Today my husband, Ed, is going to take you on a flight south along the Atlantic Coast from the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon in Martin County, to the Port of Miami. As we know, the coastline becomes more and more developed as one flies further south. Bright blue skylines of houses and condos morph into shadowy silver skyscrapers, and cargo ships. Expansive greenery slowly disappears…
I, probably like you, know people who grew up in Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, or Palm Beach County who have moved to Martin County to get away from the over-development and traffic nightmare of “down south.” Many tell stories about things changing “overnight,” and no longer recognizing the place they called home.
The “Martin County Difference,” its slow development, is not by accident. Many throughout the years have fought to keep our area less traversed than the rest of South Florida. One thing is for sure, if you want to keep it, you have to fight for it, or otherwise it will be going, going, GONE…
Ed’s tour-view, from the air, really makes the comparison hit home.
(Please see map of cities passed in flight, and 28 photos or slide show below.)
I am having technical problems with this post; long up-loading and off links. I do apologize and will get worked out. Jacqui
Published on Oct 16, 2015
This overlay flight shows the following maps:
– 1907 Official Map of the Everglades Patent 137 conveyed to Florida on January 2, 1905
– Map of the Everglades Patent 137 re-recorded in Plat Books of Broward County, originally recorded in Plat Book B, Page 131, Dade County Florida
– 1924-1925 USCGS Maps of the Airplane Survey of Lake Okeechobee
After taking a counterclockwise lap around the shoreline of Lake Okeechobee while viewing the 1925 surveys, we return to South Bay.
Section 2 of Township 44 South, Range 36 East, north of the town of South Bay, was originally under the waters of South Bay. On 12/31/1888 that section was conveyed by TIFF to the Pensacola and Atlantic Railroad Company. The area of the Lake is now sugarcane farms.
Lake Okeechobee used to be a much larger lake. It crested at about 21 feet to fall over an undefined edge of sawgrass and in some areas a pond apple forest.
Since the late 1800s the lake has slowly had its undefined edge pushed back and dammed. The lake perhaps holds about 30% less water than it originally could. Those overflow waters today are plumed to drain into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon and the Caloosahatchee so that the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) can exist. Watch this amazing historic map/Google Earth video created by my brother Todd Thurlow and see for yourself!
South Bay, for instance…Todd explains: “You can see on Google Earth where the canals and levees follow the old shoreline of South Bay, now 5.8 miles from open water, but 2 miles from the rim canal. That Section 2, which was under the bay, was conveyed to the Pensacola and Atlantic Railroad Company by TIIF deed on 12/31/1888. It looks like there is a little town there called South Bay…”
Beauty and adventure abound in the pages of a classic 1887 book known as the “Knockabout Club in the Everglades–Lake Okeechobee. ” A book from the days when it was “a man’s world,” it is one in a series of exotic hunting and survival tales, written, and “documented, ” by F.A. Ober and Estes Lauriat.
When reading this text about Florida, one is transported to a time when Lake Okeechobee and our Indian River Lagoon Region, easily competed with the continent of Africa in wonder and wildlife. Bears, panthers, alligators, crocodiles, wolves, native people, limitless fish, and a million birds in every different color, shape, and size. –Knobby-kneed trees stretching to heaven forcing the eye to God…
My mother shared this book with me awhile back, and although I have not read every page, I remain moved by its recollections, its revelations, and its confessions.
Today I will share a smidgen of its art work, and a whisper of its words. The entire book has been electronically preserved and even reprinted due to “its importance and value to society.” The link is below.
As with so many things relating to Florida, the text leaves one wondering….wondering how we perhaps unknowing destroyed such a paradise, and if one day our collective conscience will find redemption by restoring some of the destruction we have caused.
This excerpt is from page 196 of the electronic copy:
“As the sun came down, behind the pines, scattered groups of herons came flying towards the island where we were concealed. Now a great heron, now a small blue heron, and occasionally a night heron. The sun disappeared and the moon came out and shed a faint light over the marshes and the lonely island, disclosing to the waters there the hurrying dusky forms in the sky, many of which fell at the fire of the marauders stationed beneath the trees…
When we left (I now grieve to state) we had nearly a score of herons of various kinds. Gleaming white in the moonlight, our back loads of herons appeared more like sheeted ghosts and verily, if all wicked deeds are requited in kind, the slayer of these innocent birds deserved to have their nights disturbed during the remained of their lives by the apparitions of their victims.
Looking back on that heron hunt, I can say it was a shameful thing to do,–to shoot unsuspecting birds as they came winging their way joyfully home to their nests. It was a most inexcusable act; yet we did it in our search for the rare and curious, not giving heed to the chiding’s of conscience—-until we had shot the birds.”
