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…
Today is October 26, these photos/videos were taken over the weekend on October 24, 2020. The first is the St Lucie River looking off the Evan’s Crary Bridge at Sewall’s Point; the second is a video of the St Lucie River taken between Rio and Stuart; and the third is a video of a brown ocean at Peck’s Lake. The St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon and much of the east coast of South Florida have endured tremendous, repetitive downpours in 2020, causing massive “local basin runoff.” The St Lucie has been stressed for months, and since October 14, there are also discharges from Lake Okeechobee. Prior to that, there had been no Lake O discharges since March of 2019. This post is written to document this discharge era for today and for later reference.
1-Video visual water quality from boat, wide St Lucie River near Rio 10-24-20
2-Video visual water coloring, Atlantic Ocean at Peck’s Lake, south of St Lucie Inlet 10-24-20
DOCUMENTING THE DISCHARGES 2020
Covid-19, an active hurricane season, and the 2020 presidential election have captured our attention, but most of know, as this Tyler Treadway Stuart News article reports, much to our dismay, due to a high rate of Lake Okeechobee rise, and after weeks of media briefings, and warnings, a reluctant ACOE started discharging to the St Lucie River on October 14th. Thankfully, for much of the time, it has been difficult due King Tides. The discharges are expected at least another week longer if not a month depending weather and rainfall from Tropical Storm Zeta. See link below from the ACOE’s most recent, 10-20-20, Periodic Scientist Call for more info.
The most comprehensive place to keep track of all this is Todd Thurlow’s website (http://eyeonlakeo.com) that provides a multitude of easily interpreted information. Check it every day, especially LIVE DATA and Satelitte NCCOS HAB images of Lake Okeechobee.
Michael Conner, THE INDIAN RIVERKEEPER keeps an active Facebook page on Lake O discharge and other local issues and is often on the ground reporting.
Also on 10-14-20 The Florida Department of Environmental Protection put out a press release: “Governor Ron DeSantis Announces Preparation for Algae Bloom Mitigation Following Announcement by Corps of Releases From Lake O.” This technology has not been needed thus far.
I can’t forget to include that October 11, 2020, right before the discharges began, Ed and I took this video documenting a significant algae bloom in the middle of Lake Okeechobee. Since that time it has been too stormy, or cloudy to go up. Usually, rain and lack of sunshine minimize visual blue-green algae blooms as can be seen on Todd’s website. The algae does remain in the water column. This image/video was shared by many news stations and posted on Facebook.
3-Large algae bloom in middle of Lake Okeechobee, 10-11-20.
Next , I would like to document Florida Oceanographic CEO, Mark Perry’s recent op-ed as it gives us pause. “Why can’t, why aren’t we able to send more water south?” We know a lot has been done, and we are grateful, however, 2020 is not 1948, we must continue to advocate for a better water future…
OP-ED MARK PERRY, PUBLISHED IN STUART NEWS, October 15, 2020
Lake Okeechobee discharges can go south now.
As the water level rises in Lake Okeechobee, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering discharges to the coastal estuaries, the St. Lucie to the east and Caloosahatchee to the west.
According to the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule, the Corps considers where the lake level is at this time of year within the “operational band,” which ranges from 10.50 to 17.25 feet of elevation. Then, based on the rainfall outlook and tributary conditions, they determine “allowable Lake Okeechobee releases” to the water conservation areas and to the estuaries.
The water conservation areas (900,000 acres) are the remnant Everglades, south of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) which is the 700,000 acres immediately south of the lake used primarily for growing sugarcane.
For “allowable Lake Okeechobee releases” to the estuaries, the Corps has specify flow amounts going to each estuary, which can be “up to 4,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) to the Caloosahatchee and 1,800 cfs to the St. Lucie.”
That is where they are right now with the lake at 16.02 feet elevation.
But the “allowable” releases to the water conservation areas are always “up to maximum practicable.” What does that mean? Well, they rarely talk about how much they can release to the water conservation areas, and never tell us how much should be considered to go south.
In fact, water has been flowing south into the water conservation areas all throughout this wet season, May through October.
But it is not coming from the lake.
About 955,000 acre feet (311 billion gallons) has been going into the water conservation areas from the EAA basin runoff. This means that they are keeping the EAA water table down to 10.5 feet — ideal for crops — by draining all this water through our 57,000 acres of stormwater treatment areas and into the water conservation areas — the Everglades.
