Tag Archives: nitrogen

John Moran’s “Florida’s Summer of Slime: Stuart and Lake Okeechobee”

It’s an honor to present:

“Florida’s Summer of Slime: Stuart and Lake Okeechobee,” photo essay by John Moran, August 2018

I reported last month on the plight of the Caloosahatchee River and its befouled waters flowing from Lake Okeechobee; delivering slime to waterfront neighborhoods in Fort Myers and Cape Coral along the way to the Gulf Islands of Southwest Florida.

Next up on our Summer of Slime photo tour is a visit to Stuart and Lake O…Stuart and environs is a glistening jewel born of water. It may well top the list of Florida cities in shoreline per capita. There’s simply water everywhere. Two forks of the St. Lucie River, the Indian River Lagoon, canals and peninsulas and islands, and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. Stuart is pictured above; below is neighboring Hutchinson Island.

But it wasn’t Stuart’s reputation for abundant clean water that drew me south from Gainesville with my cameras. In effect, I’ve become a traveling crime scene photographer—and slime is the crime. A devastating outbreak of toxic algae has once again hit the St. Lucie River and the Treasure Coast, fueled by the polluted waters of Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee River basin to the north. Damaging headlines trumpet the story to the nation and the world and Governor Scott has declared a state of emergency. It’s déjà vu all over again.

My hosts in Stuart were water blogger Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch and her husband, Ed Lippisch.

Ed took me up for a photo flight in his Piper Cub so I could get the big picture.

Seen from a small plane at 500 feet, Florida is a beautiful place.

Here’s Lake Okeechobee and the western terminus of the St. Lucie C-44 Canal. Administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Port Mayaca Lock and Dam has the capacity to discharge 14,800 cubic feet of water per second downstream to Stuart and the St. Lucie River Estuary, 26 miles away.

Sugar industry representatives say the water coming out of Lake Okeechobee is not the problem and that the algae outbreak in Stuart is primarily caused by Stuart’s own septic tanks and urban stormwater. This claim is contradicted by the extensive algae mats seen along the C-44 Canal between the Port Mayaca and St. Lucie Locks, well upstream from Stuart.

Lake Okeechobee historically drained south to Florida Bay, not east and west to the Atlantic and Gulf. The C-44 canal was built in 1916 to divert floodwaters to the coast.

A view of the St. Lucie Lock and Dam, several miles southwest of Stuart. On the day of my photo flight in late July, the dam gates were closed, visibly holding back algae from flowing downstream. Look closely and you can see what some people call The Seven Gates of Hell.

The St. Lucie Lock and Dam are an integral part of South Florida’s complex web of water management structures, born of an age when the Everglades was reviled as a watery wasteland and America was driven to drain it.

Below the St. Lucie Lock and Dam, in Palm City and Stuart, you can still find waterfront homes untouched by the algae bloom. But that’s no consolation for the thousands of Martin County residents whose lives are in upheaval once again this summer. The familiar pattern of algae outbreaks is fueled by fertilizer, manure and urban sources of nutrient pollution, including septic tanks.

All of this is compounded by denial and neglect by elected officials and agencies to whom we entrust the important work of environmental protection and public health.

Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch took me on a driving tour of the C-44 Canal from Stuart to enormous Lake O, which is more like a stormwater treatment pond than a biologically healthy lake. “There are toxic algae blooms across the globe, but only one place where the government dumps it on you: Florida,” she says.

It’s not just the algae from Lake Okeechobee causing headaches along Florida’s east coast; the sheer volume of freshwater discharges is an environmental pollutant that overwhelms the estuary.

The Lake O gunk visible in the satellite view, above, is shown in the detail photo below.

Fishermen are still drawn to Port Mayaca. On the day we visited, I counted nine.

Dinner in hand (speckled perch), Felix Gui, Jr. has been fishing Lake O for 30 years. “The algae doesn’t affect the fish,” he says. “They eat the same, algae or no algae, and I haven’t gotten sick.” Experts have warned against eating fish exposed to the algae.

A Martin County Health Department sign at Port Mayaca warns against contact with the water but I saw no messaging about whether fish caught in these waters is safe to eat.

Enroute home to Stuart, Jacqui and I stopped at deserted Timer Powers Park on the St. Lucie Canal in Indiantown.

At the St. Lucie Lock, a surreal scene of impaired water, above, and a vortex of slime, below, waiting to be flushed downstream.

A pair of jet-skiers signaled for the lock to be opened, and another pulse of algae-laden water is released towards Stuart and the coast.

Wouldn’t want to anyway, thanks.

Further downstream, the algae spreads…

Nearing the coast, Rio Nature Park and the neighboring Central Marine in Stuart are slimed again. This was the epicenter of the infamous Treasure Coast algae outbreak of 2016.

Reporter Tyler Treadway of TCPalm gathered a sample of the polluted water from a canal behind the offices of Florida Sportsman magazine in Stuart.

Staff complaints of headaches, nausea and dizziness prompted Florida Sportsman publisher Blair Wickstrom to temporarily close the office in late July. “It smells like death,” he said.

The Shepard Park boat ramp parking lot in Stuart was nearly empty on the day we visited.

A man on a mission, Mike Knepper, above and below, posts videos on his Youtube channel documenting the degradation of natural Florida.

“It’s totally unacceptable to me what we’re doing to this planet because we’re very rapidly destroying it,” Knepper says. “My children and grandchildren will be paying the price for all the bad decisions we’re making today. I want to be able to look them in the face and say, ‘I tried to make a difference.’”

Dead-end canals along the St. Lucie River with their limited water exchange have been hardest hit by the toxic blue-green algae, which scientists refer to as cyanobacteria.

A growing body of medical research links exposure to cyanobacteria with neurodegenerative diseases including Parkinson’s, ALS and Alzheimer’s. Google it.

