Yesterday the Army Corps of Engineers announced that they will be allowing a deviation in operations for the Water Conservation Areas. You may recall my recent posts about the high water levels in the manmade, levied water conservation areas and the dangers to wildlife and tree islands and the fact that when they are “full” it is not possible to “send water south” to the Everglades National Park from Lake Okeechobee….
-which means that if the Lake is filling up the St. Lucie River is closer to being discharged to. Today according to the South Florida Water Management District the lake sits at 16.01 feet. If indeed the present strong El Nino unleashes torrents of rain this winter, as it already did on November 15, 2023, or even if not, and the ACOE wants to “plan” by sending non- toxic algae lake water to the estuaries before summer, we are hosed.
Why? Because the system was built that way. It was built to favor some and hurt others, to protect the Everglades Agricultural Area and South Florida from flooding by draining Lake Okeechobee into the St. Luice and Calooshahatchee.
OK. A lot of issues were accepted from the late 1800s through 1948 when the Central and Southern Florida Plan was built. That does not mean it is acceptable today. There are options that would greatly improve the situation, like having everyone including the EAA sugar lands hold water on their lands instead of using the lake like a pond at a homeowner’s association to irrigate their lawn! This is 2024 almost!
It is appreciated that the ACOE is allowing a deviation for the Water Conservation Areas and of course the animals and tree islands must be helped too. But we must realize this it is not enough to save the the St. Lucie River that is almost dead as it is. No false hope.
The day began with smoke, smoke off the sugarcane fields.
Yesterday, Ed and I took a flight from Stuart to Everglades City, passing Chokoloskee and photographing the EAA Reservoir lands along the way. It is huge out there in the “Everglades,” seemingly endless. The easiest way to get one’s bearings is to look for the Miami and New River Canals that run south of Lake Okeechobee. Highway 27 parallels the New River Canal; where the red balloon is located above is the area east of where the EAA Reservoir will be constructed. For more specifics see link (https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/tag/a-1-aerial/)
For Ed and I the flight, although hazy, was an opportunity to learn to recognize from the air Water Conservation Area 3, just south of the EAA Reservoir Area. The water conservation area lands are not located in Everglades National Park, but water quality is protected.
“To me these are the Everglades,” Ed said looking down.
“They are but they aren’t,” I replied. “They are part of the Central and South Florida Project, they are not natural; they are controlled. When they are too full from EAA water, the water from Lake O is not allowed to go south. If too full, from rain, or otherwise the animals can drown. Trapped on the tree islands raccoon, and deer, and panther together. Terrible.”
“Why can’t the water just flow south,” Ed asked.
“Lot of reasons, people like to say it’s because of an endangered bird, but its bigger than that, mostly because we have chosen to make it that way, and powerful entities keep our legislature from changing it in spite of what the voters say.” (SFWMD Constraints: https://apps.sfwmd.gov/SystemConstraintsDataApp/)
Ed did not reply.
We looked forward to what appeared to be little hills. The cypress domes of Big Cypress National Park reflected in the sunlight, and I could see “end of the earth” Chockoloskee right next to Everglades City in the distance. Pretty…
I can understand why people like to live down there so far away from everything. But they too can not escape our problems ~not with water.
The South Florida Water Management District did a great job “sending water south,” from May-September last year, so how are they doing so far this year comparatively? Recently I asked Dr Gary Goforth (http://garygoforth.net) if I could share his calculations:
Jacqui, As you know, my mantra has been to send the Lake water south – slowly but steadily – throughout the year.
This was echoed by Robert Fennema describing historical flows from the Lake to the Everglades in the same 2008 Greater Everglades Ecosystem Restoration (GEER) workshop as the Chris McVoy piece you referenced recently: “Persistent outflow along the southern shore provided the head to maintain constant flow through the Everglades.”
All the best, Gary
Here are Dr Gary Goforth’s numbers:
2 years ago May-Sept: 32,032 acre feet to STAs Last year May-Sept: 187,125 acre feet to STAs This year May – Sept.: 95,600 acre feet to STA/FEB
He adds: “Jeff Kivett stated there was 60% probability of above average rainfall during the upcoming dry season and now is the time to keep the Lake low by sending it to the Everglades.”
Thank you Dr Goforth.
I have noticed, at recent meetings, speakers and scientists for the SFWMD note that rainfall and other issues have a lot to do with how much water they can send south. It would be wonderful if someone from the District could explain this in simple terms for the public and noting the goal for this year. Please feel free to participate in this blog.