Meanwhile, the Corps says they must discharge Lake Okeechobee to the estuaries because they can’t release it to the south. Well, they can — they have been doing it for months and they still are today, but it is all coming from the EAA basin runoff!
All this time, we could have been releasing lake water to the water conservation areas, and we could do the same right now instead of killing the estuaries with releases and wasting this water to tide.
But for that to happen, we need to tell the EAA to store and treat runoff on their own land so the stormwater treatment areas can be used for water flowing south from Lake Okeechobee.
The Corps and South Florida Water Management District are jointly responsible for managing water in south Florida. We need to have them focus on restoring more natural water storage and treatment north of the lake, in the 2.5 million acre watershed, so the lake doesn’t fill up so fast.
But we must also get them to flow south from the lake to the Everglades during the wet and dry seasons. We don’t have to wait for huge regional projects to be authorized and completed, we can do this now.
The lake is rising quickly because the EAA is using the capacity to send water south. Agricultural interests would like it to stay high because during the dry season, November thru April, the EAA will demand water from the Lake, about 350,000 acre feet, as water supply for their crops.
These are ideal conditions for the EAA, but not so good for the lake, the greater Everglades ecosystem and the coastal estuaries.
Mark Perry is executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society in Stuart.
Below are Florida Oceanographic’s most recent St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon water quality reports
Finally: During Rivers Coalition meeting 10-22-20 more expansive documentation/reporting of on-going seagrass loss/slow recovery in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon was requested. It was noted that SFWMD “Ecological Reports” cover only two historical seagrass areas of the once lush and healthy Sailfish Flats.
Stuart, St Lucie River, Sewall’s Point, Indian River Lagoon, and Hutchinson Island, Atlantic Ocean, Martin County, Florida 1971
“I have enjoyed looking at this aerial taken in 1971. Too bad our little house on Edgewood is out of the photo. It shows the location of the future Monterey Road through the Krueger property. The Krueger building to house Merrill Lynch has not been built yet but you can see the little surgery center was already built. I think I can see Mimi and Grampy Tom’s house in Snug Harbor–at least the driveway. So many things yet to be built.” Mom
My mom, local historian, Sandra Thurlow, recently shared this aerial with my brother, sister and me as we grew up here in Martin County. It’s a really great photograph capturing a growing community. Look how Hutchinson Island, Sewall’s Point, and even parts of East Ocean were undeveloped. No Indian River Plantation, later renamed “Marriott Hutchinson Island.” No Cedar Point Plaza. No Benihana! White sands shine through the remaining forest denoting scrub habit, home to threatened and endangered scrub jays and gopher turtles. This sand pine scrub habitat that made up most of Florida’s east coast is now considered one of the most endangered habitats in the world. The East Ocean Mall on the right sits next to a flower farm. At this time flower farms were giving way to roads and development. Already, the freshwater ponds have been directed and drained, and obviously thousands of sand pines have been mowed down for condos, houses, farms, roads, and shopping centers. By 1971 this area was fully on its way to build-out as we see below in 2020. Nonetheless, from air and ground this area of Martin County stands out as one of the most beautiful.
But it would be fun to bring back some of the scrub habitat ~easy to do by just altering our yards. How things could change…
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
Nature is full of surprises that amaze and inspire…
But sometimes we have to LOOK.
I wanted to share these wonderful nature photos taken by my brother Todd, March 28, 2020, near the House of Refuge and the Crossroads of the St Lucie River-Indian River Lagoon. Birds, blue water, and for me, the best of all, the determined eyes of this handsome brown-orange colored fighting conch? Incredible!
This post is a precursor, as later this week I will begin a water quality series that will open our eyes to a “better water future.”
How so? ~My brother Todd Thurlow, creates water quality maps with the help of Dr Gary Goforth and these maps really give insight into nutrient pollution and how it gets into our state waters. I will be sharing and explaining these maps. I figure many of us have some time as most of us are at home due to the coronavirus pandemic. ” We can learn something while doing the right thing for our country.
~Until then, enjoy Todd’s photos, and may we all, human and mollusk alike, keep our eyes out and keep fighting for a better water future!
Fighting Conch in area of the Crossroads, Martin County, FL ~always return sea snails to the water!
HOUSE OF REFUGE, BLUE KEY, CLEAN WATER #LakeO discharge free ~going on 2 years….
