As I continue my now popular retrospective series “Keeping Alive the Power of the Pubic Voice,” the next St Lucie River rally documented in my LOST SUMMER photo archives is dated August 20, 2013 –Ten days after the Beach Rally and and seventeen days after the first Rally at the Locks.
This was the infamous “riverlution” rally at the the St Lucie Locks and Dam when Governor Rick Scott visited. Just days prior to this, TCPalm put out their STOP KILLING OUR LAGOON issue. These were indeed incredible times! Below is an excerpt I saved from WPTV reporter Jeff Skrzpek, and some of my archived photos. Many people you’ll see in the photographs continue today to work for a better St Lucie River and Everglades LOSOM system.
The St Lucie “Lost Summer” led to significant changes to Florida water policy as we shall we in upcoming post. The recent wave started in Martin County and continues to crash ashore today.
Excerpt, August 20, 2013 – WPTV
STUART, Fla. — – “Hundreds lined the road, armed with signs and chanted loudly as Governor Rick Scott zoomed by more than 300 protesters on his way to tour the St. Lucie Lock.
“Save our river!” screamed the crowd as the hot sun beamed down sweaty backs.
After arriving, Governor Scott was rushed into fenced area, topped with barbed wire fencing, walking away from the crowd without acknowledging any of the concerned residents. The chants turned from being loud to all out anger…”
-Jeff Skrzypek, WPTV
Below” screen shot of TCPalm’s STOP KILLING OUR LAGOON SERIES. Note Eve Samples! I see Larry Reisman and I think that’s Ed Killer in the back. It is hard for me to see and recognize the others with my now “old eyes.” 🙂
“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.”
From what I’m told, the last water story the Discovery Channel did was on Flint Michigan….perhaps the next will be on the Lake Okeechobee and the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon….
Discovery reporter Katie Carpenter visited Stuart yesterday just for a tour. She visited Florida Oceanographic speaking to Mark Perry, others, and then met with me at the Town of Sewall’s Point for a tour of the area. She is just doing preliminaries–groundwork, seeing if there is a story.
I did my usual spiel trying to be a good hostess; I’ve done this before for high level government officials and reporters, and I am happy to do it—-it’s how we are going to change this mess–by sharing our story, putting it out for the world. So I put my smile on, got out my history books, maps, photographs, and river advocacy educational materials from 2013 and offered a road tour.
I figured we’d hit a few places and maybe there would be some algae blooms to show her. Maybe they’d look toxic–
Not only did I see particulate algae in the water off Sewall’s Point but mats of it awaited us at Sandsprit Park, The Harborage Marina under the Roosevelt Bridge in Stuart, and most dramatically at St Lucie Locks and Dam where the waters of Lake Okeechobee are released by the ACOE along C-44 through Structure-80 into the South Fork of the St Lucie River.
Today I will share some photos and videos from the trip to continue documenting this 2016 Lake O Event that started January 29th, 2016.
It’s a crazy story isn’t it? From most biodiverse estuary in North America to a health hazard.
I wish there were a better story to Discover.
Katie was brought to our area through locals who referred her here. We have many connections. Yes, the world is Discovering what is happening here, and this exposure will help facilitate change because we definitely have a story.
#1 SL Locks algae coming from C-44 west side through S-80 into SLR
Great passions surround issues of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
Over the past month, I have have been “corrected,” like a middle school child, not only by some friends but by institutions, for my outspoken comments for or against certain politicians or programs affiliated with the Indian River Lagoon. This berating came as a shock to me as I have not “been corrected” since I lived in my parents house and was constantly corrected. I was not good at it then, and I am not good at it now.
When I complained about this recently, my husband Ed just looked at me and laughed saying, “Get used to it, if you want to be involved in politics!”
“I am working for the river, I replied, not politics.”
Ed looked at me like I was in outer space and again laughed that infectious laugh of his.”
Of course Ed is right. Water is politics. And politics can be even more toxic than our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
This Sunday, August 3, at 10 a.m. , at Phipps Park, (St Lucie Locks and Dam), the River Warriors with the second year leadership of Evan Miller and the help of the Rivers Coalition, the Indian River Keeper, and the Sierra Club, will hold the “March Against the Lake Okeechobee Discharges.”
There will hopefully be hundreds if not thousands of people there. And even though there will be people of many political affiliations, backgrounds, and beliefs, when the “powers that be” see the group together in one place our differences fade and WE ARE ONE. It is this oneness, this togetherness that has brought us from obscurity to state and national recognition for the problems of Lake Okeechobee, the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon in just one short year.
I have an old chest in my living room that came over to the United States in the 1700s. Its owners were French Huguenots who were openly persecuted and killed for their religious beliefs. When I see that chest, I think of its journey across the great ocean and it reminds me that people came to our county for many reasons, but the protections of “free speech” and “freedom of assembly,” to many may have been most important.
May we exercise our American Freedoms with dignity on Sunday and with the protections of the First Amendment of our United States Constitution:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
I am well aware that the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon have location specific e. coli bacteria problems, as well as “overall water quality problems,” due to our local canals. This summer has been a great example of such with our SLR/IRL waters colored putrid brown all the way to the St Lucie Inlet just from releases from C-44, C-23, and C-24 canal basin runoff releases.
