First of all, let’s recognize that we are stressed out enough social distancing due to the coronavirus. Nonetheless, for our waters, we must pay attention on every front. Right now, the St Lucie River and nearshore reefs are absolutely beautiful, and there is not a threat from Lake Okeechobee or area canals as it is not raining very much. Lake Okeechobee is at 11.85 feet NVGD, therefore, the chances of discharges into the St Lucie River are basically none. If another Hurricane Dorian comes this summer, that could be a different story.
We know our waters suffer from nutrient pollution overdose. Thankfully the State Legislature under the leadership of Governor DeSantis is now paying attention. It will take some time for the bills passed this past legislative session to bear fruit and some will need to be expanded, but when it comes to our waters we are in a better position politically this year and last year than in recent years.
Nonetheless, we must continue our advocacy and continue to document.
The above Jacksonville Army Corp of Engineers map distributed during the March 31, 2020 Periodic Scientist Call shows how much water is going where from Lake Okeechobee. One can see that water for agricultural irrigation is being sent east into the C-44 Canal via S-308; at 191 cubic feet per second. This is fine, and I hope all the water users get the water they need, but algae blooms in our waters is a concern for me.
So to get tho the point, today I share my husband, Ed Lippisch and friend, Scott Kuhns’ flight photos taken today, April 2, 2020 around 11:00am. The aerials show the beginning of an algae bloom in Lake Okeechobee near the S-308 structure at Port Mayaca (Ed said it appeared much brighter than in the photos) as well as clearly in the C-44 Canal near the FPL retention pond and its structure S-153.
Continuing to fly east, there appears to be no algae at S-80, St Lucie Locks and Dam further down the C-44. Keep in mind, the water that is going into the C-44 canal via S-308 at Lake O, Port Mayaca is not going east through S-80 but being used before it gets that far for water supply in the western part of the almost 30 mile C-44 canal.
~Confusing, I know! The C-44 is long and has multiple abilities.
Here are the aerials, as long as possible, we will continue to document the St Lucie River and Lake Okeechobee.
BELOW: LOOKING EAST OVER LAKE OKEECHOBEE, FPL COOLING POND VISIBLE
BELOW: FAINT GREEN ALGAE CAN BE SEEN NORTH OF S-308 ALONG SHORELINE OF LAKE OKEECHOBEE FROM 2000 FEET.
ALGE NORTH OF S-308 and RIM CANAL LAKE O
BELOW: ENTRANCE OF S-308 AT LAKE O GOING INTO C-44 CANAL
BELOW: S-80, St Lucie Locks and Dam, further east along the C-44 Canal, no algae visible
“The throat of our river was cut by the canals.” ~Ernest Lyons 1905-1990
Today, I begin a series of blog posts under the title: “Destruction by the Numbers,” based on new information my brother Todd has added to his website: http://eyeonlakeo.com.
The first slide we will study is calculated under Historical Discharge Graphs for “S-80, Calendar Year 2010 to 2019.” S-80 is the Army Corp of Engineers’ structure located at the C-44 Canal that discharges water to the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon from two sources. First, from the basin surrounding the C-44 Canal; and second, through S-308 at Lake Okeechobee.
Todd’s chart allows us to isolate the most recent decade, 2010-2019, and see that the highest discharging year during this time was 2016 at 847,773 acre feet. 2016 was by far the worst year in recorded history for cyanobacteria blooms being discharged from Lake Okeechobee and spreading throughout the river system. There was such massive blue-green algae build-up at Bathtub Beach that the waves and shoreline were completely green.
Don’t be intimidated by the left axis’ measurement of acre feet. Acre Feet is easy to calculate as it means exactly what it says. The acreage noted, in this instance, 847,773 acres, would be covered by one foot of water.
For reference, I will use the Everglades Agricultural Area, (EAA), located underneath Lake Okeechobee that we talk about all the time. This farmed area, mostly sugarcane, is 700,000 acres. So 847,773 acre feet of water —dumped into the St Lucie River from S-80, in 2016 –would cover the entire EAA, and more, by one foot of water!
