A Tale of Two Rivers: Indian River (ours) and St. Lucie River

Monday, June 27 2016

The Headline:

It might sound scary at first:  A headline or internet posting that reads, "Toxic waters in the St Lucie River"

The Reality:

Lake Okeechobee is a primary source of the St. Lucie River. While the St. Lucie never touches our pristine Beach Houses in Paradise, it joins with the clean Indian River  (*our* river) -- just a few miles downstream of our homes, just as both rivers join together and exit into the ocean.

The issue does not affect our properties. Also, we view such headlines as good news, because they bring greater awareness to the environmentally pristine and biologically diverse waters that surround Beach Houses in Paradise.  (The troubled area is downstream from us, and affects  a different river than our river).

So, while we're not directly affected, the more public attention that our environmental treasure receives, the greater the pressure on our local and state politicians to continue successfully managing this rich resource, for the benefit of our children and grandchildren, as well as yours (BHIP is a longtime financial supporter of local environmental causes such as "Save Our River" and other initiatives).

The Water at the Beach House is Clean, Right?

Diagram: Waters from the St. Lucie River do not ordinarily reach BHIP properties. Click the image to enlarge.

The waters surrounding Beach Houses in Paradise are always in great shape, and suitable for swimming, surfing and other water fun.   But just a few short miles away -- safely out of harm's way -- it can sometimes  be a very different story, especially following large rains.

So, Where is the Problem Then?

You see, just a few miles to our west lies a river -- a different river than the one on your dock -- that is the focus of all of this concern.  The water off your dock? That's the Indian River.  It's almost always in fantastic shape, and is considered the most biologically pristine estuary in all of North America.

But there's another river just a few miles away, off to the west, separated by the Indian River by a land mass called "Sewall's Point".  That's the St. Lucie River.  The quality of the water in the St. Lucie River varies tremendously.  During dry season, it's typically in great shape.  But during the summer rainy season, it sometimes carries run-off from its headwaters and source, the very large Lake Okeechobee in the middle of the state.  If the Lake gets too high, environmental managers release some of the excess water into the St. Lucie River.  After a 30-mile journey, those waters exit to the Atlantic Ocean through the St. Lucie Inlet -- that's the same St. Lucie Inlet that lies just a mile or two south of Beach Houses in Paradise, and it's the same inlet through which the beautiful and ecologically-diverse Indian River -- our river -- exits.

Diagram: St. Lucie River (to the left) can carry algae after heavy rains. The Indian River (to the right) is separated from the St. Lucie by Sewall's Point. The Indian River is almost always pristine. The St. Lucie River? Not so much. Click the image to enlarge.

At the very end of the Indian River -- where the Indian River meets the waters of the St. Lucie river just before both exit to the ocean through the St. Lucie Inlet -- the pristine waters of the Indian River Lagoon start mixing with the sometimes suspect waters of the St. Lucie River.  It is here -- a few miles south of BHIP and out of harm's way -- where the scary headlines originate.

How can I keep my family and I safe?

Although the currents and geography operate in such a way as to prevent BHIP properties from being exposed to the threat, it's still a good idea to take precautions, when possible.   Here's a few facts that can help with your decision making:

1.) Summer sensibility:  Algae blooms and other "events" occur in the Lake Okeechobee-fed St. Lucie River typically during the summer months. During other times of the year, there are seldom any concerns with the St. Lucie River.

2.) At BHIP properties, swimming in the river is statistically safer during outgoing tides (when the area is transitioning from "high tide" to "low tide").  Why:  The waters of the St. Lucie River are being "flushed" out into the ocean, and don't have an opportunity to mix with the pristine Indian River waters on your dock.  At these times of day, you can be assured that there is unlikely to be a single atom or particle from the St. Lucie River making its way to your BHIP riverfront dock.

3.) At BHIP properties, swimming in the ocean is statistically safer during incoming tides (when the area is transitioning from "low tide" to "high tide").  Reason:  During these times, the ocean waters are entering the St. Lucie Inlet, and there is therefore no "flushing of the river" under way.  At these times of day, you can be assured that there is not a single particle or atom from any rivers in that beachfront Atlantic water.

4.)   In the summertime, when there are news reports or other notices that the St. Lucie River is experiencing discharge problems from Lake Okeechobee, we recommend not swimming, kayaking or paddleboarding in the area located 1.5 miles to the south of your dock, near the "Crossroads" area where the rivers exit through the St. Lucie Inlet.

Where can I learn more?

We encourage you to google the issue extensively.   You'll see that there is a hyper-sensitivity to the issue of discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie River, and how it threatens the posterity of the southern terminus of North America's most biologically rich estuary, the Indian River Lagoon.  (This "most biologically diverse" determination, incidentally, is based on marine-life samples netted by the Florida Oceanographic Society last year just a few hundred yards south of our docks on the Indian River!)   And we think the hyper-sensitivity is just wonderful,  because we want our local, state and federal politicians to continue doing everything within their power to ensure that this environmental treasure remains available to our children and grandchildren.

Finally, to fully understand how this issue relates to your upcoming vacation at one of our BHIP homes, please study these accompanying maps and graphic carefully.  You'll learn two things:

1.) The threat does not directly impact your vacation at Beach Houses in Paradise

2.) While the threat isn't at your waterfront, it's nevertheless just a mile or two away, as the maps and diagrams in this article illustrate.  (In fact, at most BHIP properties, you can use a pair of binoculars to look SW to where the Indian River meets the St. Lucie River as both flow out to the ocean through the St. Lucie Inlet:  That's the area where the "bad" water mixes with the "good", and where you want to avoid during possible pollution episodes).   In the summertime, when there are news reports that the St. Lucie River is experiencing discharge problems from Lake Okeechobee, we recommend not swimming, kayaking or paddleboarding in the area 1.5 miles to the south, near the "Crossroads" area where the rivers exit through the St. Lucie Inlet.