Until the late 20th century, the public knew little about the importance of the Everglades to South Florida’s hydrology. Early explorers charted the area as a series of islands rather than a landmass covered in marshes and had difficulty charting where the Everglades started and ended. Proponents envisioned draining the Everglades as early as the 1840s with a U.S. government sponsored survey, but did not begin in earnest until the early 1900s. In 1904 Napoleon Broward ran for the Florida Governorship on a platform to drain the area and create an “Empire of the Everglades” out of the muck. Soon after drainage projects began by cutting canals through wetlands, and John Gifford introduced the melaleuca plant as an ideal way to effectively drain the Everglades. The Tamiami trail ran through the Everglades in 1916. The Okeechobee Drainage District was formed in 1929 to help drain the areas south of the lake, effectively cutting the Everglades in two. In the next three decades canals, locks and drainage projects shrunk the Everglades to a third of its historic size and caused widespread loss of wildlife, muck fires and salt-water contamination of the aquifer. Marjorie Stoneman Douglas published the most recognized literature on the Everglades in 1947, raising awareness for the atrophying “River of Grass.” Today, agricultural interests around the Everglades and the Miami-Dade area’s insatiable appetite for water and land have effectively poisoned and drained the Everglades. Species introduced to the Everglades, such as the melaleuca plant, Brazilian pepper tree and the Burmese python, create an estimated $170 million dollars in damage every year. The state of Florida and the federal government recently created the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration program to turn back the clock and restore the flow of water on the “river of grass” with a 30 year, $13.5 billion dollar plan. However, Republican Gov. Rick Scott has proposed cutting spending on restoration to a mere $17 million dollars a year, a fraction of the $200 million dollars Gov. Jeb Bush set aside every year during his administration. Governor Rick Scott has effectively cut the budget of the water management districts in the state by $700 million and has appointed a corporate businessman with a history of environmental problems to run the Everglades district. Hope for the Everglades rests in the ability to return the historic flow of the “River of Grass,” ensuring a future source of freshwater for South Florida and a functioning ecology.
Read more: Conquest of the Everglades