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.


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.

Inauguration, Infrastructure, Promises … and Clean Water

The inauguration of United States’ 45th President Donald J. Trump represents America’s ceremonial yet very real transfer of presidential power. In his address, President Trump promises among things to “never let (Americans) down.” His vow to bring back jobs, and rebuild infrastructure by improving roads, schools, bridges, airports, etc., is a bold one.

Donald Trump Inauguration

Although it is likely few Americans expect a shiny new country four years from now, the success of President Trump’s administration will be measured by bricks and mortar — upgraded and replaced from the labor of American hands. Should he fall flat on this great promise, clearly he will have let down US citizens.

It is not necessarily alarming that nowhere in President Trump’s speech was there the mention of clean water. Surface and ground water problems are often local, and governing clean water issues is generally left to area, regional, and state government.

But this year, when Toledo, OH (again) cannot tap drinking water; when Waukesha County, WI, (again) cries out for freshwater from Lake Michigan; when a proliferation of lakes and rivers all across the USA (again) fill with Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs) — threatening the health and well-being of tens of millions of Americans — the United States’ freshwater crisis will (again) emerge. The crisis already exists in pockets throughout the USA and, in President Trump’s tenure, it will likely become a highly visible federal government priority.

As this priority applies to surface water — which is impacted differently than groundwater — collaborating with agriculture will be paramount. Because, above all other industries (and by a wide margin), according to information from GRACE Communications Foundation, agriculture is the number one contributor to surface water pollution.

Best practices for decreasing surface water pollution from agriculture exist — and have been documented in Clean Water Warrior many times.

Rewarding farmers, long-term and permanently, for implementing best practices is key to in any meaningful way cleaning up surface water. Farmers must be willing to accept the reality that economic and land-management changes to their operations are necessary, and must now be implemented. Government, working with nimble non-profits like Clean Water Warrior, must be swift in providing resources to assist and reward farmers making these best-practice changes.

It will be an interesting four years. President Trump – the stage is yours.