Prior to the 1970s, we used to dump sewage directly into the ocean; now we make fertilizer out of our own human waste and spread it on agricultural lands throughout our state. When it rains, nutrients and metals run right back into our estuaries….is this the answer, or another disaster? What are our options?
If you live close by, please attend this Thursday’s Rivers Coalition meeting to learn more. It was Mr. Gary Roderick who inspired me in 2008, when I was a new commissioner for the Town of Sewall’s Point, to take a deeper look at the causes of environmental destruction of our rivers. He is a knowledgeable and versed having worked both in government and as an environmental consultant.
Please join us!
Below, I am including two former blog posts on the subject: 1. Drowning in Our Own Human-Excrement-Fertilizer; and 2. Spreading Refined Human Waste on the Lands, “Biosolids,” St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
Drowning in Our Own Human-Excrement-Fertilizer, SLR/IRL:
Informational links and summary of where name biosolids came from:
“As public concern arose about disposal in the United States of increasing volumes of solids being removed from sewage during sewage treatment mandated by the Clean Water Act, the Water Environment Federation (WEF) sought a new name to distinguish the “clean,” agriculturally viable product generated by modern wastewater treatment from earlier forms of sewage sludge widely remembered for causing offensive or dangerous conditions. Of three-hundred suggestions, biosolids was attributed to Dr. Bruce Logan of the University of Arizona, and recognized by WEF in 1991.” The story of “biosolids” WIKI
Today I share the second paper of guest, Geoffrey Norris Ph.D. I recently shared Blue-green algal blooms in the lakes, rivers, and marine waters of south Florida surrounding Lake Okeechobee.
I must admit, I hesitated publishing this second paper, “Sugarcane and Indians,” as I am sure some may interpret it as “politically incorrect.” I apologize to anyone who may, but I decided to print Dr Norris’ paper because the main message is important.
The message is:
“Is Sugar’s use of ripening stalks with “Roundup” feeding toxic algae blooms and why are lands/waters south of Lake Okeechobee “protected” while ours of the northern estuaries are not? “
You will learn something about this in Dr Norris’ paper below, and I thank him for sharing his work.
In closing, I believe we have something important to learn from history and the Native People of North America; I admire them. They are great warriors and respect Nature, the gift of our Creator. And in the case of the Miccosukee, they “never surrendered” and if I have anything to do with it, neither will we.
..”In the 1960s, I lived and worked as a petroleum exploration geologist in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Subsequently, I spent almost 40 years at the University of Toronto in teaching and research in geology…A geologist by training, I have a specialized knowledge of fossil algae, their ecology, morphology, and distribution. I have published hundreds of scientific papers on fossil algae and related topics.” ~Geoffrey Norris Ph.D.
Sugarcane and Indians
The area around Lake Okeechobee accounts for almost half the total production of sugarcane in the United States.
Sugarcane in south Florida is very needy of phosphorus and potassium fertilizers, but nitrogen fixed in the muck soils largely eliminates the need for extra nitrogen fertilizers.
Sugarcane also demands the use of the phosphorus-rich herbicide “Roundup” (glyphosate) several times each year. Firstly, in the fallow season (approximately May-September) to control weeds and allow the sugarcane underground rhizomes to regenerate. Secondly, as the new shoots come through in the Fall to continue weed control. Thirdly, during maturation and harvesting (October through March) glyphosate is applied to “chemically ripen” the sugarcane and improve sugar yields.
Land south of Lake Okeechobee could be used for storage and bio-cleansing of excess lake water. However, the 1997 water quality agreement between the Environmental Protection Agency and the Miccosukee Indians (aka Mikasuki, Miccosuki) states that phosphorus shall not be present in quantities greater than 10 parts per billion, and that no substance shall be present to stimulate algal growth and produce objectionable algal densities in the 300,000 acres of tribal lands in the Everglades south of Alligator Alley.
This legal agreement would suggest that Lake Okeechobee waters destined for southern storage must be cleaned to rigorous standards before discharge into southward flowing streams feeding the Everglades, at least near the Miccosukee tribal lands.
A case could be made for the sugar industry and related agriculture to “clean up its act” to mitigate the effects of heavy fertilizer and herbicide usage on the environment in general and on lake and stream waters in particular.
Sugarcane and Indians
First about nutrients and farm land and how much is planted in sugarcane.
