Development of the Central & South Florida (C&SF) Project

The Central and Southern Florida (C&SF) Project, which was first authorized by Congress in 1948, is a multi-purpose project that provides flood control, water supply for municipal, industrial, and agricultural uses, prevention of saltwater intrusion, water supply for Everglades National Park, and protection of fish and wildlife resources. The primary system includes about 1,000 miles of levees, 720 miles of canals, and almost 200 water control structures.

History of South Florida Water Resources Development. The following quote and much of the following history is from the Central and Southern Florida Flood Control Project, Eight Years of Progress, 1948-57 Report, published by the Central and Southern Florida Flood Control District (now the South Florida Water Management District) in 1957:

Many centuries before the arrival of Ponce de Leon, prehistoric redmen lived along the shores of this immense natural water system.And various works still existing among the remains of their cultures show that they, too, had their water problems. Their difficulties with floods and droughts are not known, but they did dig canals for navigational and ceremonial purposes. Today these works can be seen easily from the air in the form of straight lines cutting through piney woods or in strange circles near mounds and other ancient earthworks.

In 1847, two years after Florida was granted statehood, one of the State's original United States Senators, J.D. Westcott, made the first known proposal to drain the overflowed lands of the lower peninsula. The Senator's plan was based on reports of General William S. Harney, who had explored the Everglades area, and General Thomas S. Jessup, who had directed operations in the Kissimmee Valley and the area west and to the south of Peace Creek.

The Secretary of the Treasury, in 1848, appointed Buckingham Smith of St. Augustine to make a general inspection of the area and to report his findings. Smith reported to the United States Senate in June 1848 that he believed the Everglades could be reclaimed by a sensible system of canaling and by deepening the various streams that flowed both east and west to the coasts. He believed that drainage would insure the growth of a new agricultural empire in south Florida.

The United States Congress passed the "Swamp and Overflowed Lands Act of 1850", which conveyed the whole of Florida's swamp and overflowed lands to State ownership. A stipulation in the act was that the sale of the lands to private interests should finance the necessary work of reclamation. To plan for the development of this huge area, a Board of Internal Improvements was created in 1851 by the State Legislature.

Little progress was made in the way of internal improvements for the next thirty years. Transportation was in poor shape in the state. During the Civil War, several extensions of the railroads were completed and Florida became one of the main sources of supply for the South. But more railroads were destroyed by both sides as the material was needed and by the end of the war, rail transportation was set back again. During reconstruction, the Internal Improvement Fund became so entangled in debt and politics that it was unable to accomplish anything constructive. The Trustees tried to get the Fund out of debt by increasing land sales. Before many deals could be made, creditors forced the District Court of North Florida to put the Fund in the hands of a receiver.

Thus by 1877, Florida possessed an Internal Improvement Fund in receivership, several millions in worthless bonds, and high taxation. Trustees continued to sell parcels of land through the receivership and the monies were used to settle claims and judgments against the Fund. But the ordinary sales of land were not enough to keep the debt from increasing and the Fund was being depleted by compound interest and the expense of litigation.

Samuel A. Swann, an agent of the Trustees, was authorized to negotiate the sale of three million acres at not less than thirty cents an acre. He spent from 1877 to 1881 with northern capitalists and English financiers looking for an immediate buyer of a large tract to save the Fund from disaster. Then in 1881, the Trustees found Hamilton Disston, a Philadelphian who had inherited his father's saw works a few years earlier.

On February 26, 1881, Hamilton Disston signed the first contract which would drain overflowed lands south of Township 23 East and east of Peace Creek in return for half the area reclaimed in the form of the odd sections in each township. Disston's first project was to give Lake Okeechobee an outlet to the Gulf through the Caloosahatchee River.Work began at Lake Flirt in January 1882 and within a year the lake's waters began to flow to the Gulf through the cut and Okeechobee's level dropped considerably.

In July 1882, a second operation began in the upper Kissimmee valley with the cutting of the Southport Canal between Lake Tohopekaliga and Lake Cypress. Finishing the cut, the dredge turned to connecting Lake Tohopekaliga with East Lake Tohopekaliga. This canal, called the St. Cloud Canal, was begun in January 1883, and completed in September 1884. By the fall of 1883, the company had opened navigation from the Gulf to the town of Kissimmee. The map below reflects Disston's works.

