From the air, Barley Barber Swamp is distinctive. Like a thimble, it sticks out into Florida Power and Light’s reservoir in Indiantown, Martin County. The 6700 acre “man made lake” can hold more than 80,000 acre feet of water. It lies just north of the C-44 canal, and east of the dike from a once sprawling Lake Okeechobee. Barley Barber is the “crown jewel.”
“This jewel of a swamp” is a popular tourist destination and considered to be one of the finest remaining old-growth cypress communities in the country. In 1972, FPL purchased the swamp and surrounding lands to build their 6700 acre cooling reservoir that it operates in agreement with the South Florida Water Management District. An intake canal connects to the C-44 and S-153 to the northwest, contains and drains waters that once naturally flowed into Lake Okeechobee.
It is a wonderful thing that FPL saved the remaining 400 acre swamp! Today it is teeming with plant and wildlife species, including ancient bald cypress tress, one qualifying as the largest in the United States. My brother, Todd, notes that some estimates put that tree at 1,000 years old. The Wikipedia entry says its 88 ft. tall with a circumference of 33 ft., while the “Lady Liberty” tree in the same park as the late “Senator” is 82 ft. tall and 32.8 ft circumference – and is claimed to be 2,000 years old?
Hmmm? Maybe in south-central Florida we are really in first place!
Cypress are valuable and majestic water trees. It’s so nice to have what’s left, but one can’t help but wonder what the swamp looked like before its ancient branches were cut for lumber, and its massive stumps burned to make way for agriculture?
Well, we can can know…almost… I asked my brother, Todd, historic map expert, if he could show us, and he has created yet another “time capsule flight” video to take us there!
Using 1940 United States Department of Agriculture aerials, a 1953 USGA topographical map, and 1974 Florida Department of Transportation map juxtaposed to Google Earth images from today, we see the swamp in all its glory stretching east with forks, like a “river of trees.” What a beautiful, beautiful swamp it must have been!
Before it was cut down, Todd calculates it at 3076 acres, or 14.81 square miles. Amazing! I wonder what animals lived there? We can imagine alligators, and owls as the images fade in and out. And then we see the swamp’s stately trees replaced by the shape of the reservoir; we see the tree stumps burning, and smoke rising the sky. An offering perhaps…
….as humans we seem determined for the theme of our lives to be “Man over Nature.” Well, sometimes we win, and sometimes we lose…
Today, Todd’s video focuses on the structure and size of the former Barley Barber Swamp, but in Part II, he will share yet another story, the 1979 catastrophic failure of the FPL reservoir that burst through its dike like a tidal wave…
On Saturday, my husband, Ed, took my brother, Todd, up in both the Cub and the Baron to look for a the large algae bloom Ed and I had seen last Wednesday in Lake Okeechobee. I went along for the Baron ride, but the Cub only holds two.
Maybe you, like me, after listening to the news the past few days, realized there were other blooms reported, even a “small one” in Pahokee on May 20th by famed biologist Barry Rosen, of USGA. I wondered if Todd and Ed would see more blooms, other blooms…
Saturday, July 22, 2017, was much more overcast than the previous Wednesday, so the lake photos Todd took are not as bright in color, but the “southwest of Port Mayaca” bloom is definitely still there. Todd did not report any others during the trip and the GPS track shows that he and Ed went quite far north and west. (Channel 12 reported on two blooms on Lake O’s western shore…)
Before the flight, Todd also shared the most recent Landsat 8 satellite image that shows where the large “southwest of Port Mayaca” bloom is located although here too, there are a lot of clouds blocking the image…
After Wednesday’ s post, many were asking me if there were visible blooms in the St Lucie River or C-44 Canal.
The answer: “No.” From 1000 feet up, there are none visible. But there are the “bubble like nutrient swirls” that seem to proceed the blooms in some areas. (You’ll notice these in Todd’s photos and all 350+ photos are linked at end of post.)
I did notice that on Facebook a small bloom was reported at Rivers’ Landing in Palm City, and another one on rocks in the North Fork. The Caloosahatchee has indeed reported a pretty significant bloom…blooms are in the estuaries but the motherload is Lake O.
Have you seen any blooms? If so, here is the link to report algae blooms to the Department of Environmental Protection, “DEP.”
I happened to notice when I visited the DEP website that DEP states: “Blooms are naturally occurring.”
…Yes this is true; so is cancer.
However, nutrient pollution that feeds these algae blooms and is killing our estuaries, and possibly us, is entirely man-made. We know what causes it.
We must be more diligent and creative in stopping the nutrient run of from agriculture and development. “Taking measures”as noted in the DEP quote as the game plan just isn’t enough. After all, this is a war to save our Florida.
“There are no short term solutions to rectifying the situation; this is a naturally occurring phenomenon that the State monitors closely. However, the state is taking measures that in the long-term will reduce nutrient loading and improve water quality.” DEP, 2017 website
My brother, Todd, wrote to me on June 8th noting that the C-44 canal was flowing westwards into Lake Okeechobee rather than dumping eastwards into the St Lucie as is standard operating procedure after a big rain…
Yes this canal, as most of the others, can “flow” in either direction, seemly “backwards.”