Meanwhile, we’re getting conflicting messages from officialdom. Martin County has erected signs warning against contact with the water but the Florida Dept. of Health website, under the heading How to Keep Your Family Safe While Enjoying Florida’s Water Ways, has this to say: “Cyanobacteria/ blue-green algae…are naturally occurring in Florida’s environment and are also found all over the world. They are part of a healthy ecosystem and help support a wide variety of aquatic life.” (http://www.floridahealth.gov/environmental-health/aquatic-toxins/cyanobacteria.html) In other words, Lighten up, Florida. This is just nature being natural.

An open question remains: What will become of the value of the Florida brand when the world fully sees what we have done to our waters?

Even in disaster, strange beauty emerges.

Greg Fedele has lived in his water-front home since 1991. He grieves for his loss. “I have three kids who can’t enjoy the waterways of Martin County like I did growing up.”

The sign at Ocean Blue Yacht Sales in Stuart echoes a wide swath of community sentiment. Asked to describe in a word how the algae outbreak has impacted his business, president Bryan Boyd replied, “Horrible. The last three years, our bay boat sales have been a third of what they used to be.”

A roadside sign seen in Stuart in late July. If you’re wondering what you can do about the ongoing crisis of Florida waters, we are called to consider our own water footprint, learn about the issues and get involved. And never forget that elections have consequences. Vote for Clean Water. (https://www.bullsugar.org/#)

What we have here in Florida is not just a crisis of water, we have a crisis of democracy and civic engagement.

From the beleaguered springs of North Florida to the sickened rivers and coasts of South Florida, we must understand that no savior is waiting on the horizon who will fix this thing for us.

It took a group effort to create this mess and we need all hands on deck if are to reclaim our waters. Florida needs environmental patriots willing to face down politicians funded by wealthy interests who think nothing of sacrificing our public waters on the altar of their private profits.

We don’t have the luxury of time to get this right. We are losing our waters now. This is our moment. It’s time to set aside our differences and focus on what is at stake, for this is nothing less than a battle for the soul of Florida.

The pictures don’t lie. We the people of Florida bear witness today to nothing less than a crime against nature, and a crime against the children who shall inherit our natural legacy.

A long time ago, Florida political leaders—Republicans and Democrats in common cause—understood there can be no healthy economy without a healthy environment. They wisely enacted laws and regulatory safeguards accordingly.

But that was then and this is now. It’s time to end the popular fiction in Florida that we can plunder and pollute our way to prosperity.

Gov. Reubin Askew said it best when he declared in 1971, “Ecological destruction is nothing less than economic suicide.”

In this, our Summer of Slime, can I get an amen?

by John Moran
August 2018

web: http://johnmoranphoto.com
email: JohnMoranPhoto@gmail.com
cell: 352.514.7670

Feel free to forward or post this photo essay as you wish; attribution is appreciated. Please share this with elected officials and ask them: what’s their plan to clean up our waters?

Sugarcane, Indians, and Roundup, Professor Geoffrey Norris, SLR/IRL

Today I share the second paper of guest, Geoffrey Norris Ph.D. I recently shared Blue-green algal blooms in the lakes, rivers, and marine waters of south Florida surrounding Lake Okeechobee.

I must admit, I hesitated publishing this second paper, “Sugarcane and Indians,”  as I  am sure some may interpret it as “politically incorrect.” I apologize to anyone who may, but I decided to print Dr Norris’ paper because the main message is important.

The message is:

“Is Sugar’s use of ripening stalks with “Roundup” feeding toxic algae blooms and why are lands/waters south of Lake Okeechobee “protected” while ours of the northern estuaries are not? “

You will learn something about this in Dr Norris’ paper below, and I thank him for sharing his work.

In closing, I believe we have something important to learn from history and the Native People of North America; I admire them. They are great warriors and respect Nature, the gift of our Creator. And in the case of the Miccosukee, they “never surrendered” and if I have anything to do with it, neither will we.

Jacqui

(http://www.miccosukee.com/tribe/)

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JTL 2015 Miccosukee Reservation, Tamiami Trail

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This blog is the work and opinion of Professor Geoffrey Norris

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 By

Geoffrey Norris Ph.D. FRSC

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.”  ~Geoffrey Norris Ph.D.

rosalex@interlog.com

unknown.jpgSugarcane and Indians

Executive summary

  • The area around Lake Okeechobee accounts for almost half the total production of sugarcane in the United States.
  • Sugarcane in south Florida is very needy of phosphorus and potassium fertilizers, but nitrogen fixed in the muck soils largely eliminates the need for extra nitrogen fertilizers.
  • Sugarcane also demands the use of the phosphorus-rich herbicide “Roundup” (glyphosate) several times each year. Firstly, in the fallow season (approximately May-September) to control weeds and allow the sugarcane underground rhizomes to regenerate.  Secondly, as the new shoots come through in the Fall to continue weed control.  Thirdly, during maturation and harvesting (October through March) glyphosate is applied to “chemically ripen” the sugarcane and improve sugar yields.
  • Land south of Lake Okeechobee could be used for storage and bio-cleansing of excess lake water. However, the 1997 water quality agreement between the Environmental Protection Agency and the Miccosukee Indians (aka Mikasuki, Miccosuki) states that phosphorus shall not be present in quantities greater than 10 parts per billion, and that no substance shall be present to stimulate algal growth and produce objectionable algal densities in the 300,000 acres of tribal lands in the Everglades south of Alligator Alley.
  • This legal agreement would suggest that Lake Okeechobee waters destined for southern storage must be cleaned to rigorous standards before discharge into southward flowing streams feeding the Everglades, at least near the Miccosukee tribal lands.
  • A case could be made for the sugar industry and related agriculture to “clean up its act” to mitigate the effects of heavy fertilizer and herbicide usage on the environment in general and on lake and stream waters in particular.

Sugarcane and Indians

First about nutrients and farm land and how much is planted in sugarcane.

Here are three maps that graphically answer the question about the extent of sugarcane plantations:unknown.jpg

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A couple of years ago I had the opportunity the fly over the area south of Lake Okeechobee in a light plane at about 1000ft altitude.  The extent of the sugarcane is truly mind-boggling. Its plantations surround the entire southern perimeter of the Lake and reach to the horizon.  Smaller plantations occur elsewhere around the Lake.  It is a very big operation.

