Salinity levels close to zero at inlet

Watch the corresponding CBS News report here:

http://www.cbs12.com/news/top-stories/stories/vid_9280.shtml

 

St. Lucie River Conditions Worsen: Salinity Levels Close To Zero At Inlet

Story by Jana Eschbach / CBS 12 News
STUART/PALM CITY, Fla. — The pollution and bacteria levels in the St. Lucie River and the ocean near Stuart continues to worsen.

New tests are underway to monitor the dangerous and toxic pollution zones.

The sandbars that are usually busy with boaters, are now off limits, coated in a brown foam.

The Martin County Health Department has told boaters and swimmers to avoid the beloved chain of sandbars–think of it as the Treasure Coast’s Peanut Island here, is now off limits to boaters, the water warning is posted for dangerous levels of fecal pollutants.

“We are getting over 33,000 pounds of nitrogen a day. We are getting over 9,000 pounds of phosphorous a day and the nitrogen in our system, like fertilizer, creates the algae blooms, so we are now starting to see those green algae blooms,” said Mark Perry, Executive Director of Florida Oceanographic Society.

Waterfront homeowners as far out as Hutchinson Island report toxic green freshwater algae in the Intracoastal waterway.

“That algae can’t survive in ocean conditions. Right that should be total salt water right there,” Perry said pointing to the map.

Dirty enough to make close to 6,000 residents march in protest this weekend to stop the pollution.

To find clear ocean water, we have to travel close to 9 miles offshore to escape the cloud of brown water. Until we escape the massive plume, there’s no sign of bait fish, or game fish.

“It pretty much creates a dead zone out there which could become a real problem, if its persists,” Perry said.

The plume of dirty water is now close enough to the powerful gulf stream to send the debris north.

“It is a massive amount of force and water that is not being treated at all it is just polluted and it is coming into the estuary,” Perry said.

The plume travels south as well, coating environmentally-protected coral reefs.

“If we went out and disturbed the corals, or spear fish on that reef–it’s illegal to do that…but this is the discharge thats happening and they say its for public safety,” Perry said.

The US Army Corps of Engineers who control the fresh water releases into this region say the lake levels are so high, discharges will contnue at this maximum rate until further notice.

Scientists say right now 30% of oyster reefs are dead and fishkills are coming soon, when salinity levels drop further and oxygen levels are depleted by the toxic green algae.

And every access to the river now in Martin County warns you should not even touch the water.

If you see blue-green algae, you are asked to contact the Department of Environmental Protection at 772-467-5572. Abnormal fish behavior or fish kills can be reported to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-800-636-0511.

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This makes me so sick. “Years of waiting ahead”

My thoughts:

I am literally sick to my stomach at the thought of this being a 10 year project.  While it is a realistic timeframe, these conditions are not something that the river can sustain for another decade.

ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY-FOUR BILLION GALLONS OF WATER

That’s how much water is dumped YEARLY from Okeechobee into our estuary.  It’s killing every living creature in sight, some of whom have never left the lagoon and will certain all be killed off by the time the red tape around this water divergence gets lifted.

One of the wild dolphin feeding moments I captured on camera. Photo by Lindsey Auclair

Un-fun fact: the dolphins of Indian River Lagoon spend their entire lives in the lagoon.  The population once numbered 700, a staggering 10% have already been killed by our pollution this year.  They’ll all be gone.

Does that sink in?  

ALL of the dolphins in our estuary will be gone.  

The dolphins that are being found dead are so emaciated they must have been starving for an extended period.  You’ve all seen the photos, it’s horrific.

This got me thinking about some of my experiences with our lagoon dolphin.  Every.single.time. I’ve been out on our boat, we’ve seen dolphin.  Well that is, until now.

The last few times we were out fishing, the dolphins literally swarmed the boat waiting for our catch-and-release fish to be dropped back into the water.  They ate every one we gave them.  One dolphin repeatedly came right up to the boat, waited patiently for the fish to be unhooked and let us drop it right into his or her mouth.

At the time, I thought this was adorable.  Now, it’s overwhelmingly depressing.  I had no idea they were starving.  I thought they were just clever.  Now I know they were fighting to survive on a night I was just out for a sunset cruise.  Maybe you don’t care about dolphin (which you should by the way, who doesn’t care about dolphin?), but what about the recreational sporting shop owners who make their living showing off the gorgeous dolphin, manatee and wildlife?  What about the fishing guides who can’t book a charter in root beer brown water and feel right charging for a trip they know won’t produce any fish?  What about the kids who want to go tubing at Ski Island and can’t because of the bacteria?  What about the fish that you once were able to catch in the backyard and now

1) can’t find. Surprise: they’re gone!

and 2) can’t eat. Surprise: they’re toxic!

The list of travesties goes on and on.  And that’s why I am sick to my stomach about about a ten year plan.  In ten years, nothing will be left to save.

And all this in a body of water called “an estuary of national significance” for its once unparalleled diversity.  What’s more, now the pollution from the runoff is causing a bacteria harmful to humans, a toxic algae as it were.   With effects such as; hay fever, rashes, diarrhea, vomiting, burning eyes, etc etc etc.

