WELCOME TO THE DISTRICT
South Florida is a land of extremes. Before people and civilization established a
foothold, much of south Florida was under water and inaccessible. The vast wetlands and
swamps of the Everglades bred mosquitoes and human disinterest in the region as a year-round
home for people, despite the obvious appeal of its sub-tropical climate. In the early 1900's,
modem human development was limited to coastal areas and to the region's short winter
Each year, an average of about 54 inches of rain falls on the region. The tropical storms
and hurricanes which regularly wind their way through the subtropics help contribute to the
region's generous annual allocation of rain. The storms also add to the unpredictability of life
in south Florida, and can wreak havoc on the works of man. Approximately two-thirds of this
rain falls during five months in summer and fall, during Florida's rainy season. That season is
followed by seven rather arid months-from November through May. South Florida is also very
flat. Deviations in its land surface tend to be very slight, and very close to sea level. As a
result, flooding is very common in the rainy season. Because the region's many shallow water
reservoirs can be quickly depleted, water shortages are almost as common. All these seeming
contradictions are at the heart of the complex natural mechanism which created and sustains
The Everglades Drainage District (EDD)
Man's efforts to compensate for or control the extremes of the region's weather and
water resources led to the development of water management as an institution in south Florida,
and to the evolution of the South Florida Water Management District. That development and
evolution began in the early 1900's, with the Everglades Drainage District (EDD)-created by
the state to encourage new settlers to drain the Everglades for agricultural and urban
development. In 1926, a hurricane swept waters from lake Okeechobee onto nearby
communities, killing 400 to 500 people. Two years later, an even more devastating hurricane
landed in south Florida. This time, 2,400 people living in farming communities south of Lake
Okeechobee died. Flooding throughout the region caused billions of dollars in damage. In
response to these catastrophic events, the federal government became involved in flood control
construction in south Florida, building a protective levee around the lake.
Then, from 1931-1945, drought dominated the region. Ground water levels in coastal
wells fell, threatening fresh water supplies with saltwater contamination. Great fires raged
through the parched vegetation of the Everglades. In those fires, some said even the rich muck
soil burned. Only heavy, continuous rain could stop the fires. The rains did not come until
1947. Early in the year, almost twice the annual average rainfall inundated coastal communities.
Then, hurricanes in September and October brought even more water to an already saturated
Island. Close to 5 million acres were flooded in 1947. Sheets of water 10 to 40 miles wide and
6 to 10 inches deep formed and moved slowly southward over the land. the water spread
Beyond the Everglades into low lying coastal communities. Those floodwaters lingered in
coastal cities for days; and on farm lands for months. Thousands of families were forced from
their homes. Property damage from the food approached $60 million.
The Central and Southern Flood Control District (1949-1972)
These catastrophic years made clear the need for a regional master plan that would
balance the demands for flood control and reliable water supply protection. The U. S. Congress
authorized a comprehensive federal-state water control program known as the Central and
Southern Florida Flood Control Project (C&SF) in 1948. The project would be built by the U.
S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps recommended, and the U. S. Congress authorized
$208 million for the C&SF-a system which would cover 16,000 miles of central and southern
The following year, the Florida Legislature created the Central and Southern Florida
Flood Control District (FDC) to act as the project's local sponsor, providing lands and assuming
operation and maintenance of the project works upon completion. The FCD was charged with
the responsibility of meeting the region's need for flood control and water supply protection,
preventing salt water intrusion, encouraging agricultural and urban development, and preserving
fish and wildlife. FCD also assumed the responsibilities and assets of the Everglades Drainage
District and other local flood control agencies. The FCD was the precursor of the South Florida
Water Management District.
fThe Corps built project is comprised of more than 1,400 miles of canals and levees, and
almost 200 gated water control structures. Close to 2,000 smaller structures set in place
throughout the system control flows from secondary sources. Eighteen major pumping stations
provide the capability of moving water where it is needed within the region.
Lake Okeechobee is the heart of south Florida's water system, the 730 square mile lake
would, from the late 1940's to the present, become increasingly important as a water storage
area. Its storage capacity was supplemented with the construction of the Herbert Hoover Dike.
