I am blogging from my phone so I do not know what this post will look like when it’s published. On my street in Sewall’s Point, there is no power. Not for one second will I complain knowing what so many have lost on Florida’s southwest coast and around the state. Hurricane Ian has only just begun to tell his story. We all will be living with his impact for years.
From the bottom of my heart I am wishing those who are suffering comfort. “West Coasters” are indeed our brothers and sisters. In 2013 when the River Movement was rising from the filth and black waters of the St Lucie and Caloosahatchee’s “Lost Summer” we met at the Sugarland Rally in Clewiston. East & West met to bind for the fight against polluting discharges from Lake Okeechobee, and we indeed planted seeds that inspired a youth movement, and changed water policy and politics throughout the state of Florida. Our influence grew with each terrible event- 2013, 2016, 2018. Over time, this east/west partnership became much, much, more, and yes, like every family, we’ve had our challenges, our problems. The ACOE’s LOSOM, the most recent challenge, publicly pitted us against each other for over three years, but we finally found a fair center for ourselves and others.
The past couple of days, I’ve been thinking about SFWMD Chairman, Chauncey Goss who I sit next to every month at our governing board meetings. Chauncey’s family lives on Sanibel and his father worked to create the special low density, native character of the Island. May it be rebuilt in the same nature respecting spirit.
As we all know, all we have can be taken from us, thus all we really have is that within us. May we be good neighbors to those left in Ian’s path, as it is not just them, we are all forever changed.
Billboards, radio ads, and commercials for clean water. They are already on Florida’s west coast and they may be coming to The Treasure Coast. Lee County and generally the west coast of a Florida have been the leaders in this promotion for educating the public to vote and act out of habit for “clean water.”
I smiled a few years ago when I saw a Facebook post of a billboard on the west coast of a lady in a bikini standing in a pool of algae water holding it in her hands, the caption read ” Why won’t Florida’s politicians protect our water?”I believe Earth Justice, a law firm for the environment, and the Sierra Club helped fund the ad along with private monies.
Lately local governments themselves are helping create and fund these ads, like the one above for fertilizer. “Don’t Feed the Monster,” teaches the public not to over fertilize. It was Sanibel and Sarasota on the west coast that started the strong fertilizer ordinances in their cities, somewhere around 2007. It caught on. In 2009 on Florida’s east coast, the City of Stuart passed the first “state endorsed” fertilizer ordinance and then in 2010 the Town of Sewall’s Point went one step further and passed a “strong fertilizer” ordinance not allowing fertilizing during the rainy season with product containing phosphorus and nitrogen, the nutrients that “feed” algae blooms in our waters. Martin County and others followed and then this strong fertilizer ordinance idea, originally from the west coast, went up the entire treasure coast and beyond. Remarkable!
Will the next move be for Martin, St Lucie and Indian River Counties to have a couple of billboards? Martin County is promoting the “Be Floridian” program or getting ready to….this fertilizer education program came out of Tampa Bay. Their ad is pink flamingos! At the beginning of every rainy season the city hall puts hundreds if not thousands in front of their building and around the city. These pink flamingos remind the public to “not fertilize during rainy season June-September.” The “Be Floridian” program promotes Florida Friendly yards with less turf grass and less fertilizing. It has been wildly successful and Tampa Bay has recovered 45percent more of their sea grasses than they had after World War II since the programs’ inception which occurred around ten years ago.
These ad programs are working and educating for clean water and putting pressure on politicians and agriculture to get more “on board.”
I think the ads are coming to the St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon Region soon, so if you have any clever ideas please share. But one thing for sure, if I’m involved, I will not be wearing a bikini! 🙂
This past weekend, my girlfriends from high school decided to travel across the state to celebrate our 50th birthdays!
It was a great time. We stayed in the area of the Caloosahatchee River which is the sister river the the St Lucie River. Both rivers have been plumbed to take overflow waters from Lake Okeechobee that Nature meant to flow south to the Everglades. The Caloosahatchee, in fact, is the “bigger sister,” in that when the rains come, she takes three to four times as much polluted, fresh water as we do—she is longer and larger than ourself. Ironically now, year long, the river needs constant small releases of fresh water from the lake as she becomes too saline. The system is suffering as is the St Lucie.
“Caloosahtchee” means “river of the Calusa,” after the native peoples who lived and thrived there thousands of years ago.
So how does the Calooshatchee compare to the St Lucie? Well, according to the Caloosahatchee River Citizens Association, (CRCA), as sea levels receded after the last ice age, a series of lakes connected by wet prairies fed a tiny lake in the center of a valley feeding a “tortuously” long, crooked river that flowed slowly west to the Gulf of Mexico. So the Calooshatchee like the St Lucie drained to the sea but was never “connected” to Lake Okechobee.
But then entered “modern man.”
In 1881, investor and business man, Hamilton Disston, bought four million acres of Florida lands for development and agriculture getting the state out of debt. His first project was to drain the land around lake Okeechobee.
He dynamited the water fall between Lake Flirt and the Caloosahatchee and connected an old Indian passage from the Caloosahtchee to the lake. With that and the dredging and channeling of the mouth of the Kissimmee, the lake dropped tremendously, and although Disston committed suicide in a bathtub after the Panic of 1893, he inspired those following him to continue the drainage machine that has formed the Florida we know today.
After the floods and hurricanes of 1926 and 1928 the Caloosahatchee was straightened, deepened, and widened, draining surrounding agricultural lands and controlling flood waters. The “improvements” continued again in the the 1950s as more people moved into the area.
The story of the Calooshatchee is very similar to the St Lucie.
On another note, one of the most interesting parts of getting to the Caloosahatchee with my friends was driving “under” Lake Okeechobee taking Highways 441, to 80, to 27 and passing through the sugar towns of Belle Glade, South Bay, Clewiston and La Belle. It was a three and a half hour drive from Stuart to Captiva and most of the drive was through the Everglades Agricultural Area.
As we were driving through we were amazed to think that historically the waters of Lake Okeechobee went south, as today, south of the lake, it is sugar fields for as far as the eye can see! And for many, many miles you are driving right next to the dike.
“This is kind of weird…”
I reminded my friends of the hurricane of 1928 and the thousands of migrant workers that were killed with no alert of the coming doom. The small dike around the southern lake certainly did not look like it would hold if another monster storm came. We talked about how clueless we were as kids to the environmental effects of agriculture on our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon compared to what the children are learning today.
Of course we need agriculture but to have 700,000 acres completely cut off water flow south of the lake is an accident waiting to happen and a death sentence for our St Lucie Indian River Lagoon and for the Caloosahatchee.
As I talked about a possible third outlet to the lake, I told my friend Jill not to speed because if we were stopped, and I was in the car, we would all certainly go to jail!They laughed knowing I am an advocate for the St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon an often contentious issue when it comes to sugar farming.
Once in Captiva, we had a great time, paddle boarding, riding bicycles, swimming, and going out in Sanibel/Captiva Island.
Such a wonderful time would not have been possible had the Army Corp and South Florida Water Management District been releasing masses of polluted, fresh water from Lake Okeechobee. United we are on both sides of the state, that there has to be another option for Lake Okeechobee’s water coming through our estuaries–we are sisters!