Tag Archives: THE TRIANGLE

River Warrior Times 5-16-21

Port Mayaca, Structure S-308 at Lake Okeechobee opens to Canal-44 into St Lucie River. S-308 is open for water supply for agriculture but is not going through S-80 into the St Lucie River/ Indian River Lagoon. Aerial, Ed Lippisch, 5-5-21.

River Warrior Times 5-16-21. This piece is written specially for Lake Okeechobee.

It was my intension to write a summary water piece every two weeks. I last wrote on April 25, 2021.Today, I will try to catch up.

If I had one phrase to describe what has happened since April 25, it would be “high-alert.” Governor DeSantis visited on May 10, giving direction as his executive order 19-12 is the guidepost for the Department of Environmental Protection and the SFWMD.

The blue-green algae bloom at Pahokee Marina, I wrote about last time, was cleaned up through a cooperative of the South Florida Water Management District and the Department of Environmental Protection. This is a first as globs of purple, blue, green, and grey cyanobacteria -blue green algae- sat in marinas and inside canal communities in 2016, and 2018 until they rotted and fell to the bottom. This time, under Governor DeSantis of which DEP and the SFMWD sit organizationally, it was determined (under Section 1 part I of 19-12) to remove the toxic algae via vacuum and chemical treatment, relocating what Palm Beach County could not take safely, far away to District lands away from people and wildlife.

Keith W. Babb, Mayor of Payhokee, attend the May 13 SFWMD Governing Board meeting and was very grateful. You can listen to his comments at 39.00 the beginning of the meeting. Congressman Brian Mast, who led Governor DeSantis’ transition committee, also provided fiery commentary.

Although it is definitely a positive that the toxic algae was removed, we must ask ourselves a question. How are we going to pay for this again, and again, and again? A precedent has been set. Is vacuuming each time sustainable? With Lake Okeechobee in its present condition this is a very relevant question.

As Mark Perry, the Executive Director of Florida Oceanographic has repeatedly stated: “Unless we address the source of the problem in the upper watershed of Lake Okeechobee, we will never reach the 105 metric tons at 40 ppb.” Translated, that means the pollution numbers coming into the lake are high, in some basins over 600 parts per billion phosphorus. You can’t vacuum away as an avalanche of pollution pours in!

The situation is complex. However, the handling of Pahokee Marina is symbolic of a larger problem. I would have liked not only DEP and SFWMD to be in the spotlight at the Pahokee Marina, but also FDASCs the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Why? Because the lake did not get sick overnight, and the history of Lake Okeechobee is an agricultural one. This is reflected in “who” is in charge of water quality.

First, back-pumping fertilized and chemical-leaden water into Lake Okeechobee was common practice and allowed by the by the state. The sugar industry/EAA imparticularly partook of this practice for decades. It almost killed the lake. In the 1970s and 1980s lawsuits forced water that was once back-pumped into Lake Okeechobee to flow south, sparing the lake, but creating a new issue of destroying the Everglades. This in turn spurred other lawsuits so that today Everglades Agriculture Area (EAA) runoff must first be filtered through Storm Water Treatment Areas, south of Lake Okeechobee before it can enter the Everglades Protection Areas or Everglades National Park. Most of this was paid for by taxpayers, just like the clean up at Pahokee Marina.

Lake O, EAA, STAs, and WCAs. (Map SFWMD)

Lake Okeechobee, though in a better position than in 1970 continues to be fed high concentrations of phosphorus and nitrogen mostly from agriculture areas north of Lake Okeechobee. Thus destruction already done from the early years is locked up in sediments,  and the new destruction that continues makes for a hyper-eutropic lake that now blooms every year.

Not a good situation. So how is fixing our waters supposed to work? Who is in charge of water quality?

The Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program (373,4595. Florida Statutes) directs the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the South Florid aWater Management District to work together to reduce pollutants and achieve water quality standards in the the Lake Okeechobee, St Lucie River, and Caloosahatchee River watershed through Basin Management Action Plans and Total Maximum Daily Loads program (403.067. Florida Statutes.)”

No one agency is in charge of water quality. Like it or not, in Florida, three agencies have this responsibility. As Florida Statue requires, we must all work together to turn Florida’s organizational chart from a line into a triangle. Until FDEP, SFWMD & FACS are truly working together, there will not be improvement to Lake Okeechobee’s water quality and Florida’s tax payers will be on the hook.

THE TRIANGLE!

Organizational chart State of Florida. Note the members of The Triangle (circled) responsible of water quality. The Dept. of Ag is a cabinet position. DEP and SFWMD are lower agencies but fall under the top tier, the governor. The governor is doing a great job but he can not do it alone!

Links to timely information:

JAX ACOE keeps S-80 closed, adjust flows to Caloosahatchee

SFWMD operations statement Ops_Position_Statement_May_11_17_2021

EyeonLakeO website Todd Thurlow

DEP algae bloom dashboard 

FOS SLR water quality report

Orca report on dead manatees in the IRL by county

 

 

 

The River Warrior Times ~Sunday, April 25th, 2021

Today, I begin a new blog section, called the “River Warrior Times.” This bi-weekly summary is meant for the general public who may not utilize social media. It is my hope, that this summary will help educate people as it is going to be a fast-paced late spring and summer.

