Today I am sharing two creations of my brother, Todd Thurlow. Entitled “Ft Lauderdale House of Refuge/Life Saving Station,” and “Short Version,”they were originally for my mother, Sandra Henderson Thurlow and Timothy Dring’s “Image of America, U.S. Life Savings Service” book presentation at the Elliott Museum.
For me, Todd’s videos are mind-boggling as they bear witness to how much and how fast we humans can change the environment. Like an army of ants, we organize; we build; we destroy; we create…
By comparing and contrasting Google Earth maps of today with historic maps from 1883, 1887, and 1935, Todd’s “time capsule flight,” takes us through time and space to see the shifting sands of the multiple New River Inlets; Lake Mabel that morphed into Port Everglades; remnants of the forgotten Middle River that spread and contracted into new canals and developments; and of course, for mom, House of Refuge #4, that once rested north of a New River Inlet that today we can see is completely filled in, while beach-goers relax in reclining chairs like nothing ever happened!
Maybe one day we humans can use all this energy and ability to really fix our waters that have been destroyed during all this construction? Wouldn’t that be a dramatic video?
In closing, in the early 1900s, the New River… that was believed by the Seminoles to once be an underground river that collapsed and the Great Spirit revealed during an earthquake… was selected by modern-day humans as the “natural channel” to connect two of the largest drainage canals from Lake Okeechobee to the Atlantic Coast, the North New River/South New River, and the Miami.
This weekend a series of coincidences allowed me to personalize and learn the story of Ft Lauderdale’s New River, a neighbor in the water system of the Everglades and the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. It is good to know about your neighbors, as you know, we are all in this water quandary together.
So my husband’s friend Dr Juan Savelli organized an evening at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. We went to see the former lead singer of Men at Work, Colin Hay. After dinner along Los Olas, we walked across the street to the show.
And there I saw her, the river. Seawalled and controlled, no longer able to freely form a “new river” what made her reputation as told by some of the state’s earliest surveyors; her brown waters were no longer clear and teaming with wildlife as noted in some of the earliest accounts by pioneers and Seminoles; the river had been connected to canals and drainage waters of Lake Okeechobee long ago; nonetheless, she certainly remained beautiful, staring back at me with the city lights of mankind, her lion-tamer, shining behind her.
I stared at the water daydreaming, putting my day of coincidences or “serendipity,” as my mother calls it, together. I had spent the day reading UM student Zach Cosner’s incredible thesis paper, and one part came to mind:
“The trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund… would use this money to build five major canals-the North New River, South New River, Miami, Hillsboro, and Caloosahatchee, all connecting from the southern portion of Lake Okeechobee to the Atlantic Ocean…these canals reached completion towards the end of the 1910s…
Also this day I had visited my neighbor, Mrs Kelso, who was amazingly celebrating her 107 birthday! Remarkable. “Sharp as tack,” as they say. Half way through our conversation I asked,”So you were born in…”
“1910” she replied smiling…
“Wow,” I thought to myself, looking at the river. “Mrs Kelso is exactly as old as some of these first Florida Canals! Impressive.”
“Jacqui!” my friends called. “Let’s go! ”
I tuned and at looked at my friends. I turned and looked at the river…”
“Can I get a picture?” I asked.
Ed and I posed.
A flash in time of a river and a story. Hopefully a story that in the future will consist of men and women even more diligently at work for the New River’s complete and full restoration, and that of the entire Everglades system.
The New River was one of the earliest rivers to be connected to Lake Okeechobee. Highway 27 runs parallel to the canal all the way from the lake to 175. The North Fork of the New River is attached to the New River Canal; and the South Fork of the New River is connected to the Miami Canal. (see above map) Today it is almost impossible to see the connection of the canals to the river amongst the tangle of development surrounding the river.
