South Florida, the land of sunshine, was just a bunch of separated small towns when I was a child. Now the east coast of Florida from Lake Okeechobee on down through the Keys is home to a population of over six million with hardly a patch of grass between them.
Luckily, some people had the foresight to preserve a good portion of the “inlands” west of the coast and today we have places like Everglades National Park and the other associated state and national preserves that encompass much of the southwestern end of the state. While the stories of how those areas were wrestled from the greedy hands of developers are legend, the fact is few folks other than the environmentalists and anglers saw any profit in those mosquito-infested swamps.
South Florida’s history has not only been the land of sunshine, but also the land of hurricanes, and in the early decades of the 1900s a couple storms were quite deadly. Lake Okeechobee overflowed its banks and thousands drowned. So the lake was diked as a precaution against further floods and the lake water, the lifeblood that fed the “swamps” came under man’s control. And with that water control a new local industry was borne: big agriculture.
It is too long a story for this piece but somehow (politics) that newly available agricultural area became dominated by the sugar industry, and that sugar industry became the most politically protected and heavily subsidized agriculture in the entire USA.
Keeping the farm fields dry during the stormy seasons, and conversely, irrigated during the dry ones, is now and has been the primary focus of the water control agency. Growing up on the river, even as a child, it was apparent. But no one seemed to care as long as it only affected those useless swamps out west.
But alas, in the last decade or so, the interconnectedness of all things began to show the truth.
Excess water during wet years, a threat to drowning the crops, has always been ejected through the closest coastal rivers, both to the east and west. My father and I learned not to fish or camp along the coasts during the rainy season back in the 1960s. Those coasts, lightly populated back then (and very fishy) are now heavily populated.
During dry years, water was (and still is) kept in the lake to irrigate the fields, to the detriment of the central wet plains that are the Everglades. Days of “raining” ash were common when I was a child as the scorched ‘glades burned deep into the muck. Again, too bad for the swamps, who cares? Well, when the water doesn’t seep through the swamps and drain into Florida Bay, that body of water becomes abnormally salty. The folks who live in the Keys, which border Florida Bay, rely on tourism and have been taking notice since diving and fishing are a main concern.
This year, during the recent Florida legislative session, a majority of those six million South Florida residents convinced their representatives that they were tired of algae blooms in their back yards along the coasts and dead zones in Florida Bay affecting the Keys. A new idea was hatched. A large reservoir will be constructed to moderate the water flows and allow it to travel south. It is worth mentioning that it was a concerted effort led by fishermen and enabled by social media that seems to have made the difference.
It is not the first time in my life that I have heard lip service from politicians about “saving the Everglades”. It supposedly has been going on for decades but little has actually been accomplished. Other than, of course, protecting the pockets of the farmers.
This time, maybe, it will be different? Call me a cynic, but that powerful agricultural industry did not put up much of a fight. I’ve heard this fairytale before from the conniving shit-weasels we have for politicians in Florida.
I will believe it when I see it.