Tag Archives: Population

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

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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)

Where Do We Draw the Line on Water? St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

West of the red lines shows the edge of what was once the Everglades in South Florida. Development has crept and continues to creep over this edge. (Photo/map courtesy of Chappy Young,/GCY Surveyors, 2014.)
West of the red line shows the edge of what was once the Everglades in South Florida. Development has crept and continues to creep over this edge. (Photo/map courtesy of Chappy Young,/GCY Inc. Surveyors, 2014.)

We in Martin and St Lucie Counties make up what is referred to as the “Northern Everglades.”  Before the Army Corp of  Engineers, (ACOE), changed the course of Lake Okeechobee’s waters in the 1920s and directed it to go east and west through canals to the estuaries, Lake Okeechobee’s water would slowly crest over the southern edge of the lake and flow south. For many, myself included, the long term goal of saving our St Lucie/IRL and Caloosahatchee estuaries  includes recreating  a type of “flow way, or floodway south” to Everglades National Park. The parched park needs our water just as Nature intended.

There are many challenges to this scenario but the most visual are the following.

The first is the Everglades Agricultural Area, (EAA), 700,000 acres located just south of the lake; the second is east coast development that has crept in over the years “into the Everglades.”

The red colored blocks south of Lake O. are the EAA-700,000 acres of sugar lands and vegetables. South of the EAA are the water conservation areas.(SFWMD map, 2012.)
The red colored blocks south of Lake O. are the EAA,700,000 acres of sugar lands, vegetables, small historic agricultural communities, and infrastructure. South of the EAA are the water conservation areas in purple and green. (SFWMD map, 2012.)
The red line shows the designated "Everglades." As we can see humankind has filled a lot of it in. (SFWMD map, 2012.)
The red line surrounding Lake O. shows the Everglades wetlands that historically filtered the water before it got to Florida Bay. As we can see humankind has “filled in” a lot of this. (SFWMD map, 2012.)

I have written before about the “seepage barrier” an underground permeable wall  that runs along the east coast to keep the water out of these developed areas through pumps that send the seeping water back inside the Everglades. Crazy. If needed, the EAA also pumps its ground water and surface water off its lands to keep the level as needed for the crops. They are assisted by the SFWMD. This is a historic relationship. It is how our state was “built.”

This satellite photo shows water on lands in 2005. One can see the lands in the EAA are devoid of water. This water has been pumped off the lands into the Water Conservation Areas, sometimes back pumped into the lake, and also stored in other canals. (Captiva Conservation 2005.)
This satellite photo shows in blue the water on lands in 2005. One can see the lands in the EAA just south of the lake are devoid of water. This water has been pumped off the lands into the water conservation areas, sometimes back pumped into the lake, and also stored in other canals. The water would flood the crops if it were on the lands. (2004-2005 SFWMD aerial photography.)

The above photo shows the EAA dry while surrounding lands are wet.

I really do not have an answer of how to build a flow way through all this agriculture, infrastructure, and development as I am not a scientist. But I have not given up the idea. I have faith one day there will not be another choice.

What I confidently can say is that we all know water is valuable, “the new oil.”  Water issues whether they be pollution or the need for water usage in a growing state demand attention and we know with  the future coming we should not build anything else inside those red lines. No port, no windmill farms, no more development, no more agriculture.

FWC map for 2060 projected population growth, state of Florida, 2011.
FWC map for 2060 projected population growth, state of Florida, 2011.

If the the Florida Wildlife Commission’s map is right and Florida’s population in 2060 is around 36 million,  (today it is 19 million), we are going to need more fresh water.  Also if we are to save the northern estuaries and the Everglades so our children have some semblance of what the planet once was, we must redirect more water to go to where it once did, south.

Let’s draw a new line for water. A line that clearly shows we know its value not just to agriculture and development, but to the environment, and the children of the future. 

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1000 Friends of Florida 2060 Population: (http://archive.tallahassee.com/assets/pdf/CD52924126.PDF)
Northern Everglades DEP: (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/everglades/neepp.htm)
SFWMD/Natural Systems Model: NSM-4.5 (http://www.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/xrepository/sfwmd_repository_pdf/nsm45.pdf)