There are over 2000 miles of canals draining precious fresh water off South Florida; it’s a good idea to know the main ones. I started thinking about this after going through some old files and finding this awesome 1909 Map Dr Gary Goforth shared with me showing a plan in 1909 to drain the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee WITHOUT killing the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
Well as they say: “The rest is history….” As we know, the C-44, or St Lucie Canal, was later built.
So when I was looking on-line for a good map to show the canals of South Florida today to compare to Gary’s canal map of 1909, believe it or not, I could not find one! One that was well labeled anyway. So I made my own.
It’s pretty “home-school” but its readable. From left to right, below, you will see canals Caloosahatchee, (C-43); Miami, (L-23); New River, (L-18); Hillsboro, (L-15); West Palm Beach, (L-12); L-8 that never got a name as far as I am aware; and St Lucie, (C-44.) I do not know why some are labeled “C” and others are “L,” but you can follow them to see where they dump.
I believe the first two built were the Miami and the New River— by 1911, as I often see those two on historic maps prior to 1920. Today our state canal plumbing system is outdated and wasteful sending on average over 1.7 billion gallons of fresh water to tide (to the ocean) every day. (Mark Perry, Florida Oceanographic.)
Even though I grew up in Stuart, I was never really taught about the canals. As a young adult and even older, I drove around for years not knowing about these canals and others like C-23, C-24, and C-25. If I “saw” them, I did not “recognize” them. I knew the land had been “drained” but really had no conception of what that meant or the extent thereof…
I remember my mom used to say if we were driving around in Ft Pierce in the 80s, “And to think there used to be inches of water covering all this land at certain times of the year….” I just stared at her but didn’t really “get it.” The pine trees flashed by and it seemed “impossible” what she was saying…
In any case, the young people today should be learning in detail about these canals so they can be “updated,” “refreshed,” “reworked,” and “replugged.” Say “no” to old-fashioned canals, and “hello” to a new and better South Florida!
Below is a history of the South Florida canals as written in an email to me by Dr Gary Goforth. It is very enlightening. Thanks Gary!
As you know, plans to manage the level of Lake Okeechobee (by discharging to tide) in order to develop and protect the agricultural lands south of the lake were developed before 1850 and evolved through the mid-1950s.
1. Buckingham Smith, Esq. in 1848 proposed connecting the Lake with the Loxahatchee River and/or the San Lucia (report to the Sec. of the US Treasury; copy available).
2. In 1905, Gov. Broward rejected a proposal to lower the Lake with a new canal connecting to the St. Lucie River.
3. Attached is a 1909 map of South Florida from the 1909 State of Florida report “Report on the Drainage of the Everglades of Florida, By J. O. Wright, Supervising Drainage Engineer”. The importance of this map and report is the recommendation to manage the water level in Lake Okeechobee via drainage into multiple canals from the Lake to the Atlantic Ocean – but NOT the St. Lucie Canal. The primary canal for moving Lake water to the Atlantic was to be the Hillsboro Canal which would connect the Lake to the Hillsboro River in present day Deerfield Beach / Boca Raton. Note the recommendation is to construct what is now called the “West Palm Beach Canal” and route Lake water into the Loxahatchee River and then out to the ocean via the Jupiter Inlet – this is actually being accomplished as part of CERP and the Loxahatchee River restoration program.
4. In 1913, the State accepted the recommendation of an NY engineer (Isham Randolph) to construct a canal connecting the Lake to the St. Lucie River (report available). The Everglades Drainage District was formed the same year, and was responsible for the construction of the canal and associated locks/water control gates. (historical construction photos available). Construction lasted from May 1915 through 1924, and the first Lake discharges to the St. Lucie occurred June 15, 1923 (ref: Nat Osborn Master’s thesis 2012, copy available)
5. After the 1928 hurricane, the State asked for and received federal assistance. The canal was enlarged by 1938; new St. Lucie Locks was rebuilt in 1941; the new spillway was constructed in 1944. —Dr Gary Goforth (http://garygoforth.net)
I have read and listened to people speak about sea level rise before, but for some reason, this time it was different…
Last week, in Hollywood, Florida, at the sparkling ocean side resort, the Westin Diplomat, I listened to Dr Harold Wanless, Chairman of the Department of Geological Sciences, University of Miami. I experienced half denial and half fascination as he gave his unemotional, scientific presentation at the Florida League of Cities Annual Conference. The first sentence he said was “Sometime in the next 30 years, people in South Florida with 30 year mortgages will not be able to sell their homes.”
