Tag Archives: preservation

Expanding My Environmental Education of Lake Worth Lagoon!

Lake Worth Lagoon Tour with ERM Director, Deborah Drum

December 14th, 2020. What a beautiful day!

Deborah Drum, Director of Palm Beach County’s Environmental Resource Management Department, ERM, invited me in my capacity as a SFWMD Governing Board member, to tour the Lake Worth Lagoon. I first met “Deb” when she was the ecosystems manager for Martin County. Today she oversees a much larger piece of the water pie. Palm Beach is Florida’s third largest county and has over 1.4 million people! Martin County? Ranking, I’m unsure, but we have just over 161,000 people…

After a quick Covid greeting elbow-bump at Bryant Park, of course we abided by social distancing rules, Deb introduced me to five of her 140 person staff. They were delightful and they informed me of the mission of ERM:  to establish, maintain, and implement programs for the protection, preservation, and enhancement of the land and water resources of Palm Beach County. 

This philosophy really translates into building restoration projects and is a shift from what I’m used to for the St Lucie River where the focus is more on managing and advocating against the ongoing crisis of poor water quality. Today I will give an overview of some of the hundreds of projects that have been constructed costing millions of dollars.  This is a complicated generational feat and today occurs with the coordination of Palm Beach County’s Deb Drum and Staff, and the complex help of hundreds of hands-on volunteers and members of the business community. See “mission” link above for more information on the history of this program. 

So how does it work in Palm Beach County? 

FOCUS ON PROJECTS 

Since the 1990s, the Palm Beach County environmental resources department has implemented hundreds of projects. In order to achieve this, relationships have been forged with the business and development community that in turn, indirectly, provide millions of dollars in materials for creating habit and other environmental projects in Palm Beach County. 

As an example, Jennifer, Baez, Environmental Program Supervisor explained that it is more cost effective for developers to share such materials for island or reef building, than to dispose of such items. Wow. Developers helping the environment? Now that’s a paradigm shift for my thinking!

-Jennifer Baez 

~This cooperation has been forged over decades and is now ingrained in Palm Beach County culture.

For example, if FDOT is building a new bridge, they save and coordinate with the county for the best pieces of throw-away cement to be used for an inland or offshore reef. Or say a new marina is being built, or expanded, by Rybovich Super Yacht Marina, and there is tons of sand and rock that have been excavated- well rather than throw it away or haul it to the dump, the business contacts the county and this material is put to work for the environment! I guess one could say it is “give and take.” In any case, for Palm Beach County this model is working. 

Once riding along the beautiful lagoon in the boat, I was fascinated to listen as Deb’s’ staff, TJ Steinhoff, Environmental Technician; Jennifer Baez, Environmental Program Supervisor; Jeremy McByran, Palm Beach County Water Resource Manager; and Mathew Mitchell, Environmental Manager as they told me the story of their years of building Lake Worth Lagoon creations and the measurable benefit to fish, birds and wildlife.

Amazing! 

“It must be fun to know you are doing something positive every day. And then seeing those results.” I noted.

All four agreed. They love working for Deb and for Palm Beach County. But let me be clear, just because the focus is one projects,  this does not mean there are no water quality issues…  

-Bryant Park, Lake Worth Lagoon

-Staff ready for boat tour covered for Covid-19: TJ Steinhoff, Environmental Technician; Jennifer Baez, Environmental Program Supervisor; Jeremy McByran, Palm Beach County Water Resource Manager; and Mathew Mitchell, Environmental Manager

-Rip-rap in from of a hardened shoreline, the beginnings of a Living Seawall project at Bryant Park

-A look at the water of the Lake Worth Lagoon on December 14, 2020 

-The 5 photos below are of large human-created Islands, restoration projects, in the Lake Worth Lagoon.

Below: Jennifer Baez, PBC Environmental Project Supervisor points to one of the many mangrove, native vegetation, sand islands built on top of “dead holes.” These areas were once devoid of life because they are so deep,  and were the unintended consequences of dredge and fill in the Lake Worth Lagoon that took place many decades before environmental laws regulated such activities.  

Jennifer explained how ERM identifies these deep holes, carefully works around muck, and then fills the depression with sand -in turn forming  an island-  that creates wildlife habit, seagrass beds, and eventually mangrove forests. She says one very obvious benefit of theses projects has been that Palm Beach County now has the most southerly nesting/foraging area of American Oyster Catchers. 

In springtime, the bright orange, black and white birds with their fluffy, adorable chicks are attracted to these human made islands near Bryant Park.

Learn about ERM Project on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/PBCERM/

Deb Drum, Director ERM and yes she is smiling under that mask! 🙂 -Showing off more project islands! 

-The Southern Boulvard Bridge rebuild (below) is an example of materials used for a reef in Lake Worth Lagoon as seen on depth finder screen of Mathew Mitchell below. Mathew said he is very proud to be part of this project and explained that through technology and hands on visits he is documenting how the reef is improving fish habitat.

ISSUES OF WATER QUALITY 

As I mentioned, just because Palm Beach County primarily focuses on restoration, doesn’t mean that the Lake Worth Lagoon doesn’t have water issues. Before the late 1800s, Lake Worth was a many miles long fresh water lake with no outlet to the ocean. Today there are two inlets and  although the water body is now technically an estuary, salinities can be as high as the ocean due to heavy flushing from its inlets. Also due to fresh water inputs, like the C-51 Canal, salinity can swing up and down.

-The SFWMD measures saqilinties in the LWL 

Lake Worth Lagoon Water Quality issues are most affected by canal, area runoff, and sometimes Lake Okeechobee discharge into the lagoon. The C-51 is the canal of that continually drains unfiltered and untreated into the Lake Worth Lagoon. The C-51 carries contaminants and nutrient pollution from agriculture and urban development into the lake-lagoon-estuary. Deb Drum explained that sediment coming from this canal is extremely problematic causing a muck-layer throughout the lagoon. This impedes seagrass development and is a serious issue that is being addressed. 

