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The Magnificent Green Swamp Imperiled by the Sabal Trail Pipeline

Lake Louisa Vista with Cypress

Lake Louisa Vista with Cypress

As an artist, I am continually being told that I should not express an opinion about something that is happening in the real world.  I understand that the viewer needs to be able to make up their own mind about what is happening in life–that it isn't fair to take away the discovery phase from them and that this is part of the joy experienced when interacting with works of art.  However, times are changing.  Our environment and our very lives are increasingly imperiled, as well as the habitat for numerous protected and threatened species.  There is even talk that such categories be done away with.  The environment, creatures, and even humans are having their rights stripped away at an alarming rate.  The entire environment is at risk, but sometimes a place is threatened that is too valuable to not be totally direct about what is happening.  For me, one of these places is the Green Swamp and everyone who lives in Florida would probably feel the same way if they knew what is at stake.  

The Green Swamp is considered "an area of critical state concern" due to its importance for groundwater recharge, wetlands, and flood detention. The basin's drainage area encompasses 2,100 square miles and its tributaries, lakes, springs are all designated as "Outstanding Florida Waters."  The Withlacoochee, Oklawaha, Hillsborough, Peace and Kissimmee River all originate in the Green Swamp.  Moreover, the depressions and sinkholes in the swamp, of which there are many, are conduits to the Floirdan Aquifer, the source of our drinking water.  As the sign says when you enter, "Welcome to the Green Swamp, the Heart of the Floridan Aquifer."  So I wonder, are we out of our minds to allow this pipeline to go through the heart of the Green Swamp and the liquid heart of our entire State?  In my opinion, this is probably the most dangerous place they could have considered to run a pipeline and I am really trying to figure out why this is being done. I have heard these routes are planned to connect with LNG export terminals, but I am also beginning to wonder if it doesn't have something to do with Disney World.  Is it possible that they are interested in converting much of their energy usage, and I assume they use a lot, to gas which they might consider a cleaner alternative to other forms of energy?  These are just speculations, but if they turn out to be true, the only unimpaired swamps and springs in Florida might one day only exist in Disney World. 

Lake Louisa Tannins

Lake Louisa Tannins

The tea-stained color of Lake Louisa is caused by Tannins from the leaves and bark of trees in the area.  The pristine beaches and purer water quality it manages to maintain due to its designation as one of the Outstanding Florida Waters attract anglers, athletes and tourists.   Sometimes, swimming is closed in the lake because the water gets so dark from the tannins that visibility becomes problematic.  Would this naturally dark water make it even more difficult to visually see sources of pollution?  It would be an incredible shame for this waterway to become hampered by a leak in the pipeline. Though the Sabal Trail pipeline does not pass right by here, Lake Louisia is nonetheless located in the northeastern part of the Green Swamp.  Rainfall produced in the Green Swamp enters this lake through meandering Big and Little Creeks.

Green Swamp, Lake Lousia

Green Swamp, Lake Lousia

The image above shows the swampy conditions just on the other side of the lake where the water from Big Creek travels too and then seeps into the lake.

The Pristine Waters of the Green Swamp, Lake Louisa

The Pristine Waters of the Green Swamp, Lake Louisa

This image shows the pristine quality of the swamps water.  Nowhere have I seen water like this in Florida, except for maybe Tate's Hell in Apalachicola which is in the middle of a state and national forest with no industry or agriculture.  To still have such natural surface tension and organic matter thrive like this is a blessing that should not be destroyed.  It is an important source of life.

Swamps are the Cauldrons of Life

Swamps are the Cauldrons of Life

We hiked along a couple of trails that went alongside Big Creek and also through some wetlands.  The images below are from that walk.  

Wetland in Lake Louisa State Park

Wetland in Lake Louisa State Park

I am sharing more images than usual, because I think it is important to see just how much of this park and the Green Swamp are teeming with life.  In fact, the Green Swamp is the very life blood of Florida.

Layers of Vegetation, Lake Louisa State Park

Layers of Vegetation, Lake Louisa State Park

Lake Louisa State Park is rife with ponds and depression marshes, especially in the southern part.

Lake Louisa Pond with Lilies

Lake Louisa Pond with Lilies

The image above and below are of the same pond or depression march, which arced around in a horseshoe shape.  The trail we hiked along followed the perimeter, although there was so much vegetation it was difficult to get near the water's edge.

Lake Louisa Pond with Lilies and Grasses

Lake Louisa Pond with Lilies and Grasses

Below are some images from a couple of the hiking trails (there are 23 miles of trails to choose from).  The park brochure describes the 11 distinct natural communities here, which include snadhills, scrub, upland mixed forest, swamp, marsh, wet flatwoods, hydric hammock, blackwater stream, and an old citrus grove. The area was original designated as part of the Seminole Indian Reservation by the Treaty of Moultrie Creek in 1823.  However, it was never used as a reservation by the Seminoles.  Instead the Hammonds built a homestead there and later some of the land was acquired by the Bronson's.  It became a State Park in 1973.

Clouds over the Uplands in Lake Louisa State Park

Clouds over the Uplands in Lake Louisa State Park

Along the Trail, Lake Louisa State Park

Along the Trail, Lake Louisa State Park

Though the park is home to white-tail deer, bobcat, fox squirrels, raccoons, gopher tortoises, bald eagles, and ospreys, we only spotted a couple of woodpeckers and birds like this.  We did see gopher tortoise crossing signs and some burrows.  

