Tag Archives: St Lucie

Death by Fertilizer, SLR/IRL

Definition of fertilizer: one that fertilizes specifically, a substance (such as manure or a chemical mixture) used to make soil more fertile so things grow. Usually containing phosphorus and nitrogen.

..

SFWMD 2005

“Death by Fertilizer” or “Our Sick Friends” was originally a booklet created by the River Kidz in 2012 to bring awareness to the ailing health of the bottlenose dolphins in the Indian River Lagoon; I think the message remains a relevant teaching tool today.

Why?

South Florida’s water issues~

~The Lake Okeechobee Watershed: 88% agricultural in nature running into a now sick, eutrophic, algae-ridden, Cyanobacteria filled Lake;  a 700,000 acre Everglades Agricultural Area south of the Lake allowed to back bump when flooding occurs; all this water, in turn, discharged into the ailing St Lucie River and the Caloosahatchee Estuary by the ACOE while the SFWMD and FDEP, and their bosses, the  Executive and Legislative branches of government look on. This putrid, polluted water runs out into the ocean. We think that’s the end of the water destruction, but it’s not, as red tide and seaweed are fertilized, growing into monsters we have never seen before.

Phosphorus Loading by Land Use, Gary Goforth: https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/tag/phosphorus-loading-by-land-use-what-fdep-isnt-telling-us-gary-goforth/

Septic and sewer pollution is a type of fertilizer too. Some people around the world fertilize their crops with their own human waste; dog poop is also a “fertilizer,” and all this fertilizer leeches or runs off into our estuaries and ends up blending with the polluted Lake O water coming down the pike to the ocean. Every rain event runs right down the storm drains of our neighborhoods and shopping malls with all the “crap” it carries. We designed it that way, years ago, and have not changed this model. The fertilizer put put on our lawns, of course, runs off too.

Yes, it is death by fertilizer that we are experiencing this 2018. Eutrophication, Blooms of algae and cyanobacteria; red tide; too much seaweed suffocating the little sea turtles when they try to come up for air…

The fancy, confusing words of “nutrient pollution” must be replaced with “fertilizer,” something we can all understand. From the time we are children, we learn that “nutrients” are good, they make us strong. Fertilizer can be good, but we instinctively know it can also burn. We know not to eat it; it is not nutritious.  Nutrient Pollution is an oxymoron created by industries and government so we have a hard time understanding what is going on.

In conclusion, fertilizer (phosphorus and nitrogen) from corporate agriculture; poop from animals and people, (mostly nitrogen) and it is feeding, “fertilizing” Lake Okeechobee’s cyanobacteria blue-green blooms that in turn are poured into the St Lucie and Calooshatchee, which in turn this year are feeding, “fertilizing,” tremendous sargassum seaweed blooms, and red tide in the Gulf of Mexico and now in the Atlantic. These blooms are giant multi-celled intelligent, organisms, kind of like a bee-hive. They are hungry and determined and we are feeding them.  It is  a vicious cycle that only we can stop by forcing our government to take charge and coordinate municipal, state and federal programs of education and coordinated implementation. We know what to do.

Developing an effective strategy for reducing the impacts of nutrients, easier understood as “fertilizer over enrichment,” requires all of us to change how we live and the powerful agriculture industry to lead.

Otherwise, it is, and will remain, death by fertilizer.

National Research Council’s book, written in 2000, Understanding and Reducing the Effects of Nutrient Pollution is a step by step guide to this problem: https://www.nap.edu/catalog/9812/clean-coastal-waters-understanding-and-reducing-the-effects-of-nutrient

.

SFWMD 2005

Links:

EPA, Nutrient Pollution: https://www.epa.gov/nutrientpollution/problem

2018 Palm Beach Post, Red Tide:

“Red tide was reported on the east coast in 2007 when it spread to the Treasure Coast south from Jacksonville where LaPointe said discharge from the St. John’s River may have aided its growth. LaPointe said this summer’s plethora of sargassum on southeast Florida beaches could feed red tide with a boost of nutrients leeching into the ocean when the seaweed dies.
Red tide is different from the freshwater blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, that has spread in Lake Okeechobee, the St. Lucie Estuary and the Caloosahatchee River this summer. But red tide and the cyanobacteria both thrive in nutrient-heavy conditions.
“You have discharges coming out the Jupiter Inlet,” LaPointe said. “Red tide likes the kind of slightly reduced salinity in areas where there’s a river plume.”
https://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/crime–law/new-stretch-beach-jupiter-closed-police-after-odor-sickens-beachgoers/cVD3CBHqrYDrLCFFDV4T7L/

