The Little River Pollution Problem in Miami, FL

Kayaking the ancient Little River in Miami, FL – ©Jacob Katel. All rights reserved.

Everybody used to travel Miami’s Little River like a watery highway between the Everglades and Biscayne Bay. But these days, there’s too much garbage, and too many dams.

Just take a paddle and give it a shot. Little River empties into Biscayne Bay at Belle Meade Island. Little River goes through Little Haiti and Liberty City. Little River goes through Hialeah. Little River hits the Okeechobee Trail. Little River goes all the way to the historic Everglades. And it’s these combination of environments which co-exist and thrive upon each other’s greatness which create the beauty of the diversity that we should see here today.

But these days, there’s too much garbage, and too many dams.

little river near biscayne boulevard
A shipwreck in Little River near Biscayne Boulevard – ©Jacob Katel. All rights reserved

The Little River is a naturally occurring waterway that has been channelized. It covers the City of Miami, several industrial zones, the urban environment, the suburban environment, other large cities, and the ultimate wilderness beyond the western edges of civilization. Go ahead and look at it on the map. Get geographic with it. You can track how it operates and what its meaning was.

Little River is part of a network of canals that control where and how water moves throughout Miami-Dade County. And between Little Haiti and El Portal there’s one of many physical controls; a dam and a lock that holds and controls this liquid reality.

The original Florida East Coast Railroad (FEC) tracks at El Portal in Miami, FL – ©Jacob Katel. All rights reserved

El Portal is supposedly built on an ancient Native American burial ground. And here is where we find the physical and proverbial train tracks.

Little River has been blamed for a lot of the pollution that enters Biscayne Bay. But every canal in Miami-Dade County is controlled by hydraulics. They’re all connected in a complex mechanical labyrinth owned and operated by the South Florida Water Management District.

So what does the railroad track symbolize to you?

©Jacob Katel. All rights reserved

Why is the pollution running through Little River into Biscayne Bay?

And why does that pollution, which is produced all throughout the county, concentrate where it does? Think about it. You think it’s a mistake? No. It’s gotta be routed like that on purpose. And you can decide for yourself how you think of that and what it means to you.

County garbage truck attempting to corral the pollution in Little River in Miami, FL – ©Jacob Katel. All rights reserved

So, what is this? The Blue Whale was passing through on the day that I paddled up The Little River. I saw The Blue Whale. The Blue Whale is a massive county funded garbage truck with a mechanical claw, but it can’t pick up the chemical runoff that sluices in liquid form.

Liquid pollution, such as landscape maintenance runoff in the form of fertilizer and pest control products that wash off with rainfall, may be one of the forms of pollution most responsible for the over proliferation of algae in Biscayne Bay.

When too much algae blankets the surface of Biscayne Bay, it blocks underwater plants and flowers such as seagrass from receiving sunlight for photosynthesis. This creates a chain reaction that causes massive fish kills.

There’s a lot that goes into engineering and there’s a lot that goes into politics. So you gotta put two and two together. If you want to have a better environment for yourself, you have to be part of the defining of that environment. And the way that you’re going to do that is to take over these jobs that have traditionally been held by people that may have been outsiders. Somebody might have moved here from New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, West Tuscaloosa, South Alabama, Missahumpka, Hopekaloopkie… You know some made up place that they don’t even know nothin’ about here.

Part of the Little River industrial zone in Miami, FL – ©Jacob Katel. All rights reserved

Over here, who knows what they’re doin’ today. They’re building. They’re building, and building, and building. And if I had my way I would ask you to think about what is the role of pollution in the built environment, how it’s channeled, and to what degree this is a reflection of the politics of the people who may be in power…