The death of the Florida Everglades was a slow process. This process began with an arguably beneficial plan developed by the United States Corps of Engineers to help stop the damage caused by frequent flooding and create more farming land. The flooding problems sought to be corrected by the Corps of Engineers occurred primarily in the Kissimmee River basin, a major river running south though central Florida and functioning as the primary source of clean water to the Florida Everglades. When man proceeds to alter the natural order of things, however, man must recognize that he is dealing with a complex system where even minor changes can have major, unpredictable outcomes. The story of man’s changes to the Kissimmee River and the resulting damage to the Everglades demonstrates exactly what can go wrong when the system nature has devised is artificially altered. The Kissimmee River Flood Control Project of the 1960s and early 1970s started with the best of intentions; the relief of major flooding problems in the Kissimmee River water shed. This project, however, is a classic example of how even good intentions can lead to catastrophic results when they are poorly conceived, planned, and executed. In this case, the well intentioned flood control destroyed thousands of acres of wetlands and wild life habitat and led to a major ecological decline in the Everglades. The Kissimmee River Basin was once a jewel of nature, breathtaking in its beauty and in its diversity and richness of birds, water fowl, and animals. The river itself flowed through Central Florida from a chain of lakes just south of Orlando on a 103 mile meandering journey to the Lake Okeechobee on the northern edge of the Everglades (Boning 212-214). It was the largest tributary flowing into the lake and served as the primary source of fresh water for Gibbons 2
the entire Everglades system (212). The Kissimmee River, in its natural state, flowed through a marshy plain surrounded by extensive wetlands (212). During the rainy season, “the Kissimmee would spread out over a 2 mile wide floodplain” (213). The richness of the Kissimmee in its natural form was well described in the following passage from the Kissimmee Valley Gazette in 1899:
“There is no more pleasant way of spending a week than to take the trip to Basinger. Birds of all kinds are in sight the whole way; flocks of ducks, coots, herons, cranes, limpkins, curlews, plume birds and water turkeys without end. Also alligators, rabbits and water snakes and plenty of fish, too. In its narrowness, in the rampant growth of water plants along its low banks, in the unbroken flatness of the landscape, in the labyrinth of by-channels and cut-offs and above all in the appalling, incredible, bewildering crookedness of its serpentine body, it is indeed an extraordinary river.”
(Alderson 75-76). The natural beauty of this part of the world, expressed so well in 1899, however, would be under severe attack from man less than sixty-five years later. A unique feature of the Kissimmee was the fact that it flooded frequently and that the entire flood plain would be inundated with water for long periods, sometimes “ for twelve consecutive months, or longer” (79). This characteristic led to the entire Kissimmee Valley possessing incredible biological richness. “Flooding was the driver behind the Kissimmee’s high biological productivity”, according to Joe Koebel, senior environmental scientist for the South Florida Water Management District (79). The long term inundation of the river basin provided excellent habitat for producing food resources for “larger predators such as large- mouth bass, wading birds, waterfowl and numerous birds of prey” (79). In addition, the slow moving sheets of water in the flood plain and the meandering river channel maintained high levels of oxygen in high quality, clean water, creating :”near- perfect conditions for aquatic invertebrates-- the base of the food chain”...
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