2018 Sun Sentinel, Lake O toxic algae blooms:

“Lake O and Estuaries’ Blooms: Not that this comes as much of a surprise. (Though state leaders feign shock with each new algae outbreak, as if they’ve just discovered gambling in Casablanca.) Environmental scientists have been warning Florida that the watershed lake was an environmental catastrophe since 1969.” Fred Grimm, reporting.
http://www.sun-sentinel.com/opinion/fl-op-column-fred-grimm-lake-okeechobee-algae-returns-20180705-story.html

Close up toxic algae, JTL

2018 Palm Beach Post, Overabundance of Seaweed:

“Palm Beach Post:LaPointe is in the second year of a three-year NASA grant to study how nutrients are changing in the sargassum. What he’s found so far is nitrogen levels have increased, likely from heavy doses of fertilizer and sewage runoff.
“We have altered the nitrogen cycle on our planet and it started with the invention of fertilizer,” LaPointe said. “We think this is what is behind the increased abundance of sargassum.” https://www.mypalmbeachpost.com/weather/why-ugly-thick-brownish-seaweed-cursing-south-florida-beaches/yILMtAMMlxxOXqqYz5H1ZO/

Red tide 2018 #toxic18 site
Plethora of sargassum weed or seaweed at Jensen Beach, 2018 photo Ed Lippisch

Phosphorus Loading by Land Use, What FDEP is not Telling Us, 2018, Gary Goforth: https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/tag/phosphorus-loading-by-land-use-what-fdep-isnt-telling-us-gary-goforth/

Last Thursday Shall Be Proclaimed “Water Tower Day,” as Lake O discharges reached the top! SLR/IRL


If the discharge waters of Lake Okeechobee filled up the City of Stuart, Florida. Last Thursday, they would have reached the top of Stuart’s iconic water tower that stands at 134 feet.

 

Stuart, North of Monterey.

Whereas, if the ACOE’s discharge waters of Lake Okeechobee were “filling up the City of Stuart,” last Thursday, October 26, these polluted waters, would have reached the top of Stuart’s iconic 134 foot water tower…

Whereas, once again, our economy and ecology is completed devastated, and high bacteria levels in the water are exacerbated therefrom….We shall remember this day…

We shall, therefore, designate, Thursday, October 26, as “Water Tower Day” and say together: “Lake O discharges have reached the top; this must STOP!”

Stop the Discharges

Yes, to put the Lake Okeechobee discharges into perspective, last Thursday the cumulative 2017 ACOE/SFWMD discharges from S-80 passed 134 “Stuart Feet”. The Stuart water tower is 134 feet tall. See my brother Todd’s cumulative total page below:

St Lucie River Discharges
***
S-80 Cumulative Total 2017: http://www.thurlowpa.com/LakeOLiveData/2017/

– In the lost summer of 2013, Stuart/Martin County received 284 “Stuart Feet”, 2.1 times the height of the tower.

– In 2017, the gates did not open until September 5. So it took only 52 days to accumulate that same amount of discharges!

– In 2013, the discharges started on May 8 (with the exception of some small pulses earlier in the year). That year, it took 91 days to hit a cumulative “134 Stuart Feet” – on August 7.

In other words, the discharges have been almost twice the rate as they began in 2013. You can see this in the slope of my brother’s graphs in the web page above. This doesn’t really mean a lot though. In 2013 the discharges didn’t really begin to accelerate until mid-July. At that point, the rates of discharge were comparable to what we are getting now.

– At the current average of about 4200 cfs, we would hit the 2013 total of 284 Stuart feet in another 42 days (December 9). If they are saying the discharges could continue for months, this could happen. We could have another record year, even though the disaster didn’t start until September. Maybe they will throttle it back a little or start pulsing again so it won’t be the case. In any event, this is already another lost year…

(This blog post was based on writing and ideas by my brother and contributing blogger, Todd Thurlow, www.thurlowpa.com)

* I edited this post from “today” to “last Thursday.” An ever rising story.  🙂 JTL

X. Mascarnas, TCPalm. on-line image.

 

“When Waterways are Polluted Property Values Decline,” SLR/IRL

Economic Impacts
Economic Impacts of polluted water. (EF)

Just last year, Florida Realtors, “The Voice for Real Estate in Florida,” published a final report on the impacts of water quality on Florida’s home values. “March 2015 Final Report.”

