publications > circular > impact of anthropogenic development on coastal ground-water hydrology in southeastern florida, 1900-2000 > development of water-management system and impact on the hydrology of southeastern florida
Impact of Anthropogenic Development on Coastal Ground-Water Hydrology in Southeastern Florida, 1900-2000Circular 1275
Development of Water-Management System and Impact on the Hydrology of Southeastern Florida
During the 19th and throughout most of the 20th century, the American freshwater wetland (swamps) and coastal estuary paradigm differed considerably from scientific and environmental perspectives expressed in the 1990s. Swamps were considered to be vast wastelands that could better serve the Nation if drained into productive agricultural lands. For many Americans, the Nations wetlands represented a potential source of disease and pestilence. In speeches presented to the National Irrigation Congress (Chicago) and National Drainage Congress (New Orleans) in 1912, the Chief Hydrographer of the USGS, Marshall O. Leighton, declared the reclamation of Americas swamps to be a matter of National necessity. Furthermore, Leighton (1912) stated that wetlands were the greatest single menace that now remains to public health, describing them as a source of weakness in our National economy.
During the latter part of the 1800s and early 1900s, the ceding of Federal land to the State of Florida was accompanied by reclamation activities to develop a tropical-based agriculture. Drainage efforts by entrepreneur Hamilton Disston provided modest success within wetland areas of the Kissimmee River Basin in central Florida. Canals built by Disston linked the Caloosahatchee River south with Lake Okeechobee (fig. 26) helped to lower lake levels and created downstream drainage issues. Disstons reclamation efforts were ultimately hampered financially because of poor investment return on reclaimed land and the nationwide economic Panic of 1893. Pro-reclamation proponents, however, supporting drainage of the Everglades held strong convictions that drainage efforts would ultimately transform wetland muck into fertile farmland soil. The extension of the railroad to Miami in 1896 by industrialist Henry Flagler was combined with development of small cities and resorts along southeastern Florida coast that, in part, were designed to attract the Nations most wealthy vacationers (George, 1996).
Reclamation continued south of the lake with completion of the West Palm Beach (1907), Hillsboro (1907), North New River (1913), and Miami (1913) Canals by the Everglades Drainage District (fig. 27A). Construction of a low levee that rimmed the southern side of Lake Okeechobee (1924) increased the amount of land available for agricultural development, especially along the major canals and tracts of land south of the lake (fig. 28). The canals served to increase the rate of flow from the Everglades, which reduced the extent of inundated land and lowered ground-water levels near drainage canals and along the western edge of the Atlantic Coastal Ridge (fig. 5). Early drainage construction efforts (figs. 29 and 30) proved only modestly successful as the principal canals generally failed to transport the imposed flood load (Parker and others, 1955). Additional improvements were made during the late 1920s to the Caloosahatchee River and C-44 Canal (fig. 26) to more effectively drain Lake Okeechobee.
The Tamiami Canal, a major component of the Everglades drainage system, extends westward from its terminus at the Miami Canal to the southwestern coast of Florida discharging near Naples (west of the study area). The Tamiami Canal, completed in 1928, was not designed for drainage purposes, but was used to provide fill to build a road (fig. 1, Tamiami Trail) along its length, linking Miami with Naples. The central and western reaches of the canal collect water as sheetflow and funnel it through culverts southward into Everglades National Park and the Big Cypress Basin (Swamp). Landfilling construction activities associated with development of Flaglers Florida Keys railroad helped to alter Florida Bay circulation patterns, and water-management practices reduced surface flow to the bay and ultimately modified its salinity and ecology (McIvor and others, 1994; Halley and Roulier, 1999; Halley, 2002). The impact of the Tamiami Trail on surface-water flows to Florida Bay was less certain (Light and Dineen, 1994, p. 55).
The Lake Worth Drainage District (LWDD) was developed during the late 1920s (fig. 27B). This major early water-management feature was constructed to reclaim and improve land within its boundaries, and to offer water control and water supply for urban settlement and agriculture. The LWDD occupies about 200 mi2 in Palm Beach County and extends from West Palm Beach to the Broward County line. Management of water resources in the LWDD is achieved by use of 50 east-west lateral canals and 4 north-south equalizing canals. Whereas drainage of the Everglades wetland areas affected coastal ground-water levels, the LWDD is designed to maintain higher coastal ground-water levels, withdrawing water from the Hillsboro and West Palm Beach Canals.
By 1930, the network of mostly uncontrolled canals (fig. 27B) drained large quantities of freshwater from the Everglades into the Atlantic Ocean, lowering water levels in the Everglades as much as 6 ft (Kohout, 1964). In response to the hurricane-related flooding and mortality in agricultural lands south of Lake Okeechobee in 1926 and 1928, a larger elevated dike (Hoover Dike) was completed on the southern and northern parts of Lake Okeechobee in 1938 (figs. 27C and 31).
The drought of 1943-46 and hurricanes of 1947 and 1948 (fig. 32) served as an impetus to the development and formation of the Central and Southern Florida Flood Control Project and District, established in 1949. Known as the Comprehensive Plan, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers initiated a major construction project in an effort to harness the erratic nature of the southern Florida Everglades (fig. 33). The project was designed to remove flood waters rapidly, provide surface-water storage for regional water supply, prevent canal overdrainage and saltwater intrusion, protect developed land, supply water to Everglades National Park, help preserve fish and wildlife, and serve recreational and navigational needs. The Central and Southern Florida Flood Control District was the predecessor of the South Florida Water Management District, which formed in 1972 when the State of Florida established five water-management districts to manage regional water resources and protect the environment.
Canal and levee construction expanded greatly during the 1950s and 1960s. (fig. 34). Major canals were enlarged and an eastern protective levee was built during the 1950s to protect urban and eastern agricultural lands. Prior to the 1950s, U.S. Highway 27 served as a north-south protective levee system; however, it proved to be ineffective during the 1947 flood (Merritt, 1996a, p. 19).
During the latter half of the 1950s, canals, levees, and control structures were constructed on the southern side of Lake Okeechobee to form the Everglades Agricultural Area (fig. 34B). The storage of surface water was accomplished by developing water-conservation areas during the 1960s (fig. 34B) in which water was held within sawgrass prairie areas. These conservation areas were designed to: (1) help delay runoff and prevent the overland flow of flood waters into urbanized areas; (2) control seepage to the surficial aquifer system; (3) supply recharge to well fields; (4) maintain stage levels within canals and water levels in the surficial aquifer system; (5) limit saltwater intrusion during drought periods; and (6) control the southward flow of water to Everglades National Park.
Additional changes in the surface-water conveyance system were made in the 1970s (fig. 35A) to meet the hydrologic needs of the park. By the 1970s, gated control structures were installed at the coastal end of the primary canals to discharge excess water during the wet season, and retard the landward movement of saltwater during the dry season (fig. 36). Secondary controls on the inland reaches of canals were installed to regulate flow eastward, control inland and agricultural flooding, and maintain higher water levels in the surficial aquifer system where appropriate. Surface-water pump stations in the Everglades Agricultural Area were added to regulate water levels for agricultural purposes, and new municipal well fields were either constructed or expanded. Canal system development reached its final phase in the 1980s (fig. 35B) with completion of the Everglades-South Dade conveyance system, which was constructed to meet agricultural water-supply needs, control flooding, and mitigate saltwater intrusion.
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
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