My husband Ed, and friend, Dan Velinsky, went fishing yesterday (2-9-21) at “Sailfish Flats” between Sewall’s and Sailfish Point. It was indeed a spectacular day, and Ed returned home smiling even though they didn’t catch any fish. “It was beautiful.” He exclaimed. “But no seagrass, no fish, except hiding by the islands…” Then he turned with wide smile: “We even saw seven dolphins and two turtles! I taped them!”
The whole time Ed was speaking, I couldn’t help it…
I saw a number flashing in my head: 15.41, the level of Lake Okeechobee on February 9, 2021. This number is high from a St Lucie point of view for this time of year. In June will come rainy season….
As ACOE’s Col. Kelly reported last week, the lake is going dow, but: “Today, the lake stage is at 15.42 feet, which is still 2.5 feet higher than it was one year ago, and 2.7 feet higher than it was two years ago.”
I share Ed photos “on a perfect day,” to document- knowing – we must keep an eye on Lake Okeechobee and the decisions of Army Corp of Engineers .
I posted most of these photos on Facebook, but today I will give explanations and document on my blog. From above, our St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon remains beautiful, but we must be sensitive to the losses beneath the waters. These aerials were taken during a “slack tide” between 12 and 2pm on December 9, 2020 by my husband, Ed Lippisch. December 9th was the last of five days the ACOE stopped discharging from Lake Okeechobee; however S-80 was discharging “local runoff.” (Click on chart above.) Unfortunately, due to high lake level and lack of storage reservoirs, since these aerials were taken, the ACOE has begun ramping up Lake discharges once again.
Below Lawrence Glenn of the South Florid Water Management gives a comprehensive ecological report covering low-salinities and loss of oyster spat in the St Lucie and other aspects, positive and negative, for the entire Everglades system.
Below is an explanation of aerials documenting discharges December 9, 2020. All photos by Ed Lippisch.
-S-80 at St Lucie Locks and Dam discharging local basin S-80 runoff on December 9, 2020
S-308 at Port Mayaca, Lake Okeechobee closed on December 9, 2020. No algae visible.
-Plume of along Jupiter Island south of St Lucie Inlet
-Dispersing plume in Atlantic Ocean just past Peck’s Lake in Jupiter Narrows
-St Lucie Inlet -St Lucie Inlet State Park, Sailfish Point, Sewall’s Point, Stuart, Jensen
-Looking north to Sailfish Flats between Sewall’s Point and Hutchinson Island. This area has greatly degraded since 2013 as far as loss of seagrasses and fishing opportunities
-The area below, especially around Sailfish Point, was once considered “the most biodiverse estuary in North America” as documented, first, by Grant Gilmore
-This photo reveals seagrass loss across many areas of the Sailfish Flats
-Another view between Sewall’s and Sailfish Point, a seeming desert…
-Close up, Sailfish Point
-Sewall’s Point, east Indian River Lagoon
-Sewall’s Point is a peninsula surrounded by the St Lucie River on west side, and Indian River Lagoon on east side
Ed Lippisch, selfie. Thank you Ed!
As you can tell, I have lots of people helping me. Whether it is Ed flying or my brother Todd who provides an incredible easy to read website called EyeonLakeO. You can click below to check it out. The more we know, the more we document, the more we can overturn the destruction of our beloved estuary…
Family friend Scott Kuhns is a great dentist, pilot, and photographer. For years, Scott has been one of our “eyes in the sky,” taking flight over the St Lucie River-Indian River Lagoon -and west out to Lake Okeechobee.
Today, Sunday, May 3, 2020, before noon, Scott forwarded these striking photos. He wrote “I can see some algae at Port Mayaca.”
When I first reviewed the impressive photographs -coast to lake- I found it hard to believe, but indeed looking very closely, there is a wisp of algae close to S-308 at Port Mayaca in Lake Okeechobee.
Can you see it? When things are so beautiful, like right now, it’s easy to miss!
Thanks Scott for your continued service “River Warrior” extraordinaire! We will continue to keep an eye on the water as we move closer to hurricane season.
