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Washington Post
John G. Mitchell
March 26, 2006

In recent years, writers have devoted a lot of ink to the tortured history of south Florida's Everglades. But no one has nailed that story as effectively, as hauntingly and as dramatically as Michael Grunwald does in The Swamp, a brilliant work of research and reportage about the evolution of a reviled bog into America's—if not the world's—most valuable wetland.

Grunwald, a prize-winning reporter for The Washington Post, explains that the true, original Everglades were not a swamp in any botanically correct sense of the word but rather a marsh, "a vast sheet of shallow water spread across a seemingly infinite prairie of serrated sawgrass," often called the River of Grass. But Grunwald's sweep is bigger than that. It embraces the entire south Florida hydrosystem, a 100-mile long funnel that seeps from the Kissimmee lakes near Orlando, spills into Lake Okeechobee, then overflows through the Everglades and the Big Cypress Swamp to the mangroves of Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. At least that's the way it used to be. Now, despite recent efforts to undo some of the engineered damage inflicted on it over the past 150 years, the swamp remains imperiled. "Half the Everglades is gone," Grunwald writes. "The other half is an ecological mess. Wading birds no longer darken the skies above it." Okeechobee is choking on algal blooms. Sprawl continues to nibble the edge of the Big Cypress. Unsustainable communities "are at risk from the next killer hurricane -- and the one after that."

Risk has been south Florida's leitmotif since Europeans first pushed their way into its wild interior. The region was certainly risky for the Seminole Indians, who barely escaped annihilation by the U.S. Army in the 1830s. Unconquered, a few hundred managed to hang on in the Big Cypress. Later in the 19th century, risk shifted to the great flocks of wading birds—spoonbills, flamingos, herons and egrets—whose plumage was thought better adorning milady's stylish hats. Before laws brought that slaughter to a halt, one report fixed the kill at 5 million birds a year.

The most enduring risks were framed by the dreamers and schemers who believed that the Everglades must be drained to make the country fit for settlement and cultivation. Grunwald chronicles each successive (though not always successful) effort to dry out the swamp and describes the devastating hurricanes of 1926 and 1928, which uncorked the backed-up waters of Lake Okeechobee, drowning nearly 3,000 people (mostly poor blacks—a foretaste of Hurricane Katrina) and prompting the Army Corps of Engineers to construct a four-story concrete dike around the lake, thus stifling much of the flow to the Everglades.

Grunwald is at his best in dissecting the political wars that rattled the region after Everglades National Park was established at the toe of the hydrosystem in 1947—which meant that upstream city folks and cattlemen and sugar growers got first dibs on releases of fresh water while the park had to settle for the leftovers, now tainted with pesticides and fertilizers. Meanwhile, the Corps of Engineers, presiding over "the largest earth-moving effort since the Panama Canal," crisscrossed the peninsula with hundreds of miles of levees and canals designed not so much to save human lives as to boost the Sunshine State's economy.

A reader might become numb from Grunwald's stacking of the details were it not for his skill at profiling the characters who, by the late 1960s, were trying to turn the flow of events back Nature's way. Among them: activist-writer Marjory Stoneman Douglas, grand dame of the River of Grass; and Nathaniel Pryor Reed, the "blue-blooded outdoorsman" whose 6-foot-5-inch frame "evoked a great blue heron" and whose eloquence convinced two pro-development Republican politicians, Florida Gov. Claude Kirk Jr. and U.S. Interior Secretary Walter Hickel, to scuttle Dade County's plan to build the world's largest jetport just a coconut-throw north of Everglades National Park.

In 1992, Hurricane Andrew leveled Homestead Air Force Base, located between Everglades and Biscayne national parks. Afterward, Dade County's high rollers, including some who had lost out on that earlier jetport scheme, said this would be a fine place to build a big commercial airport—never mind that the result would darken both parks' skies with 600 flights a day. The Clinton administration juggled that one for several years even as it cobbled together a $7.8 billion Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and billed it as the most expensive and extensive environmental initiative in history. Calculated to undo much of the damage inflicted on the 'glades over the years, the restoration plan was unveiled by Vice President Al Gore in West Palm Beach in 1998. Environmentalists cheered.

But few Florida enviros cheered for Gore in 2000. The greenest presidential candidate in American history declined to renounce the Homestead jetport and was punished for it. According to Grunwald, of the 96,000 votes received by Ralph Nader in Florida that November, some 10,000 were probably attributable to Gore's waffling on the airport. And the final irony? Four days before Clinton turned over the Oval Office to the anti-green George W. Bush, Clinton's administration announced that the Homestead deal was dead in the water—what little there was left of it.

New York Times Book Review
Guy Martin
April 9, 2006

South Florida is a pirate's refuge, a seething dung heap of con artists and a beloved wellspring of sham. Thousands of Americans are enticed by cartoon characters to live in Orlando; Cuban émigrés keep the decrepit forge of the cold war burning bright; the Pulitzer family name is remembered, in Palm Beach anyway, for some really odd bedroom yoga performed with a trumpet by a woman named Roxanne. Why a trumpet? you ask. The South Florida answer is, Why not? Even the gas stations along I-95 try to outdo one another with piles of citrus, seashells strip-mined from other waters and the length of their obligatory stuffed gators. Florida: She walks, she talks, she crawls on her belly like a reptile. Step right up!