This is why it is beyond my comprehension, that with such terrible local water issues, our state and federal agencies can legally and in good conscious, “if necessary,” on behalf of flood control, release more nutrient, sediment filled waters into our SLR/IRL through Lake Okeechobee when they know that those waters often contain Microcystis Aeruginoas, a cyanobacteria that can produce health threatening toxins through its blue-green algae blooms.(http://www.doh.wa.gov/CommunityandEnvironment/Contaminants/BlueGreenAlgae.aspx)
In 2013, the Martin County Health Department, through spokesperson, Bob Washam, urged residents to avoid contact with the algae in the entire estuary from the St Lucie Canal to the St Lucie Inlet. Luckily with our local, “yuk” releases, we have not had that situation occur yet in 2014.
I have had two personal experiences witnessing these blue-green blooms. The first was during a boat ride into Lake Okeechobee, September 5, 2009, and the second was last year (2013) with the Everglades Foundation team, at the St Lucie Locks and Dam when the ACOE was releasing. As we walked over the gates, I clearly saw bright blue-green algae on the side of the dam allowing in Lake O water. Believe it or not, the SRWMD was testing the water right there… Mark Perry from Florida Oceanographic was with me and I ask him:
“Mark, is that “toxic” blue-green algae?”
“Yes, blue-green algae can be toxic is most prevalent in fresh water systems. It is often in the lake.”
“And they are releasing it into our river?!”
I stood there in a daze….amazed.
Then I recalled the boat trip I had taken with my husband and dogs in 2009, and how we had seen the blue-green algae clearly along the edges of the locks while going into the lake and I had videotaped it. I am including some photos I took of that video below.
When Senator Rubio visited Stuart on behalf of the SLR/IRL, I told this story….I have told it many times at many official meetings to no avail. I think it a significant issue. Anyway…
So far this year, with the releases from our local canals, toxic algae, or Cyanobacteria, has not been reported in the SLR/IRL. It could be in the future, but it is less likely than when the ACOE is releasing from the lake. Why? Because often when they release from the lake it is TREMENDOUS amounts of freshwater, even more than comes from our local canals. Plus the blue-green algae is already in the lake as its fresh.
According to Bob Washam, blue-green algae was first reported around 1995 and it was blue! They thought it was a paint spill. The outbreaks have been more common since this time the worst being in 1998. Whether blue or green in color, it is bright. Very bright. You can see it.
How could our government, in essence, “poison its own people,” and how can we allow this, especially when we can see it?
We must push our government for change. Health, safety and welfare is something we rightfully deserve. Send the water south.
The locks are back in the news again. WPTV, “hard working for the river reporter,” Jana Eschbach, broke the story yesterday, that the Army Corp of Engineers did not alert the public that they would be releasing polluted canal, C-44 basin water through the S-80 structure into the St Lucie River. Jana, like most people, feels that the public should be alerted when polluted water will be coming into the estuary in that we swim and fish. She is also concerned the water in the area of Palm City and the Roosevelt Bridge, which has been reported to have high levels of bacteria, will be pushed to the popular Sandbar area.
This can be confusing. Don’t we just care about lake water? Also, if the locks are open, doesn’t that mean the ACOE is releasing Lake Okeechobee water? Not necessarily, and the basin water can be just as damaging to the estuary and the public. So how does releasing basin or lake water work?
There are two structures along the C-44 canal which runs along the side of Highway 76 from the South Fork of the St Lucie River, to Lake Okeechobee: S-308 at the edge of Lake Okeechobee, and S-80, 20 miles or so, east, at the St Lucie Locks and Dam.
S-80 serves duel purposes. First to release water through Lake Okeechobee, but only if S-308, at the lake, is open first, allowing water into the C-44 canal. Then S-80 lets the water pour into the St Lucie River.
Second, S-80 can be opened just to allow water from the C-44 to flow into the St Lucie River, as the C-44 canal is surrounded by a 185 square mile basin, mostly agriculture, that has been directed to flow into the canal when it rains. Agriculture also uses this water in the C-44 canal to water their crops. To make things more confusing, C-44 can “deliver” local basin runoff in both directions: to Lake Okeechobee and to the St Lucie Estuary. The ACOE decides where the water “needs” to go by opening and closing the structures of S-308 and S-80.
It must be noted that the water from the C-44 basin is polluted, as is the water from Lake Okeechobee. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection writes: “…the construction of the C-44 canal has had the greatest impact of the St Lucie Estuary–and nearly all of that impact has been bad, FDEP 2001.) The charts below show how much nitrogen and phosphorus come into the river from the C-44 and other basins. C-44 is the highest. Phosphorus and nitrogen mostly from fertilizer, feed toxic algae blooms in the hot summer months.
Fortunately, there is good news due to the help of our local, state and federal governments. The almost 3 billion dollar “C-44 Storm Water Treatment Area/Reservoir” has received first stage fundings and is under construction in Indiantown. It has been since 2011. This reservoir will hold the release water from the C-44 basin and clean it before it is returned to the St Lucie River. This is a huge positive, although it will not stop the releases from Lake Okeechobee.
An educated public is the best defense against the continued destruction of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Thank you for being part of the solution and hopefully, next time, the ACOE opens any structure for any reason, they will alert the public, because here in Martin and St Lucie counties, we want to know!