A BROWN PELICAN DIVES FOR FISH NEAR INDIAN RIVER PLANTATION, MARRIOTT
A TALL LEGGED “SANDPIPER” FEELS FOR FOOD (WILLET) 🙂
Hi. I hope everyone had a wonderful 4th of July! Wasn’t it exceptional? Exceptional because the St Lucie/IRL’s water wasn’t toxic like so many times in recent years. So nice to be able to enjoy our waterways. No dumping of Lake O. I am grateful!
Today I am a back with an Indian River Lagoon Report for the entire Indian River Lagoon.
During my husband, Ed, and my recent 156 miles trip up the IRL, aboard ADRIFT, I contacted Duane DeFreese Ph.D., Executive Director for the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program. I called Duane because I knew why the southern lagoon looked better but was impressed by how good the water in the central and northern lagoon looked as well. No brown tide. No superbloom.
Since am unfamiliar with the waters north of the Treasure Coast, except by books, I wanted a scientific update. Well, boy, did I get it! See Dr. Duane’s comments below. Also included is the invaluable, recent St John’s Water Management District’s “June 20th Indian River Lagoon Conditions Update.”
For visual input as well, I am inserting some of Ed and my photos, with comments, of our incredible journey along what is still considered to be one of the world’s most biodiverse estuaries. What a treasure! From north to south, we must do all we can to ensure a toxic-free future.
Keep up the fight!
Duane, hi. Hope you are having a great summer. At this time, are there algae blooms reported in the IRL near Melbourne, the N. IRL north of Titusville, or anywhere in the Mosquito Lagoon? Thank you for letting me know. Jacqui TL
Conditions being reported to me by the local guides are consistent with the report and my own observations. Overall water quality looks pretty good, but small, patchy areas of poor water quality continue. The fishing guides tell me one day it looks great and a day later the same area will have color and turbidity (probably patchy bloom conditions). My personal observation is that we have been lucky so far and the system is vulnerable. I would not be surprised to see blooms intensify as we move deeper into summer and the rainy season. Lagoon water temperatures are also really warm. the SJRWMD Report documents that we have had patchy blooms occurring of multiple species. Two confirmed species of concern are Pseudo-nitzschia, a marine diatom and Pyrodinium bahamensis, a dinoflagellate. The worst water conditions continue to be in Banana River and in Sykes Creek. There are boater reports of patchy poor water quality in some areas of the northern IRL. The third species of significant recent concern has been Brown tide (Aureoumbra lagunendis). It was in almost in continuous bloom for most of last year in the Banana River. Bloom conditions have subsided. Aureoumbra thrives in warm, high salinity environments. It is not known to be toxic. Blooms of pseudo nitzschia, a marine diatom, can produce a neurotoxin called domoic acid. Blooms of Pyrodinium can produce saxitoxin. I expect that we will see patchy and flashy bloom conditions of multiple species throughout the summer. If we get lucky, I hope none of these blooms get intense enough to elevate toxin levels, low DO levels and fish kills. I’m very concerned about the slow recovery of seagrasses, even in areas of good water quality. Feel free to call me anytime. Have a great 4th July!
Dear Duane, thank you so very much for the super informative reply! I wrote because my husband and I are taking our maiden voyage in a trawler. We have gone from Stuart to Jupiter to Vero to Cocoa, north as far as possible in IRL, past Titusville, and today-through the Haul-over Canal into the Mosquito Lagoon. Not being familiar with these waters, all I have seen visually appears quite good compared to the St Lucie and even parts of the S. IRL. Some varying coloration is apparent, but overall seems good and in the north, many baitfish balls are shimmering under the surface and dolphin families are gorging themselves and teaching their young! We have seen many dolphins everywhere. Throughout Indin River County, Ospreys nesting in channel markers. One after the other! In the Mosquito Lagoon there were many more wading birds than S IRL. Even saw a few roseate spoonbills. I was not expecting it to be so full of life up here… a nice surprise. Not off the chart healthy, but marine and bird life very visible! I really appreciate the info you sent. I plan to blog on trip once home, so I can quote your knowledge. Happy 4th of July to you as well and I hope to see you soon.
360 of the unforgettable Mosquito Lagoon:
Incredible footage of 4 dolphins in our wake near Ft Pierce welcoming us home!
Yesterday, 3-17-19, my husband, Ed, flew the Super-Cub over the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon ~ twenty-one days after the ACOE started discharging from Lake Okeechobee on February 24, 2019.
When Ed arrived home, I asked, “So how was it?”
“Brown,” he replied.
“Like dark coffee brown, or kind of like that weird mixed greenish-brown?”
He looked at me, and smiled. “Jacqui, it was brown.”
