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Levee Folly
By Julie Hauserman

An alligator was swimming behind the president when he stood in Everglades National Park in 2001 with TV cameras rolling. The government, he assured us, was going to save the Everglades.

Ten and a half billion dollars, we're now told, is the price of putting nature back to rights again. And who is going to save the day? The US Army Corps of Engineers, the same outfit that rode in on bulldozers, went hand-to-hand against alligators, and declared Mission Accomplished forty years ago when it drained America's greatest wetland.

We didn't catch on to the big mistake until the wading birds were gone, the panthers endangered, the rivers polluted, and Everglades fish were no good to eat.

Now, we hear bad news about the Corps out of New Orleans. It turns out that the New Orleans levees failed because the Corps didn't build them right in the first place.

We're already on the hook for another leaking levee - in Florida. It stretches 140 miles around America's second largest lake in the Everglades. The Corps built it in panic after a hurricane, same as in New Orleans. A 1928 storm killed some 2,000 people who never knew a hurricane was coming.

They say it's going to cost $3 million a mile to fix the Lake Okeechobee levee. That's chump change when you think about the ten and a half billion we're spending on the Corps' giant engineering gamble in the Everglades.

President Bush and his governor brother Jeb call it "restoration." A better word is "re-plumbing." The project is a mish mash of Rube-Goldberg technology that a lot of scientists think won't work. And that's if the Corps does it right - an assumption we ought to question at this point.

The Corps' solution is about as far from nature as you can get. They want to punch 300 holes deep into the stony aquifer around the Everglades. It is a limestone cave-scape that scientists barely understand. In rainy times, engineers would pump water underground, then pump it up during drought. No one knows if it would work.

There are also some strange underground artificial "curtains" that are supposed to keep water from leaking through Florida's edges into the oceans. A lot of groundwater leaks out because the Corps built canals to make it leak out in the 1950s.

Back then, the Corps released a propaganda film to cheerlead draining the Everglades. The black-and-white Waters of Destiny has a hysterical tone like Reefer Madness, the cult-classic anti-marijuana film. But the enemy here is nature, not drugs.

"We've got to control the water and make it do our bidding! Water that once ran wild… Now, it just waits there - calm, peaceful, ready to do the bidding of man and his machines."

"For every dollar being spent, four dollars are coming back. As any businessman knows, you can't do much better than that!... Central and Southern Florida is no longer nature's fool - the stooge for the impractical jokes of the elements!"

The Corps has its hands out for more of our tax dollars this year. It's worth asking: who is the stooge now?

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