ST LUCIE INLET, CROSSROADS OF INDIAN AND ST LUCIE RIVERS DIVIDED BY SEWALL’S POINT, ~ALL PHOTOS BY DR SCOTT KUHNS
JUPITER NARROWS & ATLANTIC OCEAN SOUTH OF ST LUCIE INLET
C-44 CANAL at ST LUCIE LOCKS AND DAM, S-80
S-308, CONNECTION OF C-44 CANNAL to LAKE OKEECHOBEE
VERY TIP of S-308 with ALGAE WISPS SLIGHTLY VISIBLE, BUT DEFINITELY THERE
INSIDE STRUCTURE S-308, PORT MAYACA LAKE OKEECHOBEE ALONG C-44 CANAL. S-53 ON ANOTHER CANAL. ALSO FPL COOLING POND SURROUNDED ON WEST BY WHAT APPEARS TO BE SUGARCANE FIELDS
Knowing who has been assigned what committees is important. Let’s learn about a couple of “water-senators ” ~those assigned to committees where water will come up. No pun intended.
First, let’s go to the Florida Senate website and click on the Committees Tab. Look around. What titles have something to do with water or the environment? Here you will see a list of committees. Very interesting! Only a few could apply.
For sure, when it comes to purposes of water, under Standing Committees,Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment, and General Government is key.
Who got this position? Wow! Senator Debbie Mayfield has been assigned to be the chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment, and General Government. She represents Indian River and Brevard Counties and in earlier years served in the Florida House of Representatives so she knows about all the toxic “Lost Summers,” and the troublesome “brown tide” that affects her area.(https://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/local/environment/lagoon/2018/03/02/again-killer-brown-algae-responsible-2016-mass-fish-deaths-blooming/381630002/)
When you click on her name you will also see she serves on the Environment and Natural Resources Committee and the Appropriations Committee. Senator Mayfield is very well versed in water issues not only because she is our Indian River lagoon neighbor, but because as she was an ally of former Senate President Joe Negron in 2018.
Now, take the time now to click on these links below and see if you happen to know any of the other senators serving on either the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment, and General Government or the Natural Resources Committee or anything else relevant, perhaps Tourism where water really belongs. Take note of these senators. Do you know anyone who may know them? A friend across the state?
There are other important positions, but these two featured Senators that have a track record. These are two you can reach out to now, along with your legislative delegation.
Yes! Start building relationships NOW.
If you can’ reach the legislator him or herself, call, write or go to their office and build a relationship with their staff. Like any relationship this takes time, effort, finesse, and multiple visits. Ask for a meeting just to talk about what is important to you as a citizen, no matter your political affiliation. All Florida politicians represent all Floridians.
Here are some tips about Effective Communication and a visual from last year to refresh our memories about how an idea becomes a law.
Advocate for water now! Once legislative session begins, it’s too late!
At my request, my mother has been sharing historic real estate photos. Regarding today’s aerials, it seems the perfect time to broach the controversial subject of “septic to sewer.”
When I first saw the photographs of Lighthouse Point, I said “What is that?” I thought the land had been created by fill, but then realized it was natural lands filled and dredged. This practice was very common before the 1970s and happened at various locations throughout Martin County, but was more prevalent in destinations like Ft Lauderdale and Cape Coral. Wherever this land use was completed, early photographs allow us to see how strange, how vulnerable, how naked, the land looks. And we can see its connection, like a sponge, over the surrounding waters…
Let’s take a closer peek at this 1965 photo of Lighthouse Point in the St Lucie River. In 1965, developers had no concerns about nutrient pollution, and every property of course had its own septic tank.
Fortunately, in the 2000s, Martin County did help residents of Lighthouse Point and neighboring Seagate Harbor, convert from septic to sewer, along with other “hot-spot” communities, as documented in this outstanding presentation by former Martin County Ecosystems Manager, Deborah Drum.
But there is more work to do.
As we know, Septic to Sewer is one of those subjects people passionately fight over as we try to understand why our waterways have become so impaired. This was the case in my own hometown of Sewall’s Point.
Famous for the first strong fertilizer ordinance on Florida’s east coast in 2010, a year of my mayorhood, The Commission flipped this environmental streak, and last year, when I was off the commission, following much back and forth and very poor communication, ~in spite of heroic efforts, but a totally exhausted, confused and furious public, decided not to work with Martin County for a partial sewer conversion. The backlash to this is far-reaching.
I agree that most of Sewall’s Point is not dredge and fill, but some is, and with out a doubt, old septic tanks in flood zones along the Indian River Lagoon are not a good idea.