The first page of the executive summary states:

“There has long been a belief that there is a connection between home values and the quality and clarity of Florida waterways. The objective of this study was to determine whether that belief is in fact true.

We examined the impact of water quality and clarity on the sale prices of homes in Martin and Lee counties over a four-year period, from 2010-2013. What was clearly found was that the ongoing problem of polluted water in the Caloosahatchee and St Lucie rivers has indeed resulted in a negative impact on home values.

In addition, the study found a significant economic impacts resulting from improved water quality and clarity. Lee County’s aggregate property values increase by an estimated $541 million while Marin County’s aggregate property values increase by an estimated $428 million. These increased property values also provide additional revenue for city and county governments.”

.....
…..

Unfortunately this report, very much like the University of Florida  Report, was basically ignored by the South Florida Water Management District and the state legislature when speakers came before them last year using this document and asking for relief.

As we enter yet another long summer of water pollution, may we re-familiarize ourselves with this report; we are going need to reference it again. Even though this is certainly “common sense,” it helps to have the formal report in hand when speaking.

Here is the full document for your reference. Reading through you will see the story of Lake Okeechobee’s worsening polluting discharges and our property values’ decline.

Full report here: http://www.sccf.org/files/content/docs/FR_WaterQuality_Final_Mar2015.pdf

Mullet Jump! St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

A mullet jumps in the St Lucie River off North River Shores. (Photo Todd Thurlow, 10-10-15.)
A mullet jumps in the St Lucie River off North River Shores. (Photo Todd Thurlow, 10-10-15.)

Mullet are famous for being excellent jumpers. In fact, Florida Fish and Wildlife states “it’s often easy to identify their locations by simply watching for jumping fish.” Me? When I see a mullet jump, I have a tendency to personify thinking, “now there’s a happy fish!”

This beautiful jumping mullet-sunset photo was taken by my brother, Todd Thurlow, this past Saturday evening, October 10th, 2015  just off of North River Shores.

Former Stuart News editor and river advocate Ernest Lyons wrote about mullet jumping in his essay ” Never a River Like the St Lucie Back Then.”

There was never a river to compare to Florida’s St Lucie I when I was young….the river fed us. You could get all the big fat mullet you wanted with a castnet or a spear. If you were real lazy, you could leave a lantern burning in a tethered rowboat overnight and a half-dozen mullet would jump in, ready to be picked off the boat bottom next morning….at the headwaters of the south fork of the St Lucie….the waters were clear as crystal… (Ernest Lyons 1915-1990)

Today, the water of St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon are anything but clear, but “hail to the mullet that are still jumping!”

Sunset over the St Lucie, Todd Thurlow, 10-10-15.
Sunset over the St Lucie, Todd Thurlow, 10-10-15.
......
……
....
….

Mullet: Florida Fish and Wildlife: (http://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/mullet/)

Ernest Lyons, Stuart News editor, writer and award winning conservationist: (http://www.flpress.com/node/63)

Todd Thurlow: (http://www.thurlowpa.com)

SFWMD’s St Lucie River history (http://www.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/xweb%20protecting%20and%20restoring/stlucie)

Florida Sportsman, by Larry Larsen, Fishing Mullet Schools: (http://www.floridasportsman.com/2013/09/24/mullet-schools/)

Why Mullet Jump, by Terrie Gibson/Visit Florida: (http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/fishing/articles/2013/february/8431-why-mullet-jump.html)

Stop by the Stuart Heritage Museum to purchase Ernest Lyons’ books with writings about the St Lucie River:(http://www.stuartheritagemuseum.com)

1885–When St Lucie River was 20 Feet Deep…St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Rare wood cut map of St Lucie River, ca. 1885, by Homer Hines Stuart.  Image shows water depth in heart of St Lucie River near today's Roosevelt Bridge at 20 feet. (Courtesy of historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow)
Rare wood cut map of St Lucie River, ca. 1885, by Homer Hine Stuart. Image shows water depth in heart of St Lucie River near today’s Roosevelt Bridge at 20 feet. (Courtesy of historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow)
Homer Hines Stuart Jr., for whom Stuart, Florida is named. (Portrait courtesy of historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)
Homer Hine Stuart Jr., for whom Stuart, Florida is named. (Portrait courtesy of historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)

Some days I get really lucky because people send me cool stuff based on what I wrote the previous day in my blog. Yesterday this happened with both my mother, Sandra Thurlow, Dr Gary Gorfoth and a slew of other comments . I will be sharing some of my mother and Dr Goforth’s insights today.

