Fall '08

From the President

By David G. Barber

Recently, I’ve been researching Florida’s canals despite the fact that the only part of Florida I have been to is the panhandle. Doing so has caused me to regroup and update our index pages. But, it has also revealed to me that the overall picture really hasn’t been drawn. This is in a state that many of our members have spent a great deal of time.

Ignoring the panhandle and just considering the peninsular, the entire area is rather flat with the high point in the center at Orlando. Most waterway improvements in Florida are about drainage with navigation being a secondary consideration. Navigation was more important in the late 19th century than it is today because roads were few. The big problem is that rainfall can be low in some years creating drought conditions. In other years, especially if hurricanes occur, there can be a large surplus.

South of Orlando, the drainage is into the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes and then down the Kissimmee River to Lake Okeechobee. From that shallow lake, there is flow (and navigation) to east and west, but more especially south to the Gulf of Florida. The southward flow is the shallow, but very wide “River of Grass” known as the Everglades. Mankind’s attempts to live in and control this area have caused all sorts of problems. In the 1960’ and 70’s, the Kissimmee River was straightened with seven locks and dams to promote drainage. This had a severely negative environmental effect and a new project is underway to reverse the central portion of the original straightening. The restoration has already removed one of the locks and a second will follow. The river will remain navigable, though curvy in the center section. Project completion is scheduled for 2011.

East of Lake Okeechobee, the St. Lucie canal is navigable to the ocean. This canal now has two locks plus remains of earlier locks. To the southeast are other canals now used only for drainage, but there are remains of locks from earlier days. West of the lake, the Caloosahatchee River leads to the gulf with three locks.

North of Orlando, information is more obscure. Here, drainage is generally northward with the St. Johns River on the east, the Ocklawaha River in the center and the Withlacoochee River on the west. When the Ocklawaha River reaches the planned route of the Cross Florida Barge Canal, it turns east and flows into the St. Johns. This eastward flow was to be used by the barge canal.

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