The Tides of Change, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Flooding on South Sewall's Point 7-17-15 after storm event. This water has receded and returned many times since this date. Not as high but too high for comfort. (Photo JTL)
Flooding on South Sewall’s Point and Riverview Rd. where I live.  On 7-17-15 after a major storm event, super moon and high tides the water was very high. This water has never completely receded. Over the past years the high waters and high tides seem to be occurring more frequently. Not just  every 50 or 100 year flood. (Photo JTL)
South Sewall's Point
South Sewall’s Point JTL 2014.
Aerial public image.
Aerial public image.

 

River water from the IRL coming up through the grates...
River water from the IRL and groundwater coming up through the grates…

The “tides of change” are coming to Martin County. In some places they are already here. As a member of the Florida League of Cites, over the past years I have met officials from counties south of ours in Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe who have formal and open departments within their governments to plan for and deal with sea level rise or “nuisance flooding.” It doesn’t matter what you call it, or what caused it, when it’s happening in your city.  You just want it gone…

We in Martin County, we talk about rising tides, but not really. It is something for those people “down there….”

I think we need to bring the conversation up here.

(https://www.southeastfloridaclimatecompact.org/who-we-are/)

I live in Sewall’s Point, a peninsula in Martin County, surrounded by the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. I have lived here since 1974. After graduating from college I left but did return years later to the beautiful peninsula to marry and buy a house with my husband in 2005. Ed, my husband,  lived on South Sewall’s Point Road prior to our marriage, my parents still live here, as does my sister, so I have witnessed and heard about many water/weather events over the years in our fair town.

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I have noticed that since Superstorm Sandy in 2012, even though she did not hit here, the waters in my area of Sewall’s Point seem to be consistently higher. Yes super moons, full moons, high tides, rains certainly have a lot to do with these events, but do they have everything to do with it? Certain hurricanes are documented to cause changes to flooding etc indefinitely—as out in the ocean things have shifted. We may not see the shift, but things have changed and it affects us on land…(https://www.livescience.com/24380-hurricane-sandy-status-data.html)

I don’t know, I am just speculating as I see a changes. It’s hard not to wonder when you see see water on the street almost every day…For the past four years our street has flooded consistently for long periods of time. Even with an outfall fixed there are issues. This time our road has been under various levels of water on and off for a couple of months, before the rain event as well. I have been documenting this in photos and emails for our town and for my neighbors.

The first photo in this blog is flood water from a rain event. The rest is river water. Yes river water that has come up through the grates and up through the ground into our neighborhood.

At first I was driving through the water when it was low…then my husband made me hose off the bottom of my car. Not fun. Since then I have gone one block over to Pineapple….So every day I drive one block over to exit my street.

The past couple of days it seems the water is receding, but if you look closely, you can still see it “high” right under the grate. Vegetation in the area will be and is already dying from the salt water. What will happen to the road?

Yes we that live here know where the flood zones are and cannot feign ignorance, nonetheless, this cannot be ignored..My advice? We must start a conversation with the Department of Environmental Protection and all local governments. We must face reality because she is knocking, right at our front door!

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This is an excellent article from the Florida Keys shared with me on the subject:

Flooding advice: Learn to cope
BY Charlotte Twine Free Press Staff

KEY LARGO — Residents of Twin Lakes, withstanding 14 days of floods as of press time, have a nickname for their bayside neighborhood, according to Narelle Prew, who has lived on Adams Drive for 20 years.

“We call it Little Venice. On the street, it becomes a canal,” she said.

Twin Lakes isn’t the only Key Largo neighborhood that is currently flooded during the recent spate of higher-than-normal tides.

Emilie Stewart lives on North Blackwell Lane in Stillwright Point. “The water came 7 feet into my driveway. And Sexton Way and Stillwright Way are both totally under, and Center Lane,” she said.

On the 13th day of flooding, Emilie Stewart posted on Facebook a photo of her street completely underwater with the words, “The flood waters are rising!!!! Cannot believe this!”

Some residents are making their frustration public. Frank Garces, who lives in the Twin Lakes neighborhood and bought his house in May, has created a Facebook page called Key Largo Community Swamp.

In the “About” section, it says, “This page is to promote awareness about the long-time, ongoing flooding problem on Shaw Drive, Crane St. and Adams Drive.” Garces has posted many photos showing the conditions he and his neighbors have been living in.