As we all begrudgingly work to lessen nutrient pollution (nitrogen and phosphorus) into our waterways, it is helpful to look backwards as we plan for the future. Thanks mom for sharing your photos; history helps us “see.”
Scientific paper: Earth Sci 2017 estimation of nitrogen load from septic systems
to surface water bodies in St. Lucie River and Estuary Basin, Florida, Ming Ye1 • Huaiwei Sun2,1 • Katie Hallas3: http://people.sc.fsu.edu/~mye/pdf/paper62.pdf
I continue to share now historic advertisements of Florida. Today’s is from my hometown of Stuart, Florida. My mother, historian Sandra Henderson Thurlow, has a trove of these things, and they are interesting to view ~thinking about how much our area has changed.
This 1957 Chamber of Commerce Fishing Guide advertisement, written by Ernest Lyons is entitled: “In the Tradition of Isaac Walton.” So let’s start there: Who was Isaak Walton? !
I had to refresh my memory as well, so don’t feel bad if you did not remember. He is famous for writing the Complete Angler in 1653, a book “celebrating the joys of fishing” that inspired thousands of sportsmen, and remains a classic for both men and women today.
Mr Lyons, who was the editor of the Stuart News and an award-winning environmentalist of his era, begins his composition:
“Stuart, Florida means sports fishing in the tradition of Izaak Walton,” and then proceeds to talk about good living, home building, and retirement in a community where the “best things in life are free.”
Fun for me to see, in the collage below, my Aunt Mary Thurlow Hudson is photographed far right playing tennis, and my father, her brother, Tom Thurlow Jr., #7, is shown making a basket for Stuart High School baseball team. Awesome! Those were the days!
But we know that nothing is really for free. Stuart, and Florida at large have paid a price for moving so many people here since 1957, and trying to “feed the world” from our rich agriculture fields.
Sixty-one years have passed since 1957. I am now over three times the age of my father and my Aunt Mary pictured here…
Our youth can still golf, play tennis, ride a stallion at a rodeo, play baseball, and football, but water-skiing and fishing? Maybe not.
Before recreating, we must first ask :”Is there cyanobacteria in the water?”
Or God forbid, before going to the beach: “Is there red-tide?”
The local Chambers of Commerce have not written a fishing guide for years. But if they did the topic sentence would not be, Stuart, Florida means sport fishing in the tradition of Izaak Walton, but rather:
“Stuart, Florida means fighting for your waters in the tradition of a River Warrior…”
I have been looking though my collection of maps and other Florida things, and I came across this remarkable real estate ad by W. J. Willingham. I would think it is from the early part of the 1900s when Barron Collier and James Jaudon, “Father of the Tamiami Trail,” were developing South Florida. Apparently, Jaudon sold the land that became Pinecrest to Willingham.
What is of most interest to me is the tone of the ad, and how different is it compared to how we sell real estate today. For instance, the first section reads: “Hesitation:” On the plains of Hesitation bleach the bones of countless millions; some men are just plain quitters, but the most pitiable sight in the whole world of failures, is the man who will not start. Opportunity will knock at your door this week and give you a chance to start. You can deny yourself one or two simple luxuries, drop a useless habit or two, and the start is made. You can own a Pinecrest lot. You can be a true-born American and take a shot at it and if you lose, you can take your loss like a real man. On the other hand, if Pinecrest makes a wonderful town, you can enjoy the pleasures invariably comes when a man uses his head and wins. My friend, it is up to you. Will you hesitate? Or will you start? W.J. WILLINGHAM
Holy cow. This must have been the way one sold land in the Everglades in the old days, before political correctness, equal rights, and other things. Interesting to ponder, don’t you think? Maybe that’s why they mowed everything down.
Looking at the rest, Mr Willingham’s rant continues:
Here’s another duzzie: “Nerve.” That word nerve spells success. I was looking through some of old papers the other day and I ran across and old advertisement I put in a Florida newspaper a few years ago. At the at time I tried my level best to persuade someone to buy a certain property for $11,000. No one seemed to have the nerve. Finally I persuaded my brother to go in with me and buy it. All that was required a small cash payment and just a little nerve. Now to make a long story short, we recently sold a part of that property for $137,000 and we have some o the property left. In a few short years you will wonder why you did not accumulate just a little nerve when Pinecrest was just starting. Pincerest has a mighty bright future. I am going to give you an opportunity to pick up a few Pinecrest lots at auction. W.J. WILLINGHAM
This is a good one, today we would write “Do you know of anything that has destroyed America’s Everglades more than Tamiami Trail?
