Palm Beach County officials say a discolored water that was pouring out of the Jupiter Inlet is not contaminiated and is not coming from Lake Okeecobee. The water is runoff from hundreds of nearby acres of environmentally sensitive. (MANDATORY CREDIT: Cory Gershberg)
West Palm Beach resident Cory Gershberg caused a stir this week when he posted an aerial photo on Facebook showing dark water pouring out of the Jupiter Inlet, sending a discolored plume into the ocean.
But county officials say Mother Nature, and not non-stop releases from swollen Lake Okeechobee, are to blame for the discolored discharge.
Officials say recent rains have washed tannic acid, a tea-colored chemical from the roots of trees and other organic material, into the Loxahatchee River, which feeds into the inlet.
“It has nothing at all to do with the Lake Okeechobee issue,” County Administrator Bob Weisman said Thursday. “It is all runoff from west Jupiter, most of which is environmentally sensitive land.”
To protect the aging earthen dike around Lake Okeechobee, The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been releasing water from the lake into the St. Lucie Estuary and the Caloosahatchee River. Those releases, coupled with stormwater runoff, have caused extensive damage to plants and animals in the estuary.
In the Treasure Coast the water quality is so poor that toxic algae have blossomed, prompting health officials to warn people to stay out of the water.
Palm Beach County Health Department Spokesman Tim O’Connor said that crews checked the Jupiter inlet and surrounding areas this week and found no signs the toxic algae had crossed the county line. Bi-weekly water quality checks of area beaches have all been in the normal range, he added.
Gershberg snapped the photo from a commercial airplane on Monday, as he travelled from New Jersey to Palm Beach International Airport. He posted the photo on his Facebook page, saying: “This is Jupiter Inlet. From my airplane. This makes me sick!!!”
Since the posting, Gershberg said the photo has been shared nearly 5,000 times.
Gershberg said some people have confused the plume of runoff with the nutrient-polluted water being flushed out of Lake Okeechobee.
“The Jupiter Inlet situation is somewhat normal,” Gershberg said. “In St. Lucie, there is a problem that needs to be addressed immediately. There is a difference between the two.”
Gershberg, a graphic designer who grew up in Palm Beach County, said he is happy the photograph has raised awareness about local runoff and the plight of the St. Lucie Estuary.
“I’m just happy that people are learning what is going on,” Gershberg said.
County officials stress that there is no water body connecting the inlet and Lake Okeechobee. Much of the runoff water that flows through the Loxahatchee River and out of the inlet comes from nearby environmental areas, including the DuPuis Wildlife and Environmental Area, the Hungryland Slough Natural Area, the Grassy Waters Preserve and the Loxahatchee Slough Natural Area.
Runoff from nearby homes and developed areas also makes its way to the inlet.
Why so much runoff? The South Florida Water Management District said this week that rainfall has been 140 percent above normal in the district’s 16 counties.
Since mid-May Palm Beach International Airport has seen more than 28 inches of rain. Palm Beach Gardens got about 26 inches. Juno Beach topped them both, with more than 35 inches.
In 2010, residents near the Jupiter Inlet saw a similar discoloration in the water after more heavy rains. Tannic acid, then too, was cited as the cause.