“At the worst, it was over 15 inches,” Garces told the Free Press. “The water is finally starting to recede. I still have to drive through 5 inches of water. It floods when it rains, but that doesn’t concern me — it goes away in two days. This saltwater issue is more of a problem. It turns our street into a canal.”

In Twin Lakes and Stillwright Point, garbage and mail service has been continuous. But residents worry particularly about the damage that the saltwater is doing to their cars.

“People in my neighborhood are driving through the water, and I’m saying, ‘Oh my God,’” Stewart said. “I’m choosing to keep my cars parked. I walk to Winn-Dixie with a backpack for necessities.”

But for people who have to drive to work, the matter is more complicated than simply footing it to the local store. Garces and his wife, Stephanie Russo, have no choice but to drive through the saltwater in front of their home.

“I’ve got a big Ram diesel truck that can do it,” Garces said. “My wife has a two-door coupe that can’t do it. We rented her a truck from Enterprise to use to drive through the water.”

But driving your car through saltwater, which makes most mechanics cringe at the thought, isn’t the only problem from the flooding.

“The mosquitoes are out of control,” said Garces. “The wake from UPS trucks knocks over garbage cans, and garbage floats down the street. I don’t pay taxes to drive my car through canals and put up with stink and mosquitoes and garbage. That’s not right.”

Prew agrees.

“Our whole neighborhood is actually sinking, we were built on a marsh,” she said. “It shouldn’t have been allowed to be built the way it was. The county approved the neighborhood to be built, and the county should maintain it.”

The Free Press asked Monroe County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy to respond to Prew’s comments.

“This is true, it’s an old neighborhood. Yes, we did,” said Murphy, referring to the fact that the county approved the neighborhood. “At least one of the roads in there is a private road, the rest are county.”

Murphy, however, said solutions to the problem are limited.

“We’re surrounded by saltwater. Saltwater is what’s coming up in the street. There is nowhere for the saltwater to go, which is why it’s on the streets,” she said. “The county is not going to pump out the saltwater because there is nowhere to pump it to.”

Taking the high road

But residents question whether the county could raise the roads to prevent the flooding.

“The concern here is that the roads are low,” Garces said.

“Raising the roads would costs millions and millions of dollars,” Murphy said. “And to raise the road blocks water. Where would the water go? The water has to go somewhere, and that’s for the engineers to figure out. Just because you block it doesn’t mean it’s going to sit in the bay. It’s going to come on the land somewhere. And then those people are jeopardized.”

Judith Clarke, engineering director for Monroe County, said permitting and environmental changes present challenges.

“Unfortunately, potential physical modifications that may be made are not simple,” she told the Free Press. “Street grates allow water to drain by gravity, but with sea level rise, the water elevation is above the road and water comes up through some structures rather than draining into them.

“Construction on roads that are directly adjacent to the open water is subject to permitting through South Florida Water Management District and, depending on the proposed course of action, potentially the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.”

For now, the county appears to be in studying mode.

“The county has embarked on the climate change adaptation study to develop a strategy to address climate change impacts in the county, a part of which is developing a strategy and criteria to adapt county roadways,” Clarke said.

Not a simple process

Rhonda Haag, sustainability director for Monroe County, said the county has been conducting modeling of several areas of the county for the past 18 months to determine what can be expected for saltwater inundation into neighborhoods, to identify potential road segments at risk of sea level rise, and to review the various infrastructure of the county and utilities. This effort is wrapping up in the next two months.

“It does not address how to address the flooding issues, only what are the flooding issues,” she said. “When this information is presented to our commissioners, there will be recommendations for how to proceed for the next steps. It is not a simple process.”

So why is the water lingering so long in these neighborhoods — 14 days as of press time?

“This was an event where the moon, autumnal equinox and weather all converged at one time to create an extremely high tide,” Haag said. “It’s not often the autumnal equinox falls at the same time as a full moon, but this year it did. The moon was also at its perigee, or the closest point to the Earth for the year. Experts were anticipating a somewhat higher tide due to these conditions. However, the storms and hurricane last week also contributed to the issue by driving strong westerly winds into Key Largo, thereby stacking up the water. Instead of the tidal waters receding with the tide, the westerly winds kept pushing the water in. Therefore, when the next high tide arrived, it stacked on the existing water that hadn’t fully receded.”