Yet somehow law makers, the Army Corps of Engineers and even our Governor are OK with this?  It makes me want to scream.

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Originally found here: http://www.tcpalm.com/news/2013/aug/05/years-of-waiting-ahead-for-opponents-of-lake/

Years of waiting ahead for opponents of Lake Okeechobee discharges

By Tyler Treadway
Posted August 5, 2013 at 1:36 p.m., updated August 5, 2013 at 4:54 p.m.

TROPICAL FARMS — The 5,000-plus people who gathered here Saturday near the St. Lucie Lock and Dam demanding an end to discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie Estuary have a wait on their hands.

Getting the water now heading east to the St. Lucie and west to the Caloosahatchee estuary to flow south instead will take at least 10 to 15 years.

“I may not be around by then,” said Mark Perry, executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society in Stuart, “but my kids will be. That’s why I refuse to give up hope; that’s why I tell people, ‘Don’t give up. Keep the pressure on.’ ”

The Army Corps of Engineers releases water from Lake O into the estuaries whenever heavy rainfall in southern and Central Florida, and the potential for rainfall, threaten the Herbert Hoover Dike.

Most recently, the Corps began releasing water through the dam May 8, most of it rain runoff in the St. Lucie Canal watershed.

The influx of fresh water has removed practically all the salinity from the naturally brackish estuary, killing oysters and seagrass and allowing coliform bacteria, which can’t survive in salty water, to thrive. Since late July, potentially toxic blue-green algae has been blooming in the estuary, a result of phosphorus and nitrogen in the water.

“The immediate outlook is pretty dismal,” Perry said. “There’s so much water coming into Lake Okeechobee and nowhere for it to go.”

Here’s a look at some of the short-term and long-term proposals to eliminate, or at least alleviate, the discharges.

SHORT-TERM

Perry and other have suggested levels of the lakes above Lake Okeechobee be raised to keep some of the water out of Lake O and thus out of the estuary.

“The water levels in the chain of lakes along the Kissimmee River are kept at a certain height by the Corps of Engineers and the water management district,” he said. “But if they could go above those levels by just a foot, even half a foot, all that water wouldn’t get dumped on us.”

Perry said stormwater treatment areas and water conservation areas south of the lake also could hold more water to help alleviate the discharges.

“Right now they’re not letting any water go south,” he said, “and that’s frustrating.”

In an email titled “Setting the record straight — Lake O water releases” sent Aug. 2, the Corps calls the idea that water facilities north and south of the lake aren’t being utilized a myth.

Canals and other structures north and south of the lake can’t be kept at maximum depths, the Corps stated, because of the threat of tropical storms.

“ … (A) heavy rain could generate runoff that can’t be discharged through the canals, resulting in street flooding and backup of water into yards, fields and possibly homes.”

Ernie Barnett, interim executive director of the water district, said last week about 25,000 acres for sugar in the 650,000-acre Everglades Agricultural Area already has been flooded. All of it, however, is fallow farmland already out of production.

An Aug. 22 state Senate committee headed by Stuart Republican Sen. Joe Negron will look into the possibility of renting farm land to provide short-term storage of water to keep it from being sent to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.

“Putting it anywhere is better than putting it in the estuary,” Perry said.

LONG-TERM

Kevin Powers of Stuart, vice chairman of the South Florida Water Management District Board of Governors, called a 12,000-acre project including a reservoir and stormwater treatment areas under construction along the C-44 Canal connecting the lake and the estuary “the closest thing we’ve got to getting some big relief for the estuary. ”

Still, the earliest the C-44 project could be complete is 2017; and that’s if the water district builds the stormwater treatment area at the same time the Corps, which is tasked with overall construction, builds the reservoir. Otherwise, completion won’t be until 2020 or 2021.

The project, estimated to cost between $750 million and $1 billion, will clean phosphorus and nitrogen out of the canal before it reaches the estuary and the Indian River Lagoon beyond; but the project won’t stop huge amounts of fresh water from pouring into the estuary.

The Central Everglades Planning Project, a $2 billion initiative to use publicly owned land to divert more water from Lake O to the Everglades, will take at least 10 years to complete and account for only a portion of the water dumped east and west from Lake O.

According to Perry, the project would be able to move south about 65.2 billion gallons of water each year.

But, Perry added, the St. Lucie Estuary gets an average of about 143.4 billion gallons of water in discharges from Lake O every year. And almost 326 billion gallons are sent west to the Caloosahatchee every year.

The project needs to be included in the federal Water Resources Development Act, which generally passes once every seven years, by Dec. 31. Everglades advocates worry about missing that deadline, since the water district and Corps still haven’t agreed on a first draft of a plan.

A proposal to complement that project and eliminate the Lake O discharges altogether calls for buying 21,000 acres in the Everglades Agricultural Area and building a 159-billion-gallon reservoir. It would take at least as long, and cost as much, as the Central Everglades project, but the two could done simultaneously.

The proposal, often referred to as Plan 6 in reference to an early plan to create a flow way from Lake Okeechobee to the south, also would cost about $2 billion.