T here is "a water crisis in South Florida today": this finding, adopted by the Governor's Conference on Water Management in South Florida in 1971, referred to both the immediate situation and the unrolling future. The concern of the moment was the severe drought that had required emergency measures in the Gold Coast cities; the problems of the future related to the region's rapidly growing population. Would there be water enough for the newcomers? Would the water be pure enough to drink? The Biscayne Aquifer still provided a copious supply during normal years but afforded only a narrow margin during dry years. Lake Okeechobee and three conservation areas contained backup supplies that could be released down the old canals, but were these reserves adequate, particularly in view of the heavy demands of sugar growers and vegetable farmers? And would they continue to be safe, or were they becoming contaminated? Throughout the 1970 s federal and state agencies, regional authorities, farmers, developers, and environmentalists struggled to influence water policy.
The two most firmly entrenched agencies in the region were the Army Corps of Engineers and the Central and Southern Florida Flood Control District. In close alliance they had built a vast network of levees, pumping stations, and drainage canals. These FCD works protected 1,200 square miles of farmland from floods and provided water for irrigation; they protected the Gold Coast against both inundation and drought. Proud of these accomplishments, the corps and the FCD made plans for new engineering works that would meet South Florida's future needs. But the environmentalists regarded this technological approach with increasing suspicion. Nature lovers deplored the massive structures that disrupted plant life and destroyed the habitats of birds, animals, and fish. And the preservationists were not the only people who challenged the engineers;