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8 - Draining the Everglades

The Florida Everglades is one of nature's true masterpieces with its 4000 square miles of diverse scenery of pine and freshwater cypress forests, open prairie, and tropical saltwater mangrove swamps.  Formed over thousands of years, its waters and vegetation provide home to thousands of animals, birds, fish, plants, and reptilian species. The Everglades is America's only sub-tropical wilderness and visitors travel from all over the world to experience its natural beauty.

Alligator Entering the Everglades Waters                            Birds wading in the Everglades swamps
                   [Picture Credit: VirtualTourist.com]                            [Picture Credit: TheDailyGreen.com]

A pattern of political and financial motivation and a lack of understanding of the geography and ecology of the Everglades plagued the history of drainage projects. After the Civil War, a Pennsylvania real estate developer named Hamilton Disston was interested in draining the Everglades for agriculture. In 1881, he bought 4,000,000 acres of land for $1 million (25¢ per acre). His engineers focused on digging canals from Lake Okeechobee but were inadequate. Though Disston's canals did not drain, his land purchase primed the economy of Florida. Within four years property values doubled, and the population increased significantly. Disston sold tracts of land for $5 an acre.

From the middle of the nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century, the United States went through a period in which wetland removal was not questioned; it was considered the proper thing to do! A national push for progress and expansion toward the latter part of the nineteenth century stimulated interest in draining the Everglades for agricultural use.

During his 1904 campaign to be elected governor, Napoleon Bonaparte Broward promised to drain the Everglades, and his later projects were more effective than Disston's. Broward's promises sparked another land boom. Rapidly growing Fort Lauderdale paid him tribute by naming Broward County after him (the town's original plan had been to name it Everglades County). Land in the Everglades was being sold for $15 an acre--a month after Broward died in 1910.

Severe hurricanes in 1926 and 1928 caused catastrophic damage and flooding from Lake Okeechobee. President Herbert Hoover ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to assist the communities surrounding the lake. Between 1930 and 1937, Hoover Dike was built around Lake Okeechobee’s edge. The effects of the dike were seen immediately. An extended drought occurred in the 1930s, and with the wall preventing water leaving Lake Okeechobee and canals and ditches removing other water, the Everglades became parched. In 1939, a million acres of Everglades burned.

Further floods in 1947 prompted an unprecedented construction of canals throughout southern Florida. Following another population boom after World War II, the Everglades was divided into sections separated by canals and water control devices that delivered water to agricultural and newly developed urban areas.

Coinciding with the dedication of Everglades National Park, 1947 in south Florida saw two hurricanes and a wet season responsible for 100 inches of rain, ending the decade-long drought. Although there were no human casualties, cattle and deer were drowned and standing water was left in suburban areas for months.

In 1948, Congress approved the Central and Southern Florida Project for Flood Control and Other Purposes (C&SF). The C&SF used four methods in flood management: levees, water storage areas, canal improvements, and large pumps to assist gravity. Between 1952 and 1954, a levee 100 miles long was built between the eastern Everglades and the suburbs from Palm Beach south to Homestead. This levee (C-38) is on the eastern edge of the Everglades and the western edge of Parkland and Coral Springs, just to the west of Heron Bay and the north/south leg of the Everglades Expressway, This levee blocks the flow of water into the populated areas.

Between 1954 and 1963, Everglades were divided into basins. In the southern Everglades, was Everglades National Park Levees and pumping stations--like the one at the northwest edge of Loxahatchee Road--released water in drier times and removed it and pumped it to the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico. 

Historic and current water flow of the Everglades region in South Florida.

[Picture Credit: http://rst.gsfc.nasa.gov/Sect3/Sect3_8.html]

With metropolitan growth came urban problems associated with rapid expansion: traffic jams, school overcrowding, crime, overloaded sewage treatment plants and, for the first time in south Florida's urban history, water shortages in times of drought. Over 1,000 miles of canals and hundreds of pumping stations and levees were built within three decades.

The Everglades today receives less than one-third of its historic water flow, the water is contaminated by fertilizer and other runoff, and the wildlife-rich wetlands are half the size they were when the federal government started its draining projects in the 1920s. Nevertheless, cities like Parkland and Coral Springs and others along the levee on the eastern edge of the Everglades, owe their existence to almost 200 years of  efforts of “draining the Everglades” to provide farming and inhabitable land.

Much of this article was extracted from Draining and Development of the Everglades from the Wikipedia internet site, www.wikipedia.org.  Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who made her home in South Florida, was a staunch advocate for protection of the Everglades. Parkland’s only high school is named after her.

Written by James Weiss; Edited by Ira Goldman;
Design and Art Work by Bill Reicherter; 
Parkland Historical Society President Jeff Schwartz;