Here are three maps that graphically answer the question about the extent of sugarcane plantations:
A couple of years ago I had the opportunity the fly over the area south of Lake Okeechobee in a light plane at about 1000ft altitude. The extent of the sugarcane is truly mind-boggling. Its plantations surround the entire southern perimeter of the Lake and reach to the horizon. Smaller plantations occur elsewhere around the Lake. It is a very big operation.
Now to the nutrients themselves. I had a great deal of difficulty finding precise information on how much fertilizer is applied per unit area. There were general articles that confirmed that sugarcane is very needy of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium fertilizers together with other elements. It is after all a giant grass, so just think how much stuff you have to put on your own lawn to make it grow green! Apparently, in the south Florida area the need to apply nitrogen fertilizer to sugar cane is not so critical because the mucky soils generate their own nitrates through soil microbial activity. However, phosphates must be applied as fertilizer for sugarcane at various times of the year together with potassium etc. But actual numbers were hard to come by, other than that sugarcane is voracious for fertilizers. This is when I stumbled upon some marvellous work that the U.S. Geological Survey has been doing on the extent and the total quantitates of pesticides being applied to farmland across USA. I used their maps of glyphosate (Roundup) as what I thought might be a reasonable proxy for phosphate fertilizer. In other words, if you use Roundup as a weedkiller on crops, then very likely you will be using fertilizer as well. It turns out I was right and I was wrong! First take a look at this summary map for two separate years, 1992 being the earliest year available in this USGS study:
Details are difficult to see in these summary maps but the originals are much clearer. The area around Lake Okeechobee was already in 1992 applying large amounts of glyphosate, and this intensified in succeeding years. What I didn’t understand was why the sugarcane fields should be so needy of weedkiller – fertilizers OK, but why so much weedkiller? It would seem that 25% of the cost of sugar production is due to heavy nutrient need (up to 75 lbs phosphate per acre, with 400,000 acres in sugarcane in south Florida). But weedkiller. Then I dug deeper following your email comments and found out why. Indeed glyphosate is used at least three ways on sugarcane as follows:
Firstly, during the fallow season (approx. May-September 2016) following harvesting, glyphosate is applied to control weeds which would otherwise grow up and choke out the underground cane sugar rhizomes left in the ground to regenerate as the next crop.
Secondly, glyphosate application continues in different amounts as the new shoots come through in the Fall. This is tricky because glyphosate kills just about anything that is green, but careful control can kill the young weeds while not harming – at least not very much – the young sugarcane shoots. Other herbicides are also involved but glyphosate is the big one.
Thirdly, the sugarcane matures and is harvested in the winter months at various times from October through March. During this time the stem of the sugarcane ripens and becomes rich in sugar (sucrose) prior to going to the mill. Astonishingly (to me anyway) it has been found that about a month or two prior to harvesting, another application of glyphosate will help ripen and enrich the crop with significantly more sugar. This process is called “chemical ripening”. Other chemicals can be involved but glyphosate is a popular choice (it got cheaper once Monsanto’s patent expired in the year 2000).
So yes, I think cane sugar farming is being pursued intensively, but I’m not sure how it can be stopped. Its effects on Lake O could be mitigated as discussed in my previous document but stopping an entire industry would be almost impossible to my mind. Cleaning up the sugar industry might be a more realistic aim.
Change of land usage and water flow.
It would be nice to think that Lake Okeechobee water could be redirected southwards along its original historic course on its way to the Everglades. Here’s a graphic of how things used to be:
For thousands of years, water drained from Lake O through a wide series of shallow tributaries and interconnected lakes to the Everglades. It’s unlikely that this could be recreated but certainly use of land south of the Lake for water transport and storage and bio-cleansing of some sort or another would be an improvement. However, it would seem that this is unlikely given the actions of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its agreement in 1997 re the Clean Water Act with the Miccosukee Indians, a tribe which occupies part of the Everglades.
This agreement set out comprehensively water quality standards for the Tribes drinking water, wildlife habitat water, and recreational water (boating, swimming etc). In particular, Section 3 reads:
MICCOSUKEE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION CODE
SECTION 3. Tribal Water Quality Standards
The following minimum water quality criteria shall apply to all surface waters of the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida unless those water bodies are designated with higher or stricter water quality standards. Stricter standards for a given water body shall supersede these general Water Quality Standards. These standards shall provide a legal basis for including whole effluent toxicity requirements in all federally issued permits.