He cited Miami as the ninth most vulnerable city in the world to sea level rise and number one in exposed assets. He noted the warming and expansion of the world oceans, and the melting of Greenland and the polar glaciers. He said the oceans will rise 2-5 feet by the end of the century. Miami International Airport will be a marsh. He calmly projected that there will be forced evacuation of most barrier islands.
“Guess what?” he said. “The ocean has arrived.”
“The ocean city, Sewall’s Point. The island city that is…”I fantasized.
Dr Wanless like a mannequin continued.
The porous sand of Florida will not allow what Holland and New Orleans have done. South Florida will be under water and if not underwater the water will be so close underground that it will make maintaining roads and infrastructure almost impossible for cities…
At two feet increase, 72% of Miami’s land mass will remain above water. At six feet, 44%.
At this point I started doing the math. In years that is. I wrote down my age, 50, and all the ages of my family. In 34 years, with his prediction for two feet, I would be 84. Ed my husband, 92. My parents in heaven. My sister 81; my brother 78; my nieces 44; 46; 47 and 47. “I guess Ed and I can’t leave the house to the “kids…” I thought.
The whole time I was watching my real estate values go down, I was wondering about my beloved Indian River Lagoon. Can we still save her? Will the ocean reclaim her? Will she still be an estuary? Is all our work in vain?
There were two more speakers after Dr Wanless. Attorney Thomas Ruppert and Assistant Public Works Director of the City of Ft Lauderdale, Nancy Gassman. Basically Ruppert said you can’t win and Gassman said not to panic. Cites have gone through changes before…we must believe in humankind. We will keep building; we will adapt and survive.
As someone who has given my life to the preservation of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, I felt like “preserve” was suddenly a word that was outdated.
I starred thinking…worrying…’
“I must rather help the lagoon “adapt” to changes the best I can. If this to be, which I do not know, but probably is… I cannot preserve her, in fact I never could, she has always been changing. Wow, this is uncomfortable. It’s like my world is upside down. How can I plan if this is to be the future? …I must stay the course; I will not abandon ship. I will keep my values…
I think I’ll go to my room and look out the window, at the ocean…when is happy hour?
I think I will begin to prepare for the storm ahead…”
–thank you to Mayor, Cindy Lerner, Village of Pinecrest and Ryan Matthews, FLC for organizing this presentation.
Sea Level Rise and the Impacts of Climate Change
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!
It has been described as “black mayonnaise,” and if you’ve ever stepped into parts of the St Lucie River or Indian River Lagoon it may have sucked you down, like quicksand. Muck is as deep as 12 feet or more in some areas and is one of the primary reasons that the St Lucie River, part of the Indian River Lagoon, was declared “impaired” by the state of Florida in the early 2000s.
According to the the Department of Environmental Protection, due to the area’s development, agricultural industry and the building and discharge from canals and Lake Okeechobee, muck sediments into the the St Lucie River have increased causing thick deposits to accumulate.
In 2004, with the help of then Senate President, Ken Pruitt, Kevin Henderson of the St Lucie River Initiative, published a study for the SFWMD entitled “Final Report: Characterization, Sources, Beneficial Re-Use, and Removal of Marine Muck Sediments in the St Lucie Estuary.”
This extensive and excellent report concluded that there really are no “beneficial uses” for muck. Because of its high salt content it cannot be used as fertilizer and the cost of transporting it is often “cost prohibitive.” Nonetheless, based of this study the county and district were able to coordinate the plans or execution of muck removal from area creeks, such as Poppleton, Kruegar, Frazier and Haney.
For those of you really into this, it is worth noting that slow moving government policies such as SWIM, Surface Water and Improvement Management, CERP, Central Everglades Restoration Project as well as the Indian River Lagoon Restoration Plan, also deal with muck sediment removal.
There is hope, manatees came back to Kruegar Creek once it was cleaned and the muck sediments of some of the creeks went to build brims at Witham Airfield and “lined” the land fill. Mr Henderson’s report is a reference for all of us and the basis for future improvements.
Also, right now, in the central lagoon they are very close to getting monies from the state for muck removal in their area due to their area senator, Thad Altman’s involvement on Senator Joe Negron’s “Subcommittee on the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee.”
As depressing as the river situation is, in the 1970s laws were created to halt destruction of submerged and coastal lands, like here in Sewall’s Point where once developers and the local government could just decide to “create a marina or make subdivisions out of mangrove filled spoil islands. It is a slow go, but in some ways we have been, and we are making progress.
I’m about mucked out, but in case you’d like to learn more about muck, this Saturday at 10am in Sewall’s Point, the River Kidz are tie-dying t-shirts with river muck and colors. They named their project: “Get the Muck Out!” Scientists will be speaking; we will be teaching; and we will be screaming GET THE MUCK OUT! Please join us.