Agricultural interests and development have drained or destroyed over one-half of the wetlands that existed in the state prior to 1900. Florida shows little signs of halting development. Before new construction slowed to a trickle after the recession of 2008, one out of every seven building permits in the entire United States originated in Florida. Paved areas send run-off into faulty discharge areas and retention ponds that have little chance of rejoining the greater water system that powers the Floridan aquifer, rivers and swamps. With the majority of wetlands today centered in a dysfunctional everglades system and the north Florida panhandle, few options for recharging the aquifer by infiltration of groundwater exist. Development is not the only issue facing water supplies in the state. As the water table lowers due to excessive pumping from wells, the likelihood of salt-water intrusion into the aquifer increases. As early as the 1920s the City of St. Petersburg noticed salt water in the city’s municipal well fields and had to find alternative sources of water inland. Without any viable system of wetland mitigation to offset development and the exploitation of water sources, few alternatives to desalination exist in a state where water resources continue to shrink.
Perhaps the most violent conflict between competing interests in the development of the state occurred in 1897. The precursor to the Tampa Electric Company, Consumers Electric Light and Street Railways Company, built a dam on the Hillsborough River at the cost of nearly $150,000 dollars. Cattleman in the area became upset when the river flooded their former cattle grazing areas. In December of 1898 cattle barons succeeded in blowing up the dam with dynamite on their third attempt. Similar issues, such as minimum water flows, pumping allotments and the use of the Bill W. Young reservoir, continue to spark debate between Hillsborough County, the City of Tampa and the City of Temple Terrace which all use the river as its primary source of water.