(there follows a list of 16 physical, biological, and toxicological conditions of which these two are particularly germane):
E. NUISANCE CONDITIONS: Plant nutrients or other substances stimulating algal growth, from other than natural causes, shall not be present in concentrations that produce objectionable algal densities or nuisance aquatic vegetation, or that result in a dominance of nuisance species instream, or that cause nuisance conditions in any other fashion. Phosphorus and nitrogen concentrations shall not be permitted to reach levels which result in man-induced eutrophication problems. Total phosphorus shall not exceed 10 parts per billion in Class III-A waters. In Class III-B waters, total phosphorous discharges shall not be made which result in undesirable aquatic life effects or which result in chronic or acute toxicity to aquatic life.
N. NUTRIENTS: In no case shall nutrient concentrations of Tribal Class I or Class III-A surface waters be altered so as to cause an imbalance in natural populations of aquatic flora or fauna. Total phosphorus concentrations shall not exceed 10 parts per billion in Class III-A waters. In Class III-B waters, nutrients shall not be discharged which result in undesirable aquatic life effects or which result in chronic or acute toxicity to aquatic life.
So what this and other sections of agreement mean is that nutrient-rich water from Lake Okeechobee must be cleaned to rigorous standards before discharge into southward flowing streams feeding the Everglades. So bio-cleansing within the Everglades – or at least near the Miccosukee tribal lands (about 300,000 acres in the vicinity of the Tamiami Trail and Alligator Alley) is not a possibility within this legal framework.
However what’s good for the goose is surely good for the gander. I looked into the history of the Miccosukee Indians, and it would seem they are only fairly recent arrivals in Florida, arriving about the same time as Stuart was being settled. The Miccosukee appear to have originated in what is now Georgia and then migrated south to north Florida where they became entwined with the Seminoles. After the Seminole wars of the 19th century they migrated to central Florida in the late 1800’s and then decided to disentwine themselves from the Seminoles as a culturally distinct society. They appear to have seen an opportunity during the construction of the Tamiami Trail in the first quarter of the 20th century and migrated further south and became embedded in the adjacent Everglades. First Florida (1957) then federally (1962) they became recognized as a tribe distinct from the Seminoles.
Meanwhile in th early 20th century, as the migrant Miccosuki Indians were settling down in their new home in the Everglades as “Trail Indians”, Stuart was incorporated as a town (1914) then a city (1925) after being settled by migrant northerners about half a century earlier. Total population of Stuart is now about 16,000.
640 migrant Indians – how many are fishing and frogging? 16,000 migrant non-Indian northerners – how many lives and livings are being disrupted by ruined beaches and waterfronts?
the Indians pushed for a great deal from EPA and got it. So now a total of about 640 Miccosukee (Mikasuki) Indians (some now living in Miami-Dade and not the Everglades) can pursue their supposedly traditional way of life (fishing, frogging, subsistence agriculture) plus gaming resorts and casinos and tobacco shops – while many of the 151,000 citizens of Martin County are prevented from pursuing their traditional way of life. Surely our waters (habitat, recreational, drinking) should be subject to the same rigorous standards as laid down by the EPA/Clean Water Act for the people living in the Everglades.
We are all equal – as George Orwell said – but some are more equal than others. Well, so it seems. What do you think?
In my opinion, one should support Senator Negron’s controversial land purchase to build an EAA Reservoir, because the Reservoir should have already been built. It is a project that has been expected for almost two decades.
Due to water quality lawsuits against sugarcane growers, during the 1980s and 90s, the State of Florida had to build six Storm Water Treatment Areas to clean runoff water using Everglades Agricultural Area land, taking valuable sugarcane out of production. (Orange shows STAs) Unfortunately, the industry brought this upon itself as for many years its water runoff had been polluting Everglades National Park and Tribal Lands.
The problem was so bad, that on top of the Stormwater Treatments Areas, Congress appropriated the beginnings of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. Yes, “CERP” has a plan for “EAA Storage.” A Reservoir, to be the heart of clean water flowing south. (See 4 down left of image below) CERP (https://www.nps.gov/ever/learn/nature/cerp.htm)
At the beginning of CERP it was determined that the Reservoir/s were to be built near Stormwater Treatment Areas between the Miami and New River Canals. Although they tried, the SFWMD and ACOE never got very far building the Reservoir/s and, you’ll notice “EAA Storage” is still listed on the ACOE calendar of projects, scheduled to begin in 2021. (http://evergladesrestoration.gov/content/cepp/meetings/012512/Recap_EAA_Reservoirs.pdf)
“Why?” You might ask, “didn’t the EAA Reservoir/s get built ?”