~The map below shows the EAA in a salmon color.
Back to the chart. The next worst year, following 2016, was infamous 2013, the year that became known as the “Lost Summer,” and really started the river’s revolution at 671,067 acre feet. At one foot deep, the amount of water discharged would just fit inside the boundaries of the 7000,000 acres of the Everglades Agricultural Area. It is interesting to note that 2017, a year not often mentioned, closely followed with 661,000 acre feet.
2018, a horrible water year, fresh in our memories, actually came in fourth at 402,116 acre feet! Obviously timing and temperature are factors too.
~2010, 2015, 2012, 2014, 2019, and 2011 follow. Of course 2019 is not even finished. It will be interesting to see where it ends up.
As we would have guessed, 2016’s toxic algae health hazard was the highest destruction by the numbers year in the past decade. But what we would never have estimated is how much water was discharged to the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon through S-80 in the 1950s and 60s. This number will truly blow your mind. But we’ll save that for the next “Destruction by the Numbers.”
“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.”
On Halloween eve, October 30th 1979, the southwest side of the dike embankment at Florida Power & Light Company’s Martin Plant suddenly, and without warning failed catastrophically.
It was the dead of night and certainly the creatures of the nearby Barley Barber Swamp sensed more than their human masters. No person saw the incident. There were no cameras, no guards, no witnesses. It was the 1970s.
We can imagine, though, even though the final report said “not,” that for months sands had been slipping, eroding underground, perhaps led by connection to the old borrow pits dug for the railroad that came through in the 1920s.
My brother Todd’s latest spectacular time capsule flight takes us through this fateful night that by the time Halloween arrived, derailed a southbound train. The conductor reported the incident to his superiors as a “flash flood.” It was eventually realized that this flash flood was part of something much larger in scope!
Even if you know the story, the numbers are staggering…
As Todd notes, when the dike let loose, 100,000 cfs of water (cubic feet per second) blew into L-65, the canal on the edge of the FPL reservoir, and into the C-44 canal connected to the reservoir at S-53. The biggest numbers we hear these days in cfs is about 5000.
Facing west, a wave surged over the sugarcane fields and overtop US 441, traveling north seven miles in the rim canal. S-308 at Port Mayaca flowed backwards, and 4000 cfs entered Lake Okeechobee.
The finally alerted ACOE maxed S-80 at St Lucie Locks and Dam at 15,800 cfs, (over twice the highest amount of the Lost Summer of 2013 at 5700+/-). Crazy! Todd says the max for S-80 into the St Lucie River is 16,900 cfs. Not too far off were they.
Of course, these peaks would have only been for a few hours, but nonetheless, as is often the case, these kind of numbers mean “instant death for the St Lucie.”
This FPL event traveled much further north than the C-44 canal though; the last paragraph of the SFWMD 1980 report’s “failure section” notes:
“The Rim Canal reached a peak the next day (November 1) at the north end of the basin, 17 miles from the St. Lucie Canal. The flood was contained at this northerly point by the Nubbin Slough Tieback Levee along Canal 59. The maximum area flooded, was about 14,100 acres.”
What a story!
Well, it’s only history, right? But then history has a strange way of repeating itself in one form or another doesn’t it?
TCPalm’s Elliott Jones reported this morning that Stuart has received a whopping 11.30 inches of rain just so far this month! (The average being 7.14.)
Although due to the recent drought, the ACOE/SFWMD are not dumping Lake Okeechobee through Canal C-44, canals C-23, C-24, C-25, and areas along C-44, as well as our own basin, are draining right into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Very little of this water is cleansed before it enters and thus is damaging to the eco system. Next time you see water draining through a grate in a parking lot, think about this. Remember too that before the major canals were constructed the 1900s, the river received less than half the water it gets every time it rains today.
The aerials below were taken 6-13-17 by my husband Ed Lippisch and pilot Dave Stone. It is important to monitor the river all of the time so we can view changes.
“Rain stained” we are; please remember not to fertilize during the rainy season. The birds on Bird Island will appreciate it! (http://befloridian.org)
Canals draining water into SLR/IRL after rain events:
At the chance of sounding like “a sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal,” I would like to share my experience yesterday at the Martin County Fair.
