With the mid-term election behind us, it’s time to get to work, and along the Indian River Lagoon and St Lucie River that means it’s time to get reconnected to Nature during the cool season before the Algae Monster arrives again.
Last week, as the keynote speaker for the Florida Springs Restoration Summit in Ocala, I had an amazing back to nature experience. On a Silver River Guided Paddle Adventure with Dr Robert Knight leading the way, five manatees swam underneath my kayak!
They looked so beautiful, so graceful, so confident, and so powerful!
I could see them perfectly through the clear water of Silver Springs. During the summit, I learned that only recently the spring’s water magnitude had increased to historic levels ~after aquifer recharge of a very rainy 2017, thanks to Hurricane Irma.
Florida springs suffer from lack of water because the Water Management Districts, at the direction of their leaders, over-permit water extraction for more agriculture and development. Also, nutrient pollution haunts the spring-shed due to nitrate leaching of old septic tanks. When flow is low and nitrate high, benthic algae grows on the once white sand bottom of the springs. Almost all Florida springs deal with this issue.
But on this recent day, the day of my tour, Silver Springs was glistening, and its bottom bursting with eel grass. The manatees munched at their leisure, mothers and calves reflecting a bluish hue underneath the clear, streaming water.
As the manatees swam under my little boat, I felt a joy unknown since childhood. “An ancient herd of elephants just swam under my kayak!” I thought, laughing out loud.
And in this moment of pure inspiration, I recalled an image from home of a starving manatee struggling to eat weeds and grasses along the Intercostal. Of course after years of harsh discharges from Lake Okeechobee and area canals, the sea grass forests are dead.
I brought my mind back to this present gift before me. And told the Silver manatees I would return home inspired to fight for all, and that were were indeed, one Florida water family.
At my request, my mother has been sharing historic real estate photos. Regarding today’s aerials, it seems the perfect time to broach the controversial subject of “septic to sewer.”
When I first saw the photographs of Lighthouse Point, I said “What is that?” I thought the land had been created by fill, but then realized it was natural lands filled and dredged. This practice was very common before the 1970s and happened at various locations throughout Martin County, but was more prevalent in destinations like Ft Lauderdale and Cape Coral. Wherever this land use was completed, early photographs allow us to see how strange, how vulnerable, how naked, the land looks. And we can see its connection, like a sponge, over the surrounding waters…
Let’s take a closer peek at this 1965 photo of Lighthouse Point in the St Lucie River. In 1965, developers had no concerns about nutrient pollution, and every property of course had its own septic tank.
Fortunately, in the 2000s, Martin County did help residents of Lighthouse Point and neighboring Seagate Harbor, convert from septic to sewer, along with other “hot-spot” communities, as documented in this outstanding presentation by former Martin County Ecosystems Manager, Deborah Drum.
But there is more work to do.
As we know, Septic to Sewer is one of those subjects people passionately fight over as we try to understand why our waterways have become so impaired. This was the case in my own hometown of Sewall’s Point.
Famous for the first strong fertilizer ordinance on Florida’s east coast in 2010, a year of my mayorhood, The Commission flipped this environmental streak, and last year, when I was off the commission, following much back and forth and very poor communication, ~in spite of heroic efforts, but a totally exhausted, confused and furious public, decided not to work with Martin County for a partial sewer conversion. The backlash to this is far-reaching.
I agree that most of Sewall’s Point is not dredge and fill, but some is, and with out a doubt, old septic tanks in flood zones along the Indian River Lagoon are not a good idea.
As we all begrudgingly work to lessen nutrient pollution (nitrogen and phosphorus) into our waterways, it is helpful to look backwards as we plan for the future. Thanks mom for sharing your photos; history helps us “see.”
Scientific paper: Earth Sci 2017 estimation of nitrogen load from septic systems
to surface water bodies in St. Lucie River and Estuary Basin, Florida, Ming Ye1 • Huaiwei Sun2,1 • Katie Hallas3: http://people.sc.fsu.edu/~mye/pdf/paper62.pdf
Documenting the discharges, is critical whether by air, on the ground, or from outer space.
The two videos above were taken by me over S-308 at Port Mayaca, the opening from Lake Okeechobee to the St Lucie River, and over S-80 at St Lucie Locks and Dam on Friday, July 20th, 2018. The satellite images below, my brother Todd Thurlow provided, were taken the same day.
It is clear that the blue-green algae/cyanobacteria, covering, at its height, 90% of Lake Okeechobee, has run its course and bloomed. Now, as the “flower falls,” we see what’s left.
As seen in the aerials, and what the satellite images cannot portray, is that the algae is still there just lessened. Flying out over the lake a light green algae film remains over the water, a pastel shadow of its once flourescent self.