Then on top of the US Sugar and the Recession situation, a Federal law suit that had been dragging on for years was settled and really changed things for the Reservoir/s. In 2010, Governor Rick Scott, “negotiated” a long-standing EPA law suit agreeing that the state of Florida would build more water quality projects to clean sugarcane runoff in the EAA that continued to destroy fauna and pollute Everglades National Park. This “fix” became known as “Restoration Strategies.”(https://www.sfwmd.gov/our-work/restoration-strategies)
Over the past year, I have watched this new City of Stuart icon grow from the ground up, but not until yesterday did I enter. It is located right across the street from my father and brother’s law offices, Thurlow and Thurlow, so I have seen it many times. A large parcel that was formerly the Salvation Army is now painted green, fenced, and having a rebirth as the new urban chic “Ground Floor Farm.”
Yes, urban agriculture is hip and bringing a healthy, and community business minded spirit to the St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon Region. Words like homesteading, self-reliance, chickens, and interdependence ring with new meaning and inspiration. Making and growing your own food is cool. Hydroponics teaches about water quality, conservation, and re-use and no pesticides.
Learning how easy it is to make cheese from owner Jackie Vitale —the process of “curds and whey,” was the beginning of real understanding for me!
The event was hosted by Sewall’s Point residents Dean MacMillian and Lindsey Donigan. They invited about sixty of their closest friends to “Come Down on the Farm,” to showcase and help people learn about Ground Floor Farm. Owners Jackie Vitale, Micah Hartman, and Mike Meier shared their story of Ground Floor Farm and their vision for a hip and sustainable future for the City of Stuart, and for Martin County.
It was an amazing evening seeing the younger generation teach and inspire the older generation. As population continues to grow, and resources become more precious, a sustainable path to the future is finding its place. Such a path will continue to revitalize the City of Stuart, bring us all closer to home, and to each other. Kudos Jackie, Micah, and Mike for your creative business model and for your leadership!
________________________ THEIR VISION:“We want Ground Floor Farm to be a part of a hometown renaissance, in which individuals focus their energy and creativity on the places they come from and through which the importance of a vibrant community center is reclaimed and revitalized. THEIR MISSION “Grow and produce delicious food and give others the tools and resources to do so themselves. Show that productive agriculture can take place in small spaces in urban centers and that it can be economically sustainable. Provide the space and resources for others to use their talents, skills, and interests to engage their community.Curate an exciting and diverse program of cultural and social events that engage the hearts and minds of our community.” GFF
It all started with a recent comment by Bob Ulevich, at a Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council meeting. In the course of his presentation and questioning on the history of the water management districts, Bob noted that the EAA, the Everglades Agricultural Area, was not historically “just located” where it is today, south of Lake Okeechobee, but basically included all of Disston’s lands. Are you kidding me? “Gulp”….
Hamilton Disston. Remember him? The “savior,” “the drainer” of our state—-who basically bought the entire state from a bankrupt entity, the Internal Improvement Fund? (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamilton_Disston)
The more I read and think about it, I think what Bob meant was that almost of all the swamp lands sold to Disston and then others were marketed for people to purchase and farm….basically creating a giant Everglades agricultural area…but it wasn’t always so easy….
When I was trying to figure all this out, I went back to a map I had seen before, reread a chapter in my mother’s Jensen and Eden book, and contacted my brother, Todd, to help me answer a question.
“Todd, why isn’t St Lucie Gardens in pink on the Disston map? …And wasn’t this area supposed to be farmland?”
St Lucie Gardens was a huge subdivision in the region of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon including the savannas filed in 1911 by the Franklin Land Company of Jacksonville. According to my mother’s book, “the land was advertised as far away a Kansas and a few families bought land and tried to make a living farming. However land that had been pine flat woods continued to have cycles of flooding a drought and was impossible to farm profitably. The families that came to farm in St Lucie Gardens either gave up or turned to other ways to make a living.”
Todd and I never found our why those lands of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon were not included on the 1881 Disston lands map, and the people who created it are not around to ask, but Todd did create the awesome visuals at the beginning of this post and he did find the deed of the purchase of the lands in our region. To have this document is an incredible part of our history.
And the EAA? With all the water problems we have today, I am glad it does not include everything in pink and green on the map and that something remains of our Savannas along the Indian River Lagoon.
An interesting email from Todd; Thank you Todd for all the research!
It was fun to go through some of the stuff on my computer tonight. I just downloaded this publication “Disston Lands of Florida”, published 1885. I attached the intro page.