Mind you, for me, the Martin County Fair is as apple pie as a once clean river. Growing up in Martin County the fair was THE event of the year. We waited all year for it to come to town!
It was the one place our parents would set us “free” to run around and visit our friends, go on the ferris wheel and the Zipper!—-Scrunched together in the gravity of middle school, this was about as much fun as could possibly be attained…..I have wonderful memories of the fair.
Most recently, I have gone to the Fair with my nieces, and last night by myself. My husband, Ed, wanted to piddle around at the airport just across the street….Well, yesterday when I walked through the fair’s gate there was a most prominently posted sign that read: “U.S. Sugar.”
This surprised me. This bothered me.
I knew they were a sponsor for the fair but I was taken aback that this was the first sign one would see upon walking into the fairgrounds from the entrance gate. Thousands of parents and children saw that sign right before they had a ton of fun…
I complained to Ed later. “Jacqui are you really surprised?” he asked….”The fair needs sponsorships. U.S. Sugar is marketing…”
Maybe my eyes are not totally opened, but I do find a U.S.Sugar banner prominently displayed at the Martin County Fair odd and ironic.
I find this ironic as at this very moment the gates of S-80 are at “maximum capacity” forcing the polluted waters of the Lake Okeechobee into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. The lands of U.S. Sugar are blocking the flow south to the Everglades.
Often I hear that the fault lies north as those waters are coming from the Kissimmee basin not south of the lake. To me that is like stopping in traffic and blaming a car two miles up the road for the traffic jam.
Last year, U.S. Sugar did not support the purchase of option lands that could have eventually alleviated this problem. I don’t think it is morally right for them to advertise at our fair until they take leadership on this issue…but then…
The idiomatic expression “death by a thousand cuts” has been used by many people in many situations…but the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon is the expression’s poster child…
Idiom: Death of a thousand cuts Idiom Definitions for ‘Death of a thousand cuts’
“If something is suffering the death of a thousand cuts, or death by a thousand cuts, lots of bad things are happening, none of which are fatal in themselves, but which add up to a slow and painful demise.”
The St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon has been dying, has been “being killed” by our local, state, and federal governments since before I was born. Since the 1940s when the 1915 “slice” between Lake Okeechobee and the South Fork of the St Lucie River was deepened, widened and made permanent by the ACOE as requested by a state protecting agriculture and development interests.
Does this make it “right?” —That it has been happening for so long? Does this mean we should have nothing to say about the present very high level discharges killing our estuary? Absolutely not.
As in most instances righting cultural wrongs takes time. It takes many years of pain and realization. And then it takes people rising up for change.—- It takes bravery, determination, and exposure.
For instance, it wasn’t until the first TV stations in the 1960s showed black Americans displaying non-violence in the face of attack dogs and beatings; it wasn’t until a few brave women spoke out publicly and were arrested as displayed in the first newspapers of the day that these hundred year old issues began to change.
For Florida, we are that new issue. Our river is that “new issue.” Without the advent of social media and Go Pros allowing a pilot, like my husband Ed, to attach a camera to his plane and share formerly unseen images with the world, the cuts of Lake Okeechobee and area canal discharges at S-80 would happen again and again and again. But since 2013 images have been shared, social media has ripped through the hearts of people who want something different. Not just here but on the west coast and all across our state. The River Warriors, the Rivers Coalition and thousands of others have stood up. We are primed to do this again but even more effectively. Film it. Share it. Expose it.
The SFWMD chart below, found by my brother Todd, shows the Lake Okeechobee and C-44 area canal releases from Structure-80 displayed from 1955-2015. Dr Gary Goforth has shown us in a blog I wrote in 2013 that in the 1920s the release levels were even higher. We can see the destructive releases have happened many times at horrific levels. They are going down. Now they must stop.
