We have all seen the stories about land in the Everglades agricultural Area thissummer.  I was asked to give a presentation at a national conference in Orlando recently about water management in Florida.  It was a fun paper and most of the people there were not from Florida, so it was useful for them to understand the land of water.  Florida has always been a land shaped by water.  Initially it was too much, which frustrated federal soldiers trying to hunt down Native Americans in the 1830s.  In 1881, real estate developer Hamilton Disston first tried to drain the swamps with canals.  He was not successful, but Henry Flagler came through a decade later and constructed the east coast railroad in the 1890s.  It is still there, 2 miles off the coast, on the high ground.  However water limited development so in 1904, Napoleon Bonaparte Broward campaigned to drain the everglades.   Broward’s efforts initiated the first land boom in Florida, although it was interrupted in the 1920s by hurricanes (1926 and 1928) that sloshed water out of Lake Okeechobee killing people and severely damaging property in Miami and around Lake Okeechobee.  A dike was built (the Hover dike – it is still there). However, an extended drought occurred in the 1930s.  With the dike preventing water from leaving Lake Okeechobee, the Everglades became parched. Peat turned to dust, and saltwater entered Miami’s wells. When the city brought in an expert to investigate, he found that the water in the Everglades was the recharge area for the Biscayne aquifer, the City’s water supply.  Hence water from the lake needed to move south.

Resiliency has always been one of Florida’s best attributes.  So while the hurricanes created a lot of damage, it was only a decade or two later before the boom returned.  But in the late 1940s, additional hurricanes hit Florida, causing damage and flooding from Lake Okeechobee prompting Congress to direct the Army Corps of Engineers to build 1800 miles of canals, dozens of pump stations and other structures to drain the area south of Lake Okeechobee.  It is truly one of the great wonders of the world – they drained half a state by lowering the groundwater table by gravity canals. To improve resiliency, between 1952 and 1954, the Corps,  in cooperation with the state of Florida, built a levee 100 miles long between the eastern Everglades and the developing coastal area of southeast Florida to prevent the swamp from impacting the area primed for development.

As a part of the canal construction after 1940, 470,000 acres of the Everglades was set aside for farming on the south side of Lake Okeechobee and designated as the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA).  However water is inconsistent, so there are ongoing flood/drought cycles in agriculture.   Irrigation in the EAA is fed by a series of canals that are connected to larger ones through which water is pumped in or out depending on the needs of the sugar cane and vegetables, the predominant crops.  Hence water is pumped out of the EAA, laden with nutrients.  Backpumping to Lake Okeechobee and pumping the water conservation areas was a practice used to address the flooding problem.

There was an initial benefit to Lake Okeechobee receiving nutrients.  Older folks will recall that in the 1980s , the lake was the prime place for catching lunker bass.  That was because the lake was traditionally nutrient poor.  That changed with the backpumping which stimulated the biosystem productivity.  More production led to more biota and more large fish.  This works as long as the system is in balance e- i.e. the nutrients need to be growth limiting at the lower end of the food chain.  Otherwise the runaway nutrients overwhelm the natural production and eutrophication results.  Lake Okeechobee is a runaway system – the algae now overwhelm the rest of the biota.  Lunker bass have been gone for 20 years.

The backpumped water is usually low in oxygen and high in phosphorus and nitrogen, which triggers algal progressions, leading to toxic blue-green algae blooms and threaten lake drinking water supplies.  Think Toledo. Prolonged back pumping can lead to dead zones in the lake, which currently exist.  The nutrient cycle and algal growth is predictable.

The Hoover Dike is nearly 100 years old and while it sit on top of the land (19 ft according to the Army Corps of Engineers), there is concern about it being breached by sloshing or washouts.  Undermining appears in places where the water moves out of the lake flooding nearby property.  So the Corps tries to keep the water level below 15.5 ft.  During the rainy season, or a rainy winter as in 2016, that can become difficult. If the lake is full, that nutrient laden water needs to go somewhere.  The only options are the Caloosahatchee, St. Lucie River or the everglades.  The Everglades is not the answer for untreated water – the upper Everglades has thousands of acres of cattails to testify to the problem with discharges to the Everglades.  So the water gets discharged east and west via the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie River.