Now to the nutrients themselves.  I had a great deal of difficulty finding precise information on how much fertilizer is applied per unit area.  There were general articles that confirmed that sugarcane is very needy of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium fertilizers together with other elements. It is after all a giant grass, so just think how much stuff you have to put on your own lawn to make it grow green!  Apparently, in the south Florida area the need to apply nitrogen fertilizer to sugar cane is not so critical because the mucky soils generate their own nitrates through soil microbial activity.  However, phosphates must be applied as  fertilizer for sugarcane at various times of the year together with potassium etc.  But actual numbers were hard to come by, other than that sugarcane is voracious for fertilizers.  This is when I stumbled upon some marvellous work that the U.S. Geological Survey has been doing on the extent and the total quantitates of pesticides being applied to farmland across USA.  I used their maps of glyphosate (Roundup) as what I thought might be a reasonable proxy for phosphate fertilizer.  In other words, if you use Roundup as a weedkiller on crops, then very likely you will be using fertilizer as well.  It turns out I was right and I was wrong!  First take a look at this summary map for two separate years, 1992 being the earliest year available in this USGS study:

Details are difficult to see in these summary maps but the originals are much clearer.  The area around Lake Okeechobee was already in 1992 applying large amounts of glyphosate, and this intensified in succeeding years.  What I didn’t understand was why the sugarcane fields should be so needy of weedkiller – fertilizers OK, but why so much weedkiller?  It would seem that 25% of the cost of sugar production is due to heavy nutrient need (up to 75 lbs phosphate per acre, with 400,000 acres in sugarcane in south Florida).  But weedkiller.  Then I dug deeper following your email comments and found out why.  Indeed glyphosate is used at least three ways on sugarcane as follows:

Firstly, during the fallow season (approx. May-September 2016) following harvesting, glyphosate is applied to control weeds which would otherwise grow up and choke out the underground cane sugar rhizomes left in the ground to regenerate as the next crop.

Secondly, glyphosate application continues in different amounts as the new shoots come through in the Fall.  This is tricky because glyphosate kills just about anything that is green, but careful control can kill the young weeds while not harming – at least not very much – the young sugarcane shoots.  Other herbicides are also involved but glyphosate is the big one.

Thirdly, the sugarcane matures and is harvested in the winter months at various times from October through March.  During this time the stem of the sugarcane ripens and becomes rich in sugar (sucrose) prior to going to the mill.  Astonishingly (to me anyway) it has been found that about a month or two prior to harvesting, another application of glyphosate will help ripen and enrich the crop with significantly more sugar.  This process is called “chemical ripening”.  Other chemicals can be involved but glyphosate is a popular choice (it got cheaper once Monsanto’s patent expired in the year 2000).

So yes, I think cane sugar farming is being pursued intensively, but I’m not sure how it can be stopped.  Its effects on Lake O could be mitigated as discussed in my previous document but stopping an entire industry would be almost impossible to my mind.  Cleaning up the sugar industry might be a more realistic aim.
Change of land usage and water flow.

It would be nice to think that Lake Okeechobee water could be redirected southwards along its original historic course on its way to the Everglades.  Here’s a graphic of how things used to be:
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For thousands of years, water drained from Lake O through a wide series of shallow tributaries and interconnected lakes to the Everglades.  It’s unlikely that this could be recreated but certainly use of land south of the Lake for water transport and storage and bio-cleansing of some sort or another would be an improvement.  However, it would seem that this is unlikely given the actions of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its agreement in 1997 re the  Clean Water Act with the Miccosukee Indians, a tribe which occupies part of the Everglades.

https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-12/documents/miccosukee.pdf

This agreement set out comprehensively water quality standards for the Tribes drinking water, wildlife habitat water, and recreational water (boating, swimming etc).  In particular, Section 3 reads:
MICCOSUKEE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION CODE
SECTION 3. Tribal Water Quality Standards

The following minimum water quality criteria shall apply to all surface waters of the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida unless those water bodies are designated with higher or stricter water quality standards. Stricter standards for a given water body shall supersede these general Water Quality Standards. These standards shall provide a legal basis for including whole effluent toxicity requirements in all federally issued permits.

(there follows a list of 16 physical, biological, and toxicological conditions of which these two are particularly germane):

E. NUISANCE CONDITIONS: Plant nutrients or other substances stimulating algal growth, from other than natural causes, shall not be present in concentrations that produce objectionable algal densities or nuisance aquatic vegetation, or that result in a dominance of nuisance species instream, or that cause nuisance conditions in any other fashion. Phosphorus and nitrogen concentrations shall not be permitted to reach levels which result in man-induced eutrophication problems. Total phosphorus shall not exceed 10 parts per billion in Class III-A waters. In Class III-B waters, total phosphorous discharges shall not be made which result in undesirable aquatic life effects or which result in chronic or acute toxicity to aquatic life.

N. NUTRIENTS: In no case shall nutrient concentrations of Tribal Class I or Class III-A surface waters be altered so as to cause an imbalance in natural populations of aquatic flora or fauna. Total phosphorus concentrations shall not exceed 10 parts per billion in Class III-A waters. In Class III-B waters, nutrients shall not be discharged which result in undesirable aquatic life effects or which result in chronic or acute toxicity to aquatic life.

So what this and other sections of agreement mean is that nutrient-rich water from Lake Okeechobee must be cleaned to rigorous standards before discharge into southward flowing streams feeding the Everglades.  So bio-cleansing within the Everglades – or at least near the Miccosukee tribal lands (about 300,000 acres in the vicinity of the Tamiami Trail and Alligator Alley) is not a possibility within this legal framework.

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However what’s good for the goose is surely good for the gander.  I looked into the history  of the Miccosukee Indians, and it would seem they are only fairly recent arrivals in Florida, arriving about the same time as Stuart was being settled.  The Miccosukee appear to have originated in what is now Georgia and then migrated south to north Florida where they became entwined with the Seminoles.  After the Seminole wars of the 19th century they migrated to central Florida in the late 1800’s and then decided to disentwine themselves from the Seminoles as a culturally distinct society.  They appear to have seen an opportunity during the construction of the Tamiami Trail in the first quarter of the 20th century and migrated further south and became embedded in the adjacent Everglades. First  Florida (1957) then federally (1962) they became recognized as a tribe distinct from the Seminoles.

