Malcom “Bubba” Wade can suck our infected water.

JENSEN BEACH — If Malcolm “Bubba” Wade felt a twinge of sympathy for the dumped-on St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon, his glib tone did a fine job of masking it.

“Another red letter day for the Sugar Barons,” he said, apparently joking, during Thursday’s meeting of the Water Resources Advisory Commission, where his industry was booed by fed-up locals in the audience.

Wade, a vice president with U.S. Sugar Corp., then proceeded to criticize the one idea that advocates believe could bring real relief from the massive discharges of Lake Okeechobee water:

The construction of a “flow way” south.

“Just be careful about using as your No. 1 tactical weapon your flow way. I think it could backfire on you,” the mustachioed sugar exec said during the meeting at Indian RiverSide Park, where signs are posted warning of blue-green algae in the lagoon.

Mark Perry, another commission member and executive director of Florida Oceanographic Society, recently renewed the push for a flow way from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades. He and other river advocates say it offers a remedy to the releases that have prompted toxic algae blooms in the St. Lucie River.

But Wade didn’t want to give the concept any traction.

He claimed the idea — specifically the modified “Plan 6” proposal that would require buying 53,000 acres south of the lake — “didn’t make sense” when it was proposed years ago “and it makes no more sense today.”

He offered no alternative, just deflection of blame for the St. Lucie River’s current crisis.

“Your problem with that water is not us,” Wade told the commission, which advises the South Florida Water Management District’s Governing Board. “It’s north of the lake.”

His position of opposition shouldn’t surprise anyone.

U.S. Sugar and the state’s other giant sugar company, Florida Crystals, have sweet deals in the Everglades Agricultural Area. They get prime irrigation for their crops, and their industries are propped up by federal price supports in the Farm Bill.

What was surprising was how little pushback Wade got from the majority of the Water Resources Advisory Commission.

Kevin Powers, a Martin County native, is vice chair of the commission and of the water management district’s Governing Board. He lives on the St. Lucie River in Stuart, and his late father, Timer Powers, was a well-respected leader who helped broker landmark water deals.

Kevin Powers has an opportunity to emerge as a leader in this crisis, but he was largely silent Thursday.

As a start, he could help by reviving talks about buying more land south of the lake.

The South Florida Water Management District has six years remaining on an option to buy 107,000 acres south of Lake Okeechobee from U.S. Sugar.

Perry said the district should “absolutely” be talking about exercising the option.

Yes, it’s expensive.

Yes, it would take time to figure out how to use the land for a flow way.

But the toxic conditions in the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon are exacting a toll throughout the local economy.

It’s expensive, too.

And there’s no end in sight.

Charter fishing guide Mike Conner, who attended Thursday’s meeting, said he’s driving clients more than 100 miles south in search of cleaner water.

During the past month, he has guided three paid trips. Last year, the number was 13.

He has tried to bill the South Florida Water Management District and Army Corps of Engineers for his lost income.

He’s still waiting for a response.

Wade may not think a man-made flow way makes sense.

Letting the damage to the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon continue is even more nonsensical.

Eve Samples is a columnist for Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers. This column reflects her opinion. Contact her at 772-221-4217 or eve.samples@scripps.com.

 

ERIC HASERT/TREASURE COAST NEWSPAPERS
Malcolm Wade, a vice president for U.S. Sugar Corp., responds to suggestions of selling off property options for possible Lake Okeechobee discharges during the Water Resources Advisory Commission meeting discussing the state of Lake Okeechobee, the St. Lucie Estuary and the Indian River Lagoon in the Frances Langford Center at Indian RiverSide Park in Jensen Beach on Thursday. “Ain’t gonna happen.”$RETURN$$RETURN$

Lagoon facing uncertain future

Originally from: http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/07/31/3073154/floridas-indian-river-lagoon-facing.html

Published: July 31, 2013

 

By SUSAN COCKING — scocking@MiamiHerald.com

Just about every summer for the past decade or more, anglers and guides who ply the Indian River Lagoon have prayed for drought. Drought means less discharge of fresh water from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie Estuary. Lower-than-normal rainfall means less chance of storm drains gushing, sewage treatment plants overflowing, and septic tanks leaking.