W.J. Willlingham’s final words are a harsh motivator as well: “J.J. Hill Said:” James J. Hill, one of the greatest builders this county has produced, designated thrift as the one qualification without which no man could succeed. He said: If you want to know whether you are destined to be a success or a failure in life, you can easily find out. The test is simple, and infallible. Are you able to save money? In not drop out. You will lose. You may think not. But you will lose as sure as you live. The seed of success not in you.” W.J. WILLINGHAM
The seed of success not in you? Hmmmm. I agree with being thrifty, but how the “seeds of success change.” To be successful, the new developers of South Florida will have to adapt to our new world of rising seas, stronger storms, climate change, and the subtleties of selling to modern society. This could be a challenge; we may have to get some advice from the gators who have around a long, long time.
Pinecrest went on to be a very successful community. I wonder what the ads in the future will look like as it goes underwater…
A rather remarkable thing happened. There was an owl in my kitchen. Yes, an owl, a real owl.
I woke up, went outside to get the newspaper, and then I fed my fish. When I looked from the dining room into the kitchen, I saw the silhouette of a little owl patiently seated on the back of a chair in our sunroom open to the kitchen. Of course, I did a double-take! And then I thought to myself: “Is it that owl? Is Ed playing a trick on me….?”
Why a trick?
Just a few days ago, I had bought a fake, feathered owl at the Lamp Shop. I attached it to a fake palm tree in my sunroom. You know, the kind of thing with wire for feet, so you can twist it around the branches?
So, in the darkness of early morning, I wondered if Ed had put that thing on the back of the chair just to freak me out.
He had not. I looked again and again, and for certain, a living screech-owl was sitting in my sunroom, in my kitchen. Unbelievable!
I quietly snuck over and closed the surrounding pocket doors to that area. And then quickly went to find my husband, Ed.
From afar, I whispered sounding panicked: “Eddie! Eddie!”
Ed got up out of his chair, leaving the computer with the dogs gleefully trailing behind him.
“Put the dogs in the crates, now!” I said.
Ed looked at me, confused.
“In their crates! ” Again, I stated.
“O.K. he said.” Looking bewildered.
“Turning around, Ed took Luna, an 80 pound, black, German Shepard, and Bo, an old and now crippled Corgi, to the other side of the house…
“What’s up with you?” He inquired, irritated. Not even a “good morning” ?”
“Ed, there’s an owl in our kitchen.”
“What?” He inquired.
“Do you mean that owl you bought at the store?” Ed snickered.
“No. A real owl. I think it was attracted to the other owl.”
“What are you talking about?….” He said…
I slowly slid open one of the pocket doors. Sure enough, the beautiful little owl sat there with its head turned towards the fake owl.
Ed let out an explicative and shut the door.
“The owl must have seen the other owl from outside.” I whispered.
” How did it get in?” Ed quietly asked.
“I don’t know, from you? When you let the dogs out? I don’t know, but we have an owl in our kitchen!”
Ed and I looked incredulously at one another, then smiled.
Gently opening the door, we slowly snuck over, as quiet as could be. Ed started removing the screen from behind the joulosy windows. The owl lifted off the chair and flew about the kitchen landing by the fake owl, but the plastic branch sunk under its weight so it flew off and around the kitchen in high circles without a whisper. Ed and I were transfixed, fascinated. When it landed, we took pictures.
Ed finally got the screen off and cranked the window. It popped open, braking the silence of the morning. Wind blew inside the room.
The owl looked back to its friend, and then, without a sound, flew through the window, and was gone.
“Death by Fertilizer” or “Our Sick Friends” was originally a booklet created by the River Kidz in 2012 to bring awareness to the ailing health of the bottlenose dolphins in the Indian River Lagoon; I think the message remains a relevant teaching tool today.
South Florida’s water issues~
~The Lake Okeechobee Watershed: 88% agricultural in nature running into a now sick, eutrophic, algae-ridden, Cyanobacteria filled Lake; a 700,000 acre Everglades Agricultural Area south of the Lake allowed to back bump when flooding occurs; all this water, in turn, discharged into the ailing St Lucie River and the Caloosahatchee Estuary by the ACOE while the SFWMD and FDEP, and their bosses, the Executive and Legislative branches of government look on. This putrid, polluted water runs out into the ocean. We think that’s the end of the water destruction, but it’s not, as red tide and seaweed are fertilized, growing into monsters we have never seen before.
