Misconceptions confuse Everglades restoration debate

OKEECHOBEE — As the debate continues over the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and South Florida Water Management District Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan projects, some common misconceptions continue to “muddy the waters.” For example

The Herbert Hoover Dike was built in response to the 1928 hurricane, which claimed thousands of lives. FALSE
After the 1928 hurricane, a flood control structure was built on the south end of the lake, but that was not the Herbert Hoover Dike. The Great Florida Flood of 1947 led to the construction of the dike that completely encircles the lake.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website explains: “The first embankments around Lake Okeechobee were constructed by local interests from sand and muck, circa 1915. Hurricane tides overtopped the original embankments in 1926 and 1928, resulting in over 2,500 deaths. The River and Harbors Act of 1930 authorized the construction of 67.8 miles of levee along the south shore of the lake and 15.7 miles along the north shore. The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed the levees between 1932 and 1938.

A major hurricane in 1947 prompted the need for additional flood and storm damage reduction work. As a result, Congress passed the Flood Control Act of 1948 authorizing the first phase of the Central and South Florida (C&SF) Project, a comprehensive plan to provide flood and storm damage reduction and other water control benefits in Central and South Florida. The new dike system was completed in the late 1960s and named the Herbert Hoover Dike.”

The cities south of the lake were made possible by the Herbert Hoover Dike. FALSE
The settlement that would become the City of Clewiston began in 1920, when John O’Brien of Philadelphia and Alonzo Clewis of Tampa purchased a large tract of land to establish a town. They commissioned a town plan and built the Moore Haven and Clewiston Railroad to connect the community to the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad at Moore Haven. Clewiston was incorporated as a city in 1925. The land elevation at Clewiston is 16 feet above sea level.

The Herbert Hoover Dike made sugar farming possible in Florida. MISLEADING
While the dike and other flood control improvements benefited farming in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA), sugar cane was grown in the EAA long before the dike was built. According to “Cultivation of Sugar Cane,” a 1900 treatise by William Carter Stubbs, Ph.D., the first Florida commercial-sized sugar cane plantations started in the late 1760s. Sugar cane is a grass native to Asia. Around 1886, larger scale planting of sugar cane began south of Lake Okeechobee. In the 1920s the U.S. government dredged canals to “reclaim” Everglades land for farming, but sugar cane was a minor crop in the EAA until 1959 when the Cuban Revolution resulted in an embargo on Cuban sugar and the increasing demand for more sugar grown on U.S. soil.

The “River of Grass” was not really grass. TRUE According to the Florida Museum website, “Sawgrass (Cladium jamaicense) is not a true grass but actually a member of the sedge family, characterized by sharp teeth along the edges of each blade. Sawgrass once covered the northern portion of the Everglades, growing to heights of over 9 feet tall on the rich, dark peat soils. Sawgrass marshes are usually flooded with water for much of the year. This hydroperiod, along with the depth of water, determines the growth of sawgrass. A longer hydroperiod along with increased water depths produces taller, thicker stands of sawgrass while a short hydroperiod and shallow waters result in limited growth. Dense areas of sawgrass have low species diversity.

Fire was a natural part of the Everglades ecosystem. TRUE According to the Florida Museum, fires played an important part in the Everglades natural habitat management by limiting the invasion of woody vegetation. Before man’s intervention the Everglades went through natural cycles of drought, fires and floods. While the above-ground plant tissues would burn, the roots were able to survive, allowing the plants to recover when the rains reflooded the marshes.

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