These red lines are the historic destruction that is driving our actions today. Each line a new cut causing a weaker estuary. ——-We are the chosen generation to change this. We are the chosen generation to save the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
Yesterday, after the vocal encouragement of the River Warriors and others our Martin County Commission unanimously voted to send a resolution to Governor Scott asking for a “State of Emergency.”
In my opinion, this means that not some, but every commissioner must support the purchase of land south of Lake Okeechobee. Because the propaganda of “finishing the projects” as the answer— just isn’t going to cut it.
I share a video today that I believe to be my most “insightful” blog post since I began writing in 2013. The video above by my brother, Todd, who is an expert in historic map overlays merged with images from today’s Google Earth, communicates and educates in a manner no one map or document could do independently.
The video’s journey shows exactly where the C-44 canal was connected to the South Fork of the St Lucie River. An historic Hanson Grant map reveals the “Halpatiokee River, meaning “alligator river;” with a basis in multiple Indian languages. Because the St Lucie Inlet was not opened, the forks and river were “fresh,” thus alligators lived there. Then flying over a 1910 plat map of St Lucie Inlet Farms, you will see the South Fork of the St Lucie River mapped out. As the image changes over “time” you will see the construction of the C-44 canal, and how it was built right through the middle of South Fork’s north-western prong. In fact, those prongs today on the northerly side, are “gone” as sections 32 and 33 show. Those lands today are agriculture fields. As the journey continues, in the developed areas of St Lucie Farms you will see a very large lake “disappear” near section 25. I find all of this fascinating and kind of depressing… My brother said it best: “Wealth created at the expense of the environment…” Maybe we could create more wealth today going in the opposite direction?
The canal was built by the Everglades Flood Control District and later the Army Corp of Engineers, at the request of the state of Florida and Stuart Chamber of Commerce head Capt. Stanley Kitching and other “leaders.” (From conversation with historian Sandra Thurlow).
According to the Department of Environmental Protection’s Eco-Summary from 2000, the C-44 canal was begun in 1916 and completed in 1924. The document states:
“Next to the permanent opening of the St Lucie Inlet which changed the St Lucie River from a freshwater river to a brackish estuary, the construction of the C-44 has had the greatest impact on the St Lucie Estuary….Records show people have been complaining since the 1950s and there are numerous problem associated with the C-44 Canal…
UThe article discusses the prevalence of fish lesions due to too much fresh water, sediment smothering benthic communities, seagrass destruction, and the continued heavy nutrient and pesticide loading from agriculture and development in light of a tremendously enlarged basin coupled with massive periodic releases from Lake Okeechobee. (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/southeast/ecosum/ecosums/C-44%20Canal%20.pdf)
The DEP Eco Summary also states: The canal..“was originally designed to enter Manatee Pocket instead of the South Fork of the St Lucie River. ”
IInteresting isn’t it… to ponder what would have been different if the canal had gone through the Manatee Pocket instead? Certainly the St Lucie River would have been spared but the Pocket, near shore reefs, and inlet surrounding perhaps full of even more contaminated silt and high impact nutrients. Best of all the canal would have never been built but that reality we cannot change…or can we?
Most important today is to know where we have come from so we can redirect where we are. Please take a look at the very short video, put your thinking cap on, and let’s get the state, federal and local governments delivering on what they have documented as problematic for Florida’s waters since the 1970s. Only the people will change this problem, not the government.
The past two days, I feel like I have been a guest on the TV series “Storm Chasers,” except I have been running from the storms.
Yesterday, I decided I really needed to go look at Lake Okeechobee myself to see the toxic algae bloom that has been reported through social media, TC Palm, and the internet. –The algae bloom that inspired Senator Negron to ask Col. Dodd of the ACOE to refrain from opening the gates, which they did not do. On Tuesday’s, at 2:00 PM, are the Army Corp of Engineers’ “Periodic Scientist Call for Lake Okeechobee” of which I have participated in for almost three years…
“Perfect,” I thought, “I’ll go to the lake for the call a bit early and take some photos. I will be out in Palm City around that time anyway; it’s really not that far…” The drive is about 20 miles.
In spite of the previous day’s inclement weather, I had not checked the weather closely as I can never figure out how to get radar maps on my phone. Not checking the weather, turned out to be a big mistake.
