It really says something about the state of Florida waters, when our most renowned Nature photographers visit to photograph the decline of what was once most beautiful. They cannot lie. To only photograph what is beautiful, is not to tell the story of what is happening to Florida’s waters.
On August 19, my husband Ed and I had the pleasure of taking award-winning Florida conservation photographer, Mac Stone, https://www.macstonephoto.com for a flight over the St Lucie River, Lake Okeechobee, and afterwards, for a Sunday toxic drive.
Today, I share Mac’s photos, a testament to the terrible we must change…
To be around Mac himself was very uplifting. His message, I offer below. Please visit his Facebook page to view how Mac presented his St Lucie algae experience and to see his other work that is entirely inspirational.
Thank you Mac for sharing. Thank you Mac for caring! It meant so much to have you visit the dear St Lucie and your story reaches the world.
“Cities and estuaries, homeowners and businesses, beach goers and anglers, dems and repubs, people and wildlife, we are all affected by polluted water, no matter where you live. It’s heartbreaking to see my beloved coasts and wetlands like this and to hear the desperation in residents’ voices as algae-laden water courses through the arteries of their backyards. Let’s make sure this doesn’t happen again. Elections are coming up and no matter how you lean, please vote for water.” ~Mac Stone
#noworneverglades #florida #algae #everglades @ Martin County, Florida
Early in my studies of the impairment of the St Lucie River, I came across a book entitled: RIVER OF INTERESTS with its introduction by Jacksonville ACOE Col. Alfred A. Pantano Jr. In 2011, the book had just been republished, the work of Godfrey and Catton Historians. “River of Interests: Water Management in South Florida and the Everglades, 1948-2010,” is a history of the construction of the Central & South Florida Project and its unintended negative impacts on the environment, and the evolution of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). (http://22.214.171.124/docs/river_interest/031512_river_interest_2012_complete.pdf)
This incredibly well written, non-biased book became the basis of my river journey, a journey I am still on. The irony that the best book I ever read on the destruction of the St Lucie River and Everglades was commissioned by the ACOE is a metaphor for all of us. Through our connection to our past, we have all destroyed our environment, and together we must craft its rebirth.
Over the years I have collected signatures in my River of Interests book. Signatures of many I’ve met along the way, kind of like a yearbook from middle school but one that’s carried over time. When I was invited to the Change of Command for 2018, I decided to add retiring Col.Kirk’s signature to my book and welcome the newest colonel, Andrew Kelly.
In my opinion, this ever three years “changing of the guard” is a double-edged sword. I was told years ago that this keeps fresh eyes on problems. Hmmmm? I begged to differ, noting the constant change makes it difficult to develop relationships and the advocacy community if forever catching new colonels up to speed. In any case, this is the way it works so I decided to go.
After Ed dropped me off in Jacksonville, I got up early and was concerned that somehow I had gotten the time wrong, so I called the ACOE number on the invitation to verify. When I asked if the event stared at 10:30 am or pm since the invitation did not specify, the woman on the phone laughed.” Yes mam, it is 10:30 am; we would not be meeting at 10:30 at night!”
I too laughed, and replied: “Just checking.” I was obviously nervous.
Once I got to the performing arts center there was a flood of people even though I was thirty minutes early. I made it through security and into the dark, cool theatre. I pushed my way to the front rows asking a distinguished older gentleman if the seat next to him was free. ” You will have to ask him,” he calmly replied, pointing to my right. I cleared my throat, really hoping for this seat so I did not come all this was to sit in the back. “Hello, is this seat free please?”
“Yes.” I replied, very surprised this person knew my name.
“It’s Andrew Geller, from the Army Corp Periodic Scientist Calls.”
“Andrew” I shouted, “it’s awesome to meet you face to face after seven years!”
So fate would have it, that I met by chance those who are very familiar with our St Lucie River, Lake Okeechobee problems, the leaders, old and new, from the bi-weekly ACOE periodic scientists call! This in itself made the entire trip worth it.