“OK, I said, I’ll take a look at your photos.”
So here are the photos from Ed’s flight from Witham Field in Stuart, over Sewall’s Point and Hutchinson Island, then out west to S-80 to see the “Seven Gates of Hell” where you can see the one gate discharging now at an average of 250 cubic feet per second, down from an average of 500 cubic feet per second. As you can see from the SFWMD chart below, there has been other runoff locations as well, but the majority is from Lake Okeechobee.
Thank you to my husband Ed, for showing us that right now, the river is brown.
The following phots are of Caulkins Water Farm, a former orange grove that died due to citrus greening that now holds water from the C-44 Canal. This is a wonderful thing! As local ag-man Mr. Hadad, told me once, “Jacqui we spent 100 years taking the water off the land, and we’ll spend the next 100 years putting it back on.” The later photos are of S-80 again with view of C-44 canal leading west to Lake O.(https://www.facebook.com/CaulkinsWaterFarm/)
The following photos are when Ed headed back to Witham Field going once again over the St Lucie Inlet over the Atlantic Ocean. You can see the water looks blue north of Sailfish Point north of the inlet with nearshore reefs visible. Plume is also visible south of St Lucie Inlet. Also in photos is the winding Jupiter Narrows and St Lucie River in the area of Stuart and Rio. You can see Langford Landing with scraped orange soil and docks built into river still under construction since 2015.
You’ll see that after the rain event, the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon looks terrible even with out Lake Okeechobee discharges. This is caused by directed water runoff from C-23, C-24, C-25, C-44 and “local” coastal runoff. Naturally, the river never took all this water. Humans made it this way, and we must fix it.
Soon after the torrential rain, the Army Corp of Engineers made things even worse and started dumping from Lake Okeechobee through the C-44 Canal into the St Lucie River by opening up the gates at S-308 and S-80.
My husband, Ed, first flew over Lake O on June 1st, just by chance. At this time, he spotted algae on the lake and took a photo. Ironically, the next day, the Army Corp started dumping from Lake Okeechobee on June 2nd!
After another long, hot summer, the Army Corp finally stopped discharging in the fall~October 5th… Take a look at the photos and remember to enjoy the blue water when it is here, but NEVER FORGET! Only though looking back, will we have the determination to change the future.
LAKE OKEECHBEE DISCHARGES ADDED
City of Stuart, June 9 2018.
Rio near Central Marine, week of June 12, 2018
LAKE O: Week of June 16th, June 25th, and July 22nd. Cyanobacteria (blue green algae) blooms and then subsides. ~All the while, this water is dumped into the St Lucie River by the Federal Govt.; the water quality is terrible and this the responsibility not of the Feds but of the State of Florida.
October 5, the ACOE stops dumping from Lake O. The blooms stop almost right away but the damage remains….
What should be normal, was a gift on Christmas Day, blue water in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. The peninsula of Sewall’s Point shone like the gem it is surrounded by aquamarine on both sides: the St Lucie River on its west, and the Indian River Lagoon on its east…
Feeling like the Bahamas, rather than the toxic-sludge we had to endure ~coming mostly from Lake Okeechobee this past summer, 2018, and yes, remember 2016, and 2013….the destruction must stop!
As 2019 edges into the picture, we will once again have to give everything we have to fight for clean water and encourage our state and federal government to support legislation “sending the water south.”
Seeing these beautiful blue waters once again is certainly encouraging. Now to keep the Army Corp and South Florida Water Management District at bay long enough, as projects proceed, and allow our precious seagrass beds to return so baby fish can once again hide, swim, and grow to maturity in these waters; once christened the “most bio-diverse in North America.”
Thank you to my dear husband, Ed, for these photos all taken 12-25-18. And from both of us, “Merry Christmas!”
Photo below as a comparison ___________________________________________________________________________
Sometimes the history of the Everglades is really confusing. Why, with all of the environmental advocacy, since the 1970s, does the health of our environment remain crippled? One way to simplify it is to think in terms of before and after the 1947 U.S. Central and South Florida Plan. Of course there is extensive history before 1947, but it was after 1947 that things in South Florida’s water world became culturalized, compartmentalized, and legally defined. Before we talk about this 1947 Central and South Florida Plan, let’s review some important highlights pre-1947.