So how can this happen? This backwards flow?
Dr Gary Goforth says the following:
“Yes this is normal operations; generally when the Lake level is below 14 ft the Corps leaves the locks at S-308 wide open which allows any local runoff to flow into the lake.”
Another way Lake Okeechobee can receive water in an unusual way is if the water is pumped into it–back pumped. This has recently been done from the EAA. Back pumping into Lake O has been outlawed, but it is allowed if communities or farmland would flood.
According to an exchange yesterday on Facebook, with Audubon’s Dr Paul Grey:
“St Lucie (C-44) backflows are just one of many southern inflows now, S-2 is backpumping, three other southern outlets are flowing backward into the low lake (L-8, S354, S-352) the Caloosahatchee was backflowing but appears equalized today. More water is flowing into the lake from downstream areas than upstream right now. Not the end of the world but not desirable either, it is very polluted water. http://w3.saj.usace.army.mil/h2o/reports/r-oke.html “
When I asked Dr Grey if this was being done to gather water in the lake as we’ve recently been in a drought, or to keep the farmlands in the EAA and surrounding areas dry, this was his response:
“Both, they want to fill the lake this summer, and so do I, in concept, but much of this backpumping and flowing is because the farmers have been pumping water so rapdily off their own lands they have made the canals too deep, and risk fooding the communities. And rather than tell the farmers the canal its too deep and they have to modererate their pumping, the SFWMD backpumps/flow it to the lake.”
In any case, when I visited yesterday during my trip to Belle Glade, S-308 was closed at Port Mayaca and no more water was entering Lake O from C-44. I’m not sure about S-2.
The water looks dark and full of sediment. The once beautiful beach is full of gritty rocks. Maybe the lake is healthy in the shallows south, near the islands, but by Port Mayaca it looks terrible. Algae has been reported by S-308 a few weeks ago according to a report from Martin County at the River’s Coalition meeting. But thankfully there is not algae reported in C-44 right now.
We have really made a mess of it. For our rivers and for Lake Okeechobee, the reservoir must be built and we must continue to advocate for sending cleaned water south and re -plumb this outdated system. Forward flow or backwards flow, just say NO.
Todd Thurlow notes 6-8-17
Interesting note: if this data is correct, C-44 has poured 10.7 billion gallons (aka 13.82 Stuart Feet) of water into Lake Okeechobee in the last three days. With all the recent “local” runoff into the canal, they have opened S-308, sending the water west to the Lake to help get the low lake level up.
48.5 million gallons passed through S-80 to the St. Lucie on June 5th…
Today I am comparing and contrasting photos of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon in May of 2016 to photos in 2017. A Lake O dump year to a non-Lake O dump year. “A picture speaks a thousand words”…maybe more.
Photos of the Sandbar at the confluence of the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon this Memorial Day weekend, 2017. Clear, clean water, although meadows of seagrass in Sailfish Flats has not yet returned.
For some stories there are no pictures, only your imagination…Today I will share a story brought to my attention by my mother in line with my recent interest in ponds.
It was September of 1924, Stuart was still part of Palm Beach County, and few people lived here. It was the “boom era” and residents were excited about building the future. But then it started raining, and raining, and raining…
By Edwin A Menninger, reprinted in the 1950 Anniversary of the Stuart News with my location references.
JUST WHAT WAS STUART LIKE 25 YEARS AGO? THE YEAR STUART ALMOST WASHED AWAY…
…We had just had four days of torrential rain. At one time it rained 36 inches in 36 hours. Stuart was flooded. The railroad tracks washed away at Rio. They washed away also just south of Salerno, and two FEC passenger trains carrying about 500 people were marooned in Stuart till the tracks could be rebuilt. The Vanderbuilts just happened to be on the train!…I published a special FLOOD EXTRA and sold 400 copies…the heavy rains made an enormous lake in th heart of Stuart. (It was before 4th Street (East Ocean) was graded and paved) and a huge lake stretched from the court house to the school.(Today’s Stuart Middle School and Ad. Buildings)
A small ditch to drain off the worst was dug from the lake’s edge (where W.V. King’s house now stands) (Across from Willie Gary’s office on Osceola today) to the St Lucie River; in an hour this became a raging torrent. Water ran so fast it dug a ditch 75 feet wide to the river, undermined houses nearby, threatened extensive damage before Curt Schroeder and his crew got things under control again. The ground was s waterlogged that drainage problems were difficult. Water stood across 4th Street (East Ocean) in deep, big ponds for more than a month in front of where John Demich now lives (today’s 5th and Cortez) and at the tennis court. The old hospital building was surrounded by water for weeks and physicians came and went in boats…
A raging torrent that dug a 75 foot ditch from East Ocean Blvd to the St Lucie River! Doctors going to the hospital in boats? Holy cow. That must have been something. How did they put back the land that washed out? Below I have tried to figure out where that area might have been…
In closing, hope you have enjoyed this week’s pond series. The message remains the same, Lake Okeechobee or a little pond on East Ocean Blvd. “Over drainage has consequences….”
Notes of location referred to in the 1924 article, by Sandra Thurlow, help to figure out location:
Mom, where is the King’s house?