The lights dimmed and the Change of Command began. As the band played, the national anthem was sung, and the colors were exchanged from Col. Kirk to Col Kelly. I realized I was taking part in something very old and symbolic and found myself getting choked up. I thought about all those who have served our country in places like Afghanistan where Col. Kelly is coming from. Everglades restoration is a different kind war, but a war indeed. Welcome Colonel Kelly to our next chapter of River of Interests. May it be one of environmental honor.
I’m the kind of person who gets attached. I’m loyal to people and things that are good to me. One of those is the Legend Cub, the little yellow airplane that started flying in Stuart in 2013.
As she began to fly over the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon helping spot destruction from Lake Okeechobee discharges, she came to be known by those who saw her from the ground as the “River Warrior.” Over time, she became known far and wide to pilots, guests, reporters, home-owners, boaters, beach-goers, and children. She flew over multiple river rallies tipping wings side-to-side “waving” inspiring thousands of people.
She inspired me too.
When I was too afraid to get up in the air with my husband, it was she who gave me wings. I trusted her to help me tell our River Story and she did. She discovered algae water pouring through S-80 and the gigantic algae blooms documented in Lake Okeechobee…
Looking back on the thousands of photos Ed and I took from her open cockpit, these photos starting with the Treasure Coast Council of Local Governments, were shared and published~during that changing “Lost Summer,” of 2013, and then 2016, and now, 2018.
The River Warrior’s distinctive yellow strutted aerials have been instrumental in gaining statewide and national attention of the government sponsored destruction of our St Lucie River. The little plane gave us our first look from above and she woke us to action, yes, she did.
~Never a stutter and always with a singing engine she flew…
Since 2013, there have been more “Lost Summers,” now complete with disappeared seagrasses, and toxic blue-green algae to boot. She has seen it all. And today, there are now a total of five Cubs in Martin and Lee Counties. Indeed, being so cute and reliable, she stared a trend.
Nonetheless, next week, she is being sold and replaced with a “better” model. For me, there is no better model. She has changed the game; she gave me confidence to fly when I had none; she shall be missed and remembered forever. So if you see her this final week please wave “goodbye” and wish her well.
Farewell and thank you River Warrior plane. May your next adventure be as touching to those around you, as you have been to me. You are, and alway will be, the soul and heart of our river movement legend.
LAKE OKEECHOBEE REGULATION SCHEDULE (LORS) http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Portals/44/docs/h2omgmt/LORSdocs/2008_LORS_WCP_mar2008.pdf
The second she said it, I was at full attention. This past Tuesday, Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation Director, Ms. Rae Ann Wessel, spoke on the Army Corps of Engineers Periodic Scientists Call. In seven years of listening, in seven years of agency and public comment, I had never heard, seriously, and scientifically, someone address South Florida’s greatest taboo.
Ms Wessel said something like this:
Part of the LORS (Lake Okeechobee Release Schedule 2008) addresses “shared adversity.” Lake Okeechobee is approximately 470,000 acres. Would it be possible to put the water the Corps plans to release from the lake over approximately 484,000 acres of crop lands just south of the lake, rather than into estuaries? The Caloosahatchee algae situation is already at its absolute worst…
You could hear a pin drop…
Wessel was recommending options to the Army Corps and stakeholders regarding the ACOE restarting discharges to the estuaries. Since the previous week’s call, due to NOAA images showing 90% of the lake covered in cyanobacteria blooms, and crisis of algae in both estuaries, the Governor and other powerful politicians asked the federal agency to temporarily stop discharges considering all options before discharging, once again.
Just the previous day, before Wessel’s comment, after viewing the putrid algal mess in the Caloosahatchee, Gov. Rick Scott called for a State of Emergency encompassing seven counties.
Some history, earlier this year, the Caloosahatchee was almost begging the South Florida Water Management District and ACOE for water, but was denied. Now the Caloosahatchee is receiving so much water, with algae to boot, that they are experiencing a toxic summer similar to what the St Lucie experienced in 2016. The Caloosahatchee has had it especially tough this year.
The elephant in the room, or perhaps better described as the Tyrannosaurus rex in the room, is that with Lake Okeechobee over 14 feet, and the fact that we are now approaching the most turbulent part of hurricane season, the ACOE “has to start releasing again,” like now! And everybody knows this.
