At the turn of the 20th century, Florida was considered our nation’s last frontier. The evidence supported that conclusion, too. Swamplands made travel to South Florida close to impossible and our watery wilderness made growth and development a challenge.
But then came the draining of the marshes south of Lake Okeechobee in the early 1900s. That undertaking provided an excellent landscape for agriculture. In turn, the fertile soil benefited the economy.
And by 1920, the state’s population had grown close to 1 million people. The growth was slow, but the building of drainage canals provided navigational access and brought on a land boom of speculators. After the opening of the Flagler railroad, which ran along the state’s entire eastern coast, Florida became accessible and open for tourism.
There was no looking back, although nature still played an adversarial role in the state’s growth. Following a series of devastating hurricanes in the 1920s, where over 2,000 lives were lost, the call to manage flood waters and protect lives and property became more urgent. Floridians battled against flood waters alone until 1947. Congress then directed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to construct the Central and Southern Florida Project (CS&F).
This project turned out to be one of the most effective water management systems in the world. The CS&F is a combination of levees, gated culverts, and locks encompassing Lake Okeechobee in the north, the coastlines to the west and east, and south to the Florida Keys.
Fifty years later, Congress stepped in again as Floridians realized that the efficient water management system had also severely impacted the natural ecosystem as well as Everglades and Biscayne National Parks. Passage of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) made the federal government and the state 50-50 partners in the endeavor.
Modern adaptation strategies
CERP is a framework for restoring, preserving, and protecting the South Florida ecosystem for the future. Sixty eight CERP project components are currently underway at an estimated cost to taxpayers of over $10 billion.
Meanwhile, Florida’s economy still thrives and depends on land development, agriculture, and tourism. The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) remains the manager of this water control system, which serves over 8 million people, or more than one-third of the state’s population.
However, the water challenge remains relevant. Our coastal cities deal with water quality issues from blue-green algae and red tide to stronger hurricanes and higher sea levels that come through the impact of climate change.
The state’s conservative leadership is no longer in denial and understands that the environment is our economy. Florida continues to invest in restoration of the Everglades and water infrastructure improvements and repairs.
Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has created an Office of Resilience and appointed a Chief Science Officer to implement adaptive solutions and innovations. They are designed to protect our water, maintain property values, and preserve the tourism industry. One intriguing solution is the creation of a five-member task force that is focused on reducing nutrients in Lake Okeechobee and downstream estuaries. The goal is to come up with recommendations that prevent future outbreaks of toxic algal blooms that devasted Florida’s coasts last year.
Regional governments in the southeast part of the state have been collaborating over the past decade to plan to mitigate the causes of climate and plan for higher seas. Our coastal cities are investing in resilient infrastructure and building stronger and higher structures to allow the state to continue to grow and thrive despite our current reality.
As a native Floridian and lifelong resident of Miami-Dade County, as well as a former water manager for the SFWMD appointed by Governor Jeb Bush, I know how challenging our water issues have become. I also know that we drained our state’s swamp over 50 years ago with the engineering and knowledge we had at that time to build the state we currently enjoy.
I do not subscribe to the “doom and gloom” club that looks at sea level rise projections daily and predicts that Florida’s coastlines are as good as gone. I am optimistic about our future and know that our political and business leaders are acting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and embrace technology and innovation to outpace the threat of rising seas.
Florida will again rise above the water and find the solutions to continue growing our economy and protect our citizens' assets and quality of life.
Link to the original post written by Irela Bagué for the George W. Bush Presidential Center: https://www.bushcenter.org/publications/articles/2019/5/florida-history-of-environmental-adaptation.html
This year we launched Resilient Forward a podcast to educate the public and promote resilient solutions to Florida’s most challenging environmental issues. We have recorded 7 podcast episodes featuring a variety of guests from different backgrounds and stories of how they are pushing the climate narrative forward.
We are excited to continue with the rest of Season 1 and to keep pushing the innovative resiliency work from businesses, governments, non-profits and individuals. Subscribe and stay up to up to date on the latest Resilient Forward episodes on your favorite platform:
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Our top South Florida 100 opinions in 2018
February 18, 2018
Marjory Stoneman Shooting / Infrastructure Plan
May 20, 2018
Sea Level Rise Construction Pauses
June 3, 2018
Hurricane Season/ Antiquities Act
June 24, 2018
US Constitution / Child Immigrants at Borders
August 12, 2018
New Normal of Climate Change / Kendall Parkway
September 16, 2018
Peak of Hurricane Season / Everglades Restoration Tracking
December 9, 2018
George H.W. Bush
December 23, 2018
Florida’s Focus: Water, Sea Level Rise and Hurricanes
As residents affected by Hurricane Michael start their rebuilding process, here are several ways to provide help or support them.
Financial help provides aid to the most people in the fastest and most efficient manner. The Florida Disaster Fund has been activated by Gov. Rick Scott and is approved by the State of Florida. Click here to donate: https://www.volunteerflorida.org/donatefdf/
The American Red Cross and Salvation Army are both widely recognizable relief organizations and welcome support. Contributions can be made specifically for Hurricane Michael relief through each organization’s website:
Red Cross Hurricane Michael Donations
Salvation Army Hurricane Michael Donation
If you are available, consider volunteering in your community or communities around the state that need it most, you can volunteer through Volunteer Florida here.
If you would like to find a different organization in the state of Florida to work through, visit the Florida Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (FLVOAD).
You can also check out Charity Navigator, they provide ratings for charity organizations and they have also compiled a list of organizations that are providing aid for Hurricane Michael, view the list here. Their list provides animal, general aid, housing and food charities.
Karenia brevis, also known as red tide, is a species of algae that occurs naturally in the Gulf. The blooming of red tide algae is harmful and discolors water to a reddish hue and produces toxic chemicals. These chemicals can affect the central nervous system of fish and other vertebrates in the water, causing creatures to die or be seriously injured. Red tide is also harmful to humans as it can cause respiratory irritation (coughing, sneezing, tearing and an itchy throat) as the spores from the ride blows onshore.
Red tide can be traced back to the sixteenth century when European explorers arrived at the west coast of Florida. It is a natural seaweed that has been documented along the coast of the Gulf of Florida since the 1840’s and occurs almost every year. Blooms usually occur in late summer and may persist until late fall or early winter.
The red tide should not be confused with a bloom of blue-green algae. Known as cyanobacteria, is a naturally occurring bacteria that is found in fresh water mainly lakes and rivers. They produce harmful blooms when they come in contact with nutrient-rich water that receive a lot of sunlight. In the State of Florida, this nutrient rich water is coming from urban and agricultural runoff going into Lake Okeechobee. The blue-green algae blooms normally float to the surface and can be several inches thick, especially near the shoreline. It has covered many miles of Florida's beaches along the Atlantic coast with thick, smelly green mud. Exposure to blue-green algae and their toxins can cause diarrhea, nausea or vomiting; skin, eye or throat irritation; and allergic reactions or breathing difficulties.
It is important that we are able forecast the blooms of red tides and blue-green algae so that we can better prepare and protect our communities. While we struggle to learn more about these natural phenomena, we must deploy all available state's resources and invest in research and development do everything possible to make sure that the residents of Florida are safe, and the accompanying areas can recover. Our environment is our economy.