Tag Archives: sediment

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)

1885–When St Lucie River was 20 Feet Deep…St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Rare wood cut map of St Lucie River, ca. 1885, by Homer Hines Stuart.  Image shows water depth in heart of St Lucie River near today's Roosevelt Bridge at 20 feet. (Courtesy of historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow)
Rare wood cut map of St Lucie River, ca. 1885, by Homer Hine Stuart. Image shows water depth in heart of St Lucie River near today’s Roosevelt Bridge at 20 feet. (Courtesy of historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow)
Homer Hines Stuart Jr., for whom Stuart, Florida is named. (Portrait courtesy of historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)
Homer Hine Stuart Jr., for whom Stuart, Florida is named. (Portrait courtesy of historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)

Some days I get really lucky because people send me cool stuff based on what I wrote the previous day in my blog. Yesterday this happened with both my mother, Sandra Thurlow, Dr Gary Gorfoth and a slew of other comments . I will be sharing some of my mother and Dr Goforth’s insights today.

Yesterday’s blog: (https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2015/06/25/sediment-loads-into-the-st-lucie-river-2015-dr-gary-goforth-slrirl/)

After reading my post on sediment loads in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon and how they have lessened the natural depths of the river/s, my historian mother, sent me the awesome image of a historic wood cut at the top of this post created around 1885 by Homer Hine Stuart Jr., for whom Stuart, Florida is named.

This historic wood cut shows the depth of the St Lucie River at 20 feet in the area of what would become the span for the Roosevelt Bridge.  A contemporary navigation chart below, shows the depth of the water in this area at 11 feet. At least 9 feet of sediment and or —MUCK!

Contemporary St John's waterway navigation map, public files, shows the depth of the St Lucie River at the Roosevelt Bridge at 11 feet.
Contemporary St John’s waterway navigation map, public files, shows the depth of the St Lucie River at the Roosevelt Bridge at 11 feet.

“Jacqui, Your post about sediments made me think of this little map. Homer Hine Stuart, Jr. for whom Stuart is named, had a little wood cut map that was about 4 by 2 1/2 inches and looked like one of those address stamps we use today made. Maps made from the wood cut were used to show his the location of his property and his bungalow “Gator’s Nest” to his family in New York and Michigan. This image was made from a photograph of the wood cut. It is printed is reverse so the writing, etc., isn’t backward. You can see that there was 20 feet of water depth between the peninsulas that would later be connected by bridges. The date of the map would be around 1885.”  –Mom

Dr Goforth also wrote. He tells a sad story mentioning that Stuart News editor and famed environmentalist Ernie Lyons wrote prolifically about the great fishing in the St Lucie prior to the construction of the St Lucie Canal (C-44) in 1923.

“… the St. Lucie River and Estuary was known as the “Giant Tarpon Kingdom” before the Lake Okeechobee discharges began in 1923; after the Lake Okeechobee discharges began the muck from the Lake despoiled the clear waters and drove the tarpon offshore, and the area was recast as the “Sailfish Capital of the World” (Lyons 1975: The Last Cracker Barrel).

Thankfully, Dr Goforth gives an idea to fix and or improve the accumulation of muck sediments into the St Lucie River:

One effective means of reducing the sediment/much discharges from the Lake would be the construction of a sediment trap just upstream of the St. Lucie Locks and Spillway. This simple approach has worked well in other areas, most recently in West Palm Beach on the C-51 Canal just upstream of the Lake Worth Lagoon (see attached fact sheet). By deepening and widening the C-44 canal just upstream of the locks/spillway, a large portion of the sediment would settle out of the water in a relatively contained area before entering the River; with routine dredging, the material can be removed and spread over adjacent lands… —(perhaps using lands along the canal purchased by Martin County and SFWMD?). —-Dr Gary Goforth

Muck Removal using sediment trap, Lake Worth Lagoon, shared by Dr Gary Goforth.
Muck Removal using sediment trap, Lake Worth Lagoon, C-51, shared by Dr Gary Goforth.

Kudos to Dr Goforth’s ideas. Kudos to my mother’s history! Let’s get Governor Rick Scott to work and get to work ourselves too!  We can do it. Together, we can do anything. 🙂

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MUCK THEMED PHOTOS:

Muck coats the bottom of our beautiful river but determination coats our hearts. We and future generations will continue to fight to save our  St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon!

