I f governments were to be "judged solely on their response to the environmental crisis," said Governor Askew in April 1973, "I'm confident Florida would walk away with the honors. We passed last year a program of environmental land and water use planning that has rightly been called the best in the country, and rightly selected as a model for the nation."1
The environmental movement that had been gathering force in the late 1960s and early 1970s reached its high point in the legislative session of 1972, when four key bills, strongly backed by the governor, were passed. The new laws not only laid down important principles for regulating land development and protecting water resources but also created new agencies. In subsequent legislative sessions, the environmentalists had to fight to defend their gains and to pass additional legislation.
Most of the new laws dealt with the protection of the state's water resources. Why was there such a sudden sense of urgency about this issue? For most of Florida's history the principal water problem had been how to get rid of it. Hurricanes and tropical storms brought severe flooding, and even in normal years the land was so flat that vast areas were too swampy to be used without drainage. The state had an average annual rainfall of 53 inches. In the hot sun most of this water evaporated or was utilized by trees and plants, but enough seeped through the sandy soil into the limestone below to maintain a large underground flow. Whatever the need might be -- household use, sprinkling lawns and golf courses, irrigating crops, watering cattle, processing minerals -- it could be met by drilling another well. For decades these holes in the earth had yielded a copious supply, but during the 1960s and 1970s there were warning signs that the underground reservoirs were being overdrawn.
Consider, for example, the frightening experience of two mo-