Yesterday’s blog: (http://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2015/06/25/sediment-loads-into-the-st-lucie-river-2015-dr-gary-goforth-slrirl/)

After reading my post on sediment loads in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon and how they have lessened the natural depths of the river/s, my historian mother, sent me the awesome image of a historic wood cut at the top of this post created around 1885 by Homer Hine Stuart Jr., for whom Stuart, Florida is named.

This historic wood cut shows the depth of the St Lucie River at 20 feet in the area of what would become the span for the Roosevelt Bridge.  A contemporary navigation chart below, shows the depth of the water in this area at 11 feet. At least 9 feet of sediment and or —MUCK!

Contemporary St John's waterway navigation map, public files, shows the depth of the St Lucie River at the Roosevelt Bridge at 11 feet.
Contemporary St John’s waterway navigation map, public files, shows the depth of the St Lucie River at the Roosevelt Bridge at 11 feet.

“Jacqui, Your post about sediments made me think of this little map. Homer Hine Stuart, Jr. for whom Stuart is named, had a little wood cut map that was about 4 by 2 1/2 inches and looked like one of those address stamps we use today made. Maps made from the wood cut were used to show his the location of his property and his bungalow “Gator’s Nest” to his family in New York and Michigan. This image was made from a photograph of the wood cut. It is printed is reverse so the writing, etc., isn’t backward. You can see that there was 20 feet of water depth between the peninsulas that would later be connected by bridges. The date of the map would be around 1885.”  –Mom

Dr Goforth also wrote. He tells a sad story mentioning that Stuart News editor and famed environmentalist Ernie Lyons wrote prolifically about the great fishing in the St Lucie prior to the construction of the St Lucie Canal (C-44) in 1923.

“… the St. Lucie River and Estuary was known as the “Giant Tarpon Kingdom” before the Lake Okeechobee discharges began in 1923; after the Lake Okeechobee discharges began the muck from the Lake despoiled the clear waters and drove the tarpon offshore, and the area was recast as the “Sailfish Capital of the World” (Lyons 1975: The Last Cracker Barrel).

Thankfully, Dr Goforth gives an idea to fix and or improve the accumulation of muck sediments into the St Lucie River:

One effective means of reducing the sediment/much discharges from the Lake would be the construction of a sediment trap just upstream of the St. Lucie Locks and Spillway. This simple approach has worked well in other areas, most recently in West Palm Beach on the C-51 Canal just upstream of the Lake Worth Lagoon (see attached fact sheet). By deepening and widening the C-44 canal just upstream of the locks/spillway, a large portion of the sediment would settle out of the water in a relatively contained area before entering the River; with routine dredging, the material can be removed and spread over adjacent lands… —(perhaps using lands along the canal purchased by Martin County and SFWMD?). —-Dr Gary Goforth

Muck Removal using sediment trap, Lake Worth Lagoon, shared by Dr Gary Goforth.
Muck Removal using sediment trap, Lake Worth Lagoon, C-51, shared by Dr Gary Goforth.

Kudos to Dr Goforth’s ideas. Kudos to my mother’s history! Let’s get Governor Rick Scott to work and get to work ourselves too!  We can do it. Together, we can do anything. 🙂

___________________________

MUCK THEMED PHOTOS:

Muck coats the bottom of our beautiful river but determination coats our hearts. We and future generations will continue to fight to save our  St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon!

