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Lapointe, B.E.; Herren, L.W., and Bedford, B.J., 2012. Effects of hurricanes, land use, and water management on nutrient and microbial pollution: St. Lucie Estuary, southeast Florida. Journal of Coastal Research, 28(6), 1345–1361. Coconut Creek (Florida), ISSN 0749-0208.


Multiple hurricanes impacted southeast Florida during 2004 and 2005, producing record rainfall and large-scale stormwater runoff into the urbanized St. Lucie Estuary (SLE). To assess effects on water quality, field samples were taken in June and November 2005 and March 2006 along the SLE’s three main segments: the South Fork, connected via the C-44 canal to Lake Okeechobee; the North Fork, which receives residential and agricultural runoff from the C-23 and C-24 canals; and the Middle Estuary, which flows into the Indian River Lagoon and Atlantic Ocean. Salinities were ,1% throughout the normally brackish estuary during the 2005 samplings, but returned to near-normal levels by March 2006 in all but the South Fork. Low salinities in 2005 correlated with low dissolved oxygen, high turbidity, elevated nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations, and high fecal and total coliform counts. Highest turbidity (84.4 NTU), nitrate (37.9 mM), and total dissolved nitrogen (130.8 mM) concentrations occurred in the South Fork, whereas the highest ammonium (15.4 mM), soluble reactive phosphorus (10.5 mM), and total dissolved phosphorus (13.8 mM) concentrations occurred in the North Fork. High fecal and total coliform counts occurred in tidal creeks adjacent to dense residential areas that rely on septic tanks for on-site sewage disposal. The data suggest that increased stormwater retention, minimization of freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee, and enhanced treatment of both stormwater and sewage are needed to mitigate future stormwater-driven water quality perturbations in the SLE.