River of Grass: Part I

But in truth, scientists say, the everglades are in a state of decline, thanks to human hands. Scientists say the problems are deep-rooted, dating back to the mid-1950s. They say people were moving into the area and the government tried to control flooding, without realizing how devastating it would be to the "River of Grass."

In 1940, the Florida everglades stretched almost 100 miles from the southern tip of Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico and Florida Bay. Then, scientists say, people began moving to the area by the thousands, and they asked congress to help them dry out the land so they could develop the fertile soil.

"They decided the best way to do that was to dredge the C-38 Canal, which is a 300-foot wide, 30-foot deep canal directly down the center of the floodplain; it's so deep that it pulls all of the water out of the wetlands that flanked it."

Scientists say by the time the canal was finished in 1971, government officials realized the grave mistake they'd made.

"Now you have dry land on either side which farmers were able to use mainly for cattle, but you destroyed the ecology of the river system."

Ranchers say they've worked hard to preserve what areas of their farms they can, but the loss of profit continues to hurt more and more.

"We think we're entitled to some kind of a plan that will pay us to keep it this way. The market pressures are getting great; they really want this kind of land for development, and it's getting harder to say no year after year."

Bringing the everglades back is a partnership between state and federal officials, developers, and ranchers, and scientists say, slowly, their work is paying off.

Up until three years ago, this river floodplain was dry pastureland. Since that time, restoration efforts have been made to refill the canal and bring the water back to its natural state.

"We just took the dirt that was dredged from the canal and piled on the adjacent wetland and pushed it back into the canal."

Scientists say more than half the everglades have been lost, but with hard work, they believe they can bring it back. Scientists from the South Florida Water Management District say the restoration effort will cost $84 billion over the next 30 years. They say the majority of the money they'll be spending will be used to buy back land from ranchers and developers.

Scientists say they've done about 20 years of research. Wednesday in "River of Grass," we'll see how far they've come with the restoration.


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