Tag Archives: population growth

Florida’s Population Growth and the Difficulty of Achieving Clean Water, SLR/IRL

Pipe from home along Indian River Drive directly disposing of sewage into IRL. Photo historian Sandra Thurlow. ca 1950s.
A pipe into the Indian River Lagoon from a cottage along the Indian River Drive goes directly into the river disposing of sewage. In our Treasure Coast’s regions’ early days there were no laws prohibiting this. Photo archives of historian Sandra Thurlow. ca late 1950/60s.

It’s been a tough week for river lovers.

It was reported by the Stuart News and others that a gentleman died suddenly after being “stuck by a fish.” He had put in his line in the Indian River Lagoon, near Harbor Branch, in St Lucie County. Just a few days later, the headlines noted the experience of Mr Bruce Osborn whose “knee and leg turned black, swelled up, and became hot to the touch after he dove into the confluence of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Mr Osborn was boating near the Sandbar which is located within sight of the St Lucie Inlet…

Mr Osborn had an open sore….he recovered with prompt, emergency-room, antibiotic-treatment and a good wife.

Today in Stuart New’s “Letters to the Editor” a retired New York sheriff is of the opinion that the news of the fisherman had been “sensationalized” noting that “no autopsy had been performed on the man– who died…..”

Who is right? Who is wrong? Or does “truth” lie somewhere in between?

Who knows…But it is all certainly worth thinking about.

Interestingly enough, in this river or near-ocean story, the culprit would not be a shark or anything scary like that, but rather a microscopic bacteria or virus that cannot even be seen….

Bacteria is everywhere. In soil and in water. On our skin and in our bodies. For humans there is “good” and “bad” bacteria.

How do we know where there “bad” bacteria is in the river?

Canal and basin map SLR/IRL. (Public)
Canal and basin map SLR/IRL. (Public) The basin has been expanded at least 5x its natural size since 1920.

I don’t know, but I do know numbers of bacteria everywhere in water communities are highest in the sediment.  Sediment is the sand, clay and other soil types that build up on the bottom of the river  in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon and all estuaries of the world.

(http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2015/06/14/new-tool-to-monitor-harmful-bacteria-at-beaches/)

Muck from the bottom of the Indian River Lagoon.
Muck from the bottom of the Indian River Lagoon. (Public photo)

In our area, the most recent hundred years of sediment, this “muck,” has been heavily affected by human alteration of the environment, especially by drainage canals, like C-44, the drainage of Lake Okeechobee, C-23, C-24, and C-25,  as well as shoreline development’s tear down of native vegetation along the shoreline. (That can no longer filter runoff.)

Giant, mile-long canals drain mostly agricultural lands from out west. Many if not most of these lands never even drained into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon in the first place. Not by God. Not by Nature. Just by “us” since around 1920.

So now literally thousands of pounds of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, metals, oils from cars and roads, septic effluent…..the list goes on and on….so these pollutants run into our waterways building up in the sediments of the river, —-to be re-suspended with every storm, with every boat that races by……as the sediment builds and flocculates, bacteria grows–especially if it is warm..many fish live on the bottom of the river….

Estuary depiction public photo.
Estuary depiction public photo.

On the positive side, as far as water, many things have changed for the better since my childhood.

During  my lifetime, in the early 60s, sewage was directly dumped into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon from homes and boats….I swam and skied  in this water every weekend….Not many people lived here. As kids, we did not know or notice although we used to make jokes about “logs passing by…”

🙂

And yes, since the 1960s and 70s tremendous improvements in sewage treatment plants, packaging plants, septic systems, “Best Management Practices” for Agriculture to lower runoff, etc…have been made. This is fantastic.

Ag runoff DEP photo.
Ag runoff DEP photo.

But we can never catch up….We are always chasing our tail….Because we keep putting more pollution into the system than we can clean up. Like putting too many fish in a fish tank, and not cleaning your gravel often enough…our relatively closed lagoon system has met its limit…

The chart below just goes to  the year 2000. Florida is now the third most populated state in the nation with over 19 million people. 19 million people’s’ waste….19 million people’s yards, and not just small time farmers anymore, but agribusiness– hundred of thousands of acres of fields and chemicals….a huge portion seeping into our water. Best Management Practices. That’s just not enough…Oh. Let’s not forget what runs down from Orlando….