Meanwhile in th early 20th century, as the migrant Miccosuki Indians were settling down in their new home in the Everglades as “Trail Indians”, Stuart was incorporated as a town (1914) then a city (1925) after being settled by migrant northerners about half a century earlier.  Total population of Stuart is now about 16,000.

640 migrant Indians – how many are fishing  and frogging?  16,000 migrant non-Indian northerners – how many lives and livings are being disrupted by ruined beaches and waterfronts?
the Indians pushed for a great deal from EPA and got it.  So now a total of about 640 Miccosukee (Mikasuki) Indians (some now  living in Miami-Dade and not the Everglades) can pursue their supposedly traditional way of life (fishing, frogging, subsistence agriculture) plus gaming resorts and casinos and tobacco shops – while many of the 151,000 citizens of Martin County are prevented from pursuing their traditional way of life.  Surely our waters (habitat, recreational, drinking) should be subject to the same rigorous standards as laid down by the EPA/Clean Water Act for the people living in the Everglades.

We are all equal – as George Orwell said – but some are more equal than others.  Well, so it seems.  What do you think?
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River of Interest, ACOE, The Ultimate Hammer, chapter about the lawsuit http://141.232.10.32/docs/river_interest/031512_river_interests_2012_chap_12.pdf

Alligators and Litigators: Keith Rizzardi http://www.floridabar.org/DIVCOM/JN/JNJournal01.nsf/76d28aa8f2ee03e185256aa9005d8d9a/d0fe7ce69afa102885256adb005d635e?OpenDocument

Previous blog post, Norris: Blue-green algal blooms in the lakes, rivers, and marine waters of south Florida surrounding Lake Okeechobee: https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/tag/dr-norris/

Updated Lake Okeechobee Discharges to the Estuaries and Everglades, October 2016, Dr Gary Goforth, SLR/IRL

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Post Hurricane Matthew,  I am sharing Dr Gary Goforth’s “Updated Lake Okeechobee Discharges to the Estuaries and Everglades,” dated yesterday, October 10, 2016 as sent to state and local officials, as well as the press. Many helpful visuals are attached.

Dr Goforth continues to lead in documenting the destruction of what was once lauded as North America’s “most biodiverse estuary,” our beloved St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon…

Through shared knowledge, we advocate for a better Florida water future.

_________________________________________________

Gary Goforth (http://garygoforth.net)

Updated Lake discharge information attached.

More than 204 billion gallons of polluted Lake water has been discharged to the St. Lucie (25% of total Lake discharges); more than 456 billion gallons of polluted Lake water has been discharged to the Caloosahatchee (55% of Lake discharges). By contrast, only 20% of Lake discharges has been sent to the south, with only 6% sent to the STAs/Everglades.

Ag runoff continues to contribute significant amounts of flow and pollution load to the St. Lucie: 39% of flow, 53% of total phosphorus and 42% of total nitrogen.

Gary

I added a chart comparing monthly Lake flows to the STAs – 2016 releases to STAs has been significantly less than 2014 and 2015.

DRAFT - CY 2016 Summary_Page_01.jpgDRAFT - CY 2016 Summary_Page_02.jpgDRAFT - CY 2016 Summary_Page_03.jpgDRAFT - CY 2016 Summary_Page_04.jpgDRAFT - CY 2016 Summary_Page_05.jpgDRAFT - CY 2016 Summary_Page_06.jpgDRAFT - CY 2016 Summary_Page_07.jpgDRAFT - CY 2016 Summary_Page_08.jpgDRAFT - CY 2016 Summary_Page_09.jpg

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DRAFT - CY 2016 Summary_Page_12.jpgDRAFT - CY 2016 Summary_Page_13.jpgDRAFT - CY 2016 Summary_Page_14.jpgDraft - lake event update - CE_Page_1.jpgDraft - lake event update - CE_Page_2.jpgDraft - lake event update - CE_Page_3.jpgDraft - lake event update - CE_Page_4.jpgDraft - lake event update - CE_Page_5.jpgDraft - lake event update - SLR_Page_1.jpgDraft - lake event update - SLR_Page_2.jpgDraft - lake event update - SLR_Page_3.jpgDraft - lake event update - SLR_Page_4.jpg

Guest Column, Gary Goforth, TC Palm: http://archive.tcpalm.com/opinion/guest-columns/gary-goforth-after-93-years-of-state-sponsored-pollution-our-estuaries-are-besieged-again-34247a41-1-384127921.html

2015 Annual Update, St Lucie River and Estuary Basin Management Action Plan, SLR/IRL

Inside cover of the Draft 2015 SLR BMAP Report.
Inside cover of the Draft 2015 SLR BMAP Report.

I did not attend yesterday’s meeting, but I do have copy of the “2015 Progress Report for the St Lucie River and Estuary Basin Management Action Plan.” The report is in PDF format so I cannot share in this post. Here is a copy of yesterday’s agenda: (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/water/watersheds/docs/bmap/meetings/AgendaStLucie-081215pdf.pdf)

Today I will try to provide some insights for every day people trying to figure out what a basin management action plan is, why we have one, and how we are doing so far….

Before we begin, we must first note that in 2002 the state of Florida declared the St Lucie River “impaired.” Impaired as in “its health”— with too much nitrogen and phosphorus and other pollutants from fertilizer and other sources that run off agricultural and developed lands…If you want, you can read the 2002 report below.

St Lucie River, Evidence of Impairment DEP : (http://dep.state.fl.us/southeast/ecosum/ecosums/SLE_Impairment_Narrative_ver_3.7.pdf)

Today we hear more about BMAPs (Basin Management Action Plans) and TMDLS (Total Maximum Daily Loads) than the original impairment report, but we must be aware that the only reason we have a BMAP is because the river is “impaired.” A BMAP is  put in place by the state to “fix” impaired water bodies.