In my youth, I remember a time in Rio, when my friend Vicki and I found a Great Blue Heron tangled in fishing line and hooks along the St Lucie River. Vicki, always being the leader, designated me to save the bird. I recall walking out into the shallow river and determining how I could help this gigantic and magnificent creature that stood almost as tall as myself.
The bird’s yellow/gold eyes were wild and frightened as it struggled against the line. To me, its markings resembled Indian war paint; its purple/blue coloring extraordinary. I was inspired and scared by its strength, beauty, and fight to survive.
Vicki barked directions at me, threw me a towel, and some scissors. Being careful not to hurt the bird, I cut the line from the mangrove, bringing it into my arms, gently holding its sharp beak, and then trounced back up to the shoreline. Vicki’s older sister, Beth, drove us to a wildlife veterinarian who took the line and hooks off the bird and returned it to the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. This must have been sometime in the late 1970s…
The above photo, by local photographer, Paul Shidel, was recently shared, and brought back memories of this childhood experience. Birds tie into a week of blogging about destructive changes and history to the Everglades’ system.
Believe it or not, the National Audubon Society states that only 10% of the bird life remains in the Everglades compared to its pre-development glory. We are part of the Everglades. The Northern Everglades.
*90 % of the bird life is gone….
When you see a great blue heron know you are witnessing a “survivor.”
Have you ever watched them fly? Head forward; legs back; and a steady eye on the horizon. Completely focused. We too must keep our eyes on the horizon and be completely focused.
We have a long fight forward to save the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. And that we will.
Yesterday, reviewing Everglades/IRL history, we learned about Storm Water Treatment Areas (STAs) that clean Lake Okeechobee water going to the Everglades; today we will take a look at their “older brother and sisters” the Water Conservation Areas ( WCAs),changed but remaining parts of the Everglades, that deliver water to Everglades National Park, and are protected as part of the Everglades themselves…
The Water Conservation Areas, the three large red images in the photo at the beginning of this blog post, comprise 900,000 acres. For reference, the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) is 700,000 acres. As we learned yesterday, the STAs were built in 1994; the WCAs are were developed/created in 1948.
According to United States Geological Survey, (USGA,) the WCAs were developed as part of the (1948) Central and Southern Florida (C&SF) Project.
It followed tremendous flooding in 1947, and inspired the widening and deepening of the C-44, (St Lucie) C-43, (Caloosahatchee) canals, the building of C-23, C-24, C-25 in Martin and St Lucie Counties, as well as many, many, other projects around and south of Lake Okeechobee. The Army Corp of Engineers did what they were charged to by the state and the US Congress, and as usual they did it “too well,” over draining the state with the continued destruction of the northern estuaries. On top of that, today we waste on average 1.7 billion gallons of valuable water to tide every day. (Florida Oceanographic Society, Mark Perry.)
So anyway, the WCAs were also “created”during this time; they on the other hand are a good thing…
According to the USGA web site:
They were designed for use as storage to prevent flooding, to irrigate agriculture and recharge well fields and as input for agricultural and urban runoff.
They are also recharged by rain, but leeves were built around the WCAs so water flows into them and then slowly streams into Everglades National Park by the hand of man, not Nature…
The USGA also states that:
Historic flow of water and the quality of water through the WCAs have been greatly reduced. These conditions have resulted in decreased wading bird populations due to shortened hydroperiods, invasion of the native environments by exotic plants and fish, and conversions of sawgrass communities to cattail/sawgrass mixes.
Recently, Martin County’s Dr Gary Goforth (http://garygoforth.net), formerly of the SFWMD, and one of the primary creators of the STAs, has been revealing publicly at River Coalition meetings and SFWMD meetings that although more STAs have been built since 1994 to bring and clean water into the WCA/Everglades, less water is actually getting there!
2014 was the first year in ten years that a substantial amount of water (over 250,000 Acre Feet) was sent south. (See chart below.) This is odd isn’t it? And until last year, most of that water was EAA water used to water their crops, not “overflow” Lake Okeechobee water.
I believe it was the public outcry that inspired the ACOE and SFWMD to send more water south last year through the STAs and WCAs.. .The problem lies with the SFWMD and ACOE mostly because in 1994, by law, phosphorus was limited into Everglades National Park. This is understandable, but adds to our St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon continued destruction.
Even with all of the STAs and the WCAs nature cannot take up all of the man-made phosphorus and nitrogen from farming and development. So what can we do?
We must return more of the EAA land to nature or at least “man-made” nature…we must purchase the option lands….