Bird in Repose

Bird in Repose

There were so many interesting grasses and plants to be seen in every direction.  The purity of the water supports vast ecosystems.  So much of our state has tended to become more of a monoculture, as more and more species die out due to the increasing toxicity in our enviornment.

Carpet of Vegetation Along a Depression Marsh, Lake Louisa State Park

Carpet of Vegetation Along a Depression Marsh, Lake Louisa State Park

From the smallest subsection to the towering trees reflected in Big Creek, I experienced a sense of expansiveness and the living breathing essence of our planet.

Grandiose Tree Reflections, Big Creek

Grandiose Tree Reflections, Big Creek

From the Bridge Over Big Creek

From the Bridge Over Big Creek

The late afternoon light began to turn everything golden and I knew I was in the universe as the creator or whatever higher power you believe in envisioned.  If you lack faith, then the purest embodiment of life going about the business of living unhampered.  The Green Swamp and places like this are sacred in this world.

Big Creek in Golden Light Filtered Through the Trees

Big Creek in Golden Light Filtered Through the Trees

For a moment, time stopped though the fluid essence of being continued.  I wondered how the first indigenous people who witnessed landscapes like this felt, before they knew how endangered our whole planet would become.  You could enter a place like this without fear that it would become desecrated.  Nature would naturally become your religion. 

Thomas and Takoda Enjoying Dixie Lake

Thomas and Takoda Enjoying Dixie Lake

And once you come to value nature and life in this way, it is only natural to want to experience places like this with your family and pass on their viability to future generations.

Moon Over Peat Lake in the Hilochee Wildlife Management Area

Moon Over Peat Lake in the Hilochee Wildlife Management Area

Upon leaving Lake Louisa State Park, we headed south on 27 and then turned right onto CR 474. After a couple of miles we came to the Hilochee Wildlife Management Area and Peat and Little Peat Lakes.  A lot of hunting and fishing goes on here, all requiring the appropriate permits.  Whatever your attitude towards hunting, there is clearly a lot of wildlife within the confines of this management area.   

Last Light, Hilochee Wildlife Management Area

Last Light, Hilochee Wildlife Management Area

We watched a beautiful sunset in Hilochee and then headed west on 474.  We suspected we would run into pipeline construction somewhere, but we weren't exactly sure where.  To our dismay, it was very close to this management area soon after we passed a couple of mining operations.  I should have marked the mileage, but we weren't sure exactly where the pipeline would run or if it would be on this road at all.

Access Road to Sabal Trail Green Swamp Construction

Access Road to Sabal Trail Green Swamp Construction

As it was getting dark, and I wasn't sure how far or where this access road led, or the legality of traveling on it, I did not venture down it.  It says no refueling or parking beyond this point, and you can clearly see the wetland boundary sign meaning the entire road and route from this point  down that road was within a wetland.

Red and Green Pipes Along CR 474 in the Green Swamp

Red and Green Pipes Along CR 474 in the Green Swamp

It turns out that the pipeline runs along CR 474 for several miles.  It was probably easier to route it closer to the road, since roads are few and far between in the heart of the swamp.  The pipes are on the mats that are required through wetlands, which were way wetter than I have seen them in other areas. There was deep looking water between the vegetation and the mats.   The difficulties they must be having were suggested to me by the preponderance of red pipes.  Green pipes can be run closer to the surface.  Red pipes have to be forced underground further, so they have a special coating to supposedly withstand nicks and other damage.  These are the pipes used under river crossings.

Sabal Trail Construction Site CR 474, Green Swamp

Sabal Trail Construction Site CR 474, Green Swamp

After another mile or so we came to this construction site on CR 474.  The red device is a pump and all the tubes attached to it were conduits for the water they were pumping out.  The pump was left running constantly even though no workers were there.  This is the first time I have seen this, but it did not surprise me as they are trying to lay a pipeline in a swamp.  There was a pump on the opposite side of the road as well, and it was also running nonstop.  You can see the wetland boundary sign again.  Basically, it is all wetlands in this area except for the road.

Global Pump CR474 Green Swamp

Global Pump CR474 Green Swamp

Next we turned up State Road 33, to head back to the Florida Turnpike.  From the Hilochee Wildlife Management Area to SR 33 is only a distance of five miles, so all of this is occurring in the heart of the Green Swamp.  As you will recall, the sun had set awhile ago.  The light was going fast as we drove along SR33.  The image below is of another Sabal Trail Construction site, which was on SR33.  The site is jam packed with workers' trucks and they all seemed to be discussing something.  There was a lot of traffic on the road and except for the rocks right by the site, there was not much of a shoulder to pull off of due to the high water levels in the ditches alongside the road.  My son said it was too dangerous to stop the car for me to run back and photograph what was happening, so I had to take this image from our moving vehicle in the dark.  I apologize for the lack of clarity, but you get an idea of what is going on there. 

Sabal Trail Construction Site SR 33, Green Swamp

Sabal Trail Construction Site SR 33, Green Swamp

It is either a sign of the troubles they are having or there desire to get this pipeline in the ground before it can be stopped that makes them continue to work into the night at many locations. However, this is just one more affront to the creatures' whose habitats are being destroyed, as it is even more disruptive to wildlife to do this kind of work at night.  I suspect it also increase the safety hazards for the workers as well.  After viewing these images and reading this blog, make your own decision as to whether you think this will benefit or harm our state and drinking water.