 

Muck from St Lucie River, 2014.
Muck from St Lucie River, covering oysters, 2014.
Rob Moir teaches Hannah Lucas about muck at the River Kidz GET THE MUCK OUT event,  March 2014.
Jim Moir teaches Hannah Lucas about muck at the River Kidz GET THE MUCK OUT event, March 2014.
Muck Buster, River Kidz 2014.
Muck Buster, River Kidz 2014.
Photo of Stuart News article where Kevin Powers of the SFWMD shows Gov. Rick Scott some muck that is located at the end of Power's dock in Stuart. 2014. (Photo Stuart News)
My close up photo of front page Stuart News article where Kevin Powers of the SFWMD shows Gov. Rick Scott a shovel full of muck from around Power’s dock in Stuart. 2014. (Photo Stuart News)
Mark Perry and I display our "muckstaches" for Florida Oceanographics fundraiser/awareness raiser, 2015.
Mark Perry and I display our “muckstaches” for Florida Oceanographics fundraiser/awareness raiser, 2015.
River Kidz GET THE MUCK OUT campaign and bumper sticker, 2014.
River Kidz GET THE MUCK OUT campaign and bumper sticker, 2014.

Ghosts of Lake Okeechobee’s Sugarcane Fields, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Calusa Indian mask image, public domain. Many wooden masks were found particularly at the Marco Island in far west Florida. They were and sketched  before they disintegrated once removed from the muck.
Calusa Indian mask image, public domain. Many wooden masks were found particularly at Marco Island in west Florida. They were and sketched before they disintegrated once removed from the muck.
Tribes and locations of Florida's natives peoples around 1500.
Tribes and locations of Florida’s natives peoples around 1500. (Online source)
Swamp to Sugar Bowl, Lawrence E Wil, 1996.
Swamp to Sugar Bowl, Lawrence E Wil, 1968.

Today, I continue my series based on the 1968 book “Swamp to Sugar Bowl,” by Lawrence E. Will.

To understand the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon region and its water issues, it is imperative we study not only our own area, but also the waters and the history that  is connected to Lake Okeechobee. As you know, the area south of Lake Okeechobee is inexorably connected to our region, as the reason the waters of Lake Okeechobee do not flow south, and are directed through the northern estuaries is due to the agricultural development south of the lake.

The area south of the lake includes various “townships,” but today we will focus on Belle Glade, in Palm Beach County very close to Martin County. Today, Belle Glade is the home of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative, (http://www.scgc.org)

In ancient times, it was the home of the warrior tribes known as the Calusa Indians. According “Swamp to Sugar Bowl,” somewhere between 1000 and 1700 A.D. , the Calusas lived along the shores of Lake Okeechobee. A Paleo-Indian culture preceded them thousands of years earlier. The Calusa were “mound builders” using the shellfish they gathered and consumed to create mounds sometimes over 70 feet in height and over 100 feet long. They were a fishing society, living off the rich resources of the waterways. Agriculture was not necessary for their survival. (Ironic considering today!)  In the Belle Glade area, the Calusa lived between the forks of a river that of course has been channelized, known by white settlers as “the Democrat.”

Location of indian mounds just south of Lake Okeechobee in today's Belle Glade community.  (Map Swamp to Sugar Bowl. 1968.)
Location of Indian mounds are  just south of Lake Okeechobee in today’s Belle Glade near historic “Chosen,” on mainland’s north shore side of Canal Street at the Torry Island Bride. (Map Swamp to Sugar Bowl, 1968.)

It is sadly ironic to me that we live on the burial grounds of Indians that lived so in tune with nature, and we manage to so completely destroy it. That goes for areas of Martin County as well. Much of Hutchinson Island and other locations across the state were bulging with shell middens, sometimes sacred graveyards,  that later were used to pave roads. “Bad karma,” I’d say.

Guess what is left of this once magnificent  Indian Mound in Belle Glade today? Not a thing. It is a sugar field in a “ghost town” known as “Chosen!” (http://www.ghosttowns.com/states/fl/chosen.html)

Map of Indian Mound area today, Google Maps, 2015.
Map of Indian Mound area today, Google Maps, 2015.

The small community of “Chosen” (http://www.pbchistoryonline.org/page/chosen) preceded, “Belle Glade,” and was destroyed in the horrific Hurricane of 1928 that drowned somewhere between 2000 and 3000 people: (According to Mr Lawrence it was 3/4 black farm workers and 1/4 white pioneers.) These bodies were piled up and burned or buried in mass graves. 

Indian Mound of Chosen being excavated by the Smithsonian and University of Florida in the 1930s. (Palm Beach Historical Society.)
Remains of the Indian Mound at Chosen being excavated by the Smithsonian and University of Florida in the 1930s. (Palm Beach Historical Society.)