What’s the truth? The truth is there are too many fish in our fish tank. And we whether we know the cause or not, until we stop draining  so much of our personal and agricultural waste into our waterways, we will continue to “drown in our own filth.”

Population of Florida....chart from Census
Population of Florida….chart from Census

_________________________________________________________________________
New Tool to Monitor Harmful Bacteria on Beaches: (http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2015/06/14/new-tool-to-monitor-harmful-bacteria-at-beaches/)

Estuaries/Closed systems: (http://microbewiki.kenyon.edu/index.php/Estuaries)

This blog post goes into Vibrio V. the bacteria that can kill that has been documented in the IRL by Harbor Branch: (https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2014/11/12/vibrio-vulnificus-flesh-eating-or-not-st-lucie-riverindian-river-lagoon/)

Bacteria: (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bacteria)

Using Water From C-23 for PSL Future Water Supply, McCarthy Ranch, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

McCarty Ranch is located in St Lucie County and will be the future water supply for the City of Port St Lucie.

McCarty Ranch is/was located in St Lucie County and will be the future water supply for the City of Port St Lucie.

The first time I heard about McCarty Ranch was from, at the time, City Manager Greg Orvac. It was 2012 and he invited me up to Port St Lucie to see all the wonderful work they were doing building areas to clean water run off and to learn about how the city was planning for its future water supply.

I was told that the idea of McCarty Ranch was that the city would  build a water treatment plant to withdrawal the polluted agriculture tainted water in the C-23 canal before it gets to the river, hold it, treat it, and use it.

“Wow,” I thought. “This is wild, I have heard of things like this in other areas of the state, but right here at home?”

This is great news about cleaning the filthy C-23 canal water that is one of many canals along with Lake Okeechobee releases killing our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/southeast/ecosum/ecosums/c23.pdfbut there is also a tang of future “water wars” in this scenario as cities jostle for securing their future water supply.

Port St Lucie recently has become the 9th largest city in the state of Florida and has approximately 250,000 residents. By 2060 or so, they expect 400,000 or more. Three years before I was born, in 1961, a handful of residents petitioned the legislature for the fish camp area to become a city…

By looking at the Google map above, one can see that McCarty Ranch is located just above the C-23 canal east of Gatlin Boulevard. The C-23 canal is the “county line” between Martin and St Lucie Counties. I do not really know the details, and I think the city and county are still arguing over details in spite of a front page article in Scripps Newspapers today, but one would think the city will either have to also annex some of the lands below the McCarty piece or just have giant pipes connecting it to the C-23 through a small connected parcel. Either way, I am sure over time it will occur. They will build what they need to remove by South Florida Water Management District, (SFWMD), permit, water from the C-23 canal and use it for their citizens.

You may be thinking, the McCarty name rings a bell because you know or because  I recently wrote a blog about Dan McCarty awhile back. The blog was about how I stumbled upon a grave in Palms Cemetery along Indian River Drive that read: “Governor Daniel McCarty.”

Yes, the ranch belonged to this prominent St Lucie County, former 1800s pineapple, then ranch and citrus family.

If you have the time to listen to the first video link below, there is a fascinating video interview with Mrs Peggy McCarty Monahan, the granddaughter of Charles Tobin McCarty, talking about her father, the brother of Dan, the governor, saying to her when she was a young girl:  “Water is gong to be an issue, water is going to be the most important thing…”

Through these words he was telling her that one day the ranch’s proximity to the City of Port St Lucie would make it ideal for water storage and supply. Many of these old time ranchers preached this theme to their children knowing we had worked so hard to get the water off the land and one day we would be trying to put it back on…

Apparently there are lakes and mined areas on the property for water storage; I am unsure if the original McCarty idea included drawing water from C-23 canal; it very well could be, as C-23 was built in the 50s and 60s and waste tremendous amounts of water to tide in order to drain the surrounding lands for agriculture and development.