According to a legend attributed in 1940 to the Seminoles by writers working in the Florida Writers’ Program of the Work Projects Administration, New River had appeared suddenly after a night of strong winds, loud noises, and shaking ground, resulting in the Seminoles calling the river Himmarshee, meaning “new water”. The report of the Writers’ Project attributed the noise and shaking to an earthquake which collapsed the roof of an underground river. Folk historian Lawrence Will relates that the Seminole name for the river was Coontie-Hatchee, for the coontie (Zamia integrifolia) that grew along the river, and that the chamber of commerce tried to change the name of the river to Himmarshee-Hatchee during the Florida land boom of the 1920s.
The English name is derived from early explorer’s maps. The mouth of the river was noted for its tendency to continuously change its entry point into the Atlantic Ocean through the shifting sand of the barrier island. Each time the coast was surveyed and charted the entry point would have shifted. So the location of the mouth would not be on any previous maps, and from off the coast would appear as if it had just developed. With each charting, the location would be recorded with the notation “new river”. Since that was the name used on the maps, that was the name by which the first settlers came to know it, so the name stayed.
From Broward County.org, “The River’s Decline”
Today the New River is in desperate need of repair. This once crystalline waterway has deteriorated under the strains of immense growth. Water quality has been adversely affected from debris, sedimentation, storm water runoff, and other pollutants. Inappropriate land uses near the water have also contributed to the decline of the River and its tributaries. This degradation of water quality and habitat represent a negative impact on the environment, health, and economy of the Broward County metropolitan area.
Today’s blog will feature a common sense question. The question is basically why isn’t the dumping into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon being alleviated by the large canals south of Lake Okeechobee, specifically the Miami and New River? Those two rivers were used before for drainage before our St Lucie canal was even constructed. The Miami River naturally had rapids before they were blown up with dynamite…Mother Nature had her way of dealing with the some of the spillover waters of Lake Okeechobee. Why aren’t we following that model?
I think a recent exchange between my brother Todd and Dr Gary Goforth gives insight into this question. I learned from it and the conversation is not yet over, thus I am posting it today.
By the way, just in case you don’t know, “S” means “structure” for water releases…. There are hundreds of structures that allow water to drain Lake Okeechobee and thus South Florida. The SFWMD deals with the structures south of the lake and the ACOE deals with the larger structures that go east west to the our northern estuaries.
Here we go:
“Right now… I am looking at the status map asking: “Why are the WCAs rising while very little water, if any, seems to go out to the New River (S-34) and the Miami River (S-31), which are historical tributaries of the Everglades (they even had rapids!) ?— all while we are getting dumped on because the Water Conservation Areas (WCAs) are over schedule?”
Recently, S-34 flowing into the New River was at 0 cfs. Now I see that it is at 233 cfs. A drop in the bucket compared to the 7523 cfs that has been hitting the St. Lucie for days.
That S-333 doesn’t seem to flow to the Park but instead to the Miami River also. (Someone correct me if I am wrong.) It was at 0 cfs on the 4th and is now at 1200 cfs. Even if that water isn’t going to the Park, at least it is going south and not east/west – but why the wait? The system is more complex than we will ever understand but the more we understand the better. Thank you, Gary, Mark Perry and others for keeping everyone informed.
Todd – you’re absolutely correct – the New River and Miami Canal were historical tributaries of the Everglades.
“Why are the WCAs rising while very little water, if any, seems to go out to the New River (S-34) and the Miami River (S-31)?”
The short answer is that flood protection for the suburbs of Ft. Lauderdale and Miami takes precedence over conveyance of floodwaters from the water conservation areas. The intervening canals are operated to provide flood protection to the urban areas between S-31/S-34 and the tidal structures (S-26/ – similar to S-80 in the C-44). When heavy rains occur in the suburbs, the canal capacity is primarily devoted to moving the stormwater out of the basin. After the storm events and water levels in the canals subside, S-31 and S-34 can be opened to move so-called “regulatory releases” out of the water conservation areas. This is similar (although not exact) to how S-308/S-80 and the C-44 Canal is operated – flood protection of the local basin takes precedence over Lake releases.
