Swamp Thing

The conventional wisdom debunked.
June 15 2001 8:30 PM

Swamp Thing

The plan to restore the Everglades is not what you think it is. 

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So instead of reproducing the natural flow in a natural way, the engineers at the corps and the water district propose to mimic it through more fancy engineering, so they can still control the water, and they can capture more of it for people who want to irrigate their fields or water their lawns. Rather than using the sugar land to store water, they hope to use aquifers—if someone can figure out how to make them work. (And decades from now, when the rock companies finish mining the eastern Everglades, their leftover quarries are supposed to serve as reservoirs, too—if someone can figure out how to make them work and how to make them safe.) In the end, the CERP's much-heralded effort to return the Everglades to a more natural state will actually add more man-made control structures than it will remove.

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Still, most politicians and enviros, eager to impress donors and the public, have preferred to perpetuate the Holy Roman Everglades myth of a pure ecological restoration. ( are a few exceptions.) Such are the politics of compromise. In fact, President Bush suggested last week that this everyone-sing-Kumbaya project could be a model for achievement in Washington: "Protecting the Everglades shows that bipartisanship is possible, but more importantly, crucial to doing the will of the American people."

But it is worth keeping in mind that regardless of all the rhetoric, regardless of all the money on its way to a certain political swing state, the Everglades have not been protected yet. And as one critic of the plan points out, when everyone is in bed together, there's a pretty decent chance that someone might get screwed.

Michael Grunwald, a staff reporter for the Washington Post, is the author of The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise.

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