Three Water Conservation Areas (WCAs), located west of Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach
Counties, were created as a part of the C & SF project. The WCAs are ringed by levees and
canals which allow water levels to be controlled-to help water managers deal with extremes.
From 1949 through 1969, the construction, operation and maintenance of the man-made
system proceeded. Still, after 20 years, the project was only 50% complete. At the same time,
human growth and development in the region, and the consequent demands on the system were
already outpacing the project's design specifications. That growth would continue to strain the
seams of a system designed in simpler times to serve fewer needs. Early in the region's history,
agricultural water needs predominated. The 1960's and 1970's added new industrial and
residential growth to the water use equation. The demands made by urban and agricultural
development are today ore than double what the system was designed to satisfy. Strains on the
quantity of water the system can handle are further complicated by complex qualitative demands.
All these factors are continuously redefining how the water control system can and should be
The 1960's and 1970's also changed the way people perceive and choose to interact with
the environment. Throughout the United States, time-honored conventions and beliefs about
man's relationship with the world around him and his responsibility to that world were
challenged, and changed. Federal and state legislatures validated these new environmental
concerns by passing laws to protect natural environments. In 1969, the National Environmental
Protection Act was passed, requiring that the Corps of Engineers consider damage to the
environment when making water management decisions. This action reflected the increasing
value being placed upon the natural wilderness and its wildlife, and their qualitative impact on
people. Growing concerns about severe recurring droughts, diminishing water quality and the
need for preservation of the environment in Florida prompted the 1972 Governor's Conference
on Water Management. The Conference recommended the development of a comprehensive
water use plan for the state, reinforced the importance of establishing environmental and water
quality controls, and asked for the restoration of lakes and marshes. Later that year, the Water
Resources Ac, the Comprehensive Planning Act, and the Environmental Land and Water
Management Act were enacted. This legislation would lay the groundwork for a giant step in
the evolution of water management in Florida. The Water Resources Act also mandated
development of a comprehensive water use plan emphasizing the need to plan for the future as
well as to meet today's demands.
From Flood Control to Water Management
Legislation changed the name and further expanded the responsibilities and functions of
the FCD in 1976. The FCD became the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD),
and four other regional water management districts were designated. Boundaries were
determined by hydrogeologic rather than political boundaries, to allow more effective planning
and management of the resource. The WMD's would be responsible for the use, control, and
regulation of all surface and underground waters within their boundaries.. Water management
began to encompass growth management and land-use planning. WMD staffs were reinforced
with biologists and other environmental scientists to fulfill the growing need for comprehensive
regional resource protection. By the late 1970's, a number of studies and plans to improve
water quality in Lake Okeechobee and restore natural systems like the Kissimmee River were
underway. Those plans and studies paved the way for a decade of increasing conflict, as well
as enhanced understanding of the interrelationships and interdependence of people and tie natural
systems of the region.
The 1980's brought increasing pressure on the District from every sector. Although
flood protection was still at the forefront, in 1984, the District identified three other major areas
of responsibility: environmental protection and enhancement, water supply, and water quality
protection. These four elements together represent the "mission" of the agency, providing a
framework within which policy decisions are made. By the end of the decade, approximately
five million people lived in the region. Their year-round demands for water would sometimes
exceed available supplies. Regulatory and enforcement powers would become essential tools in
effectively stemming the tide of environmental degradation, promoting managed growth,
preventing pollution, encouraging conversation and improving water quality in a region
continuously stressed by human growth. State legislation continued to broaden the scope of
WMD responsibilities. The protection of esuarine and saltwater systems, and the acquisition
of natural areas gained importance.
The trend of expanding responsibility accelerated in 1987, with the passage of the Surface
F" Water Improvement and Management (SWIM) Act. SWIM required each WMD to develop a
priority list of water bodies most in need of restoration or protection, and then identify definitive
strategies (SWIM plans) to remedy problems. South Florida SWIM water bodies initially
included Lake Okeechobee, Biscayne Bay, and the Indian River Lagoon. Others would be
added: the Everglades, including the three Water Conservation Areas and Everglades National
Park. SWIM plans for the first three were completed by late 1989. The Lake Okeechobee plan
incorporates a strong shift in regulatory policy toward performance based rules, which places
the burden of compliance on the regulated industry. The District's Everglades SWIM plan must
address perhaps the most complex issues faced in resource management; and resolve numerous
economic, social, and political conflicts. A first draft was completed in 1989, and has already
undergone extensive and continuing review and revision.