Our Martin County/St Lucie St Lucie River (SLR) impairment  is compounded by the fact that the watershed has been heavily altered over the past 100 years. The Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) south of Lake Okeechobee blocks the natural flow of Lake O. water going south to the Everglades; therefore the “overflow” waters of Lake Okeechobee are released into the St Lucie.

On top of that are canals C-23, C-24, C-25 that go way out west expanding the St Lucie River’s basin, draining parts of Okeechobee and St Lucie counties and even waters of the St John’s River that used to go north once located near Vero! Road runoff, marinas, agriculture, our yards, tributaries, non-functioning septic tanks, and other things all add up to create a pollution cocktail encouraging toxic algae blooms that kill seagrasses and wildlife and lower our property values for the entire area.

According to the St Lucie River Initiative our canals expanded the “flow” into the St Lucie River by as much as five times what Nature intended. See map below. The BMAP doesn’t really deal with this problem; it does not try to reroute these canals, it  rather tries to “better the situation” we are in now as far as water inputs.

Drainage changes to the SLR. Green is the original watershed. Yellow and pink have been added since ca.1920. (St Lucie River Initiative's Report to Congress 1994.)
Drainage changes to the SLR. Green is the original watershed. Yellow and pink have been added since ca.1920. (St Lucie River Initiative’s Report to Congress 1994.)

So with that in mind, let’s get back to the state of Florida’s created Basin Management Action Plans implementing “total maximum daily loads” (TMDLs) for nitrogen and phosphorus. “Everyone” is part of lowering their loads to the river through building projects that help lower loads and implementing Best Management Practices for fertilizer etc…. Everyone in the basin that is. (Not Lake O- They have their own plan). Not everyone is an equal polluter but everyone tries to lower their load.

The stakeholders agreeing to do projects and implement Best Management Practices to lower their inputs are:

Agriculture

City of Fort Pierce

City of Port St. Lucie

City of Stuart

FDOT District

Hobe St. Lucie Conservancy District

Martin County

North St. Lucie River Water Control District (NSLRWCD) 10

Pal Mar WCD

St. Lucie County

Town of Sewall’s Point

Troup-Indiantown WCD

These stakeholders work together with the help of DEP, the Department of Environmental Protection, and others to lower their measured inputs of Nitrogen and Phosphorus into the river over a period of fifteen years, in five-year increments beginning in 2013. The draft report now is just reviewing the first two years of the first five years. We have a long way to go….

This slide of the summary  report provides some overall insights. You can see the load originally compared to now and how far they have to go together to achieve the first increment.

DEP chart for SLR BMAP. (Draft 2015)
DEP chart for SLR BMAP. (Draft 2015)

1.1    Summary of Accomplishments

Table 3 summarizes the projects completed during the second annual BMAP reporting period. These resulted in an estimated reduction of 118,163.3 lbs/yr of TN and 26,998.8 lbs/yr of TP. The reductions are in addition to those projects given credit before BMAP adoption. Therefore, the total reductions to date are 595,952.0 lbs/yr of TN and 157,540.8 lbs/yr of TP, which are greater than the required reductions in the first BMAP iteration of 316,024.2 lbs/yr of TN and 121,250 lbs/yr of TP. These reductions, in addition to those shown as completed in the BMAP, are 56.6% of the required TN reductions and 39.0% of the required TP reductions of the Phase I BMAP.

The progress towards the TMDL TN and TP load reductions in the St. Lucie River and Estuary Basin are shown in Figure 2 and Figure 3, respectively. The first bar in these figures shows the baseline load for stormwater runoff. The second bar shows the current estimated loading with the implementation of projects. The third bar shows the total allocation for stormwater runoff to meet the TMDLs. The line shows the target for the first BMAP iteration. (DRAFT REPORT)

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So the St Lucie River BMAP is making “pretty good” progress according to the report. I imagine there is  still a lot to improve. It is a process. We are learning….

These programs are definitely a major “participatory decision-making process”  to be commended. I cannot imagine what it takes to coordinate this effort! It would be a nightmare actually. I rather just reroute the canals!

In closing we must note the Indian River Lagoon of which the St Lucie River is a tributary, has a BMAP, but it is for the central and northern lagoon not the southern lagoon where we are in Martin County. I don’t quite understand this. The river does not seem healthy in this area either.

Maybe one day soon the southern IRL will soon have its own BMAP too? A very complex process for two very sick rivers…A process we should all try to understand and help with too.(DEP BMAPS http://www.dep.state.fl.us/Water/watersheds/bmap.htm)

Florida BMAPs DEP.
Florida BMAPs DEP.
Close up
Close up
List of Florida's impaired water bodies and BMAPS.
List of Florida’s impaired water bodies and BMAPS.

*According to the Department of Environmental Protection: a BMAP is a “blueprint” for restoring impaired waters by reducing pollutant loadings to meet the allowable loadings established in a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). It represents a comprehensive set of strategies–permit limits on wastewater facilities, urban and agricultural best management practices, conservation programs, financial assistance and revenue generating activities, etc.–designed to implement the pollutant reductions established by the TMDL. These broad-based plans are developed with local stakeholders–they rely on local input and local commitment–and they are adopted by Secretarial Order to be enforceable.

*Also for the first five years of the fifteen years the BMAP will take place, the stakeholders are getting extra credit because their SLR BMAP” credit includes storm water management strategies and projects that have been put in place since 2000 or will be implemented during the first five years of implementation June 2013-June 2018).”

SLR SFWMD (http://www.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/xweb%20protecting%20and%20restoring/stlucie#data)

*Thank you to former commissioner Tom Baush of Sewall’s Point who shared this report with me.