The King house was Kay Norris’s parents’ house across from the Pelican Hotel (Willie Gary’s ) The corner of our church property where Mary’s Closet is today used to flood terribly. There was once a rectory there that had to be demolished because it flooded and was ruined. Uncle Dale could tell you all about that. The King house still stands on Osceola I believe. At one time it was Dr. Eckersley’s office.
2. Where was the Dumich house?
Dumich lived on 5th Street about where Cortez intersects it.
3. Mom, remined me about the flooding when I was a kid.
Think of the courthouse. As you probably remember Memorial Park was always flooding. When it was suggested for a site for the library years before, Mary Kanner, (Kanner Highway, Highway 76, is named after her Judge husband) said “I am not going to have the library built in that sometime lake.” The pond that was dug in front of where the Log Cabin was constructed, later became the Middle School Pond. Now, it too, has been made to disappear.
Notes of Edwin Menninger:
~Edwin A Menninger, The South Florida Developer, 1924
(Menninger purchased the weekly paper, South Florida Developer, in 1923, moving its publication headquarters to Stuart from Canal Point. In 1928 he bought the Stuart Daily News. This excerpt was reprinted in the 1950 Anniversary Edition of the Stuart News.) (This excerpt can also be found on page 453 of a History of Martin County.)
Thank you to my awesome brother Todd Thurlow who created this image after reading today’s blog post. He writes: “Hi Jacqui – If you want to see the 1924 lake, the FEMA flood maps show the low spot pretty well. Check thiis out:” ~Todd
Today’s blog post, created by my brother, Todd Thurlow, just totally blows my mind. His time-capsule flight through images of Google Earth, historic maps from 1850 and 1940, and an aerial from 1958, takes us on a journey through the extensive pond-land/wetland that used to be the area of Downtown Stuart and beyond. Today we all live here, most of us not even realizing what the land once was…this wetland now “magically” drains into the St Lucie River.
In Todd’s video you can see that Stuart Middle School actually is now sitting where an old pond used to be; there were ponds expanding and contracting with the rains in today’s Memorial Park; there were ponds in the areas of today’s County Courthouse; there were ponds scattered over today’s airport, Witham Field; there were extensive ponds along East Ocean Boulevard and Dolphin as featured in last Friday’s popular blog post. Yes, there little ponds just about everywhere!
Sometimes we think the wetlands are “out west” and they are, but years ago they were also here. I have to say am guilty of this too. When I came home after university in 1986 and just about everything was developed, once again, amnesia! Look, after you watch Todd’s video, and notice the drainage canals around Monterey Blvd., St Lucie Blvd, back by Kingswoods Condo, and on the edges of Witham Field and there are many more. Of course like the grates and drains in every parking lot, these canals drain into our ailing St Lucie River. Lake Okeechobee is the big toxic hammer but there is local destruction too…
She describes a 1958 aerial photograph that hangs in my law office. The photo is from my parent’s “Thurlow/Ruhnke” collection. I had used the photo for a Google Earth presentation for Stuart Heritage on May 8, 2012. http://www.stuartheritagemuseum.com/
This is a recording of maps and photographs used for part of that presentation: 1850s Government Land Office Plats, 1940 USDA aerials and the 1958 Thurlow/Ruhnke photo.
There is no sound or text overlays but here are a few features to note:
0:50 –What was called the “Stuart Middle School Pond”. We jumped in that pond on the last day of school to celebrate graduating from 8th grade. A few years ago the pond was filled in to make room for a new building.
1:00 – The end of Fourth Street (what is now called East Ocean Blvd). East Ocean Blvd. ended at the intersection of St. Lucie Blvd/ Oriole Ave. on the left (north) side and Dolphin Drive on the right (south) before it was extended to the “Bridges to the Sea”.
1:14 – The oblique aerial described in Jacqui’s blog. Note the building in the bottom right corner. That is the Broadway Service Center which still stands today. See https://goo.gl/iODQwU
1:47 –The Evan’s Crary Bridge (aka the Ten Cent Bridge) under construction in the background
2:24 – 1940 flyover of Dolphin Drive. Note the single building in the middle of nowhere. That residence is still standing on the corner of SE 6th Street and Flamingo Ave. According to the Martin County Property Appraiser, it was built in 1925, years before the photo was taken.
2:30 –The 1940 view before our current airport. The previous Krueger Airport was off of East Ocean Blvd. Dolphin Drive continued all the way from East Ocean Blvd. to St. Lucie Blvd. by the river. If you have ever taken the “back exit” from the Stuart Air Show onto St. Lucie Blvd, that still existing right-of-way is what used to be the other end of Dolphin Drive.
“Time Capsule Flights,” created by my brother, Todd Thurlow, has been a shared favorite on my blog since 2014. In these remarkable videos, Todd uses his legal and historical knowledge to create a living collage juxtaposing historic and modern-day images to achieve dramatic insights into watershed and land use changes in Florida over the past hundred years. These videos are a must for anyone wishing to understand our state’s history or working to restore its waters and lands in the future. You can access all of Todd’s videos here: http://maps.thethurlows.com.