A tract of land on the Southport Canal, previously under three feet of water, was used for sugar cane in February 1884, and harvested later with much success. Disston opened a sugar plantation in January 1886, just east of the St. Cloud Canal on East Lake Tohopekaliga.

After Disston's death in 1896, his empire in Florida quickly crumbled. Disston's drainage project did not accomplish all that was expected and, in some cases, led to overdrainage. But it was the first large scale project in the central and southern Florida area and a major part of it is still functioning today.

The State Legislature created a Board of Drainage Commissioners in 1905 and turned over to them lands acquired in 1850 by the Swamp and Overflowed Lands Act. This board was vested with the authority:

to establish drainage districts and to fix the boundaries thereof in the State of Florida". They were ... "to establish a system of canals, levees, drains, dikes, and reservoirs...to drain and reclaim the swamp and overflowed lands within the State of Florida.

In 1906, the Trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund and the Drainage Commissioners purchased and operated dredges. Between 1906 and 1913, 225.4 miles of drainage canals were dug, including the Miami, North New River, and South New River Canals by the Everglades Drainage District. During the period 1913 to 1927, six large drainage canals and numerous smaller canals, totaling 440 miles; 47 miles of levees; and 16 locks and dams were constructed. The system of canals and locks constructed during this period provided the groundwork for draining the northern and eastern parts of the Everglades region. The five major canals originated at Lake Okeechobee and flowed easterly toward the Atlantic. The map below reflects the works constructed by the Everglades Drainage District.

The partial drainage of the Everglades opened the area to farm settlement. The first wave of settlers came between 1910 and 1915, followed by another from 1920 to 1926.By 1921, the population in the lake region was estimated to be around 2,000 people.Most of the cultivated land in the glades was developed after 1920. The first crops grown commercially were sugar cane, tomatoes, beans, peas, peppers, and potatoes.

Although some 440 miles of canals had been completed and $18,000,000 expended, only the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Canals provided satisfactory outlets from Lake Okeechobee to the sea. The other canals lacked the slope necessary to reduce the lake level appreciably. In addition, efforts were so widely scattered that, on the whole, there was little return for the money spent. It also became apparent that canals alone did not afford sufficient protection from overflow during unusual weather. The hurricanes of 1926 and 1928, created wind tides on Lake Okeechobee which overflowed the surrounding areas with disastrous results. The hurricanes of 1926 and 1928 essentially marked the end of the construction period under the Everglades Drainage District; they also marked the start of the Federal interest in water control through the Corps of Engineers.

Federal Interest

The hurricane which struck Miami and the Lake Okeechobee region in 1926 caused over 200 deaths and great financial loss. The Federal government was pressured to take action. Then the hurricane of 1928 swept in through the Palm Beach area toward the Lake. Wind-driven water of Lake Okeechobee, augmented by the torrential rains, overflowed the lake shore and drowned approximately 2,400 people near Moore Haven, in addition to destroying a vast amount of property. The areas affected by these hurricanes are shown on the map below.

To prevent a recurrence of these disasters, the State Legislature in 1929 created the Okeechobee Flood Control District, which was authorized to cooperate with the Corps in flood control undertakings. Prior to this time, the Corps had engaged only in the improvement of navigation in the rivers and harbors in the Lake Okeechobee area. After a personal inspection of the area by President Hoover, the Corps drafted a new plan which provided for the construction of floodway channels, control gates and major levees along Lake Okeechobee's shores. Construction of the Herbert Hoover Dike began in 1930. See map below.

In June 1936, a national flood control policy was adopted by Congress. The Flood Control Act of 1936 established the policy that the Federal Government should:

"improve or participate in the improvement of navigable waters or their tributaries for flood control purposes, if the benefits to whomsoever they may accrue, are in excess of the estimated cost, and if the lives and social security of the people are otherwise adversely affected."

Successive extreme dry spells of 1931 through 1945 resulted in lowered groundwater levels and the threat of serious saltwater intrusion into the municipal wells of Miami and other coastal cities. When the water level fell in the Everglades area, salt water from the ocean rose in the wells upon which the cities depended. There was an important relationship between the areas around Lake Okeechobee and the other water resources of the region which had been overlooked in earlier efforts to drain the interior. Furthermore, land which in the past had regularly flooded, was now actually vanishing. The peaty, organic soils of the Everglades were drying out and shrinking at a clearly visible rate. Thousands of acres caught fire and the muck itself was consumed and lost forever.