C-23  is one of the dirtiest canals dumping into the St Lucie River; it will be good to remove some of the water before it gets to the river but will there ever be a day when it takes too much or Martin County wants that water too?

Sounds far-fetched for sure, but all I know is that stranger things have happened along the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Who would have though Port St Lucie would one day be projected to have over 400,000 people?

Aerial of what was to become the City of Port St Lucie, 1957. (Photo Ruhnke/Thurlow collection, courtesy of Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)
Aerial of what was to become the City of Port St Lucie, 1957. (Photo Ruhnke/Thurlow collection, courtesy of Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)

____________________________________________________________

Interview with Peggy McCarty Monahan and PSL Strategic Plan for Water Supply McCarty Ranch: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ez_K6vFKt6Q)

Port St Lucie Web Page McCarty Ranch: (http://www.cityofpsl.com/parks-recreation/parks/mccarty_ranch.html)

Port St Lucie: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_St._Lucie,_Florida)

“Mueva el agua al sur!” South Florida’s Impacts and Needs, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Color graph showing land use and development possible through drainage and redirection of natural water flow in South Florida by 1953. (SOFIA, Robert Renken team 2000.)
Color graph showing land use and development in South Florida by 1972 made possible by drainage and re-plumbing of Lake Okeechobee waters to the northern estuaries. (SOFIA, Robert Renken team 2000.)

To understand the impacts on the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, it is necessary to look in beyond our boarders.  One of the most telling documents helping to explain why the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon is forced to take the over flow water of Lake Okeechobee (which in some years, since 1923, has been above 2,000,000 acre feet) is a document entitled “Synthesis of the Impacts of 20th Century Water Management Land Use  Practices on Coastal Hydrology of South East Florida,” by Robert Renken and other scientists  for the 2000 Greater Everglades Ecosystem Restoration Conference.

The full document is here: (http://sofia.usgs.gov/geer/2000/posters/use_impact/index.html)

Today I will show parts of this document as “food for thought.”

Chart 1, 1900
Chart 1, 1900.

As one can see above, in 1900, Lake Okeechobee overflowed naturally to the Everglades  to Florida Bay. The green on the eastern coast was a Florida forest.

Chart 2, 1952
Chart 2, 1953.

By 1953, the year after my Thurlow grandparents came to Stuart from Syracuse, New York, the Everglades Agricultural Area, (EAA), just south of the lake had caused the destructive redirection of Lake Okeechobee waters; this water was directed to the northern estuaries, the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon on the east, and to the Calooshatchee on the west.  More agriculture can be seen in dark brown along the eastern coast and south to Homestead. Forests in some areas remain (green). The yellow is urban development. There is some urban development but it is not extensive.

By 1972 when I was 8 years old growing up in Stuart, the EAA had morphed to gigantic proportions and coastal development had moved into the eastern Everglades.
Chart 3, 1972.

By 1972, when I was 8 years old growing up in Stuart, the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) now mostly sugarcane, south of Lake Okeechobee, had morphed to gigantic proportions (dark brown), agriculture had also expanded along the eastern coast, and coastal development (yellow) had grown and moved into the eastern Everglades.  

Chart 4, 1995.
Chart 4, 1995.

By 1995, when I was 31 years old, and teaching English and German at Pensacola High School, the EAA had achieved its 700,000 acreage south of the lake, and although there remained extensive agriculture (dark brown) along the east coast, excessive urban development had taken over many of these lands (yellow.)

Today, there is nothing but more rapid population growth projected for this area. There were 5,564,635 inhabitants of the Miami-Dade metropolitan area as of the 2010 Census; it is the most populous in Florida, and southeastern United States. It is the eighth-most populous area in the entire United States. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miami_metropolitan_area)

For me, this rapid population and agriculture growth is rather depressing, but I will say Ed and I had a great Cuban meal in West Miami at Islas Canarias Restaurant over the  Labor Day weekend…

At the end of the day, this area is going to need more water. With a growing population, documented salt water intrusion, and sinking aquifer level this part of the county will not stand the test of time unless it has more fresh water.  Perhaps they would reconsider re-plumbing the canals making releases to the estuaries?