The nutrient and algae laden water manifests as a green slime that washed onto Florida beaches in the Treasure coast and southwest Florida this summer, algae is actually a regular visitor to the coasts.  Unfortunately memories often fail in temporal situations.  The summer 2016 occurrence is reportedly the eighth since 2004, and the most severe since 2013.  The green slime looks bad, can smell bad, kills fish and the 2016 bloom was so large it spread through estuaries on both coasts killing at least one manatee.  One can see if from the air – try this link:

 

https://www.google.com/search?q=algae+florida+aerial&rlz=1C1CAFA_enUS637US637&espv=2&biw=1194&bih=897&tbm=isch&imgil=-znOtKN1py0w1M%253A%253BR2WKOUpBlkwQUM%253Bhttp%25253A%25252F%25252Fabcnews.go.com%25252FUS%25252Ftoxic-algae-blooms-infesting-florida-beaches-putting-damper%25252Fstory%25253Fid%2525253D40326610&source=iu&pf=m&fir=-znOtKN1py0w1M%253A%252CR2WKOUpBlkwQUM%252C_&usg=__KgNR31PY5qxleBf1KST7DWY2mXo%3D&ved=0ahUKEwiqyKK6uJvPAhWr6oMKHdt7C5oQyjcIKg&ei=QNvfV6qoLavVjwTb963QCQ#imgrc=-znOtKN1py0w1M%3A

 

algae


It is mid-September and over the next two full moons south Florida will have a visit from the King tides.  These are the annual highest tides, caused by the proximity of the moon to earth.  And they occur at the end of the rainy season (so the aquifer is full we home), so groundwater adds to the flooding potential.  We see this every year.  Lookign for photos.

King Tides expected to begin Friday; known to flood coastal neighborhoods

http://bit.ly/2cr0U9g


A couple summer’s back we had the Animas River turn yellow because of materials stored on the edge of the river.  A couple years before that, coal ash and the Charleston spill.  Now the “red” river (but at in Russia)….So maybe legislators can help us understand why continuing to store this stuff on the edge of water supplies is ok? Or why we shouldn’t put a bunch of money toward removing this material so water supplies and ecosystem are less at risk?

http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/12/world/russia-red-river-siberia/?iid=ob_homepage_deskrecommended_pool


This might be one of the more bizarre stories out there.  Exactly ow the kids were able to keep moving the manhole cover I don’t know, but really weird.  and very unfortunate.  I think it says something about our society unfortunately.  Just not sure what…..

http://www.foxcarolina.com/story/32857599/kids-found-living-in-sewer-in-washington-state


According to a recent article in the Estes Park News (July 29, 20156), there are wolves in Colorado.  This can only be a good thing for the ecosystem and maybe water quality as well (Elk are the cause of giardia in the park streams).  If you spend much time in the Rockies, one of the issues rangers will note if the overabundance of elk. Which because there are no natural predators, graze meadows too cleanly, and graze right down to the streams in the middle of those meadows.  The result is that the aspen trees that would otherwise grow along those streams never get a foothold.  The aspens are needed for beavers.  The scenario is exactly that discussed in Yellowstone 20 years ago after the wolves were reintroduced that.  People thought we hunted the beavers out of Yellowstone, and while trappers did not help the situation, the lack of wolves and overgrazing by elk was the final straw.  Once the wolves returned, so did the aspens and beavers.

Now if you have ever been around a large heard of elk, they are majestic creatures.  I really enjoy seeing them, watching the young ones frolic in the fields, and the herd slowly craze its way across a meadow.  Fall activities are also enjoyable as the males try to find willing females.  Good luck with that guys!  So the thought has been that until wolves return to Colorado, people would have to create the barriers to overgrazing.  So, for example, o in Rocky Mountain National Park you will see tall fences around streams in meadows designed to keep the elk away.

IMG_7822

Most state agencies will report that wolves have been absent from Colorado for over 120 years (1896).  Actually lately they are reporting no dens, or packs versus no wolves.  The Estes Park News explains why.  Despite the fact that wolves are still protected under the Endangered Species Act in Colorado,   several have been killed in the last 12 years in the state.  The first one was in 2004 in Idaho Springs on I70.  In 2007 video captured on in the northern part of the state.  In 2009 a radio collared wolf was found dead in Rifle, CO and in April 2015 a trail cam captured a photo of one.  In April 2015 a third wolf was killed, this time by a hunter who though it was a coyote.  Shades of the Grand Canyon wolf that was killed in Utah because the hunter thought it was a coyote.

So that’s 5 wolves, 3 of which were dead.  It seems incursion are coming in from Wyoming, but not yet established.  The state is making preparations to deal with returning wolf populations.  But while the news may be good for the ecosystem, the biggest barrier to wildlife enthusiasts seeing one may be hunters and ranchers, just like Wyoming.  So I have a couple thoughts – a wolf is a lot bigger than a coyote.  Think German shepard versus 20 lb beagle.  Surely hunters should be able to tell the difference.  If not, do we want them out there with a gun hunting?  Next if there are radio collars, it suggests that the animal is being tracked.  Not too many coyotes are being tracked.  So let’s assume all collared creatures are off limits to anyone hunting.  Maybe then we will be able to see a wolf in Colorado one day.  Wouldn’t that be exciting?

 

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