 

Muck from St Lucie River, 2014.
Muck from St Lucie River, covering oysters, 2014.
Rob Moir teaches Hannah Lucas about muck at the River Kidz GET THE MUCK OUT event,  March 2014.
Jim Moir teaches Hannah Lucas about muck at the River Kidz GET THE MUCK OUT event, March 2014.
Muck Buster, River Kidz 2014.
Muck Buster, River Kidz 2014.
Photo of Stuart News article where Kevin Powers of the SFWMD shows Gov. Rick Scott some muck that is located at the end of Power's dock in Stuart. 2014. (Photo Stuart News)
My close up photo of front page Stuart News article where Kevin Powers of the SFWMD shows Gov. Rick Scott a shovel full of muck from around Power’s dock in Stuart. 2014. (Photo Stuart News)
Mark Perry and I display our "muckstaches" for Florida Oceanographics fundraiser/awareness raiser, 2015.
Mark Perry and I display our “muckstaches” for Florida Oceanographics fundraiser/awareness raiser, 2015.
River Kidz GET THE MUCK OUT campaign and bumper sticker, 2014.
River Kidz GET THE MUCK OUT campaign and bumper sticker, 2014.

Citrus Along the Indian River Lagoon, A Killer and a Necessity

Historic postcard, Indian River Citris. (Collection of Sandra Henderson Thurlow)
Historic postcard, Indian River Citris. (Collection of Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)

Thousands of years ago, humankind found a way to avoid the constant nomadic life of following big game, becoming more self sufficient, learning the art of agriculture. Nothing has made our lives better. Unfortunately, after thousands of years of its evolution, nothing has made our lives worse.

Don’t get me wrong, I realize that agriculture an important industry, the second largest after tourism, in the state of Florida. Still, we must look at its issues and try to make things better.

Agriculture is a high intensity land use, using large amounts of pesticides, fertilizers, and fungicides that over time accumulate in the water and the environment. The May 2014 issue of National Geographic states that “farming is the largest endeavor on earth using just under 40 percent of the earth’s surface causing the second largest  impact to the earth, erosion.” 

Much of the land in our area is devoted to agriculture as well, particularly citrus.

The Indian River Lagoon region is famous for its delicious citrus and although the industry is in decline due to canker, it has had huge impacts on the IRL area due to the canal system built to drain the land and water the crops. The muck that has entered the lagoon since the early 1900s is mostly from erosion of canals, due to the runoff from agriculture as they drain their lands that were once swamp or wetlands.

The Indian River Lagoon Region runs from Palm Beach to Volusia Counties, along the 156 miles of the lagoon. (USDA map 2011)
The Indian River Lagoon Region runs from Palm Beach to Volusia Counties, along the 156 miles of the lagoon. (USDA map 2011.)

The USDA documented 89,367 acres of citrus in the Indian River Lagoon region in 2009, declining to 81,673 in 2010. There is a lot of land devoted to citrus, land that has been radically altered from its original state and affects the Indian River Lagoon as there are literally thousands of miles of canals attached and interwoven along these groves. All eventually dump to the river or other water body.

In 1994 the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) determined that the north fork of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, a registered state “Aquatic Preserve,” was contaminated by pesticides that came from the citrus groves in the area of the St Lucie’s headwaters, Ten Mile Creek. (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/southeast/ecosum/ecosums/tenmile_creek.pdf)

In 2002, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection labeled the St Lucie River as “impaired.” Reading through the document there is clear determination of agricultures’ role  in this process, especially with sediment run off, pesticides and heavy metals that have accumulated in the environment. (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/southeast/ecosum/ecosums/SLE_Impairment_Narrative_ver_3.7.pdf)

All postcards of citrus industry in Florida, ca. 1912. (Collection of Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)
All postcards of citrus industry in Florida, ca. 1912. (Collection of Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)

IMG_5796 IMG_5797

Reading through the documents it is noted that many of the agricultural areas are quite old, as the post cards I am sharing today from my mother’s  collection are from 1912 and 1914.  According to the FDEP, many of the areas around Ten Mile Creek did not have BMPs, or best management practices in place, as they were  there before such rules were voluntarily implemented in the 1980s and 90s.

I don’t get it. Our environmental agencies have seen the writing on the wall for decades and even with the modern implementations of BMPs, (http://solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu/hot_topics/agriculture/bmps.htmlwhere farmers try to minimize their impacts on our waterbodies, the rivers, estuaries, and lakes are filling up with excess nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizer and other pollutants at an alarming rate.

Yes, the FDEP is implementing TMDLs or total  maximum daily loads through the BMAP, or basin management action plan, where municipalities and counties are required to lower their nutrient levels in waterbodies, but these are 15 and 30 year goals, that most certainly will take longer to truly implement. Also agriculture is exempt under the law and Right to Farm Act. They, as mentioned, implement BMPs but it may take fifty or more years to get all farms up to speed, if ever. Do we have that much time?

In the meanwhile, we watch or rivers dying from local runoff from C-23, C-23, and C-44  supporting the citrus and agriculture industries in Martin and St Lucie Counties.  On top of this, during major rain events, Lake Okeechobee, also full of agriculture runoff and high nutrients suspended in muck, from the sometimes back pumping sugar industry south of the lake, pours into the St Lucie River as well, wreaking any work we have done locally to meet local TMDLs.