Therefore, Rae Ann was looking for options, for sharing adversity, and this was fair as the Calloosahatchee has bore most of the adversity this year. She wasn’t talking about flooding the cities in the EAA, she was inquiring about flooding the fields, by less than a foot of water that would evaporate quickly at that extension and depth, maybe stressing but not killing the crops. Sugarcane in particular, is a hardy and durable crop for intermittent periods of water.
Shared adversity… Certainly, the estuaries have have their “fair” share…
So why does the ACOEhave to dump to the estuaries? Why is it taboo to talk about flooding the fields? Because although the 2008 LORS talks about shared adversity the EAA is federally protected by an older and more important document.
The ACOE in not a teacher picking favorites, they are the military taking orders from Congress.
First, the Corps would build a levee from northwest Palm Beach County to the south of Dade County along the east coast, thereby preventing flooding fromthe Everglades to the coastal communities. Second, the Corps would modify control facilities and levees around Lake Okeechobee in order to create more water storage, and it would increase the discharge capacity from the lake in order to prevent flooding. Third, the Corps would create three water conservation areas in Palm Beach, Broward and Dade counties for water storage. Fourth, the Corps would construct canals, levees, and pumping stations to protect 700,000 acres of agriculture south of Lake Okeechobee in Palm Beach, Hendry, and Glades counties, known as the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA). Fifth, the Corps would build canals and water control structures to handle drainage in Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Martin, and St. Lucie counties.
This bolded section is the key, this is why Rae Ann Wessel’s question rung so loudly in the silence of the ACOE call. For the ACOE, it is “understood,” that no matter the case, even with LORS, and in spite of “shared adversity,” that 700,000 acres of agriculture fields, south of Lake Okeechobee is to be protected from flooding destruction.
But as we all know, nothing lasts forever.
Just like other laws of our great county, some do, indeed over time, become outdated for the times. Things change. Among other issues, in 1950, when the Central and South Flood Project law was structured and voted upon to protect the crops in the EAA as part of flood control 2.81 million people lived in Florida. Today, 20 million people reside here. In the old days, the discharges did not have the impact as they do today, the rivers were healthier, and the Lake, it wasn’t so polluted. But now, seventy years later, water quality, pollution, and human health issues have risen to a point of question. “In emergency situations”, is discharging cyanobacteria water from Lake Okeechobee into the now heavily populated areas along the estuaries to prevent flooding of the Everglades Agricultural Area in the state’s best interest, or is it archaic, like the T-Rex in the room?
It might be time to re-evaluate South Florida’s greatest taboo.
The algae in Lake Okeechobee is Mother Nature’s political checkmate, the time in chess in which the King cannot escape…
Thank you to Department of Environmental Protection Secretary, Noah Valenstein, whose Emergency Order directed by Governor Rick Scott, announced yesterday, will implement an array of new actions to move more clean water south into the conservation areas and away from the estuaries.
Make no mistake about it, this order happened due to Mother Nature’s “check.” The algae in Lake Okeechobee is exploding at record speed – see above image from yesterday, 6-20-18.
Sending algae that is potentially toxic to the communities of the St Lucie River and the Caloosahatchee is political suicide even for the Army Corp, an entity that is basically untouchable, like a King.
But since the state is legally in charge of water quality, not the Corp, the order comes from Florida’s Executive Branch as they, became aware of the seriousness of the problem. The Corp has reported they were lessening discharge amount anyway, however, they did not recognize the health threat of the algae…
Nobody wants to purposefully poison the estuaries, but the Federal Government and the State of Florida does when algae, potentially toxic, is sent through gates connected to Lake Okeechobee. We are all in a difficult situation, a chess game whose rules are outdated and were created years ago…
And even if there is “limited capacity” to move water south, it can be done. “Something” is “everything” in this water game of chess. We must take what we can get, check the King, and then go back for more – the goal to close the gates forever. “Checkmate.”
In my opinion, this emergency order is a real move that will send more water south and help reinforce a “send water south,” political culture that all Florida must embrace!
God Save the Queen, our one and only, “Mother-Nature.”
(I have updated this post due to spelling errors, etc.. 6-24-18. Sorry. I, like everyone, am exhausted. JTL)