Thursday Bookshelf: River of Interests

River of Interests: Water Management in South Florida and the Everglades, 1948-2010 is a complete and definitive history of the Everglades ecosystem in the second half of the 20th Century. The book which is incredibly well-researched and written covers the draining of significant portions of the Everglades, the original channelization of many of the rivers in the area and the building of the Lake Okeechobee protective dike which occurred after the tragic 1928 Hurricane.

After covering that background, the book gives a full view of the state of flood control and water management in 1948, right after the publication of The Everglades: River of Grass by Marjory Stoneman Douglas and the opening of Everglades National Park. From there the environmental battles of the 1960’s are closely covered including the Everglades Jetport controversy which formed the centerpiece for the background of Michael Grunwald’s excellent book about the political battles around the Everglades, The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise.

The environmental awakening of the 1960’s led to a shift in the politics around water control and management. Issues like Lake Okeechobee’s future the rerouting of the Kissimmee River and preservation of Big Cypress suddenly became major political issues that both parties had to deal with. While a consensus had developed prior to the 1960’s to develop as aggressively as possible and to develop flood control to service growing human populations, from the late sixties onward both parties raced to look more environmentally friendly. Modern liberalism incorporated environmental principles as a core tenant which drive Democrats, while Republicans who were concerned about attracting business to Florida wanted to keep the state’s water supply solvent and the landscape of the state attractive for relocations.

By the 1980’s a consensus had developed in the state, among both political parties that water management and protecting the Everglades was critical. The book covers these discussions and battles including Dexter Lehtinen’s landmark lawsuit described as the “Ultimate Hammer” to force Everglades restoration. The battles over the nuances of restoration between the late 1980’s and 2000 are covered in depth. Throughout the 1990’s environmental issues were among the most contentious and discussed in the legislature.

The book cuts off after the year 2000, when the consensus about the Everglades and water management was still holding. However, in recent years while lip service has been paid by politicians of both parties, water management and environmental preservation have become lesser issues.

While this book is very expensive it is also a vital read for policymakers in this state. Obtaining a copy and understanding the background to the battles over water management and environmental protection are vital for all who seek to lead this state.


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