M ore than twenty years ago I wrote a history of the urban water supply problem in the United States ( Water for the Cities, Syracuse University Press, 1956). This focused particularly on the four American cities -- Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore, and Boston -- that first grew large enough to make central water supply a matter of critical importance. In 1973, when I moved to Florida, I returned to this earlier interest and began to explore the experience of my new home state.
I quickly discovered that water has played a unique role in Florida history. In other regions cities quickly outgrew local sources and found it necessary to bring in water from ever more distant rivers and lakes. This required construction of costly dams and reservoirs and long aqueducts. But Florida cities have been able to supply themselves from wells and rivers either within their own boundaries or close at hand. High average rainfall and an underlying structure of porous limestone have made this possible. Until recently Florida's water problems have been of a quite different nature. The first Americans to settle in the territory praised its warm climate, its clear blue skies, its lush vegetation, its superb hunting and fishing, its sparkling lakes, rivers, and springs. They had only two complaints about nature's endowment. Florida's coastline -- 1,000 miles long from Pensacola to the mouth of the St. Marys -- was far too long and dangerous. And the territory was too wet. Most of central Florida was regarded as too swampy for farming. Even worse were the mysterious Everglades that stretched over almost all of southern Florida. Because it was not in the American tradition to leave nature's mistakes uncorrected the Florida settlers began to agitate for two great "internal improvements," as the contemporary phrase expressed it. The first was a cross-peninsula canal to prevent shipwrecks; the second was drainage of the vast swamps to create new