Although the Lake Worth Lagoon was not built as am overflow water outlet for the Central and South Florida Plan, like the St Lucie and Calooshahatee were, Lake Okeechobee discharges are sometimes directed its way through the C-51 canal.  This is a controversial issue and of course local advocates of the Lake Worth Lagoon would prefer not to have this excessive polluted fresh water.  

-Jennifer and Deb in front of the C-51 Canal structure opening into Lake Worth Lagoon, note look of water. The C-51 basins are tremendous. All this runoff all ends up in the LWL.

C-51 Canal is the long blue line coming from the west connected to other interior canals. It then runs along Southern Boulvard as in the image below. The curve south occurs around the  Palm Beach International Airport, then turns east discharging into the LWL. Water Quality is being address methodically through Basin Management Action Plans.

KEEP ON RESTORING! 

So in the meantime, Lake Worth Lagoon’s water quality ails, but Palm Beach County keeps restoring…

Below shows a recent island restoration project near Southern Boulvard. This project addresses resiliency by protecting a nearby neighborhood seawall. In time, native plants will grow in and wildlife will arrive. People are allowed on beach area but if OysterCatchers are nesting, the area is taped off by FWF so the birds can nest in peace.

-Jeremy McBryan, Palm Beach County Water Resource Manager. 

Well, I could go on and on but the bottom line is that Palm Beach County is proactive. I am impressed! I learned so much about the mission of ERM and the Lake Worth Lagoon.  I really had no idea about all of the amazing restoration work being done by Palm Beach County.  Now for us all to push the state on Water Quality and to do our own part in our own backyards by avoiding fertilizer and chemicals that run right off into the water. This would actually be a huge start. 

Very impressive Deb! Thank you to you and to your amazing ERM staff! 

~Jacqui TL 

Reflections on Conservation, Preservation, and Education, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Fork of the St Lucie River, 2007.
“Reflection.” North Fork of the St Lucie River, 2007.

My mother tells me that when I was a baby she nursed me in Muir Woods, California. My father was in the United States  Air Force, and the family was living in the area at the time. It was 1964. She has joked, my entire life, that this perhaps is the reason I have always been so adamant about protecting the environment and its creatures.

John Muir was part of America’s early conservation movement. He wrote a collection of stories for “Century Magazine” entitled “Studies in the Sierra.” In 1892 Muir joined the magazine’s editor in creating the Sierra Club, an organization with the mission to protect America’s resources and public parks.

There were others who are also famous in the “conservation movement” of that era such as President Theodore Roosevelt. He is most famous for the establishment of many National Parks; Pelican Island, along the Indian River Lagoon in Sebastian,  established in 1903, was actually our nation’s first “national wildlife refuge.” (http://firstrefuge.org)

President Roosevelt said: “The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem. Unless we solve that problem, it will avail us little to solve all others.”

As the conservation movement moved forward it is said to have split into two modes of thought. The first was to conserve resources for the future and for their use by humans and the second was more to preserve nature for wilderness preservation.

In any case, the foundation of America’s “conservation” movement was established during  this period from approximately 1850 thorough 1920. This movement was bubbling up in Florida as well.

In 1900 Louis F. Dommerich and his wife Clara hosted a gathering of neighbors in Maitland, Florida, just north of Orlando. On this fateful night the group decided to align themselves with other chapters the existing Audubon Society forming Florida Audubon.

In 1900, not only was Florida’s bird population being decimated, by the plume trade and the rage for feathers on ladies hats, the southern part of the state, almost entirely wetland,  was being drained for agriculture and development.

Great egret in the IRL. Photo by John Whiticar, 2014.
Great egret in the IRL. Photo by John Whiticar, 2014.

This drainage focused around Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee River cutting off waters to the Everglades which for thousands of years had formed one of the world’s most important and productive wet lands for birds, fish and hundreds of other species. We, living along the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon, are part of this story.

–You reading this today as people who care about the conservation of our area are the grandchildren of that those 15 people who met in Maitland Florida in 1900…

1850s map of Florida
1850s map of Florida

And for conservationists today, water issues are at the top of this list. Although Florida seems to be full of water, it is not. It is along side with California and other western states in its struggle to conserve and preserve water and its life.

South Florida's southern Everglades, 1950 vs. 2003. (Map courtesy of SFWMD.)
South Florida’s southern Everglades, 1950 vs. 2003. (Map courtesy of SFWMD.)

1.7 billion gallons of water is wasted on average to tide each day through the canals draining Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee River. With only 3% of the water on the planet being “fresh” and an exponentially growing population, this is wasteful beyond comprehension.  Right now, just south of Orlando, the Central Florida Water Initiative, a conglomeration of three state water districts, is organizing because this area of the state has maximized its water use. They need more.

This is no knee jerk reaction and wise water use is completely linked to the success or failure of Florida’s future.  Unless we can learn to conserve, preserve and perhaps most important, educate the children of the future there will not be enough clean water for people and for the wildlife that has a right to these resources as well.

River Kidz teaches about water issues in the state of Florida. (Julia Kelly artist, 2013)
River Kidz teaches about water issues in the state of Florida. (Julia Kelly artist, 2013)

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Conservation in Florida, FWC : (http://www.myfwc.com/Conservation/)

Florida Audubon: (http://fl.audubon.org)

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

Florida Oceanographic: (http://www.floridaocean.org/p/233/advocacy-environment#.VSfHAKbRwl8) These presentation links refer to the 1.7 billion gallons of wasted water through canals and are excellent resources.