September 22, 2017
After Irma, another disaster emerges in our water
By: Eve Samples
When you live on a densely populated peninsula built from marshes and muck, destruction wrought by hurricanes comes in two waves.
First, the wind blows in with its sheer force.
Next, the water gets nasty.
The latter is what we're dealing with now, two weeks after Hurricane Irma strafed Florida.
Thousands of stinking dead fish, and at least one alligator, floated in the C-24 Canal in a residential neighborhood of Port St. Lucie this past week, as reported by TCPalm's Tyler Treadway. Wildlife officials said Irma contributed to a dearth of oxygen in the the canal, which drains farms and suburban development in St. Lucie County.
Also this past week, the state issued a rash of water-quality warnings across the Treasure Coast, citing elevated enteric bacteria levels because of the deluge of rain and runoff from Hurricane Irma.
The bacteria can cause stomach problems, eye irritation, rashes and other health concerns for those who ingest or touch the water. The Florida Department of Health recommended avoiding contact with the water at the following spots:
St. Lucie County
Frederick Douglas Memorial Park
Jaycee Park Beach
River Park Marina
South Beach Causeway Park
South Jetty Park Beach
Veterans Memorial Park at Rivergate
Walton Rocks Beach
Westmoreland Park (Sandpiper Bay canoe launch)
Several more parks in Palm Beach County had bacteria warnings, including Jupiter Beach Park. (Indian River County had none.)
We know more water-quality warnings are likely to come, and Martin County is particularly vulnerable. Rising waters from Lake Okeechobee are being shunted out the St. Lucie River as the Army Corps of Engineers attempts to lower the lake. The same thing is happening on the west side of the state to the Caloosahatchee River.
Meanwhile, excess water from areas south of Lake Okeechobee was temporarily pumped back into the lake after Irma, adding insult to the estuaries' injury.
If you're headed to the beach or river, the best way to stay current on water-quality warnings is to go to TCPalm's "How's the water?" page, which includes an updated map of unsafe locations.
Just as the weather is improving, our water is getting worse.
Prior to September, 2017 had been looking like a decent year for water quality in our area. The St. Lucie River had been spared the huge-volume Lake Okeechobee discharges that led to toxic algae blooms in 2016. We had a dry winter and spring.
But they're back. In fact, water managers started the discharges before Irma to get the lake lower before the expected rain. When the discharges will end depends on a complex matrix of factors, including Lake O's level and weather forecasts.
A partial remedy to the Lake O discharges approved by Florida lawmakers last year — a reservoir south of the lake — is years from being operational. It's not even under construction yet.
Meanwhile, anyone who has been to the beach or the river since Irma knows the water looks like Yoo-hoo.
It could be a long fall.