Septic and sewer pollution is a type of fertilizer too. Some people around the world fertilize their crops with their own human waste; dog poop is also a “fertilizer,” and all this fertilizer leeches or runs off into our estuaries and ends up blending with the polluted Lake O water coming down the pike to the ocean. Every rain event runs right down the storm drains of our neighborhoods and shopping malls with all the “crap” it carries. We designed it that way, years ago, and have not changed this model. The fertilizer put put on our lawns, of course, runs off too.
Yes, it is death by fertilizer that we are experiencing this 2018. Eutrophication, Blooms of algae and cyanobacteria; red tide; too much seaweed suffocating the little sea turtles when they try to come up for air…
The fancy, confusing words of “nutrient pollution” must be replaced with “fertilizer,” something we can all understand. From the time we are children, we learn that “nutrients” are good, they make us strong. Fertilizer can be good, but we instinctively know it can also burn. We know not to eat it; it is not nutritious. Nutrient Pollution is an oxymoron created by industries and government so we have a hard time understanding what is going on.
In conclusion, fertilizer (phosphorus and nitrogen) from corporate agriculture; poop from animals and people, (mostly nitrogen) and it is feeding, “fertilizing” Lake Okeechobee’s cyanobacteria blue-green blooms that in turn are poured into the St Lucie and Calooshatchee, which in turn this year are feeding, “fertilizing,” tremendous sargassum seaweed blooms, and red tide in the Gulf of Mexico and now in the Atlantic. These blooms are giant multi-celled intelligent, organisms, kind of like a bee-hive. They are hungry and determined and we are feeding them. It is a vicious cycle that only we can stop by forcing our government to take charge and coordinate municipal, state and federal programs of education and coordinated implementation. We know what to do.
Developing an effective strategy for reducing the impacts of nutrients, easier understood as “fertilizer over enrichment,” requires all of us to change how we live and the powerful agriculture industry to lead.
Otherwise, it is, and will remain, death by fertilizer.
“Red tide was reported on the east coast in 2007 when it spread to the Treasure Coast south from Jacksonville where LaPointe said discharge from the St. John’s River may have aided its growth. LaPointe said this summer’s plethora of sargassum on southeast Florida beaches could feed red tide with a boost of nutrients leeching into the ocean when the seaweed dies.
Red tide is different from the freshwater blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, that has spread in Lake Okeechobee, the St. Lucie Estuary and the Caloosahatchee River this summer. But red tide and the cyanobacteria both thrive in nutrient-heavy conditions.
“You have discharges coming out the Jupiter Inlet,” LaPointe said. “Red tide likes the kind of slightly reduced salinity in areas where there’s a river plume.” https://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/crime–law/new-stretch-beach-jupiter-closed-police-after-odor-sickens-beachgoers/cVD3CBHqrYDrLCFFDV4T7L/
I first met Michelle Jones Connor during 2013’s “Lost Summer,” the year coffee colored, sediment-filled water flowed through the gates of the Army Corp of Engineers for most the year, from Lake Okeechobee into our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. At that time, with energy surging as thousands of peoples’ anger ramped-up the River Movement, at a rally Michelle told me about her environmental-legend grandfather and grandmother, Johnny and Mariana Jones.
Ironically, not too long after this, my mother and father discovered the above plaque while on a field trip to the Hungryland, an area also named after the couple.
Who were these incredible people?
The Florida Wildlife Commission’s dedication to Hungryland explains:
“The Hungryland Wildlife Environmental Area honors the conservation legacy of Johnny and Marianna Jones, passionate advocates for the protection of fish and wildlife resources throughout Florida. During their 61-year marriage, the couple lobbied for environmental issues, were leaders of the Florida Wildlife Federation and were instrumental in the establishment of over 3 million acres of public lands, including the John C. and Mariana Jones/Hungryland Wildlife Environmental Area.”
The list of their achievements is incredible! Almost impossible. Could we ever do something like that today? Of course we could; we just have to learn the tricks of the trade before they are forgotten.
Michelle’s grandparents have recently passed as have so many other of the “greats.” We must fill their shoes. We have no choice but to do so. And learning from the past can be a great help along our journey.
Thankfully, Michelle has given us some of the treasures of her late grandparents.
