Agriculture and the C&SF Project

Various agricultural uses of historic Everglades lands as well as lands in the Kissimmee watershed were greatly expanded by the C&SF Project. In the Kissimmee River floodplain, drainage and flood protection provided grazing land for cattle. Housing developments quickly followed agricultural uses, which were commonly continued for tax advantages until conversion to urban uses was deemed profitable. Urban expansion to the edge of the remaining Everglades in Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties proceeded rapidly, with developments such as Weston in Broward, and rock mines in Miami-Dade.

Photo by Jacqui Thurlow Lippisch

The Everglades Agricultural Area

The EAA, as originally laid out by the C&SF Project, was about 700,000 acres or over 1,000 square miles, inclusive of two tracts used for wildlife management. Its location completely blocked all surface-water connection between Lake Okeechobee and the remaining Everglades, except as controlled through releases through canals, namely the Miami, North New River, Hillsboro, and West Palm Beach. As agriculture developed in the EAA, entrenched “Big Sugar” companies became politically powerful after 1961, when the United States stopped purchasing sugar from Cuba, greatly elevating the complexity of EAA issues. Further entrenchment of Big Sugar is due to federal crop support for sugar.

Sugarcane is by far the largest crop, recently covering about 65% of the EAA. Other crops are sod (lawn grass) and vegetable crops such as beans, lettuce, celery, corn, radishes, and rice. EAA soils are naturally rich in nitrogen but low in phosphorus. Soil subsidence has been a major concern since its initial drainage and development.

A typical field in the EAA is 40 acres and configured in a rectangle a half-mile long by an eighth-mile wide. The long sides of each field are bordered by ditches connected by adjustable gates through a low dike to 15-foot-wide canals that border the ends of the fields. The canals connect to larger canals of the regional system, from which water can be added or removed by pumps. This configuration allows growers to control the groundwater level or flooding in each field.

For sugarcane, a tall tropical grass, the water level is controlled about 20 inches below the surface for the year that the crop is growing, including one summer rainy season. Sugarcane is planted in the fall or winter, and is harvested the first time about a year later, most harvesting done from October into March. The mature field is burned to remove unwanted foliage, and the stalks then cut near ground level and removed for processing.

Coastal Waters

Coastal systems affected by the C&SF Project include the Caloosahatchee and lower Charlotte Harbor, the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon, the Loxahatchee River, Lake Worth Lagoon, Biscayne Bay, and Florida Bay. All of these systems had already been greatly altered by the flood control systems, but the C&SF Project continued and increased the problems of point-source deliveries of fresh water and growing issues of degraded water quality with the expansion of the Everglades region’s human population.

Lake Worth Lagoon. Photo courtesy of Lake Worth Waterkeeper

Lodge, Thomas E.. The Everglades Handbook. CRC Press. Kindle Edition.