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John Moran’s “Florida’s Summer of Slime: Stuart and Lake Okeechobee”

It’s an honor to present:

“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.”

In this, our Summer of Slime, can I get an amen?

by John Moran
August 2018

web: http://johnmoranphoto.com
email: JohnMoranPhoto@gmail.com
cell: 352.514.7670

Feel free to forward or post this photo essay as you wish; attribution is appreciated. Please share this with elected officials and ask them: what’s their plan to clean up our waters?

Blue-Green Algae Present, Lake O Bloom Subsiding, SLR/IRL

 

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.

7-20-18, light colored algae, Lake O off eastern shoreline, JTL

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.

A great book on this subject is Clean Coastal Waters, Understanding and Reducing the Effects of Nutrient Pollution, National Reaseach Council 2000, https://www.nap.edu/catalog/9812/clean-coastal-waters-understanding-and-reducing-the-effects-of-nutrient

Read below how Florida is trying to fix its impaired waters; nice try but no urgency. As we all know, there is no time to wait.

Florida Dept. of Environmental Protections Basin Management Action Plan: https://floridadep.gov/dear/water-quality-restoration/content/basin-management-action-plans-bmaps

 

Sentinel-2 L1C, SWIR on 2018-07-20.jpg 1,638×1,637 pixels, courtesy of Todd Thurlow. Visit his site here: http://www.thurlowpa.com/LakeOImagery/%5B/

Sentinel-2 L1C, True color on 2018-07-20.jpg 1,668×1,668 pixels, courtesy of Todd Thurlow. Visit Todd’s site here: http://www.thurlowpa.com/LakeOImagery/
Ed Lippisch S-308 at Port Mayaca, the opening form Lake O to C-44 Canal and SLR, 7-22-18
Ed Lippisch 7-22-18
Ed Lippisch 7-22-18
Ed Lippisch 7-22-18
Ed Lippisch 7-22-18
Ed Lippisch 7-22-18
Ed Lippisch 7-22-18

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.”

Excerpt, Letter to the Editor, Stuart News, 2017

A Tear for Lake Okeechobee, SLR/IRL

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?

Just unbelievable…”

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

All photos take on July 7, 2018, 3pm. JTL/EL

Masses of Algae Pressing the Gates; Will ACOE Discharge Tomorrow? SLR/IRL

6-24-18, (Sunday)

I am posting this, not because I want to but because I have to. I much rather be enjoying the day instead of once again sitting at my computer. But time is of the essence.

This morning I read a comment by TcPalm reporter, Ed Killer, on Facebook stating the ACOE’s pulse release schedule for the St Lucie River.

Ed KillerThe Corps gave me this today

Sat- 0
Sun- 0
Mon- 1270 cfs
Tues- 2000
Wed- 2100
Thu- 1650

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: jennifer.a.reynolds@usace.army.mil (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.

Respectfully,

Jacqui

PLEASE WATCH THE VIDEO

The recognizable shape of S-308 the entrance to C-44 and the SLR. Lake O’s connection to the river—obvious massive algae bloom at gates.
Bloom as satellites show is throughout and scattered in lake. This shot is looking more towards middle of lake in southern area.

Entrance to Caloosahatchee on west side of lake and near Clewiston Bloom is all through lake.

Brian Mast, Even More than a Congressman of His Word, SLR/IRL

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.

Please read both letters below.

JTL

Brain Mast’s website: https://mast.house.gov

Meeting with C. Mast with EF in April 2018
Mast’s War Board for the SLR

Toxic Algae 101, Watching it Turn Toxic, SLR/IRL

St Lucie River looking across from Central Marine to Martin Health.

Mary Radabaugh called me this morning.

“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.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018, 8:30 AM

Wednesday, 6-13-18, 2:02PM

#toxic2018

Report Your Algae Sighting to DEP, Overwhelm Them, SLR/IRL

I, as many, have seen and received multiple algae reports via Facebook, text, and through the tremendous reporting of Tyler Treadway of  the Stuart News. Now, I am encouraging everyone to take the time, and it doesn’t take much, to report their algae sightings in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, (DEP).

It was Mike Connor who reminded me to do this, after my husband Ed accidentally spotted the algae lines by plane off Port Mayaca ~in Lake Okeechobee~ on June 2nd, the day after the ACOE started discharging.

At first I thought, “I’m too busy for that…” and then I realized of course I need to report to DEP because then the state is obligated to document and to test it for toxcidity.

Better yet, if everyone who is reporting via social media and text called DEP, there would be so many test sites for DEP to test, it would exhaust their resources.

Oh well…

Since our resources are gone, this is only fair.

As they say: “All is fair in love in war.”

Please report algae  sightings; see link below.

If you can’t figure it out this unclear website, call the Governor’s office: 850-488-7146 or Noah Valenstein the head of DEP: 850-245-2118.

Jacqui

https://depnewsroom.wordpress.com/south-florida-algal-bloom-monitoring-and-response/

Off of Overlook Drive near downtown Stuart. A beautiful location, an area Ed and I considered building on.

Liz Dunn shared 6-9-18 just south of Martin Health System.