1. Hamilton Disston begins the drainage of Lake Okeechobee (1881)
2. Governor Napoleon Broward hires U.S.D.A. scientist James Wright who determines that “eight canals would indeed drain 1,850,000 acres of swampland” (1904)
3. The U.S. Congress’ Rivers and Harbors Act includes significant funds to deepen the manmade Hamilton Disston connection of the Calooshahatchee River to Lake Okeechobee (ca.1910)
4. The scandal of James Wright (from #2 above) who was deemed “a fraud” for the failure of the land to drain as expected ~causing the slump in swampy real estate sales (1914)
5. The resurgence of confidence in sales and a 1920s real estate boom fueled by advances in soil science, and the success of agricultural start-ups located in Moore Haven, Belle Glade, and Clewiston south of Lake Okeechobee
6. Land in a defined “Everglades Drainage District” more fully being systematically cut into sections for development with canals draining agricultural fertilizers and other chemicals into the waters of the state (1924)
6. Two very powerful hurricanes causing thousands of deaths and the destruction of property, and thus the state’s “call for a higher dike” (1926 and 1928)
7. The state’s reaction to the hurricanes, the 1929 establishment of the “Okeechobee Flood Control District” for the “Everglades Drainage District” as well as the Federal Government’s Army Corp of Engineers taking over “field operations”around Lake Okeechobee ~including the building of a thirty-five foot earthen dike and ingeniously using navigation funding to build the cross-state-canal, connecting the Caloosahatchee and the St Lucie Estuaries to Lake Okeechobee ~conveniently working as discharge-escapes through those estuaries when “necessary”
So, as we can see, a lot happened pre-1947, but it was what happened after, were things really changed…
In 1947 it rained and rained, and there were two hurricanes. From Orlando to Florida Bay the agricultural and developed lands, that had been built in drained, once marshy, swampy areas, really flooded, and in some places a foot of water sat for months. There was great economic loss.
The crying cow booklet, above, was sent to every member of the U.S. Congress.
To fight Florida’s destructive “flood waters” the 1948 U.S. Congress adopted legislation for the CENTRAL AND SOUTH FLORIDA PROJECT, a twenty year flood plan from Orlando to Florida Bay that included the formal creation and protection of the Everglades Agricultural Area south of Lake O, the Water Conservation Areas, intertwined with thousands of miles of canals and structures to control the once headwaters and River of Grass. HOUSE DOCUMENT 643 – 80TH CONGRESS (00570762xBA9D6)
Next, mirroring the same terminology the United States Government had used (the Central and South Florid Project) the state of Florida created the “Central and South Florida Flood Control District” to manage that CENTRAL and SOUTH FLORIDA PROJECT. A bit confusing huh? A tongue twister. And in a way one could say, at that time, the Central and South Florida Project and the Central and South Florida Flood Control District “became one.” The overall goal above all other things was flood control. And this marriage of the Central and South Florida Project and the Central and South Florida Flood Control District was successful at controlling the waters, but it also killed the natural environment, thus Florida herself.
This embedded cultural philosophy of “flood control only” was challenged in 1972 with the birth of the national environmental movement, and a consciousness that the natural system that supported Florida’s tourism, quality of life, agriculture, not to mention valuable wildlife, was in tremendous decline.
“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.”
Documenting the discharges, is critical whether by air, on the ground, or from outer space.
The two videos above were taken by me over S-308 at Port Mayaca, the opening from Lake Okeechobee to the St Lucie River, and over S-80 at St Lucie Locks and Dam on Friday, July 20th, 2018. The satellite images below, my brother Todd Thurlow provided, were taken the same day.
It is clear that the blue-green algae/cyanobacteria, covering, at its height, 90% of Lake Okeechobee, has run its course and bloomed. Now, as the “flower falls,” we see what’s left.
As seen in the aerials, and what the satellite images cannot portray, is that the algae is still there just lessened. Flying out over the lake a light green algae film remains over the water, a pastel shadow of its once flourescent self.
The seven aerials at the end of this blog post were taken by my husband, Ed, this afternoon, July 22, 2018 around 4pm. The tremendous green shock is gone, but squiggly lines of nutrient bubbles remain, and blue-green algae visibly lines the eastern shoreline to be sucked into the gates…
Will another gigantic bloom arise? Another flower to replace the dropped blooms of yesterday? Only time shall tell…
One thing is certain. Nutrient pollution (Phosphorus and Nitrogen) is destroying Florida’s waters, and unless non-point pollution, especially fertilizer runoff from the agriculture community, is addressed, faster than Florida’s Basin Management Action Plan requires- pushed out 30 or more years, we are will be living with reoccurring blooms indefinitely.