Would I rather see the citrus lands developed for houses?

No. I rather fix the problems we have. And even though its called “corporate welfare,” I think state, federal, and local governments must help agriculture operate in a way that is not killing the environment. Some of the funds from the state this year that came out of the Senate Hearing on the IRL are doing this and the state really has been helping “forever,” but quietly, under the radar.

It is time to come full out to the public and explain the situation: we must feed ourselves and support our historic industry, but agriculture/citrus is killing our waterways.

In conclusion, of course the industry should make every effort itself to improve the situation, and some are more than others. In any case, we cannot just point fingers at them, we must help them. Perhaps we should bond together and put into law even better, stricter management practices, that will give the children of our state a future, not just eating, but also fishing, swimming and boating in a clean river.

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IFAS, Update on Best Management Practices, 2014: (http://www.crec.ifas.ufl.edu/extension/trade_journals/2014/2014_January_best_mgt.pd)

USDA and State of Florida Citrus Report 2009: (http://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/Florida/Publications/Citrus/fcs/2009-10/fcs0910.pdf)

1906-2014, Water Depth Changes in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Hand drawn map Sewall's Point water depths created for Hugh de Laussat Willoughby ca. 1914. (Map and history courtesy of Todd Thurlow and Sandra Thurlow.)
Hand drawn map of Sewall’s Point’s water depths created for Hugh de Laussat Willoughby’s proposed New York Yacht Club at the southern tip of Sewall’s Point. Willoughby came to Sewall’s Point in 1906 in hopes of establishing a Southern New York Yacht Club. (Map and history courtesy of  Sandra Thurlow and Todd Thurlow.)

If Hugh Willoughby had not been searching for a southern location for the prestigious New York Yacht Club in 1906, we would not have the remarkable hand drawn map above. The New York Yacht Club’s southern headquarters was never established at the southern tip of Sewall’s Point, but we can see the water depths in the area were substantial, at 20 feet, around the tip of the protected west side of today’s High Point subdivision.

I stumbled upon the information about the New York Yacht Club again, because of trying to track water depths in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon over the past century in my mother’s book, The History of Sewall’s Point.

From my parent’s old timer friends, over the years, I have heard stories about the the water depth and clarity being extensive in many areas of the St Lucie River, from Palm City to Stuart to Sewall’s Point, and how over time the sediment, due to canal run off from C-23, C-24 and C-44, has “filled the bottom of the river” in many areas, even forming “islands” north of the Palm City Bridge. C-44, connected to Lake Okeechobee, was first connected in 1923, and then deepened and widened again in the 1930s, and 50s and “improved since.” C-23 and C-24 were built in the 50s and 60s. Tremendous amounts of sediment and pollution has filled the river over time from these once thought “harmless” canals.

Today this sediment fill is often referred to as “muck.”

Anyway, for a baseline comparison of water depths, I started looking thorough my historian mother’s maps and asking questions to my attorney brother, who is a wiz at any type of map old or new, and although I did not get mapping for all of the the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, I did for my own beloved Sewall’s Point. I imagine it is a microcosm of the rest.

Let’s take a closer look:

IMG_4928

(http://www.charts.noaa.gov/OnLineViewer/11428cgd.shtml)

Hand drawn map Sewall's Point water depths created for Hugh de Laussat Willoughby ca. 1914. (Map and history courtesy of Todd Thurlow and Sandra Thurlow.)

NOAA, 2014 electronic water depth map juxtaposed to hand drawn map of Sewall’s Point ca. 1906.

Comparing the two maps, one can see that the southern tip of Sewall’s Point in the NOAA map is not documented, I imagine because it is too far away from the Okeechobee Waterway. Disappointing. Nonetheless, if one looks at Sewall’s Point’s mid area, across and north of Hell’s Gate (the narrow part of the river) one can see water depth numbers like 19; 15; and 14 feet. Today those numbers on the NOAA chart read 4; 8; and 7.

Looking on the Stuart side, north of Hell’s Gate, the 1906 map reads 10; 8 and 12 feet. The 2014 NOAA map reads 2; 3; and 4 feet. Mind you, the channel has been dredged many times by the Army Corp, and Florida Inland Navigation District since 1906 and this certainly affects depths overall in the river as well. Nonetheless, for me, it is interesting to compare as even the channel depths in this area are no deeper than 11 feet and often more like 8 or 6  feet.

The famous mid 1900s environmentalist editor of the Stuart News, Mr Ernie Lyons, once said “Life too, is a changing river.” I  wonder if he knew how much we were going to fill it in…

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After I wrote this blog , friend, Kevin Stinnette, sent me the insert for south Sewall’s Point as he has experience as an avid sailer. I am adding for interest although I will not adjust my blog. The same principles hold true. 🙂 Thank you Kevin!

InsertD-Chart 11472b SP