SPORTS OTD-FLORIDALAGOON MI

But summer 2013 has been anything but dry so far, and too much fresh water is only one of myriad factors that might be propelling the 156-mile lagoon toward ecological collapse.

“Unless they do something quick – like yesterday – this isn’t going to be a viable body of water,” Palm City fly-fishing guide Marcia Foosaner said. “It’s really heart-breaking. It was such a great area.

“I think this has hit the tipping point.”

Throughout the lagoon – a shallow body of water sheltered by barrier islands that extends from just north of Jupiter Inlet to Ponce Inlet – horror stories abound: dead manatees, pelicans and dolphins; sporadic fish kills; once-lush meadows of sea grass now gone; pervasive algae blooms; and foul-smelling, opaque waters.

“For me, sight fishing is out,” said Foosaner, a dedicated wader. “The water looks so bad, I felt like I had to fumigate myself.”

The lagoon has experienced sea grass die-offs and algae blooms before, but practically nobody can remember anything like what’s been going on since spring 2011. That’s when a “superbloom” of phytoplankton overtook the Mosquito Lagoon and northern Indian River Lagoon, and more than 30,000 acres of sea grass died. As if that weren’t trouble enough, in June last year, the area was beset by brown algae blamed for ecological problems in Texas estuaries in the 1990s but never seen before in Florida. The brown algae, which turned previously clear waters a muddy brown, was followed by a reddish algae that creates saxitoxin, a poison that makes people ill.

The brown algae subsided last winter, according to captain Chris Myers, who conducts charters in Mosquito Lagoon.

“November through May, it was crystal clear,” Myers said. “But as soon as that water hit 75 degrees, it’s exploded again. It’s from Titusville north to the dead end of the river and all of Mosquito Lagoon. It’s made what I do – sight fishing – in the lagoon, it kills it.”

But not all lagoon waters are steeped in algae and mud.

For some reason, the area around Sebastian Inlet remains crystal clear, according to veteran light-tackle guide Glyn Austin of Palm Bay.

“The water is clean with no habitat,” Austin said. “Eighty percent of the grass is gone on the flats at the inlet. I’m not sure why it died. There are some fish around – snook, trout and redfish.”

Scientists and resource managers say they can not pinpoint exactly what’s killing the grass, birds and marine mammals, but there are several possible causes – excessive fresh water releases; degradation of water quality; nutrient and contaminant loading; and ocean acidification – or a combination of all of these factors.

Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce was supposed to get $2 million from the state to look into the problem, but Florida Gov. Rick Scott vetoed the bill.

The Indian River Estuary Program is looking at the feasibility of channeling more ocean water into the estuary to flush out the algae and dirty water. Possibilities include dredging a new inlet or deepening the existing ones, or building culverts through the barrier islands. Some people are even hoping a hurricane will blast a new path into the lagoon.

Meanwhile, the problems already are affecting the livelihoods of fishing guides who earn their living putting anglers on fish in the lagoon.

“You’ve either got to tell people the truth and half of them don’t want to go, or you could lie to them, then they’ll see how bad it is and they’ll tell everybody,” Myers said.

“I don’t know that there’s any cure that man can do.”

 

Everglades project not good enough

From TCPalm: http://www.tcpalm.com/news/2013/jul/31/central-everglades-project-related-reservoir-okd/

Central Everglades project-related reservoir OK’d; good but not enough, environmentalist says

 

Central Everglades-related reservoir OK’d; good but not enough, environmentalist says

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has issued a permit for a shallow reservoir that will help reduce, but by no means eliminate, discharges of Lake Okeechobee water into the St. Lucie Estuary.