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I am adding a comment from Dr Gary Goforth to this blog post at 1:00 PM 8-13-15. I think his professional insights are helpful even to the lay person; he did attend the BMAP meeting yesterday; and he is a regular contributor to my blog. Thank you Gary. (http://garygoforth.net)

3-18-15 at 7:17 AM Gary Goforth commented on 2015 Annual Update, St Lucie River and Estuary Basin Management Action Plan, SLR/IRL

Inside cover of the Draft 2015 SLR BMAP Report. I …

Hi Jacqui

I am very familiar with the TMDLs and BMAP for the St. Lucie River Basin. I attended the BMAP progress meeting yesterday along with Mark Perry and others. There were nice updates by Diane Hughes and her counterpart in St Lucie County on construction and operation of what should be good, effective projects for reducing nutrient loads to the St. Lucie River and Estuary. It is clear that local communities and others are working hard to reduce nutrient loading.

However that’s where the good news ended.

While the progress report leads the public to believe that great strides have been made by landowners in cleaning up their stormwater pollution, unfortunately the BMAP process and progress reporting is seriously flawed and present an overly optimistic assessment of the region’s water quality, and the progress made towards achieving the desired endpoint. I expressed this opinion to FDEP, FDACS and SFWMD staff at the meeting yesterday, with the following support:

1. The nutrient loading data in the progress report are not real (measured data), rather they are a combination of potential load reduction estimates superimposed on simulated data. No where in the progress report will you find the observed amount of nitrogen or phosphorus that actually entered the St. Lucie River and Estuary during 2015. As was discussed at the meeting, FDEP does not plan to bring real data into the progress reports until 2017.

a. The real data show a very different story, for example, phosphorus loading from the C-44 Basin (excluding Lake releases) has increased more than 50% from the 1996-2005 Base Period.

b. Until real data are shown, there can be no assessment of how well the BMAP program is working, and no mid-stream corrections will be made.

c. The majority of load reductions are attributed to agricultural land uses as a result of BMPs. However, FDACS and FDEP staff acknowledged that they have not yet documented the actual effectiveness of any ag BMP in the region – they repeatedly stated they were short on staff.

2. The progress report (and the BMAP) ignores the nutrient and sediment load from Lake Okeechobee discharges. In the 2015 reporting period, the assessment ignores over 400,000 pounds of nitrogen and 47,000 pounds of phosphorus that entered the River and Estuary from the Lake. And don’t expect future reports to reflect this loading – the BMAP process will continue to ignore loading from Lake Okeechobee, assuming instead that the Lake will achieve its own TMDL (another sad subject altogether).

3. The nutrient loads for the BMAP base period are not the actual loads that occurred in each of the basins – instead it is a simulated load that differs up to 25 percent from the observed load. Without an accurate base period load, true progress cannot be assessed.

I could go on for a while; I made many more suggestions how to improve the process and will follow up with written comments to the FDEP.

Gary

“Tough Love” and Impediments to Implementation of the IRL Basin Management Action Plans, SLR/IRL

Basin Management Action Plans, Florida. TCRPC doc. 2015.
Basin Management Action Plans, Florida. TCRPC doc. 2015.

You have probably heard it a hundred times: “BMAP, Basin Management Action Plan..” or “TMDLs….Total Maximum Daily Loads….”

That sounds kind of odd doesn’t it? Load of what?”

Phosphorus and nitrogen going into the water that is…

Florida Department of Environmental Protection:(http://www.dep.state.fl.us/central/Home/Watershed/BMAP.htm)

Anyway, today I will once again to try to boil-down some fancy government terms to help you understand what our state is doing to try to fix the “impaired waters of the state…” such as our St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon. I will focus on a report about “what is impeding its progress.” This report will be discussed at the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council on 6-19-15.

“Impediments to Implementation of the Indian River Lagoon Basin Management Action Plans” by the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council and the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council was prepared with technical assistance from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, 5-27-15.

For a full copy of this report please contact Mr Michael Busha at mbusha@tcrpc.org

Here we go:

The Background section of the report  notes:” …In the past century the IRL has been affected by many activities including the creation of inlets, dredging of navigational channels, impoundment of mangroves for mosquito control, shoreline development, and alteration of the watershed basins draining into the lagoon. Today water quality the single most important issue impacting the lagoon. The decline in water quality is attributed to an increase in nutrient input, sedimentation, turbidity, atmospheric deposition, nutrient releases from legacy muck deposits, and changes in salinity due to freshwater discharges. The issue is complex because the impact comes from a variety of sources, including non point sources of stromwater entering the lagoon through major canals systems as well as through smaller creeks, tributaries, and individual outfall structures.”

State BMAP 2015. TCRPC
State BMAP 2015. TCRPC

Here I must state something not noted in the report in case you don’t know:  Not until a water body is declared as “impaired” does it get the help of  the state creating a Basin Management Action Plan through the implementation of TMDLs—-or the determination of Total Maximum Daily Loads.

I wrote something in the past about  this and likened a “total maximum daily load”  to a “maximum daily allowance of cigarettes that one is allowed to smoke before one gets cancer…..a “total daily maximum daily load” of phosphorus and or nitrogen is what the government is talking about with the river. How much it can take before it gets sick/impaired.

Phosphorus and nitrogen come from different sources; I always note fertilizer as an example because it is written right there on the bag, and fertilizer from farming and people’s yards is a huge source of the LOAD of phosphorus and nitrogen going into our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon….

Right now all our water bodies get too much nutrient pollution (too many cigarettes) so now the government is figuring out how to cut back slowly over time….the problem is the river may die while we are “trying to kick the habit…”

Now, back to the official document: There are currently 20 adopted BMAPs in Florida. Portions of the IRL are addressed by four of the adopted BMAPs. They are North IRL; Banana River: Central IRL; St Lucie River and Estuary.

IRL BMAPs 2015.
IRL BMAPs 2015.

Each plan varies but has the same goal: to lessen nutrient pollution, to improve water quality, and whether the plan says it or not, to increase sea grasses….The plans outline specific project that are expected to provide load reductions of phosphorus and nitrogen. All plans are implemented in 5 year periods spread out over 15 years. Plans can be many things, turning dirt, holding water, implementing best management practices not to allow runoff….

Polluted runoff causes impairment…

The St Lucie River was determined as “impaired” in 2002. (Report at end of blog.)