In the 1990's, water management will be faced with challenges far surpassing any faced
in the past. Without conversation and careful planning today, severe, year-round water
shortages could be a legacy left to future generations. Growth management and land and water
use planning will play an increasingly important role in assuring the state's future while
preserving its natural resources. SWIM restoration plans and preservation strategies like Save
Our Rivers and Preservation 2000-which call for the acquisition of important lands-will also
help ensure Florida's future. At the same time, traditional responsibilities of flood control and
water supply protection are becoming more and more demanding. To meet these needs, the
"hardware" of the system is being upgraded, replaced, or revised. Operational strategies also
continue to evolve-and are far more sophisticated and comprehensive than those of the past.
i Effective, comprehensive resource management involves multiple perspectives and disciplines.
The agency must meet the challenge of balancing increasing, and many times competing,
demands on the resource. The needs of people, agriculture, industry and the environment must
be met, while ensuring enough usable fresh water for tomorrow.
OVERVIEW OF THE DISTRICT
The Governing Board of this District, like the boards of all water management districts
in Florida, is made up of nine members who are appointed by the Governor subject to
confirmation by the Senate. Boards members, who serve without compensation, are appointed
from specific geographical areas within District boundaries.
Before taking office, the members must take an oath stating that they will honestly,
faithfully, and impartially fulfill the obligations expected of all public officials-and perform the
duties and responsibilities imposed upon them by the Water Resources Act of 1972.
One very important responsibility of the Governing Board is to retain adequate staff and
counsel to perform the functions of the District. In addition to the Board's obligations and duties
as a public entity, the Board has general powers very similar to those enjoyed by any public or
private agency. Such powers include the right to contract; to sue and to be sued; to appoint or
remove agents and employees; to issue orders and enforce them; and to cooperate with other
governmental entities. Due to the District's extensive real estate holdings, the Board also has
the power to acquire and dispose of real property and interests in real property as necessary to
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fulfill its functions. To assist in exercising this power, the District is also empowered to acquire
(,N property through eminent domain under most circumstances.
Further, the Board may design and construct works of the District for the purpose of
managing and controlling ground and surface waters within its jurisdictional boundaries.
The Executive Office is responsible for the overall management of the District. The staff
of the District is under the direction of the Executive Director who is appointed by the
Governing Board with further support from one Deputy Executive Director.
The District is a special taxing district with ad valorem taxing authority. The fiscal year
of the District extends from October 1 of one year through September 30 of the following year.
The budget director, on or before July 15, submits for Governing Board consideration a
proposed budget covering proposed requirements for the ensuing fiscal year. The District
follows statutory procedures for adoption of the budget, including publication of the proposed
budget and proposed tax rates, and holding public hearings. The final budget serves as the
operating and fiscal guide for the ensuing year.
The District employs 1650 regular personnel. The average tenure of an employee of the
District is eight years. The District's professional staff includes such disciplines as engineers,
scientists, programmers, attorneys, accountants, administrators, and planners.
The District has not experienced strikes, work stoppages, or other concerted employee
(N actions. Employees are not organized within unions. In addition to maintaining an open line
of communication within levels, the District has established employee study groups to consider
employee views on personnel policies and other employment related matters and to recommend
action to management.
The mission of the South Florida Water Management District is to manage water and
related resources for the benefit of the public and in keeping with the needs of the region. The
key elements of the Mission are environmental protection and enhancement, water supply,
flood protection, and water quality protection.
The Mission is accomplished through the combined efforts of planning and research,
operations and maintenance, community and government relations, land management,
regulation, and construction. Inherent in the Mission is the responsibility to assist public and
government officials by protecting water resources and by identifying and recommending options
for incorporating water resource considerations into land use decisions.