But some residents of the impacted neighborhoods say flooding there has been getting worse, rare confluence of circumstances or not.

“This time is probably the worst we’ve ever seen it. I don’t recall having this problem 20 years ago. I notice it more now. The last 10 years have been bad,” Prew said.

Haag didn’t dispute that perception.

“The general level of the sea is rising, so this will contribute to more tidal flooding, called ‘nuisance flooding,’ in the future,” said Haag, who added that Key Largo residents have been calling her to complain about flooding.

Clarke said county staff has received calls about flooding from residents in all parts of the county.

On the radar

Island of Key Largo Federation of Homeowners Association President Dottie Moses, who lives in the bayside Sunset Waterways neighborhood, said the concerns about flooding are on her group’s radar. She said the federation is also in a fact-finding phase.

“In the county there is an effort to raise the 35-foot height limit of homes in order to raise the base flood elevation of homes. We are still exploring the situation,” she said. “Traditionally, the federation is against raising the height limit. With the sea level rise, it has become a bigger discussion.

“I haven’t had the chance to ask homeowners how things are going since this incident. I know how things are going on Facebook and in my immediate neighborhood. We’ll be having a general membership meeting [Wednesday, Oct. 14], and I’ll ask how things are going.”

Garces just wants a solution.

“In no way, shape or form, I’m not slamming anyone in particular,” he said. “Rhonda met with us — she drove her car through saltwater to meet with my wife at our house. Judith called my wife. I just want them to come up with a solution for us.”

And, as he noted on day 14, “Water is getting deeper again today.”

For now, Haag recommended that residents help the county’s research.

“Please take photos of the high tidal waters, and email them to me, identifying the date taken and street,” she said. Her email is Haag-Rhonda@MonroeCounty-FL.Gov<mailto:Haag-Rhonda@MonroeCounty-FL.Gov>. “The county is assembling a database of photos of tidal flooding areas that will help us to identify problem areas and therefore plan for the future on how to respond to these areas.”

And as for what flood-area residents should do with their cars, Haag said, “This would be up to each resident.”

Meanwhile, if Murphy were one of those residents, she said, “What I would do is I would park my car on high ground, I would put on a pair of boat shoes, and I would walk home through the water. I sure would not drive my car through the saltwater. I would take off my high heel shoes, put on my boat shoes and get down to it.

Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch

Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch

About Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch:

Although born at Travis Air Base, California, Jacqui considers herself a native of Stuart, Florida, having moved there at eight months old. Her father’s family, originally from Syracuse, New York, has lived in Stuart since 1952. Her mother is a 5th generation Floridian from Gainesville. Jacqui is a Daughter of the American Revolution.

Jacqui is journalism graduate of the University of Florida, and an education master’s graduate of the University of West Florida. She went on to teach English and German and later after a serious accident of breaking her neck, started selling real estate. Later, she ran for public office having served on the Town of Sewall’s Point Commission since 2008, and is former mayor. During this time she saw the opportunity to help showcase the work of a locally formed river group, the River Kidz, and this has been her passion ever. She incorporates youth/river education  into her political work for the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.

Jacqui is the treasurer/secretary of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council; has chaired the Florida League of Cities Environmental and Energy Committee; was chair, and a six year member of the Treasure Coast Council of Local Governments; is an alternate for the Water Resources Advisory Commission for the South Florida Water Management District; and is a board member for Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation, in St Lucie County.  She also serves as a board member (ex-officio) for the Rivers Coalition Defense Fund, and is head administrator for her beloved River Kidz, now a division of the Rivers Coalition.

Jacqui’s reach involves not only local, but state and federal government. In 2013,  she served on Senator Joe Negron’s panel for the Select Senate Hearing on the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee. In 2014, she actively supported the elections of both Senator Joe Negron and Congressman Patrick Murphy who have both been strong supporters of  Indian River Lagoon issues. In 2015, she is part of the Florida League Cities Treasure Coast Advocacy team to influence and educate Tallahassee. Jacqui received the Everglades Coalition’s 2015 “John V. Kabler Award” for “Grassroots Activism” working to organize and educate the public about Everglades restoration. Most recently she has been recruited as a fellow by the University of Florida/IFAS’s Natural Resources Leadership Institute Class XV. The institute focuses on teaching leaders how to facilitate collaborative decision making in difficult situations.  Jacqui is running for Martin County Commissioner District 1, 2016.

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