Today I share with you, with the permission of Michelle, three things from the Joneses and their library. First, a fascinating and insightful 2001 University of Florida interview where Mr Jones answers the question: “What are the two or three most important contributing factors that have led to the present problems in the Everglades?”; Second, “The Marshall Plan, Repairing the Florida Everglades;” and third Johnny Jones’ “The Rain Machine,” my favorite, about how human greed, development, and canalization, and drainage of Lake Okeechobee and surrounding areas altered Florida’s water cycle ~and thus Florida’s weather itself ~by removing so much water from the land.
Upon reading, you will notice names, such as Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, Arthur R. Marshall, and Nathaniel Reed ~just to name a few. In spite of the difficulties, pressures, and of course the hottest potato, politics, it was relationships and perseverance that allowed the Joneses to achieve so much. We must do the same.
Thank you Michelle for sharing these rare and valuable documents. We shall honor the legacy of your grandparents and be inspired..
UF/Interview of Johnny Jones by Brian Gridley, 2001:
Why the name “Hungryland:”…in the mid-1800s, Seminoles seeking to escape the U.S. Army hid out in these wetlands. The Army destroyed and cut off their food supplies, leading local ranchers to refer to the region as “Hungryland.” The slough that still runs through the area was called the Hungryland Slough and was primarily used for grazing cattle.”
Such has been the direction from Martin County Government of whether the public is allowed to swim at area beaches.
Let’s review recent days….
8-21-18: Bathtub Beach reported as closed
8-24-18 Bathtub Beach reported as not closed
8-25-18 Bathtub Beach, Stuart Beach, and Jensen Beach reported as closed
These changes are very difficult to keep up with!
Although the 2018 pulse release schedule from the ACOE is certainly a good thing, and a positive effort, one has to wonder if that is part of the reason for the recent back and forth scenario reporting. In 2016 with no pulse releases the algae was everywhere and plastered the beaches with no breaks.
In any case, it has been crazy around here, and unfortunately, the only safe way to deal with things, is to take the “may” out of the permanent signs and not to swim in the water anywhere.
When I visited lifeguards at Bathtub Beach on August 24, the word was if one got on a surfboard and paddled out 50 yards, cyanobacteria was floating in clumps in the sea water watered down by fresh water discharges from Lake Okeechobee since June 1st.
~On and off that is…
To try to get a handle on things, Ed and I took up the SuperCub for the first time on Saturday, the day all beaches were closed, and boy was that a good thing they were closed because blue-green algae was flowing down the St Lucie River in long arched lines. Right in the middle of the river! And this was a day the ACOE had stopped discharging from the Lake…As Ed and I were flying around up there in heavy winds, I was trying to figure out the timing of the algae’s 35 or so mile journey from Lake O and how the pulse releases would affect it.
When Ed and I photographed, the algae was just west of the beautiful peninsula of Sewall’s Point and out in the main St Lucie River.
God what have we done? My home town?
To close the beach or not to close the beach, that is not the question. The question is how did the state of Florida let the most bio-diverse estuary in North America go straight to hell.
The wild thing about flying in the SuperCub is that I can communicate via text and Facebook. As Ed and I were taking photos from the sky of what was heading to Martin County beaches, reports were coming in of the algae blowing up from the ground from my friend Mary Radabaugh at Central Marine, located in the same area Ed and I were flying. Go to Toxic#18 Facebook for more reports.
“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.”
If you’re like me, you might wonder about the various satellite images in the news and on social media showing the cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, in Lake Okeechobee. What’s the connection between the colorized and the not? How do the scientists determine the colorized image? Where do they come from?
In this post, I share a link to my brother, Todd Thurlow’s latest creation, “NCCOS HAB Images.” This exciting site juxtaposes an experimental product of the National Centers for Coastal Science, NCCOS, being used to track Harmful Algae Blooms, HABs, in Lake Okeechobee, to NOAA True Color, or enhanced traditional satellite images.
The NCCOS images are referenced by The South Florida Water Management District, however, experimental. Experimental or not they are cool, tell us a lot, and they are interesting!
Before relying on a CICyano (Chlorophyll Cyanobacteria Index) image, scientists must first look at the “true color” version to determine if clouds or sunlight reflections have corrupted the data. Todd has made it easy for us to compare the NCCOS “Chlorophyll Cyanobacteria Index” pictures to the corresponding “True Color” picture. He processed hundreds of images, putting them side by side. Generally, if there are clouds on the right image, then the left image may not be so reliable. But if there are no clouds on the right, then the left image is a good indicator of algae.
