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Natural Resources Management

During the Urban Expansion era, officials from Palm Beach County and the State of

Florida made almost a total turnaround in their view of the importance of the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee and the effects of human action on both. In response to rapid growth in population, the Central and Southern Florida Flood Control District (CSFFCD), formed in 1949, directed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build canals and other structures to control water, while draining the county’s western lands for development and agriculture.

Former President Herbert Hoover was on hand in 1961 to dedicate the Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee, which was started after the Hurricane of 1928. In the ‘60s, the corps built the C-38 canal, straightening Lake Okeechobee’s headwaters and bypassing marshes that had slowed flooding and diluted pollution. The corps proposed a plan to increase the water to Everglades National Park; two years later the flow was cut back during the severe drought of 1967. As the drought reduced the water level in Lake Okeechobee, the invasive hydrilla water plant began a rapid spread of the lake.

After surveys from 1969 to 1972 showed the water quality in Lake Okeechobee was in an "early eutrophic" state, ecologist Arthur R. Marshall Jr. warned Gov. Reubin Askew that action was needed to prevent the lake's ecological demise. The state’s own Division of State Planning issued a report in 1976 that showed agricultural wastes were causing increased algae blooms in the lake, but no action was taken.

The Florida Water Resources Act of 1972 replaced the CSFFCD with the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), the first of five such districts in Florida. The SFMWD oversees water for 16 counties from Orlando to the Keys and works toward lessening the damage done by past land drainage; its mission includes managing the water supply, conservation, and fish and wildlife.

In 1978 the maximum allowable lake level was increased; the following year, the SFWMD agreed to steer agriculturally polluted water into the Everglades instead of Lake Okeechobee. In the next decade, although awareness of environmental issues will increase, Florida is not anxious to slow its development.

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