Timely quote for thought by the late Mr Nathaniel Reed 1933-2018
“…The fact that the Department of Environmental Protection and the Everglades Foundation have at last identified every polluter in the vast Okeechobee headwaters is an astonishing feat. The sheer number of polluters is mind-boggling.
The failure to enforce the possibly unenforceable standard (best management practices) shines through the research as testament to the carelessness of our state governmental agencies about enforcing strict water quality standards within the watershed.
There is not a lake, river nor estuary in Florida that is not adversely impacted by agricultural pollution.
As one of the authors of the 1973 Clean Water Act, I attempted late in the process to include agricultural pollution in the bill, but the major congressional supporters of the pending bill felt that by adding controls on agricultural pollution the bill would fail.
Now, 54 years later, fertilizer and dairy wastes are the main contributors to the pollution of the waters of our nation. Algal blooms are all too common even on the Great Lakes.”
Ed and I have just returned from vacation. Ironically leaving June 28th, the day the ACOE announced a nine-day reprieve due to algae in Lake Okeechobee; and returning July 8, the day before the ACOE may open S-308 into the St Lucie River once again.
It was a great trip and the weather was excellent.
Ed was our pilot, and we flew with stops from Stuart to Michigan. It was remarkable to sit in the airplane and see the land below me ~ever changing from swampland, to farmland, to cites, to forest, to mountains, to rivers, and peppered with hundreds of lakes….
When we finally approached the Great Lakes Region, I was looking for the algae I had read so much about, and yes, there were some lakes turned green. But not in the vast northern waters of Lake Michigan, or Lake Huron, these lakes were deep mirrors of blue.
“The water here looks like the Bahamas,” Ed noted. We both looked in wonder at their hue.
Sometimes, I awoke at night, thinking of home. Thinking about how there is nothing like it, in spite of the many wonders of our great county. In spite of the beautiful, blue, icy waters of Lake Michigan.
On the way home to Stuart, I asked Ed if we could fly inland over Lake Okeechobee just to see. It was midday and the clouds had popped up and I knew we’d have to do my least favorite thing, fly though them. As the turbulence engulfed the airplane, I closed my eyes and prayed. And then finally, as always, we were through.
The lake opened up before us like an ocean.
I could clearly see the algae at about three thousand feet. It was visible roughly a mile off the lake’s east coast out into the lake for as far as the eye could see. Ed flew west and then circled around. The green masses of algae had been pushed into geometric designs by the wind, and they were everywhere. We flew for miles over the middle of the lake and beyond. To my surprise, the repetitive, endless, formations of cyanobacteria caused something unexpected to happen. Rather than my usual disgust, or anger for the destruction of the St Lucie, I felt myself begin to tear-up. “This poor lake,” I thought to myself. “I know you were once so beautiful even mythical; what have we done to you?
I wiped the tear from my eye, so sad for what is happening to the waters of my beloved Florida. Ed turned the plane, and we headed home…
S-308 algae was visible about a mile off the east coast of the lake and on and off, sometimes heavy, inside of the S-308 structure and in the C-44 canal to S-80 at St Lucie Locks and Dam.
S-80 was open and algae could be seen going through the gates from the C-44 canal
Home at last. Sewall’s Point Park River Kidz FDOT recycled sign art
If this is true, and with Ed Killer posting, I believe it is, the ACOE will start releasing again Monday, 6-25-18. I did not know this until I read his post.
Today, my husband Ed and I were flying other people over Florida as usual, and during our flight I took this video expecting maybe some algae in C-44 but instead also found the gigantic bloom against the gates of S-308 in Lake Okeechobee leading into C-44/SLR.
So I wrote on Facebook:
I am so over this, but cannot fail to report. According to Ed Killer ACOE will start discharging from Lake O tomorrow in spite of Governor’s Emergency Order. Look at this algae mess waiting at gates of Port Mayaca. Write ACOE’s LTC Jennifer Reynolds and politely ask for ACOE to wait and to have DEP test again: firstname.lastname@example.org (JTL-S-308 video taken 6-24-15 at 12pm) #toxic2018
As Monday is tomorrow, and I fly to DC with the River Kidz tomorrow, I am posting this now. I truly believe considering the circumstances, that the ACOE should refrain from discharging at S-308 or S-80. And the state’s FDEP (Florida Department of Environmental Protection) should have this water tested, again, as bloom has changed.
To just dump this on the people of Martin County along the St Lucie River is a crime.