The whole story is quite disturbing really. Don’t you agree? My family recently went to St Augustine and the kids got me thinking about ghosts. Lake Okeechobee and the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon soils must be full of them. I bet they are watching how we handle this next part of of our water history.

Welcome to Belle Glade Where Her Soil is Her Fortune.
Welcome to Belle Glade where “Her Soil is Her Fortune.”

_______________________

Belle Glade: (http://www.bellegladegov.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=63:about-us&Itemid=53)

Burial Mounds of the Calusas: (http://teachingflorida.org/activity/ceremonial-and-burial-mounds)

 

Cities Addressing Florida’s Water Problems Together, Tuning the Tide, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

The Florida League of Cities advocates the Florida legilature on behalf of the majority of Florida's 410 municipalities.
The Florida League of Cities advocates the Florida legislature on behalf of over 400 Florida municipalities.

Today I would like to share good news from the Florida League of Cities of which I have been an active member, as an elected official of the Town of Sewall’s Point, since 2009. I was also fortunate to be chosen to chair the league’s environmental committee last year in 2013 and in 2013 the SLR/IRL became a part of the leagues legislative priorities. Today I am happy to share continued support by the FLC regarding  the plight of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon and Caloosahatchee River due to excess polluted discharges from Lake Okeechobee.

Only a few years ago, the league had never heard of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, and thanks to last year’s public outcry and the leadership of Senator Joe Negron, and others, today we are part of their greater lobbying effort!

To give some background, the Florida League of Cities is the “united voice” for Florida’s municipal governments and was first started in 1922.  Its goals are to serve the needs of Florida’s cities and to promote local self-government and Home Rule. The league was founded with the idea that local self-government is the keystone of American Democracy. Today there are over 400 municipal members, (towns, cities, villages) represented by the league. (http://www.floridaleagueofcities.com)

Florida League of Cities Legislative Committeee
Florida League of Cities Legislative Committee, 2014. (Photo Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch)

Regionally,  the Town of Sewall’s Point, City of Stuart, Town of Ocean Breeze, Town of Jupiter Island, St Lucie Village, City of Port St Lucie, Ft Pierce, Fellsmere, Sebastian, Vero Beach and Okeechobee are active members of the league. 

There are five legislative committees of the league and ten priorities come out of each legislative session based on the work of the legislative committees that comprise members from all over the state with as many as 50 members sitting on a committee. This year’s Legislative Committee for the FLC occurred November 12-14 in Orlando.

The committees are as follows: Energy, Environmental and Natural Resources; Finance and Taxation; Growth Management and Economic Affairs; Transportation and Intergovernmental Relations; and Urban Administration.

Sam Henderson 2014 Chair for the EENR Committee, presenting with FLC's Ryan Matthews.
Sam Henderson 2014 Chair for the EENR Committee, presenting with FLC’s Ryan Matthews.

As I mentioned, I chaired the Energy and Environmental and Natural Resources Legislative Committee last year, but this year did not, and I was wondering if estuaries of the SLR/IRL and Caloosahatchee would take a back seat as there is fierce competition and many water problems throughout the state.  I was delighted to see that the committee continued its commitment to calling attention on a statewide level to the water problems of our region.

The POLICY STATEMENT for Water Quality and Quantity 2014 reads:

The Florida League of Cities supports legislation that provides recurring allocations of financial resources for local government programs and projects resulting in the protection of water resources, the improvement of water quality and quantity, and the expanded use of alternative sources of water.

The background immediately following this priority is even more specific stating:

Florida is currently dealing with multiple water challenges. South Florida faces water quality problems in the form of massive water releases of nutrient enriched waters. Those releases, which are controlled by the Army Corp of Engineers–a federal agency, pollute the estuaries and water systems that flow to the St Lucie on the east and the Caloosahatchee on the west.  North Florida faces an impending disaster in its oyster industry due to increased water usage by neighboring states Alabama and Georgia. Meanwhile all of Florida is struggling with how to efficiently conserve water and avoid devastation to the Florian Aquifer….

I am thankful to the league and to the many elected officials from all parts of our state who supported this legislative policy statement for 2014. This statement will go before the state legislature as the league lobbys and works for policies of the league.

We must be mindful of all of our water issues, from spring degradation, dying lakes and rivers, aquifer depletion, as well as the St Lucie/Indian River/Caloosahatchee/Lake Okeechobee issues we deal with at here home.