Around 1:00 PM, as I approached Port Mayaca going west along Highway 76, suddenly grey clouds in the distance converged overhead spilling out over the sky like black oil. Huge bright lightning bolts struck the ground in the direction of the lake, thunder followed almost immediately; rain dumped out of the sky. …”Oh no, not again…” I thought.
The winds screamed across the landscape. Large trucks coming towards me in the opposite direction splashed wakes hitting my car full force. Eventually, I pulled over at the entrance of DuPuis Wildlife Reserve;” the water was rising on the dirt road. Looking at my surroundings, I realized I was next to the Port Mayaca graveyard where thousands of people were buried in a mass grave after perishing in the 1928 hurricane. I turned on the radio, my windshield-wipers whipping back and forth. The unnerving sound of the Emergency Broadcast System blared and a calm computerized voice said: “Tornado warning for western Martin County.” Shaking, I forced my self to try to find radar on my phone. I found a written tornado warning for Indiantown. I was at ground zero.
All alone with the elements, I wondered what possessed me to do such a thing….I closed my eyes…I prayed…
Within thirty minutes the storm had passed. Thankfully it was not my day to die. I shook off my fear, got my self together, and completed my drive to the lake. This is what I found:
The lake seemed oddly calm after such rage. You could hear a pin drop. I looked around…
Storms tend to break up algae blooms, but under the right conditions of heat and over nitrified water (over-fertilized basically), they come back. In my opinion, this toxic algae issue really forces us all, from the public, to city government, to the office of the Governor, to the state legislature, to the President of the Untied States, and Congress, to ask ourselves the most critical of questions.
“Is it legal for a federal agency to knowingly release toxic water into a local community?”
To me this is situation is different than a toxic algae bloom simply forming in a localized body of water. What we are talking about here is toxic algae being purposefully transferred from one body of water to another, by the government no less…This seems wrong. Un-American.
Then of course there is the other issue, flooding south and around the lake. As I experienced yesterday, things happen very fast around this giant lake, this “big waters,” this Lake Okeechobee.
Take a look again at the first photo I show of S-308 from the bridge. This photo gives perspective of how fragile this dike and structure-gate system is. It is like trying to hold back an ocean with a cement wall. There has got to be a better way to keep our families, healthy and safe….
Today I want to share what I consider a huge recent success of the River Movement and our ability to network and work together to protect our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
On August 25th, Jensen Beach activist Jackie Trancynger sent out an email blast featuring a photograph taken by Paul Shidel of an awful looking algae bloom he found while photographing birds at Port Mayaca. Port Mayaca is where structure S-308 is located that allows water from Lake Okeechobee to be released into the C-44 canal to the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
Here’s the photo. You may recall reading about it in one of my previous blogs or seeing it in an email exchange:
So anyway after I saw the photo, I called Jackie Trancynger and got Paul Shidel’s email in order to verify the location of the bloom-certainly appearing to be toxic algae. Paul not only verified the location but provided a map!
On Tuesday, August 26, I participated as I have for almost two years now, in the ACOE Periodic Scientists Call in my capacity as an elected official from the Town of Sewall’s Point at the invitation of Ms Deb Drum, who oversees Martin County’s Ecosystem Restoration & Management Division.
During this call I sent Paul’s photo and map to the ACOE stating concern that if S-308 were opened this possibly toxic algae would head straight into our SRL/IRL.
Then an amazing thing happened..
The ACOE ask the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to test the algae.
Yesterday, Deb Drum from Martin County reported that the testing came back positive as “Microcystis, a toxic blue-green algae.” The county in turn notified the ACOE that the algae exists in that location to document their concern. If the ACOE were to open the locks at S-308, the algae could travel downstream with the water flow into the SLR/IRL. This knowledge could actually make a difference in a decision of the ACOE to open up those structures.
Wow. Thank you Paul!
I have complained before on the ACOE call about toxic algae being released from Lake Okeechobee as the SLR/IRL does not seem to “go toxic” from its local canals, but only when Lake Okeechobee’s waters are unleaded to our shores. Toxic algae has been seen in the area between S-308 and S-80 many times but we need to start documenting this. Documentation is a powerful tool in changing the tide of destruction.