The seven aerials at the end of this blog post were taken by my husband, Ed, this afternoon, July 22, 2018 around 4pm. The tremendous green shock is gone, but squiggly lines of nutrient bubbles remain, and blue-green algae visibly lines the eastern shoreline to be sucked into the gates…
Will another gigantic bloom arise? Another flower to replace the dropped blooms of yesterday? Only time shall tell…
One thing is certain. Nutrient pollution (Phosphorus and Nitrogen) is destroying Florida’s waters, and unless non-point pollution, especially fertilizer runoff from the agriculture community, is addressed, faster than Florida’s Basin Management Action Plan requires- pushed out 30 or more years, we are will be living with reoccurring blooms indefinitely.
Timely quote for thought by the late Mr Nathaniel Reed 1933-2018
“…The fact that the Department of Environmental Protection and the Everglades Foundation have at last identified every polluter in the vast Okeechobee headwaters is an astonishing feat. The sheer number of polluters is mind-boggling.
The failure to enforce the possibly unenforceable standard (best management practices) shines through the research as testament to the carelessness of our state governmental agencies about enforcing strict water quality standards within the watershed.
There is not a lake, river nor estuary in Florida that is not adversely impacted by agricultural pollution.
As one of the authors of the 1973 Clean Water Act, I attempted late in the process to include agricultural pollution in the bill, but the major congressional supporters of the pending bill felt that by adding controls on agricultural pollution the bill would fail.
Now, 54 years later, fertilizer and dairy wastes are the main contributors to the pollution of the waters of our nation. Algal blooms are all too common even on the Great Lakes.”
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 email@example.com
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.”
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.
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.
This basically means any number of things, but mostly, that there is too much “nutrient” (phosphorus and nitrogen) in the water. This comes from many sources and all of the sources should be addressed. These nutrients encourage algae blooms, sometimes toxic, destroying seagrasses, water clarity, and other “life.”
So no matter how “good” today’s water quality reports may be, or how good the water looks, or whether the Martin County Health Department reports “acceptable” levels of bacteria in the water, the waters of our area are “impaired.” This is especially true, “under the water” where one really can’t see unless you dive in with a mask and flippers.
The state saw this “impairment” status coming for decades due mostly to Florida’s development boom and the gigantic and historic role of agriculture, but…..
Yes, the key word is “but,” it happened any way…
More recently, on January 16th of 2015, the Army Corp of Engineers (ACOE) started dumping from Lake Okeechobee into the SLR/IRL again. This is early in the year to start dumping and historically this foreshadows a bad summer—-BUT Lake O. was high and the ACOE and South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) like to have 3 to 4 feet of “freeboard” in the lake so if a hurricane comes in summer and the diked lake fills with 3-4 feet of water, the Herbert Hoover Dike doesn’t break. They don’t like the lake to be over 15.5 feet or so. It is “best” if the lake is around 12 feet by summer–BUT they will never tell you that——something to do with “water supply…”
The above chart provided by the SFWMD shows all releases since January into the SLR/IRL. Blue is Lake O. The ACOE stopped for one week starting February 17th so Martin County could complete a bacteria study.
During this time I went up in the plane with my husband; the water looked great in the Crossroads by Sewall’s Point and the St Lucie Inlet as it was an incoming tide and releases had been halted.
One might think: “Oh the water is healthy again!”
Remember, it is not.
Another factor in all of this is—— if you look at the SLR/IRL reports from Florida Oceanographic (http://www.floridaocean.org) over the entire time of the recent releases, measuring salinity; visibility; and dissolved oxygen, the reports are quite good. And they are good, but this does not remove the “impaired status” of the river.
I apologize they are out-of-order below, but I could not achieve better with out great time and effort.
You can click on the images to enlarge the reports. These charts basically show a consistent grading of “B to A” water quality in the SLR/IRL since January 8, 2015—- other than the South Fork which of course is where the water from Lake Okeechobee is coming into the St Lucie River through C-44!
Anyway, to repeat again, one must remember that at all times and in all places right now no matter how pretty or how good a chart looks, our St Lucie River and parts of the Indian River are “impaired.”
We must work to improve the status of our rivers by lessening area freshwater canal runoff; our own “personal pollution” though fertilizer, septic and other stuff we put on our yards and down the sink; from roads/cars–Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) canals are everywhere and have no “cleaning;” and most of all, we must work to one day redirect as much water away from Lake Okeechobee as possible.
The purchase of land in the Everglades Agricultural Area south of the lake is about the only place this can be achieved.
It is all so confusing sometimes, BUT one thing is for sure, the more we learn, the more we can help and inspire others to clean up our rivers!
RECENT HEADLINE: “FUNDING FOR 82 Million in NEW RESEARCH/CAUSES/CONTROL OF ALGAE BLOOMS IN US AND IRL– SPONSORED BY U.S. SENATOR BILL NELSON D-FL”
As much as I am thankful for the politicians and policy makers who have recently gotten monies allotted to fight the “toxic algae in Florida’s waterways,” I am slightly miffed. From what I understand, and have learned over the past years, much of the research to understand these problems has already been accomplished, particularly by the National Research Council.