During the dry years, with the resulting dehydration of the glades and the intrusion of salt water into the coastal area, it became apparent that water conservation was a necessary function of any drainage plan. Structures designed to drain certain areas while protecting them in time of flood, were also depriving them of necessary moisture during other periods.

In 1947, 100 inches of rain fell on south Florida, more than tripling the region's total rainfall for 1945 and ending one of the worst droughts in Florida history. In a few weeks, the rain had drenched farmland and filled lakes and canals. Then in the space of just 25 days, two hurricanes and a tropical disturbance dumped more water on an already saturated area. When the rains finally ceased, 90 percent of southeastern Florida, from Orlando to the Keys, was under water, as shown on the map below. The total damage of this disaster was estimated by the Corps at more than $59,000,000.

Following the disastrous flood in 1947, the problems of the area came to a climax. This flood, coupled with the experiences of the drought in 1945 and the intrusion of saltwater made it imperative that immediate corrective action be started. These actions were needed to prevent further loss of life and damage to property because of floods, and to conserve water for beneficial uses during periods of drought.

Acting upon the requests of many local agencies concerned with flood control and water conservation, and under the authority of various flood control acts, river and harbor acts of Congress, and resolutions of appropriate congressional committees, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Jacksonville District conducted public hearings throughout the area to determine the desires of the many local interests and to collect data from which to formulate a plan.

Views expressed during the public hearings stated that the problems were too large and complex for the capabilities of either the State or local agencies acting alone, therefore making it practically impossible for either to draft a plan that would be satisfactory to all.

A comprehensive plan for flood control and water conservation, which would encompass the entire area, while satisfying the major needs expressed by the various agencies, be beneficial to the greatest number and to the largest portion of the area, and be performed by the Federal government, with local cooperation, seemed to offer the best solution.

A comprehensive report was prepared by the Corps and submitted to higher authority on December 19, 1947. This report stated that the problems of flood protection, drainage, and water control were considered to be physically inter-related, and that the St. Johns, Kissimmee, Lake Okeechobee, Caloosahatchee, and Everglades drainage areas all formed a single economic unit. Accordingly, it recommended a comprehensive program in the interest of "flood control, drainage and related purposes."

Congressional Authorization

Congress approved the plan as part of the Flood Control Act of June 30, 1948, and the report was published in House Document No. 643, 80th Congress, Second Session. The basic purpose of the overall Central and Southern Florida Flood Control Project, quoted from House Document No. 643, reads:

In its natural state the part of central and southern Florida considered in this report was a vast wilderness of water, forest, prairie, and marshland. The forces of nature had combined to establish a fine balance which supported the vegetable, animal and human life that prevailed and resulted in building up the land to the condition in which white man first found it. A large part of this land, the Everglades, was still in a formative stage when its development began. The inherent fertility of the area and its resources made its development and use inevitable. This development, however, resulted in physical changes which altered the natural balance between water and soil, and much of the development was undertaken without any real knowledge of the area or of the hazards involved. The parched prairies and burning mucklands of the Everglades in 1945, the flooding of thousands of acres of farms and communities in 1947, and the intrusion of salt water into land water supplies of the east coast are basically the results of altering the balance of natural forces. The basic problem of this area is, therefore, to restore the natural balance between soil and water in this area insofar as possible by establishing protective works, controls, and procedures for conservation and use of water and land.

The Governor of Florida approved the plan for the State in February 1948. The following year, the State Legislature formed the Central and Southern Florida Flood Control District, later to become the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), to act as a single local agency with which the Federal government could deal on all matters of local cooperation.

The Central and Southern Florida Project

The C&SF Project, first phase, was authorized by the Flood Control Act of June 30, 1948 for the purposes of flood control, water level control, water conservation, prevention of salt water intrusion, and preservation of fish and wildlife.

The first phase consisted of most of the works necessary to afford flood protection to the agricultural development south of Lake Okeechobee and to the highly developed urban area along the lower east coast of the State. The second phase, consisting of all remaining works of the original Comprehensive Plan, was authorized by the Flood Control Act of September 3, 1954.

