Water from as far north as the Chain of Lakes just south of Orlando once made a long journey southward. It flowed from the Kissimmee River to Lake Okeechobee, over low - lying lands that included what is now most of Broward County, and on towards Biscayne Bay, the Ten Thousand Islands and Florida Bay. This slow - moving sheet of water covered almost 11,000 square miles, creating a mosaic of ponds, sloughs, sawgrass marshes, hardwood hammocks, and forested uplands. Rainfall that didn't soak into the underlying limestone shimmered under the South Florida sun. The only dry places during the wet season were the Atlantic coastal ridge and the Everglades hammocks.
For thousands of years, this water helped to shape a finely - balanced ecosystem that supported a rich and diverse biological community in the southern half of the state. The area, rich in wildlife, inspired Marjorie Stoneman Douglas' classic, "The Everglades: River of Grass."
South Florida's unique history of water management begins with its early settlers. During the late 1800s, many of these settlers considered the Everglades and other wetlands to be little more than useless, bug - infested swamp.
Napolean Bonaparte Broward ran for Governor of Florida in 1904 on the promise to drain the Everglades and create a rich agricultural area that could grow valuable winter crops. While Governor Broward worked to provide regional drainage through the construction of major canals, it was up to individual landowners to drain their own land. By digging primitive canals, these early settlers found ways to drain and develop the land for agriculture. It was not an easy life.
In 1947, a series of tropical storms and back - to - back hurricanes caused tremendous floods throughout South Florida. The flooded area south of Lake Okeechobee, including Broward County, was declared part of an 8,000,000 acre inland sea.
South Florida residents called on Congress to develop a more sophisticated system of drainage and flood protection. Approved in 1948, The Central and Southern Florida Flood (C&SF) Control Project became one of the world's largest public works projects with the development of 1,800 miles of canals and levees and hundreds of floodgates and pump stations.
In periods of heavy rain, floodgates are opened to release excess water and make room for runoff. During dry periods, discharges are reduced to preserve supplies.
For close to 50 years, the C&SF Project has done what it was designed to do - protect us from flooding. But Florida's population and land uses have changed dramatically through the years, and what was good for South Florida in the last century has had unintended and adverse effects on the environment's future, particularly in the Everglades.
The Water Resources Development Acts of 1992 and 1996 gave the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers the authority to re - evaluate the performance and impacts of the C&SF Project, and to recommend improvements and/or modifications to the project in order to provide a means for restoring the South Florida ecosystem. Ultimately, this legislation led to the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), which is designed to capture, store and redistribute fresh water previously lost to tide and to regulate the quality, quantity, timing, and distribution of water flows in the Everglades.