Waters of Destiny


The systematic drainage of the Florida Everglades began in earnest in 1905. Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, then Florida’s governor, committed significant state funds and solicited federal assistance in order to reclaim from underutilization the vast swamplands south of Lake Okeechobee. The ultimate goal of the Everglades reclamation was to access rich “muck” soil, covered in many areas by a thin layer of freshwater. Muck soil consisted of thousands of years of organic material accumulated on top of limestone bedrock. The muck made for ready and productive topsoil, but was quickly depleted once subjected to intensive farming. Also, when dried out by the hot Florida sun, the muck could catch fire. Over-farming and fire combined to greatly reduce the extent of muck soil in the decades after drainage began. Once the muck was gone, large-scale commercial farming operations relied heavily on fertilizers that polluted the environment. In addition, the drainage required to expose the muck significantly altered the landscape and ecology of southern Florida. Canals lowered the water table and inhibited the natural flow of the Everglades itself. Wildlife populations faced habitat loss and declined across the region as a result of drainage infrastructure projects. This film, Waters of Destiny, exhibits the typical portrayal of water-management projects before their full environmental impacts became known. The narrator refers to the efforts of the Central and South Florida Flood Control District and the Army Corps of Engineers as exhibiting “mastery [over water] by the determined hand of man.” The film, produced in the 1950s, contains excellent footage of all aspects of the drainage-infrastructure construction process and provides insight into changes in thinking about the science of water management since the mid-20th century.

Last updated: October 17, 2014