So thank you for your teamwork! Together we can help KEEP THEM CLOSED! The “Gates of Hell” that is…
Subject: Lake Okeechobee, Okeechobee/Glades/Hendry/Palm Beach/Martin Counties: Florida CyanoHAB Tracking Module has received a record update
On August 27, 2014, Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Southeast District staff sampled an algal bloom found in Lake Okeechobee. A single grab sample was collected of surface scum at the Port Myakka Lock (C-44.) Following are the laboratory results for this sample:
Result: Class Toxin potential * The dominant taxon was: Microcystis aeruginosa Class Cyanophyceae yes
Other taxa present: Dolichospermum circinale ** Class Cyanophyceae yes Pseudanabaena sp. Class Cyanophyceae undetermined Eudorina elegans Class Chlorophyceae – Pediastrum simplex Class Chlorophyceae – Glenodinium sp. Class Dinophyceae
* Information based on literature searches and personal communications; information is continually being updated. “Undetermined” refers to specimens for which the lowest practical level of taxonomic identification is genus and some, but not all, species within that genus have the potential to produce toxins or toxin information not available for the identified species but is available for genus level.
The locks are back in the news again. WPTV, “hard working for the river reporter,” Jana Eschbach, broke the story yesterday, that the Army Corp of Engineers did not alert the public that they would be releasing polluted canal, C-44 basin water through the S-80 structure into the St Lucie River. Jana, like most people, feels that the public should be alerted when polluted water will be coming into the estuary in that we swim and fish. She is also concerned the water in the area of Palm City and the Roosevelt Bridge, which has been reported to have high levels of bacteria, will be pushed to the popular Sandbar area.
This can be confusing. Don’t we just care about lake water? Also, if the locks are open, doesn’t that mean the ACOE is releasing Lake Okeechobee water? Not necessarily, and the basin water can be just as damaging to the estuary and the public. So how does releasing basin or lake water work?
There are two structures along the C-44 canal which runs along the side of Highway 76 from the South Fork of the St Lucie River, to Lake Okeechobee: S-308 at the edge of Lake Okeechobee, and S-80, 20 miles or so, east, at the St Lucie Locks and Dam.
S-80 serves duel purposes. First to release water through Lake Okeechobee, but only if S-308, at the lake, is open first, allowing water into the C-44 canal. Then S-80 lets the water pour into the St Lucie River.
Second, S-80 can be opened just to allow water from the C-44 to flow into the St Lucie River, as the C-44 canal is surrounded by a 185 square mile basin, mostly agriculture, that has been directed to flow into the canal when it rains. Agriculture also uses this water in the C-44 canal to water their crops. To make things more confusing, C-44 can “deliver” local basin runoff in both directions: to Lake Okeechobee and to the St Lucie Estuary. The ACOE decides where the water “needs” to go by opening and closing the structures of S-308 and S-80.
It must be noted that the water from the C-44 basin is polluted, as is the water from Lake Okeechobee. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection writes: “…the construction of the C-44 canal has had the greatest impact of the St Lucie Estuary–and nearly all of that impact has been bad, FDEP 2001.) The charts below show how much nitrogen and phosphorus come into the river from the C-44 and other basins. C-44 is the highest. Phosphorus and nitrogen mostly from fertilizer, feed toxic algae blooms in the hot summer months.
Fortunately, there is good news due to the help of our local, state and federal governments. The almost 3 billion dollar “C-44 Storm Water Treatment Area/Reservoir” has received first stage fundings and is under construction in Indiantown. It has been since 2011. This reservoir will hold the release water from the C-44 basin and clean it before it is returned to the St Lucie River. This is a huge positive, although it will not stop the releases from Lake Okeechobee.
An educated public is the best defense against the continued destruction of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Thank you for being part of the solution and hopefully, next time, the ACOE opens any structure for any reason, they will alert the public, because here in Martin and St Lucie counties, we want to know!