In 2008, when I was just beginning to really plow in and try to understand why the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon issues were happening and basically at the time being ignored publicly and politically, I was recommended to read “Clean Coastal Water, Understanding and Reducing the Effects of Nutrient Pollution,” published by the National Research Council in 2000.
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is a non-profit organization in the United States. Members serve pro bono as “advisers to the nation on science, engineering, and medicine”. Election to the National Academy is one of the highest honors in U.S. science. The academy was signed into law under the presidency of Abraham Lincoln in 1863. These public documents are available to all and these agencies give presentations to the US House and Senate and have done such on “algae blooms in coastal waters.”
The National Academy of Sciences is part of the National Academies, which also includes:the National Academy of Engineering (NAE); the Institute of Medicine (IOM); and the National Research Council (NRC).
It is an honor to be a member or to do research for a member and nearly 200 members have won nobel prizes. These scientists and their affilliatoins are the “best of the best.”
Locally, Dr Brian LaPoint working in St Lucie County, helped with the publication. He is from Harbor Branch/FAU. Also Dr Margaret Leinen, the Executive Director of Harbor Branch at the time, now of Scripps Oceanography in California, was invited to speak before Congress on the subject.
So, in 2000, the National Research Council’s book Clean Coastal Waters, Understanding and Reducing the Effects of Nutrient Pollution, was published and it is very clear in its studies, and recommendations. I will quote from the executive summary:
“What common thread ties together such seemingly diverse coastal problems as red tides, fish kills, some marine mammal deaths, outbreaks of shellfish poisonings, loss of seagrass habitats, coral reef destruction, and the Gulf of Mexico’s dead zone? Over the past 20 years, scientists, coastal managers, and public decision makers have come to recognize that coastal ecosystems suffer a number of environmental problems that can, at times, be attributed to the introduction of excess nutrients from upstream watersheds…the driving force is the accumulation of nitrogen and phosphorus in fresh water on its way to the sea. For instance, runoff form agricultural land, animal feeding operations, and urban areas, plus discharge from water water treatment plants and atmospheric deposition of compound releases during fossil fuel combustion all add nutrients to fresh water before it reaches the sea.”
On page 34 the writers note:
” Inorganic fertilizer accounts for more than half of the human alteration of the nitrogen cycle. Approximately half of the inorganic nitrogen fertilizer ever used on the planet has been used in the last 15 years… The increased use of commercial fertilizer over the last 50 years has contributed to dramatic increases in per acre crop yields. But it has also brought problems, (e.g., adverse changes in soil properties and offsite environmental problems caused by runoff.)
Later in the book nutrient pollution is recognized as an enormous, complex and difficult issue but the NAS’s advice is to implement policies in a coordinated effort, locally, state and nationally to control nutrient pollution at its sources. Guidance for this is provided in chapter 9 “Source Reduction and Control.”
For me as a Sewall’s Point commissioner, our commission fought and passed a strong fertilizer ordinance in 2010, and since that time many others have as well along the Indian River Lagoon. This is just a start and local governments will have to do more in the future.
NAS states nutrient pollution problems come from “agricultural land, animal feeding operations, and urban areas plus discharge from water water treatment plants and atmospheric deposition of compound releases during fossil fuel combustion all add nutrients to fresh water before it reaches the sea.” We along the coast in cities, etc..qualify as the “urban areas.” And locally that is all we have the jurisdiction to control. The rest, particularly agriculture issues of “best management practices” and more, has to come from the state and federal governments.
So back to Senator Bill Nelson, who I admire very much, and who grew up in the Melbourne area along the IRL, spearheaded a recent bill by the US Senate that will “fund research into the causes and control of large algae blooms.” This is terrific, but guess what? “We” basically already know the causes.
Let’s get some nerve politicians, and use this money to help and demand those who are not making fast enough efforts to lower their output of nitrogen and phosphorus. Let’s break the wall of not being allowed to implements restrictive laws on the agriculture industry that is protected by the “”right to farm act;” and let’s assist them in the funding they need to make these changes and find other ways to grow crops or different crops to grow…
Lets continue dealing, moving and helping dairies and animal operations close to waterbodies; let’s implement even stricter laws on water treatment plants like the one along the Banana River in the Coca Beach area, in the northern central lagoon, where all the Unusual Mortality Events (UME) occurred last year of manatee, dolphin, and pelican deaths, and the majority of the 60% seagrass loss in the IRL since 2009 has occurred.
Atmospheric compounds? Perhaps require /inspire higher emission standards for cars in our Treasure Coast and continue the fight for clean air on a National/Global level through are Congressional representatives. Learn to “make money” for people from this problem rather than limiting people. No easy task…
“Invasion of government,” you may say. “Yes it is.” And I don’t like it either, but at this point in order to to save the SLR/IRL, is their any other way?
If we need the local data, then lets get it, but I do believe we already know where to start and I do believe we already know what to do.