake’s agricultural lands. The hand of humankind is reflected in organized, perfect sized boxes of agriculture and straight canals.
We veer off to the northwestern area of the Lake Okeechobee where earth and water meet; on this side of the lake the hand of the Creator still evident. Little specks of light blend together in a blinding symphony of light.
We near the area in Okeechobee County where the mouth of the once great Kissimmee meets Lake Okeechobee. The straightened canal looks out of place among the lush greenery and a small town is evident. There are people here. Flooding is an issue.
It is great seeing “it all” from above as I have never really been able to figure out on a map where the Kissimmee River restoration is happening. It starts about 20 miles north of the lake.
The Kissimmee river was once 103 miles of wildlife/fish filled meandering oxbows, but it was canalized to a depth of 30 feet as C-38 from 1962-71. This was part of the Army Corp of Engineers and the Central and South Florida “Flood Control Project” of 1954. The state had asked for help after two back to back hurricanes and wide spread flooding and destruction in 1945. The state got help but with untended consequences…
The Kissimmee River that once meandered south to Lake Okeechobee as part of a two mile wide flood plane now shot down to the lake with grave environmental effects that included the destruction of the estuaries, St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon and Caloosahatechee.
Since 1994, around 23 miles of the now 56 mile long canal, C-38, from Lake Kissimmee to Lake Okeechobee has been/is being backfilled and considered part of “the” most ambitious environmental restoration project in the world.
Recently, the ACOE and SFWMD have been in a dispute over the completion of the restoration project. The project is tremendously expensive requiring federal and state funding which has not come easy since 2008. The two agencies “cost share” in its completion. Word is they are “working things out…”
The long term goal is to continue the restoration of at least 20 miles more of the 56 miles of the canal.
In light of the dying Indian River Lagoon, it is important to see that restoration can be accomplished. Mother Nature is quick to rebound once given the chance.
The Kissimmee’s restoration is critical, as the polluted waters coming from Orlando south carry sediment, and urban and agricultural runoff into the lake. As we know, when the lake gets too full the water is diverted to the estuaries because the water is not presently allowed to flow south, as the EAA (Everglades Agricultural Area) is located there along with cities of people.
So we here along the St Lucie Indian River Lagoon, are fighting a two front war. One north and the other south of the lake. We are winning in the north because the ACOE and SFWMD recognized their/our mistakes, and have been working since 1994. We are also getting closer in the to finding a safe way to “move the water south…” CEPP (Central Everglades Planning Project) is not looking good right now, but the pressure is on, and even Tallahassee is saying “move the water south!”
We must have inspiration or we will never complete our goal of saving the estuaries. The Kissimmee River is a place to look and find hope.
2014 Google Earth map of restored area of Kissimmee River.
“Let us throw off everything that hinders, and run with perseverance, the race marked out for us…” Hebrews
We might still be a long way from the finish line, but no one can say that the Indian River Lagoon hasn’t hasn’t been “heard.” In 2012, few state legislators, not even the Governor, sitting in his chair in Tallahassee knew what, or even where, the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon was… Today literally, “everyone” in Tallahassee knows about the, dying manatees, sick dolphins, toxic waters, the disappearing seagrasses, and deadly releases from Lake Okeechobee. On top of that “Tally” is watching the IRL positioned to walk away with a large chunk of the pie, a pie that others wanted too. Others who had been fighting longer than the IRL and were very much know by name… Remarkable.
(Specifics of Negron’s Senate/House negotiated IRL/L.O. 3-year budget for 231.9 million dollars. This “recommendation” must still go before the Governor’s pen.)
How did this happen? How did the Indian River Lagoon get so well known so quickly?
This happened because the the people, River Kidz, and local officials of Stuart, Port St Lucie, eventually all eight counties along the lagoon, rose up, demanded change, exposed health, safety, and moral issues, and then the local press, Scripps, took that flame of the people, threw kerosine on it, and has continued to keep the fire going. State and Congressional politicians along with state and federal agencies, usually free to do whatever they pleased, were taken off guard, suddenly their constituency was watching where officials got their money, how they were voting, and if they were supporting the lagoon.
Senator Joe Negron listened and made the Indian River Lagoon his first priority creating the budget list above, held a Senate Hearing that took the topic “viral,” possibly under-cutting his Senate presidency because of his outspoken support, and then proceeded to tell the ACOE they needed to give up their control of the lake and that they were “killing us;” Rep. Gayle Harrell made a memorial in DC her “top”priority; newcomer Rep. Larry Lee voted against party line for the sake of the lagoon; and freshman Rep. Mary Lynn Magar passed out bottles of muck ridden toxic river water and aerial photo booklets to her colleagues, Rep. Debbie Mayfield called her closest contacts… At the federal level, Congressman Patrick Murphy did every single thing possible to familiarize the ACOE leaders with the C-44 IRL project, and even invited the public to DC for a special meeting. In walks Nancy Pelosi, and then this bipartisan group helps get the WRDA (Water Resources Development Act) bill passed in the US House of Representatives where usually people can’t make a decision to save their lives. Holy Cow!
OK, let’s pull back for a moment, because I come from a group of erudite and very skeptical river supporters. And although I am excited, I am not wearing rose colored glasses and never have. I know politicians can dance like marionettes when they need to; I know that a lot more has to be done, like a flow way south; I know that if it starts raining intensely tomorrow and doesn’t stop, a repeat of the “Lost Summer” will happen all over again. But Karl…Michael….the others….even you, the harshest, most honest critics, have to admit that the end of 2013, and so far 2014, has been one remarkable year. Less than a year actually…
Just May 8th of last year, the releases from Lake Okeechobee began releasing for 5 months, and set off a series of events that galvanized public outcry. Thousands of people rallied at the locks and shoreline; social media whipped the situation to a frenzy, and today we are still today talking about it, fighting for it, and defining ourselves and our children by it. There are no social, age or economic boundaries. It is all of us. We are making history.
Yes, a great disappointment, the ACOE’s recent denial of CEPP (Central Everglades Planning Project) into the WRDA Bill last week is a huge setback, but the Army Corp of Engineers has forgotten something. When passions are repressed, they only get stronger.
This Saturday at 9 AM, locals have organized a “Funeral Services for the Lagoon” at St Lucie Locks and Dam in response to the ACOE’s inaction. (Go to Facebook for information.) Here again locals will plead their case to “send the water south.”
When I reminisce about the past year and even present, I am reminded of Dr Suess’ famous children’s book, Horton Hears a Who. The story is about the miniature city of people who live on the speck of dust. After being lost, Horton the elephant and the other animals hear the screaming “We’re here!” “We’re here!” of the tiny people of Who-ville, and agree to protect them. But they wouldn’t have protected them if they did not hear them. Remember?
Like the story, the Indian River Lagoon has finally been heard! Be proud of this. It is a huge accomplishment. We are certainly not yet at the finish line, but let’s be happy that 2013/14 has been, “The Year of the Indian River Lagoon,” and that everyone knows our name!