“why the wait?”
Opening S-333 allows water from WCA-3 to move into the Tamiami Canal (aka L-29 Canal); the one-mile bridge along Tamimi Trail allows water from the Tamiami Canal to enter Northeast Shark River Slough (see the map). S-333 couldn’t open without special authorization from the Corps to allow the water level in L-29 Canal to rise, which Gov. Scott requested in his letter last week, and the corps granted this week.
Interesting to think about…maybe there is more to explore here….
As we approach hurricane season, we must prepare for rain. Florida is more like Africa than the rest of the county in that there are really only two seasons: dry and rainy. “Officially,” rainy season runs from June 1st to November 30th, and dry season is from December 1st through the end of May.
One of the most interesting accounts I’ve ever read of a “great south Florida rain” was published in 1886 by pioneer Charles Pierce, member the famous Hannibal Pierce family, to which our illustrious Indian Riverkeeper, Mr Marty Baum belongs. We along the St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon are part of the south Florida great rain system and there are reoccurring themes whether here or farther south, as l think you’ll see as I share the story.
Charles Pierce is most well known for his book “Pioneer Life in Southeast Florida” written about the years 1870 through 1894, and published by Miami’s University Press in 1970. It is a five star classic. According to a write up on the book, during this era of Florida history around 724 people were living between Stuart and Miami.
My mother, historian Sandra Thurlow, shared an excerpt that Charles Pierce wrote for the Broward Legacy in 1886, as he was living and overseeing the Biscayne House of Refuge at the time.
According to Pierce:
“In October of 1884 occurred the greatest and longest rainfall ever known on the east coast since its earliest settlement. It poured down for eight days and nights, slacking at times for a few minutes, but never stoping; then came down harder if that were possible. The whole southern part of the state was inundated…
On the eighth day the rain stopped and the next day came in bright and clear, and the sun shone brightly on a rain-soaked Florida…
I was on the east porch looking out to sea…looking up the coast to the northward, I caught the glint of something white about four miles away. At first, I thought it was a sea gull, then it looked like striking fish. I was not certain which it was, so I went for the old long spyglass to get a close up view of the scintillating white. What the spyglass revealed surprised me. The flickering white I had seen was now clearly shown to be whitecaps or breaking seas at the head of a dark body of water rushing down the coast….a mass of dark water some hundred feet in width rushing along to the south and with breaking seas over running the blue water in front.
It was a strange sight and at first we all wondered where it came from. My father Hannibal solved they mystery when he said, ‘It is fresh water from the New River Inlet.’ Could that be possible? It was fourteen miles away but there was no other solution to the phenomenon.
What a mighty volume of water must be coming out of the inlet and with tremendous velocity enough to overcome the resistance of wind and sea for so many miles. By night of that day the entire ocean in sight of the Station was covered with dark coffee-colored freshwater from the New River. Not a bit of blue water to be seen in any direction. Biscayne Bay was fresh for nearly a month after the week of rain.”
Incredible. So even before humankind diked and channelized the entirety of south Florida, when it rained heavily, the black wave of fresh water pushed forth through the south eastern inlets to the ocean; it did not just “go south.” We see a similar but not as intense phenomenon today, although drainage has been modified, when a heavy rain gushes through the St Lucie Inlet, Ft Pierce or Jupiter Inlets. In any case, when one hears a story such as Mr Pierce’s it makes one wonder, with all that water, during a really “great rain” a rain that comes only once in a few hundred years, will our manmade structures hold?
We all know the Army Corp of Engineers, along with support from the South Florida Water Management District, is working diligently to harden the dike around Lake Okeechobee, but it seems that a third outlet, a flow way south, from the lake to the Everglades surely would alleviate some of that natural pressure, the pressure Charlie Pierce describes as a
If he were alive today, I wonder what Mr Charles Pierce would think?