Understanding all of our water issues together is necessary, as we are all connected.

Together as cities fighting for what we love, our cities, we can overcome the common apathy of our state legislature and the destruction that has been brought upon our state by overdevelopment and lack of appreciation of our natural systems and the role they play in strong economies and quality of life.

With cities addressing Florida’s water problems together, we just might turn the tide….

DEP’s “2014 Indian River Lagoon System Management Plan” for the Once Outstanding Waters of Our Aquatic Preserves

Cover of NOAA/DEP Indian river Lagoon System Management Plan, 2014.
Cover of NOAA/DEP “Draft”Indian River Lagoon System Management Plan, 2014.

My husband came home from the airport yesterday, I was on the couch in the living room reading.  “Have you had a good afternoon?” He asked.

“Awesome,” I replied. “I have been reading the most wonderful document  that contains all of  the important information about  the entire Indian River Lagoon.” I energetically held up my gigantic copy of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and NOAA- Indian River Lagoon, Draft Report for 2014.  (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/coastal/sites/indianriver/plan.htm)

Ed smiled and looked at me like he usually looks at me in such instances. “That’s great,” he ironically replied, “government publications are my favorite too, how exciting…”

I am not always enamored with government publications, but I am with this one, especially as it is not finalized yet and the agencies are taking comment from the public.

What I like best about the document is that is deals with the entire lagoon, not just one section, including the lagoon’s  four aquatic preserves: 1. Banana River; 2. Malabar to Vero Beach; 3. Vero Beach to Ft Pierce; and 4. Jensen Beach (really just south of the City of Ft Pierce) to Jupiter Inlet.

Locations of the IRL's four aquatic preserves
Locations of the IRL’s four aquatic preserves

According to the document, “each of the four aquatic preserves comprising the IRL System was classified by the state of Florida as OFWs or “Outstanding Florida Waters, “in 1979 (Rule 62-3-2.700 (9) F.A.C.

I was 15 years old at that time. I remember those waters and how they shaped and enriched my life growing up here in Stuart. To think that these “Outstanding Florida Waters,” are now “impaired” makes me sad and makes me angry.

It has been coming for years, but in 2011 through 2013 the lagoon system really “crashed” with the “super-bloom” and brown tides in the central and northern lagoon, killing more than 60% of the area’s seagrass and leading to two federally designated “Unusual Mortality Events” of the endangered manatee, and the protected bottle nosed dolphin.

And also in 2013 the months long toxic algae outbreak in the southern lagoon… This occurred  due to blue-green “microcysis aeruginoas” algae water released by the ACOE from Lake Okeechobee, into the St Lucie River/IRL system. The SLR/IRL system was already over stressed from discharges coming from local canals C-44; C-23; C-24 and C-25…the lake Okeechobee water was the nail in the coffin so to speak.

I think there is a disconnect here. Aren’t these waters protected?

According to the publication, the mission statement of the Florida Coastal Office/Department of Environmental Protection is the following:

1. protect  and enhance the ecological integrity of the aquatic preserves;

2. restore areas to the natural condition;

3. encourage sustainable use and foster active stewardship by engaging local communities in the protection of aquatic preserves; and

4. improve management effectiveness through a process based on sound science, consistent evaluation, and continual reassessment.

I will refrain from bashing of the Department of Environmental Protection as I do not think our fair state’s leadership over the past hundred and fifty plus years has helped them attain their mission. How do you “direct” an agency to protect something and then simultaneously promote over drainage of natural systems,  channelizing, overdevelopment along the lands of these once “outstanding waters,” and allow water districts to over-grant permits for aquifer withdrawal for more agriculture and development?

Another irony I have to add here is that these once “outstanding waters” are what helped bring  people to our  locations and supported their high real estate values. That is changing as some people are now leaving. Last year, in the Town of Sewall’s Point, although the real estate market  improved overall in the county, our property values only increased 0.13%. As a “desirable” water front community with some of the highest property values in the county, this came as a surprise and is certainly directly linked to the “lost summer” and toxic waters of 2013.

The state of Florida needs to “wake up.” The Town of Sewall’s Point is a microcosm for the rest of the state. So what can we do to help? Speak up! 