Disston had the pick of ALL the public lands owned by the state. It took three years to make the selection. Perhaps the pink area had been picked as of the date of the map and St. Lucie Gardens had not yet been picked?
Or maybe the St. Lucie Gardens land is not shown in pink on the map because Disston directed that the St. Lucie Gardens property be deeded directly from TIIF to Sir Edward James Reed. The Florida Land and Improvement Company never took title.
The TIIF deed that we pulled up for Sir Edward James Reed (attached) is dated 6/1/1881. In includes a little more land (21,577 Acres) than ended up in St. Lucie Gardens (e.g. Section 1, of T36S R40E is not part of St. Lucie Gardens but is included in the deed.)
I really did not want to write about the failure of the Central Everglades Planning Project, CEPP, as I have been trying to forget about it. The whole thing is so depressing to me. However, last night, before I went to bed, my husband said, “Dan thinks you should write about what’s going to happen now that CEPP did not make it into the WRDA bill…” So, I had a long series of nightmares, now it’s morning, and for Dr Daniel Velinsky, I will do the right thing, and try to write this piece.
First some history.
It is well documented that Florida’s three Seminole Wars were the longest, bloodiest, and most costly of all the Indian wars fought by the United States, fought on and off between 1814 and 1858. In the end, no treaty was signed and the few hundred remaining native peoples hid in their well known Everglades swamp to resurrect themselves as today’s Seminole, Miccosukee, and unaffiliated Independent Seminole Tribes.
They never surrendered and today their successful 1980s/1990s law suit against the Federal Government and the State of Florida requiring the polluting of Everglades Agricultural Area run off water onto their lands, to be reduced from sometimes over 300 to 10 parts per billion/phosphorus, in my opinion, is a key reason, along with its tartiness and other issues, why CEPP was not included in the Water Resources Development Act, WRDA, bill by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.
I can hear the D.C. ACOE now: “Even if we had the designated land, the mass of water could not be sent south—it’s too dirty. We need so much more land to clean it. So we’ll build all this structure but we won’t be able to send but a dribble of water south…Florida has to lessen the water quality requirements or …”
Well first of all, I say “kudos” to the Seminole and Miccosucci for holding the state responsible for cleaning up its water, even if it is an”impossible” number to achieve under present circumstances. I’d say in the karma department, “we had it coming.”
So now what do we do? Well in my opinion a type of war is going to start, and I liken the people of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon to the “Fourth Indian War Warriors.” We will not surrender.
The failure of CEPP to pass will historically be the beginning of this war. And like the Indians of the 1880s, we were indirectly lied to, and part of it was our fault for believing what we were told, knowing the facts of history.
We all watched and participated along with the South Florida Water Management District and the Jacksonville Army Corp of Engineers for three years, putting full concentration of resources and creativity– forcing dedicated staff from both agencies to produce a document, CEPP, that the US Army Corp of Engineers more than likely knew, would never make it. So now, “they” want us to continue rallying for another two years for next WRDA bill. “Oh sorry maybe it will be seven years….”
I don’t think so.
Guess what? The people are tired of waiting. They put their money on the state and federal governments’ horse, and our horse wasn’t even allowed to run.
Do you feel the chain pulling and digging into your neck? I do.
This tactic is not new, and honestly I think it is simply part of a dysfunctional federal and state government. Let’s look back.
In the 1990s governor Lawton Childs had the state halt the famous water quality law suit and actually “laid down his sword” in a courtroom-how courageous, but look where we are now; in the mid 2000s Charlie Christ’s “Sugar Land Deal” was downsized due to the Economic Crisis of 2008 and other politics; before that, Jeb Bush started the “Acceler8 Program to quickly complete eight of over 60 Central Everglades Restoration Plan’s (CERP) projects. The SFWMD, functioning under the governor, worked diligently like they did recently for CEPP–the eight projects were not completed; and since 2011/12, under the Rick Scott administration, the entire focus was on CEPP, which also would have bundled some of the CERP projects to begin “moving faster” and to “move the water south.” After years of laser like dedication, for now, the project is “dead.”
Florida has water quality and quantity issues brewing like a hurricane, and our Indian River Lagoon area will be the eye in November of 2014, as former governor Charlie Christ runs against Governor Rick Scott. The race would have been messy anyway, but now it is going to be war as the different sides configure how to “send the water south” with out CEPP. Start thinking about how you want to send the water south or stored, and “never, never, never give up.”