This site is an awesome visual tool we can now reference as we continue to learn about HABs in Lake Okeechobee. Technology is a powerful path for connecting to a “better water future.”
In my last post, I shared my brother Todd Thurlow’s “Lake Okeechobee Satellite Images 1972-2013.” Today, I am sharing his Lake Okeechobee Satellite Images 1982-2018.
In 1972, I was 8 years old…
In 1982, I was 18 years old…
A lot changes in ten years, and an extra-lot changes in the 100 years we have not taken good care of our state’s largest lake; this is now affecting millions of people and the remaining wildlife we have left.
Todd told me he did not “create by hand,” as I alluded to in my last post, but rather he used a USGS website tool to do it, and then converted, and loaded to YouTube, embed, etc.
In the last video the emphasis was on an a visible algae bloom in 1979, in this “video” the dates of algae blooms are not marked, but you can see clearly blooms towards the end as we reach 2018.
Unless something drastic occurs structurally, socially, and politically, I am sorry to say that we are doomed to have more and more algae blooms in the future.
~“The consequences of ignoring ecological planning and environmental protection could be economically devastating in a way not commonly foreseen.” Environments of South Florida Present and Past, by Patrick J. Gleason 1974.
It takes a lot for me to trust a politician, probably because at times, I’ve been one myself…
In 2016, when I was running for District 1, Martin County Commissioner, I met Brian Mast. We were both standing on the side of Martin Luther King Boulevard, with our teams, holding signs in near 100 degree heat and off the chart humidity. There is always time to wipe the sweat off your brow and talk, when no cars are driving by…
Of course, Brian is a striking person, no matter the case, but when he told me the St Lucie River’s health would one of his priorities, although pleased, ~because I had heard that many times only to lead to disappointment, I was doubtful. Only Senator Joe Negron had ever won my full loyalty for his commitment to the river.
Well, by tremendous fate, Joe Negron’s legacy is being pushed, most outstandingly, now by Congressman Brain Mast. Brain’s consistent record for the river, since being elected in 2016, cannot be matched congressionally by anyone else in office at this time.
His two recent letters to the Honorable R.O. James, Assistant Secretary of the Army on June 7th, and yesterday’s letter, dated June 14th, 2018, to LTG Todd Seminole, Commander General of the US ACOE, are unparalleled in direct, passionate, and respectful communication regarding the damaging algae releases from Lake Okeechobee to the northern estuaries, These are game-changer letters, that will be documented, and referenced in the archives of Washington DC building our case for years to come.
I commend Congressman Mast; I thank him for not only keeping his word, but exceeding expectations. He is more than a soldier of his word, he is am American, and a St Lucie River hero. And he must be reelected.
“Jacqui, get dressed and come on over here to Central Marine! It’s happening again, and this time there are logs, algae logs. I have never seen this before.”
since May 23rd, Mary and I had been exchanging photos of the water in the St Lucie River at the marina she and her husband have managed for many years. The marina that brought national toxic algae coverage in 2016. The marina that the SFWMD and DEP did core samples of river bottom in 2005, but have been quiet since. The marina that is the ground zero of zeros…
So I got dressed and headed over.
The waters have slowly been changing, worsening since the C-44 basin waters opened into the river about March 15th. And Mary has documented this change on her Facebook page. After June 1st, when the ACOE opened S308 to discharges of Lake Okeechobee, things have sped-up and are starting to crescendo.
Only three days ago the waters of the St Lucie River were primarily a dark cloudy coffee brown sometimes with little specs. Then as winds and tides push the specks and foam in the river into the pocket of the marina, the now green specks of particulate start to organize. It is incredible to see that just from yesterday, to today, the algae has bloomed in bright fluorescent green slicks. In 2016, this happened all over the river, primarily in marinas, coves, along shorelines, against dock pilings and any other place the forever thickening algae would get “hung up.”
It is happening now too, but not as extreme. Yet.
This all happens because over the past 100 years the St Lucie River’s basin has been expanded tremendously, erroneously, taking on developed-land’s, and agricultural canal water (C-44, C-23, C-24) that pollutes and turns the brackish estuary fresh. Once the canals have almost killed the river, then the ACOE opens the gates of Lake Okeechobee without even checking the water quality from the SFWMD, or better yet, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Just let ‘er roar!