Please if you have time and interest, check out Indian River Lagoon System Management Plan, Draft Report 2014 below. Even if you don’t read it all, which is almost impossible, keep it as an electronic resource,  and MAKE A COMMENT to the DEP. Even if it is just one that you appreciate that they are reevaluating their management plan and how much the IRL means to you.

It is only through the continued pressure of a caring public that the Indian River Lagoon will be resurrected and its “living waters” will run through our cities again.

_______________________________________________

*Copy of Draft IRL System Management Plan,DEP/NOAA, 2014, and list of public meetings that can be attended to make public comment on the document. (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/coastal/sites/indianriver/plan.htm)

* The IRL is managed also by the South Florida Water Management District and the St Johns River Water Management District.

St Lucie River’s Demise/How Did We Get Here?

Town of Sewall's Point, Martin County Florida, 9-13 surrounded by polluted waters released from Lake Okeechobee
Town of Sewall’s Point, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, Martin County Florida, 9-13, surrounded by polluted waters released from Lake Okeechobee

You may wonder, “how we got here,”to this polluted Lake Okeechobee sewer running  through the  St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon and the Calooshahatchee?

In order to do so, we must go way back.

In 1845, Florida became a state, and even before this time, there had been discussion about “draining the Everglades and reclaiming the swamp lands for productive use.”

Florida was poor and the legislature wanted to build its coffers, so when the “Swamp Land Act of 1850” transferred twenty million acres from the federal government to the state of Florida, of course the state legislature had dollar signs in their eyes.

From 1851 to 1885 the Internal Improvement Fund, overseen by the Florida Governor and his cabinet, sold swamp lands, and others, to the railroad companies ; with the money the state made, it built canals and drained more lands,  an endless and helpful cycle for  building the state’s immature economy.

By 1864, at the end of the Civil War, Florida was broke and it wasn’t until 1881 when Hamilton Disston entered the picture that draining the land started again. Disston paid for the land and started draining it by running a canal through the Caloosahatchee River on the west coast to Lake Okeechobee in the interior as well as parts of the Kissimmee River. The lake dropped substantially; Florida would never be the same. Disston ended up committing suicide due to the Panic of 1893, but he inspired generations of drainers to come.

As early as the mid 1800s, the legislature had discussed draining Lake Okeechobee through the Caloosahatchee and the St Lucie rivers . By 1923, this had been accomplished, on a shallow level, creating a water way across the state through Lake Okeechobee. At the same time, agriculture south of the lake excelled in the the rich soils that had been reclaimed from the great swamp. The state was happy and “feeling rich.” However, within only a few years, the country had fallen into the “Great Depression” and Mother Nature brought Florida to its knees.

The hurricanes of 1926 and 1928, together, killed thousands of  agriculture workers when the water of Lake Okeechobee went  south, as nature intended.  The outcry from the local and state governments of Florida made it  to Washington DC, and the true dependency on the the Army Corp of Engineers began.

By 1938 the Herbert Hoover Dike had been built around the once magnificent lake until another hurricane, in 1947, flooded the agriculture south of the lake again.

As it had done after 1928, the Army Corp dug the canals of St Lucie and the Calooshahatchee  deeper and wider. Eventually, the Central and South Florida Flood Control Project was formed by the state and federal government for seventeen counties; its headquarters was placed in West Palm Beach, today the headquarters of the South Florida Water Management District -which the flood agency eventually morphed into.

More canals and pump stations were constructed and by the 1960s most of what was eventually called the Everglades Agriculture Area, 700,000 acres south of the lake,  would grow primarily sugar. These sugar families became very powerful and influential in government  and remain so today.

It wasn’t until the 1970s, under Governor Rubin Askew, that the environment and natural resources became “important,”  as the conservation movement of the time demanded such.

The South Florida Water Management District now received  an expanded mission that went beyond flood control and water supply for agriculture and other users;  this mission now included  an “ecological mission.”

To this day, the environment is certainly last in the mission of Florida’s government and today’s sick and polluted waters of the St Lucie, Indian River Lagoon, and the Caloosahatchee attest to this.

For 168 years the state of Florida has protected agriculture above all others. In light of the state’s history and prior poverty, this makes sense. Nonetheless, a lot has changed in 168 years. We’ve had a civil war, slavery has been outlawed, women can vote, children are no longer used as common labor, and we have an African America president.  Don’t you think it’s time to change how we drain and destroy our rivers?

I do.