The permit authorizes the South Florida Water Management District to build, operate and maintain the A-1 Flow Equalization Basin south of Lake O. The impoundment will cover more than 15,000 acres and hold nearly 2 billion gallons of water.

Construction of the basin is a prerequisite for the Central Everglades Planning Project, a $2 billion initiative to use publicly owned land to divert more water from Lake O to the Everglades.

The basin will contain vegetation to help reduce phosphorus concentrations before moving water to the stormwater treatment areas, man-made wetlands that naturally remove phosphorus from water before it is discharged into the Everglades.

Ernie Barnett, the water district’s interim director, said the basin is scheduled to be complete July 30, 2016.

Barnett said a second reservoir, aptly named A-2, will be built and “bolted onto the A-1 to make it twice as big,” as part of the Central Everglades Planning Project. Mark Perry, executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society, said the basin construction will benefit the St. Lucie Estuary, as long as it’s a first step.

According to the society, the estuary receives an average of about 144 billion gallons a year from Lake Okeechobee; the Caloosahatchee River estuary on the west coast receives about 316 billion gallons a year.

“I’m glad (the state) is heading in the right direction,” Perry said, “but there’s a lot more that needs to be done to save our estuaries.”

Perry has proposed a plan that would complement the project and eliminate the Lake O discharges by requiring the purchase of 21,000 acres of U.S. Sugar Corp. land and 32,000 acres of Florida Crystals land to build a reservoir that would store 159 billion gallons of water.

Water-based businesses struggle, no end in sight

From TCPalm: http://www.tcpalm.com/news/2013/jul/31/water-dependent-businesses-along-st-lucie-river-la/

Water-dependent businesses along St. Lucie River, lagoon struggle

  • By Jon Shainman, WPTV NewsChannel 5
  • Posted July 31, 2013 at 7:02 p.m.
  • ERIC HASERT/TREASURE COAST NEWSPAPERS  Dan Neumann (center), owner of Coastal Paddle Boarding in Port Salerno, launches several paddle boards and a kayak into Manatee Pocket from his dock located at 4290 S.E. Salerno Road  in Port Salerno on Friday.  'It's a shame because we got beautiful waterways  here in Martin County, ..but it's obviously a problem when we can't get out on the water because the health department is issuing statements like they do, because the Army Corps of Engineers is dumping water into the river,' Neumann said about conditions in the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.  Dan Neumann, cq 
PHOTOGRAPHED: Friday JULY 19, 2013

 

PORT SALERNO — At Coastal Paddleboards, Don Neumann takes out the flag that would have signified he was open. A sign nearby declares you can’t rent boards from his dock in the Manatee Pocket.

“We have slowly seen a decline in our business and now it has reached a crescendo,” said Neumann.

He and his wife Rochelle are in their fourth summer of operation, and this one is clearly trouble.

“The simple fact that 100 percent of our business takes place on these waters, it has completely pulled the rug out from under us,” said Dan Neumann.

Click here to read the TCPalm story from July 21 on the water quality’s effect on recreational businesses.

Rochelle Neumann says before the Lake Okeechobee freshwater releases, she could see to the bottom from her dock. But not anymore. Wednesday’s warning to stay out of the water because of toxic blue-green algae in the area couldn’t have come at a worse time. Their business does best in the summer because of the warm water.

“People are not afraid to fall in the water … until now. Nobody wants to fall in the water period,” said Rochelle Neumann.

So the Neumanns have to become explorers, and find new places to put in. Wednesday, they brought a few customers to Jimmy Graham Park in Hobe Sound. While these out of town customers didn’t cancel, many others have shied away.

“We have had cancelations due to the water issues without a doubt,” said Dan Neumann.

The Neumanns are hoping they can make it through the rest of the summer.

They’ll be joining a protest planned for 10 a.m. Saturday at Phipps Park in Stuart right by the St. Lucie Locks where all the freshwater is coming in from Lake Okeechobee.