This time, as was the case in 2016, an algae bloom in the lake is being transferred into the river through C-44. This is totally obvious with arial photography. The blooms start in the lake.
But since the river is now fresh, from all the canal water, the microcystis algae coming and once living in Lake O can live here too, and bloom toxic…
That the federal and state governments do this to their own people is mind-boggling. I know there are many water bodies around the county with algae issues, but we are certainly the only place in America where the government is knowingly dumping it on to a community of people.
There have been many opportunities over the years to fix the situation, but no, pure crises of the past few years is necessary before considering a fix….yes and thank God the EAA Reservoir is on the horizon. We must hold fast!
Today, I am sharing the photos of the Central Marina algae and its blooming.
Tomorrow we shall see what else it brings….this algae has not been tested yet, but one thing is for sure, if history repeats itself, it surely will be toxic.
In closing, be sure too to watch the poor manatee eating the algae off the seawall. Having survived millions of years as a species, he or she certainly deserves better.
TIMELINE TWO DAYS
Tuesday, June 12, 2018 7:58 AM
By afternoon it was swirling into designs.
Tuesday, June 12, 2018 2:59PM
And then by today, it was filling in those shapes with fluorescent green.
When the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon start to deteriorate due to discharges, things start going downhill fast. And when my husband Ed and I start taking and sharing aerial photos, my world becomes a bit chaotic.
Sometimes there are days of hundreds of photos to look through, and knowing the importance of getting them out immediately, choices have to be made. Facebook is a better medium than my blog for real-time info as it takes less time, but my blog is better for historic documentation as it is “permanent.”
So today I am sharing more of Ed’s photos from 6-5-18, and some you may have already seen. Mind you, after heavy rains, stormwater has been pouring in from many canals but, always, like clockwork, after the ACOE starts discharging from Lake Okeechobee, the river looks not just cloudy-coffee brown, but contaminated.
The ACOE started discharging from Lake Okeechobee on 6-1-18, and as most of you know, now, there are not only algae blooms spotted in the lake, as Ed accidentally found on 6-2-18, and others also documented, but also in the St Lucie River. More than likely, there will be more and more algae bloom popping up as the Lake O water makes its way down the estuary, over the tip of Sewall’s Point, towards the St Lucie Inlet. Algae floating down the river is disgusting enough, but toxicity is the real question…
Ed and I will take and share more aerials in the future, to document the algae blooms should they explode, but until then, here are some photographs from 6-5-18 that I had not yet archived on my blog. Sadly enough, although there is no algae in these pictures, I cannot say they will make you feel any better.
Never take the pressure off politicians to build the EAA Reservoir and get it to where it needs to be to clean and filter this water to send south as Nature intended. Government knowingly contaminating its citizens is not an option. Health, Safety and Welfare is a responsibility.
Photos taken 6-5-18 showing SLR/ILR near Sewall’s Point; Jupiter Narrows; Atlantic Ocean/beach over nearshore reefs along Jupiter Island just south of St Lucie Inlet; out in ocean near Peck’s Lake; Sailfish Point/Sailfish Flats area; and Bird Island, a Critical Wildlife Area, for many threatened and endangered birds.
Since my husband, Ed, accidentally spotted an algae bloom in Lake Okeechobee, while running new engines on the Baron, I have posted many photos on Facebook and the word is out.
Nonetheless, for purposes of documentation, I am going to post some of the photos again on my blog for historical purposes and for those who do not use Facebook.
~Ed noticed the “lines of algae” in the lake on June 2, two miles or so northwest of Port Mayaca, the day after the ACOE started discharging from Lake O into the St Lucie River. Absolute chance, fate, or a tip from above, however you decide to look at it.
Since this time others have documented on the ground and DEP should be testing for toxicity.
So, after seeing the bloom on Friday, Ed went back the following day on Saturday in windy conditions so I stayed home–in the yellow plane, the Cub, getting more pictures of bloom, looking about the same but more dispersed from rain perhaps. These photos at lower altitude also include drainage structures around the lake, as well as the destruction of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon at Sewall’s Point and the St Lucie Inlet.
Photos will continue to be taken as we once again, document the discharges, and once again have seen first-hand, like we did in 2016, without the warning of our government, that the algae that contaminates the St Lucie River starts in Lake Okeechobee.