The SLR/IRL BMAP was adopted in 2013. So to figure out how this plan will work….in 2018 the state will have a goal for load reduction; then again in 2023; and then again in 2028. Each time period the load numbers should be going down, and if they are not, cities, counties,  and other stakeholders, like agriculture, and other polluters, should be in trouble if there is not a reduction in loads. DEP oversees all of this.

Kind of confusing isn’t it? And I am not sure my dates are correct, but hopefully you get the idea….Perfect science? No. But at least there is a plan…I just wish they’d get us off the cigarettes faster. Like make us go “cold turkey.”

The report list the following impediments the BMAPs.

1. Inadequate Funding….

2. Nutrient Load from Muck not Addressed. (Muck holds nutrients so when it get stirred up from winds or storms it is “re-released…” (Second hand smoke….)

3. Nutrient Loads from ground water are not being addressed. (Groundwater comes up from the ground as tides rise and bring nutrients like from septic tanks into the river and lagoon—gross.)

4. No Incentive for Stormwater Management. I am not really sure about this one but obviously it has to do with incentives; seems like the government could help create incentives if we would reward clean water….(inventions, lessen people’s taxes if they achieve clean water “loads.”) Hey doesn’t the Dept of Economic Opportunity do stuff like this?

5. Incomplete water quality data. Collecting data is expensive. Maybe high school kids could get credit if they did it…..and let’s face it: WE KNOW the WATER’S DIRTY. Focus on the source and stop acting like we don’t know where all this nutrient pollution is coming from!

6. Inadequate Water Quality Monitoring. Same thing as above. Figure it out. Guess….

7.  Unequal treatment of public and private entities, agriculture, and water control. This is complicated, but basically in my opinion the Right to Farm Act puts less stringent standards on agriculture to prove they are lessening loads than on municipalities and counties. BMPs vs NPDS (Best Management Practices vs. National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System…)This is a huge problem. Ag has to enter the 21st century. All ag. Best Management Practices are “voluntary.” This is not enough!

8. Onerous conditions attached to BMAP projects

9. Inadequate technology to meet TMDL goals

10. BMAPS are based on flawed TMDLs

11. Trends in nutrient loading from atmosphere not being considered. (Phosphorus and nitrogen come in from rains and winds from as far away as the Europe, Africa and other nations polluting too…

12. Legacy Loading in Lake Okeechobee. THIS IS MY FAVORITE. How can surrounding governments and stakeholders be held responsible for lowering loads when periodic releases from Lake O through the C-44 canal pollute the water as fast as we can clean it up? For instance this year the ACOE and SFWMD have released  into the estuary since January 16th and just stopped three weeks ago…MAJOR SECOND HAND SMOKE!!!!!!

13. Lack of Operations Monitoring

14. Load allocation process is not consistent between BMAPs. This has to do with  undeveloped land being removed from the maps as nutrient reductions are not required on those lands…

There is a lot more to the report but that is a summary.

This whole process of BMAPS and TMDLs is confusing, but I wanted to at least give you an idea of the report. We must remember not to be too negative for the state workers implementing the BMAP.  Negativity will not inspire more work, it will inspire less. Also it is not their fault. Fault lies in leadership.

Rather that telling businesses, citizens, and most of all agriculture to QUIT SMOKING, leadership —-and this is going back many years and includes Democrats and Republicans—is  basically paying for our rehab over a period of 15 to 35 years.

Florida’s waters do not have time for rehab. They must be fixed today. Tough love is really the only answer.

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DEP Declaration of “Impairment” St Lucie River, 2002: (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/southeast/ecosum/ecosums/SLE_Impairment_Narrative_ver_3.7.pdf)

2nd Graders Teach Me About the Kissimmee River, Lake O’s Phosphorus and Nitrogen, How to Save the SLR/IRL

Mrs Jacobsen and her students present the Kissimmee river model. (Photo  JRL, 4-22-15.)
Mrs Jacobsen and her students present the Kissimmee River- Lake Okeechobee model. (Photo JTL, 4-22-15.)
River Kidz is empowering for students!
River Kidz is empowering for students!

It was Earth Day yesterday, and my eyes filled with tears as I walked into the  Citrus Grove Elementary School classroom. I had been invited to see the graduation of River Kidz for Mrs Jacobson’s second grade class. Once I opened the door, the students were waiting and some took me by the hand sitting me down; they were so exited to show me what they had been learning, and how they were all working to grow up and save the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.

“This is different.” I thought to myself….”in years past, I would take control of the classroom, but now the kids are taking control of me!”

I watched the classroom dynamics. It was not” top down; ” it worked in both directions: Mrs Jacobsen assisting her students while they in turn assisted her— working together.

While the presentation was prepared, one boy excitedly told me about how the class had built this model of the Kissimmee River to represent what it looked like before it was channelized, “straightened,” by the Army Corp of Engineers between 1960-1971. He also explained “this is one of the things hurting our river…”

model
Model’s sign.
model wide view
Model wide view: floodplain, river, and Lake Okeechobee…
glass of water and green glitter
Glass of water and green glitter representing phosphorus and nitrogen from fertilizer and other runoff.
glitter representing phosphorus and nitrogen
Glitter representing phosphorus and nitrogen ends up in Lake O but not as mush as it the tube were straight!

He shared that the board painted green was the floodplain’s vegetation, and the plastic tube that weaved and oxbowed, like a snake, was the original river;  a cup of water filled with glitter represented nitrogen and phosphorus-what feeds toxic algae blooms in our rivers. This water-glitter concoction would be poured through the tube, (the river) and the extra “nutrient” or fertilizer, would end up in a plastic brown container at the bottom of the tube representing Lake Okeechobee.

We stared with great amazement and observed how because of the oxbows, most of the glitter, was caught in the winding shape, and just a little ended up running through the tube. Students discussed how if the tube were straight, of course all of the green glitter-water would “just shoot down into Lake Okeechobee.”

“This is why the ACOE is fixing some of the river “oxbowey” again…Making the river strait was a bad idea….” 🙂

More complex that this? Of course. But does this help a second grader start to “get it?”