“Move the Water South” may just start being chanted from Miami…

I hear it now, don’t you?

“Mueva el agua al sur!”

Harbor Branch’s “Our Global Estuary,” World Stage, for the Indian River Lagoon

Intricate islands of central Indian River Lagoon near Vero. (Photo Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch/Ed Lippisch, 2013.)
Intricate islands of the central Indian River Lagoon estuary near Vero. (Photo Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch/Ed Lippisch, 2013.)

Recently, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, located in St Lucie County, (http://www.fau.edu/hboi/) released their “Our Global Estuary,” U.S. National Workshop, Draft Report.

The new program founded in 2013, is incredibly interesting. Harbor Branch, right here in “our own back yard,” has taken a world leadership role in one of the planet’s most important issues, one we all know quite well, the anthropogenic pressures that threaten the ecological benefits of estuaries. Harbor Branch is opening scientific dialogue on these pressures and the evolving technology that may help “save” them, by scientists sharing their experiences on such issues, scientists from all over the world. (http://ourglobalestuary.com)

Dr Megan Davis, Interim Director of Harbor Branch, co-chairing with Dr Antonio Baptista and Dr Margaret Leinen, along with other local and world scientists are leading this project.

It is noted in their publication that “comparing and contrasting estuaries and management  approaches worldwide is essential to capturing and a gaining from lessons learned locally.”

The report also notes and I quote that “estuaries are vital to the planet and their extraordinary productivity that supports life in and around them…Nearly 90% of the Earth’s land surface is connected to the ocean by rivers, with much of the water that drains from lands passing through wetlands and estuaries…cleaning species like mangroves and oysters are being limited by stressors caused by humans, such as water withdrawals, hydropower operation, navigation, and the release of fertilizers, contaminants, and municipal wastes. These pressures are increasing and threatening the balance of the systems.”

As one reads on, the report discusses that population growth and land-use choices not only near the estuaries but also many miles upstream can have a significant effects on estuaries. It is noted that “as farm production methods have evolved to increase yields, more nutrients have made  their way to the water causing algae overgrowth to the point of suppressing seagrass. These pressures can cause disease and death in fish, marine mammals, birds, and other animals.” Land development also impacts estuaries with its runoff and diversion or redirection of water.

The largest estuaries in the world are listed in the report are not in the United States. 1.  Ganges, Indian, Bangladesh, Nepal; 2 .Yangtze (Chang Jiang), China; 3. Indus, Indian, China, Pakistan; 4. Nile, Northeastern Africa; 5. Huang He (Yellow River), China; 6. Huai He, China; 7. Niger, West Africa; 8. Hai, China; 9. Krishna, Indian; and 10. Danube, Central and Eastern Europe.

Personally, I had only heard of half of those places and it made me think about the millions of people living around estuaries all over the world and how much I really don’t know. How small we are comparatively…

Although of course the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon is not one of the largest river basins in the world, we were listed under “Estuaries are  Receiving More Attention” along with Chesapeake Bay. The section notes water quality is compromised in part by excess nutrients and inland freshwater discharges and diversion of water that historically flowed south through the Florida Everglades. It notes seagrass die offs, manatee, pelican and dolphin mortality, septic, agriculture and lawn fertilizer issues…

About half way down the paragraph under Indian River Lagoon, it says: “Public outcry and accompanying media attention achieved critical mass in 2013, helping convince several municipalities to enact more  restrictive fertilizer ordinances and the state legislature to appropriate over 200 million in support for observation and systems remediation for the Lagoon and Everglades.”

Wow.

Once again, like the Dr Seuss children’s book, Horton Hears a Who, where the residents of Whoville together shout WE’RE HERE, WE’RE HERE, finally to be heard, the Treasure Coast is noted for its  efforts, this time in a document that will be shared around the world!

Thank you to Harbor Branch for its continued leadership and efforts in ocean and estuary research and thank you to the people of the Treasure Coast  or “Whoville” who have been heard and continue to help save the Indian River Lagoon.