Improvements in Hendry County and Nicodemus Slough (just west of Lake Okeechobee) were added to the project by the Flood Control Acts of July 3, 1958, and July 14, 1960, respectively. Improvements in Boggy Creek, Cutler Drain Area, Shingle Creek, South Dade County, and West Palm Beach Canal were added to the project by the Flood Control Act of October 23, 1962. Improvements in Southwest Dade County were added to the project by the Flood Control Act of October 27, 1965; the same act also modified the 1958 authorization for the Hendry County improvements.

The Flood Control Act of 1968 expanded the project to provide for increased storage and conservation of water and for improved distribution of water throughout much of the project area and added recreation as a project purpose. Flood control measures for Martin County were added. The 1968 modifications would also facilitate increased delivery of water to Everglades National Park (ENP).

Section 2 of Public Law 91-282 enacted June 19, 1970, authorized appropriations for the Corps to accelerate:

construction of borrow canal L-70, canal C-308, canal C-119W, and pumping station S-326, together with such other works in the plan of improvement as the Director of the National Park Service and the Chief of Engineers agree are necessary to meet the water requirements of the Everglades National Park: Provided further, That as soon as practicable and in any event upon completion of the works specified in the preceding proviso, delivery of water from the central and southern Florida project to the Everglades National Park shall be not less than 315,000 acre-feet annually, prorated according to the monthly schedule set forth in the National Park Service letter of October 20, 1967, to the Office of the Chief of Engineers, or 16.5 per centum of total deliveries from the project for all purposes including the park, whichever is less.

Section 104 of the Everglades National Park Protection and Expansion Act of 1989 (Public Law 101-229) directed the Corps:

to construct modifications to the Central and Southern Florida Project to improve water deliveries into the park and shall, to the extent practicable, take steps to restore the natural hydrological conditions within the park.

The Water Resources Development Act of 1992 authorized modifications to the C&SF Project for ecosystem restoration of the Kissimmee River. Both the Kissimmee River Restoration and the Headwaters Revitalization Projects were authorized.

The authorizing acts require that local interests shall provide all lands, easements, and rights-of-way; pay for relocations of highways (with certain exceptions), highway bridges, and public utilities which may be required for construction of project works; hold and save the United States free from damages resulting from construction and operation of the works; maintain and operate all works (except certain major regulating structures) after completion and make a cash contribution for each part of the work prior to its initiation.

Authorized project facilities include 30 pumping stations, 212 control and diversion structures, 990 miles of levees, 978 miles of canals, 25 navigation locks, and 56 railroad relocations (bridges). Construction was begun in January 1950.

The project provides for an east coast protective levee extending from the Homestead area north to the eastern shore of Lake Okeechobee near St. Lucie Canal. There are three conservation areas for water impoundment in the Everglades area, west of the east coast protective levee, with control structures to transfer water as necessary. There are also local protective works along the lower east coast with an encirclement of the Lake Okeechobee agricultural area by levees and canals. Enlargement of portions of the Miami, North New River, Hillsboro, and West Palm Beach Canals and existing Lake Okeechobee levees are part of the project. Also included are construction of new levees on the northeast and northwest shores of the Lake; increased outlet capacity for improved control of Lake Okeechobee; floodway channels in the Kissimmee River Basin, with suitable control structures to prevent overdrainage; and facilities for regulation of floods in the Upper St. Johns River Basin.

The project provides water control and protection from the recurrence of flood waters for the highly developed urban area along the lower east coast of Florida and for the agricultural areas around Lake Okeechobee (including the towns around the lake), in the Upper St. Johns and Kissimmee River Basin, and in south Dade County. Another project function is the conservation of flood waters for beneficial uses during dry seasons. In accordance with Public Laws 91-282 and 101-229, the project also delivers water to Everglades National Park according to a set schedule.

The Corps operates and maintains project works on the St. Lucie Canal; Caloosahatchee River; Lake Okeechobee levees, channels, ocks, and major spillways; and the main outlets for WCAs 1, 2A, and 3A. The South Florida Water Management District operates the remainder of the project in accordance with regulations prescribed by the Corps. The local sponsor has an essential role with the Corps in developing water management criteria for the C&SF Project. The local sponsor is responsible for allocation of water from project storage, except where mandated by Federal law.

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