Kissimmee River Story: (http://www.ces.fau.edu/riverwoods/kissimmee.php)

What a visual! How awesome! I was more than impressed…

As the morning went on, we there was a presentation from the “Dolphin Lady,” Nic  Mader, and the students showed their artwork, letters to Congressman Murphy, and chart on the white board counting down days left for the Florida Legislature to purchase land south of the lake.

Hoy Cow! —–No, Holy River!

The River Kidz program is in Martin County schools and with the help of great teachers and wonderful students, it’s creating excitement, understanding, empowerment, and responsibility for a better water future.  A future for which we can all be proud…

Writing Congressman Murphy fulfills a state standard.
Writing Congressman Murphy fulfills  state standards.
One of the lethers to Congressman Murphy.
One of the letters to Congressman Murphy.
Sign on board wit land purchase south of the lake deadline for the state legislature, 2015.
Sign on board with land purchase south of the lake deadline for the state legislature, 2015.
Stop Killing Our Lagoon art work.
Stop Killing Our Lagoon art work.
Save the Animals art work.
Save the Animals art work.
River Kidz Second Ed. Workbook.
River Kidz Second Ed. Workbook. Teachers use to teach as fits their class.

Electronic copy: “River Kidz 2nd Ed. Workbook:” (http://riverscoalition.org/riverkidz/riverkidz-workbooks/)

 

Mission Statement River Kidz
Mission Statement River Kidz
Mrs Jacobson's students all graduated receiving a certificate from the River Kidz program from the back of the book. They were very proud and will be River Kidz for the entire lives.
Mrs Jacobson’s students all graduated receiving a certificate from the River Kidz program from the back of the book. They were very proud and will be River Kidz for their entire lives.

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River Kidz is a division of the Rivers Coalition: (http://riverscoalition.org)

Harmful Algal Blooms, (HABs), St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

August 24, 2014 photograph of blue-green algae bloom east of S-308, Lake Okeechobee/C-44 Canal area/ (Photo courtesy of Paul Shindel.
August 24, 2014 photograph of blue-green algae bloom east of S-308, Lake Okeechobee/C-44 Canal area. (Photo courtesy of Paul Shindel.

Does the above photo make your stomach turn? What is it?

It is a HAB or Harmful Algae Bloom, taken four days ago, right here in Martin County.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, “over the past century, alterations of land use and acceleration in the rate of cultural eutrophication have led to widespread increases in harmful algal blooms in Florida, including toxin-producing species.”

First,  what is “eutrophication” and why is it “cultural”?

Eutrophication is is when a body of water becomes enriched in dissolved nutrients (such as synthetic phosphorus and nitrogen from fertilizer) that stimulate the growth of aquatic plant life usually resulting in the depletion of dissolved oxygen and a “bloom.” These algae blooms can be toxic.

“Cultural means “created by humans.”

So what are we doing about this especially since “we” caused it?

In 1997 the Florida Department of Environmental Protection formed a Task Force on Harmful Algae Blooms and in 1999 they produced a scientific document, a White Paper: HARMFUL ALGAE BLOOMS, (http://myfwc.com/media/202228/HAB_whitepaper2006_UPDATE.pdfIt is extensive. 

In my opinion, as usual, our state governors and legislatures did not pay significant attention to these studies, and failed to implement policies that would help overcome this crisis issue. How many of them even read the report?

Case in point, recently, it was the local governments and local residents of the towns, cities and counties along the west and east coasts of Florida who advocated and achieved strong fertilizer ordinances not allowing fertilizer use during the rainy season while the state continues to fight and support less restrictive rules.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife website there are four ongoing studies regarding HABs in Florida: (http://myfwc.com/research/redtide/research/scientific-products/)

1. Time-Series Sampling in Pinellas and Manatee Counties) Researchers conduct detailed sampling to better understand when, where and under what conditions harmful algal blooms form.

2. Tampa Bay Monitoring Program Researchers monitor 10 sites in Old Tampa Bay for the presence of, or conditions favorable to, harmful algal blooms.

3. Red Tide Offshore Monitoring Program
Encouraging  people to learn about the program and learn how to become volunteers, collecting water samples around the state to help scientists monitor the Florida red tide.

4. Monitoring Toxic Algae Species and Shellfish in the Indian River Lagoon (2002-present)
Periodic testing of water samples and clams provides an early warning of bloom occurrences and shellfish toxicity and minimizes the risk of human exposure to saxitoxins.

Those are great present HAB programs, so why don’t we hear more about them and why don’t they include Lake Okeechobee, obviously the toxic algae is there as well…

Here at home, when the gates of S-308 open from Lake Okeechobee to the C-44 canal that is connected to the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, the algae in the photo above goes directly into the our river system.

Google Earth image of S-308, structure at Lake Okeechobee that opens to the C-44 canal where above photo was taken. This area always has some spill through the gates. Look at the agriculture right up to the lake...
Google Earth image of S-308, structure at Lake Okeechobee that opens to the C-44 canal where above photo was taken. This area always has some spill through the gates. Note the agriculture lands right up to the C-44 canal…

It is 2014. The state has been studying this problem since 1997. They do not have all the answers but we do know by now that HABs are fed by cultural eutrophication due to clearing of land that can no longer clean water on its way to estuaries, rivers and lakes; building of towns and cities that create concrete and asphalt barriers to water reabsorption;  fertilizer and other runoff;  oil/chemicals from thousands of miles of highway and roads;  septic effluent; canals and redirection of water such as Lake Okeechobee to the St Lucie and Caloosahatchee; agriculture’s heavy destruction of native lands and the fertilizer and chemical runoff associated with their business, unregulated golf courses fertilizer run off and re-use of high nutrient water resources….it’s endless.

It is said that “ignorance is bliss,” well the state of Florida doesn’t have that luxury anymore.

Blue Green Algae is as ancient as the beginnings of our planet...

Blue Green Algae. (Public photo.)

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USDA HABs: (http://www.reeis.usda.gov/web/crisprojectpages/0209332-harmful-algal-blooms.html)

FWC HABs: (http://myfwc.com/research/redtide/general/harmful-algal-bloom/)