For two years after the state officials made their peace treaty with the large landowners, the great reclamation project made good progress. The contractors kept a flotilla of dredges digging the drainage canals. The IIF trustees paid for the work with money collected from the speculators in the form of drainage taxes and installments on their purchases. The speculators in turn gathered in payments from more than 20,000 persons of small means who had signed up for farms in the Everglades. The whole operation depended on faith. As long as small purchasers remained convinced that they would soon be cultivating fertile, well-drained land, the flow of money continued, but by 1912 the required faith was beginning to collapse. Most of the land was still under water, and disillusioned buyers stopped paying their installments and clamored to have the speculators sent to prison. Salesmen could no longer find customers, and the large land companies fell into arrears in their payments to the state.
By 1913 the collapse of land sales was threatening to put an end to the whole project. But the state authorities could not back down. They had spent so much money that it seemed essential to keep going, and those who had invested in Everglades land insisted that the state make good on its promises. With great difficulty the authorities found ways in which to borrow the millions of dollars needed to build more canals, locks, and levees. Troubles continued to plague the effort. The great hurricanes of 1926 and 1928 took thousands of lives in the Lake Okeechobee region and destroyed houses and farms worth millions of dollars. Embittered farmers blamed the disasters on the bungling of the bureaucrats. Meanwhile, Florida real estate prices rose to dizzy heights, then plummeted downward, a portent of the great depression soon to engulf the country. By 1933 reclamation of the Everglades was one of the nation's bankrupt operations.