ALGAE

This year, blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) was first spotted in Lake Okeechobee the week of April 5, 2021 and relayed to the SFWMD Governing Board by the public at the April 8 meeting. As the public continues to report these blooms, the Department of Environmental Protection has been testing for toxins. That’s helpful, but who is in charge of water quality anyway?

The Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) is the lead agency for water quality for the state of Florida. The SFWMD assist the ACOE with opening and closing Central and South Florida gates and working to build projects. The Department of Agriculture is in charge of Best Management Practices for Agriculture. Circling back, the Department of Environmental Protection oversees Best Management Practices for cities and counties. I call this THE TRIANGLE. Not one agency is in charge. According to Florida Statutes,  the three agencies must work together. In 2019, Governor DeSantis’ Executive Order 19-12 laid out the order  for change to get these agencies working together. Since 2019, the state legislature and state agencies are charged to work to fulfill this order as the public pushes Desantis’ order or just their desire for clean water.

On April 10, 2021, the ACOE stopped discharging to the St Lucie River not because algae had been spotted, but because the Lake Okeechobee was evaporating so quickly the federally protected Everglades Snail Kite nests were at risks. Then, shortly after stopping for the Snail Kites, the ACOE needed to start discharging again because of torrential rains from storms that roared across the state filling up the lake again. By this time, the Department of Environmental Protection had found blooms at 121 parts per billion microsytin at S-308, the structure that opens from Lake Okeechobee to the St Lucie River, thus the Colonel’s decision was to send all discharge from Lake O to the Caloosahatee River (west) and none to the St Lucie. Why? Because of the very high level of toxic algae. Food for thought is also that the Calooshatchee has a wide marsh in front of its structure that filters toxins, the St Lucie’s structure  is in deep water that fills up with algae, there are no filters…

This is good news for the St Lucie. However, there are serous concerns here as there is red tide along the west coast. Water managers and experts on the west coast note that scientifically the present discharges do not exacerbate the red tide issue. I imagine some residents of the west coast do not feel this way.

There is a lot of work to do. It is my belief, that the SFWMD continues to work it’s part of the TRIANGLE to cleanse and send more water south most recently by removing the Old Tamiami Trail to allow more water to go to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay, and amazingly the  EAA Reservoir’s project partnership agreement  was approved with the ACOE last Thursday -meaning construction of the reservoir can begin.

Remember, for water quality to improve, THE TRIANGLE must work together: Florida Department of Environmental Protection; Florida Department of Agriculture; and South Florida Water Management District . 

OFFICIAL STATEMENTS

ACOE Operations Lake O statement, april 22, 2021

SFWMD statement: Ops_Position_Statement__Apr_20_26_2021

Yet another situation that occurred during this past week, announced on April 22, 2021, the ACOE halted a USGS Sediment study of the St Lucie River that would have required the S-308 structure at Lake Okeechobee to open. Why did they halt it? Again, because of the high toxic algae levels. Read their official  press release here.

PHOTOGRAHS

Ed and I last few over Lake O on April 16 seeing some algae along the eastern shore of Lake Okeechobee. Since that time and before, Mike Connor, Indian Riverkeeper, and Paul Gray, Florida Audubon, have displayed on the ground photos of much concern. Reinaldo Diaz, the Lake Worth Lagoon Riverkeeper was the first to spot on east coast and John Cassini, Caloosahatchee Riverkeeper on west.

-April 12, 2021, cyanobacteria at S-308 structure at Lake O that opens to St Lucie River (C-44). Photo Mike Conner, Indian River Keeper.-April 15, 2021, east shoreline of Lake O south of S-308, aerial Ed Lippisch. Algae was also north of S-308. -Photos shared on April 22, 2021 by Florida Oceanographic courtesy of Paul Gray, Florida Audubon, Pahokee Marina. Looking a lot like Central Marine in 2016.

SPRAYING

For three years, Mike Knepper of Martin County has been producing videos with a drone about the state spraying of vegetation in Florida lakes and waterbodies. These video are almost exclusively on social media and have started a movement that is “turning over the tables” as the Mr Knepper educates and inspires the public to push state agencies, particularly the Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC) to reevaluate motivations and outcomes of chemical spraying of floating vegetation, like water-hyacinth.

Recently, (4-18-21) the front page of the Stuart News ran an article by Ed Killer, entitled “Using Chemicals in Savannas Debated.” This article does not focus on Mike Knepper specifically but is a great guide to this issue.

Mr Knepper believes that there is a connection between the toxic algae and the chemicals that get into the environment as the chemicals cause the plants to die and float to the bottom and rot -causing more nitrogen and phosphorus to be released- thus fueling algae blooms. For example, a body such as the Savannas is connected to both the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon watersheds. The Kissimmee River is connected to Lake Okeechobee…

State agencies have been making headway with reflection, and redirection using more mechanical means etc, however; there is much, much more work to do.

I recognize the serious conundrum as an overabundance of floating plants can occur very quickly and explode into population that inhibits functioning flood control, endangering us all.

Mr Knepper says, “The plants? Why are they there ? This is Mother Nature trying to fix things! She is trying to take up all the phosphors and nitrogen through those plants!” 

Is there a better balance? Is spraying, indeed, adding to the toxic algae blooms? Until the next River Warrior Times. Keep fighting!

JTL