Harvey, Irma Costs Brutal & Unstoppable. Next?

In one of the best articles I have read to-date on the costs of Harvey and Irma, from VOX , it is estimated that the damage each storm produced exceeds $100 billion.

Each.

And these are likely to be low-ball numbers.

Cows Gather Amidst Flooding From Harvey

Two things we can be sure of:

First … storms of this magnitude will happen again. And soon. Maybe as soon as next year. This was the case for Florida, which saw 2017 Irma follow 2016 Matthew. How can cities like Miami, Houston, New Orleans, Key West, and so many others be prepared properly … with such swift turnaround? The short answer is they probably can’t. Cynical as this may sound, grasping that reality is a far better alternative to reacting in the aftermath of hurricane devastation. And hoping heroic efforts will, time and again, carry the day. They won’t.

Second … the hit agriculture takes, and creates — in the form of waste runoff, manure holding pond breaches, etc. — will be among the worst. Animal death tolls will not be available for months and, as of this moment, reasonable figures for environmental damage from agriculture are also unavailable. But this passage (taken from an article on www.agnewsfeed.com, which cites as a source Christopher Collins of the Texas Observer) describes exceptionally well a scene that no doubt was repeated throughout the storm-torn areas of the South and South Central parts of the USA.

“Water never flows here like what we had [during Harvey],” farmer Richie Devillier said. “There was water in some of my pastures where I’ve never seen water before.” 

The Devilliers also face a bevy of other flood-related problems, such as property devaluation, stunted grass growth in pastures and the loss of about 1,000 bales of hay that were spirited away from ranches by the rising tide. “We just lost all of it — I could see it floating down the interstate,” Richie said.

Elsewhere in Texas, stories have trickled in of other livestock producers who were walloped by Harvey. In La Grange, about an hour southeast of Austin, ranchers swam to rescue as many cattle as possible after they’d been swept away from properties near Highway 71. A stranded group of cows in Jackson County had to be flushed to higher ground by helicopter. Near Rockport and Ingleside, 100 cattle have been reported dead or missing, along with 120 exotic game animals, including elk and oryx. Those numbers likely will grow as more dead animals are found under piles of debris, said Texas A&M AgriLife extension agent Bobby McCool.

“They’re finding them under the piles as we speak,” said McCool. “They got hung in fences and just got overcome. There’s just quite a few dead in that region.”

The devastation from Harvey and Irma is clear and was seemingly unstoppable. Less obvious in the aftermath is what new precautions can be taken by farmers to minimize problems with farm runoff, while more cleanly managing animals and the manure they create.

Irma Impact on Southeast US Still Undetermined

Hurricane Irma has made its way through Florida, with Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee in its path — but no longer as a Category 3 Hurricane. Instead, it is moving into these areas as a tropical storm.

Which by comparison sounds relatively benign.

Flooded Manure Pits, Post-Hurricane Matthew 2016

And, in terms of damage to property … it is.

But rainfall will be the important part of Hurricane Irma’s after-story. Like Hurricane Matthew in 2016, the heavy rains from Irma will strain manure lagoons all across the Southeast. The terrible conditions that followed Matthew, are in some approximate measure likely to be repeated. And, while a sizable death toll of animal life in the form of hogs, cattle, cows, chickens, and turkeys is tragic — the runoff from manure lagoons, and land, may be of equal concern.

The waste has to go somewhere and, as ever, it will be downstream.

Agriculture Risks in NC, Post-Irma

Even operations doing a credible job implementing best practices, like Larson Farms in Southeast Florida, will be stretched mightily to control  waste runoff.  Other farms with less resources can be expected to struggle even more.

Watch for reports of animal death tolls, water pollution from animal waste, and heavy Harmful Algae Bloom (HAB) outbreaks, in the coming days and months.

Hurricane Irma will move more waste onto Florida’s Gold Coast

Amidst the damage Hurricane Irma will cause to property, a no longer subtle by-product of this powerhouse hurricane will be the billions of gallons of polluted, phosphorus filled, water flowing out of Lake Okeechobee.

The final resting spot for much of Lake O’s flowage — which the Army Corps of Engineers is tasked with monitoring, to control flooding … not curb harmful algae bloom (HAB) activity — will be Florida’s Golden Coast.

In this May, 2017 article from Angler’s Journal , a key passage is one we should all be looking at repeating around the same time in 2018:

This past July, the St. Lucie River and lagoon were in the throes of the worst blue-green — toxic cyanobacteria — algae bloom in memory. The bloom began as slime green, turned bright blue, then brown and

Harmful Algae in Lake 0, July 2017

finally transmuted into a mass of black rot. The stench hanging over the St. Lucie River ripened from an odor of garbage to carcasses to feces.

“It was just disastrous,” says fishing guide Capt. Rufus Wakeman, who owns River Palm Cottages and Fish Camp on Indian River Lagoon. 

The noxious bloom ruined much of July for guides, charter boats, marinas, boatyards and other businesses. It closed beaches, curtailed tourism during the Fourth of July holiday and drove riverfront homeowners to escape the stench by staying at hotels or going on vacation.

In the coming days, as Hurricane Irma pounds Florida with Category 5 storms, more will be written here about the total water release from Lake O, and projections on what happens next.

Until then, our thoughts are with those in Florida and elsewhere – in harm’s way. For live updates, CNN is tracking Irma.

Hurricane Harvey Will Produce One Huge Dead Zone in Gulf

The tragic events affecting millions of people living in the path of Hurricane Harvey are being immediately reported and followed by scores of people around the planet. Harvey has been called a 500-year storm, carrying such force that there is in any given year less than a .002% chance of a storm of this power occurring.

The devastation is epic, and watching in real-time it is hard to imagine things getting worse. Although no estimates can be firm at this point, it is safe to say that bricks and mortar clean-up and reconstruction will take months, if not years, to complete.

Cattle Ride Herd in TX

Some of Harvey’s damage, however, is now more or less going sight unseen. It will, however, soon become all too obvious.

In the coming weeks and months, any who take a cruise through, or fly over, the Gulf of Mexico may see first-hand another awful bi-product from Harvey’s torrential downpours.

A deadzone, created from the phosphorus of farm manure runoff into rivers and streams, will be appearing — most likely the size of the State of New Jersey.

Perhaps even larger.

A discussion on whether this human-promoted environmental disaster could have at least been reduced in its magnitude is, at this point, idle chatter. This mess, unlike bricks and mortar destruction, cannot be repaired. It will not be halted.

All this is 100% understandable – if not 100% preventable. It is about farm animals, and agriculture.

Cattle Farms Abound in East TX

 

Lots of animals.
Lots of manure.
Lots of phosphorus.
Lots of Harmful Algae Blooms (HAB) creating lots of deadzones.

 

 

Hurricane Harvey has left a path of destruction that will take Texans years to repair. Sadly, for life in the Gulf of Mexico and for the many thousands people who make their living fishing the Gulf, or work in tourist trades that abound around the Gulf, the farm runoff damage this go-around cannot be undone. It will be massive, and irrevocable.

To the degree that farms provided insufficient grass buffers between waterways and cropped land, tilled marginally productive sloped acres, or — worst of all — poorly managed manure and fertilization levels, the environmental damage from Harvey will be proportionate to the negligence.

Fact: farms can always, within reason, do better managing land and manure.

The filthy aftermath of Hurricane Harvey will make that, in an obvious play on words, perfectly clear.