Michael Grunwald, a talented Washington Post reporter, understands that South Florida is South Florida because so much miscreancy has gone into the making of it. His first book, The Swamp, a biting, exhaustively reported work of environmental history, tracks the story of the central "obstacle" in the development and settlement of the peninsula, namely, its water. The Everglades were hostile to settlement. For that effrontery, the United States decided to wring this wilderness dry.

Grunwald's point is that this battle has never really stopped. The Swamp is a sort of tapestry, or a really long W.P.A. mural, with a cast of characters whose extreme labors yield a grand, violent, picaresque history of the southern tier of this state. This book serves up 500 years of bloody, mostly foolish, rarely noble, but always entertaining human antics executed by legions of capable (but really nutty) conquistadors, generals, engineers, mobsters, politicians and rich-boy developers as they hacked at each other and the swamp. What we think of as the still-wild part of the Everglades has in fact been dying for at least 50 years; despite its nominal wildness, it must now be de-conquered or "restored." Naturally, there's a fight about that, too.

In delivering his tale of nature deformed by generations of alleged visionaries, Grunwald is acutely aware of the great rugby scrum of politicians and their dietary need for pork. The story begins on Dec. 11, 2000, as the Supreme Court decides the outcome of a presidential election for the first time in United States history. The plaintiff's brother, Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, dutifully appears in President Bill Clinton's Oval Office, of all places, as Clinton signs a $7.8 billion Everglades revival bill into law.

The ceremony was politically "surreal," as Grunwald's eyewitness describes it, although the ecological payday remains in doubt. Indeed, the much-ballyhooed 25-year wetlands restoration effort can be said to walk and talk like pork. The Oval Office scene has a subtle narrative value, too — it's a perfect point from which to begin the raucous saga of South Florida, a place where everything is up for grabs.

A quibble, real quick: Grunwald describes Governor Bush, at the signing ceremony, "staring out at the Rose Garden with the air of a quarterback who had stumbled into the opposing locker room near the end of the Super Bowl." O.K., but in the final quarter of a Super Bowl, both locker rooms are dead empty, because everybody's on the field. Can we settle for halftime, when the players are there?

The Everglades themselves, the rarest of ecosystems, serve this book as what Hitchcock would call the MacGuffin, the fatally attractive object that everybody is needing, chasing, losing, saving and losing again. It's a tribute to Grunwald's story sense that his MacGuffin is as big, wild, beautiful and important — and ultimately as unwieldy — as the Everglades. Unconquerable territory can support a cast of thousands, because humans learn nothing, and we will tilt at the windmills our quixotic forefathers failed to topple.

The first bit of insanity was that the Europeans had to kill everybody who was already there. The Spanish wiped out the aboriginal Calusa Indians, the British drove out the Spanish then ceded the colony back to Spain at the end of the Revolutionary War, whereupon the Americans bought it and immediately began to flay the Seminoles, themselves refugees from that double-dealing killer of the Creek wars, Andrew Jackson. Once the industrial age was in full roar, the notion in South Florida was, Drain the joint for year-round farming. Hamilton Disston, the crosscut-saw heir from Philadelphia, bought the rights to drain 12 million acres from Orlando to Miami and began the Sisyphean task of digging a lattice of canals. Though convinced of his own cause, Disston became the first Florida scammer on a grand scale, marketing not-yet-drained "farmland" through real estate offices in England, Denmark, Sweden, Italy and the United States. Henry Flagler, John D. Rockefeller's partner in Standard Oil, took his honeymoon with his second wife in St. Augustine and began building hotels and a railroad that extended down the east coast. He founded Palm Beach and begat the continuing Floridian nightmare of mass-scale leisure.

Disston's plans crashed, but a later push readied millions of acres for sugar cane. The Army Corps of Engineers set to work cutting canals and building levees to control the seasonal floods south of Lake Okeechobee. The problem, Grunwald explains with precision and verve, was that taming the floods desiccated the wild wetlands to the south. The Everglades began to burn.

Enter Marjory Stoneman Douglas, a former Miami Herald reporter, with her soaring Everglades polemic — in print since 1947 — "The Everglades: River of Grass." Grunwald wittily describes her as a "fearless crusader; she liked to say that she channeled the energy and emotion that others wasted on sex — which she said she had for the last time in 1915 — into her work." For chroniclers of the Everglades, Douglas poses a figure much like that of Faulkner for Southern novelists: you can go around them or go through them, but one way or another you have to reckon with the crusty old warhorses.

Grunwald wisely chooses to go through Douglas. She breathed life into the idea that South Florida's ailing wilderness should be rescued, and she sets the philosophical stage for the last third of "The Swamp," in which Grunwald chronicles the recognition that the water paradigm — our reflexive need to abrogate and to channel — should be reversed. Here we meet the characters who admirably pulled off the restoration act — pyrrhic though it may be — and here's where Grunwald himself goes into the swamp in airboats to try to untangle what has and has not been done.

Surprisingly, Grunwald never addresses — as Douglas does immediately in "River of Grass" — the etymology of the name Everglades, a corruption of the name "River Glades" bestowed on the swamp by an 18th-century British surveyor. While Douglas resolutely refers to the Everglades as plural, Grunwald weirdly uses the singular, as in, "The Everglades is. . . ." Perhaps there's no wrong way, but the singular sounds dissonant. Would we say, "The Grand Tetons is . . ."? Somebody get the M.L.A., quick.

The last chapters of this book are shot through with a kind of elegant bleakness. The Corps of Engineers has the mandate to open sluices in its old levees to revivify the lower Glades, but backslapping Florida politics may prevent it. Clinton, Senator Bob Graham and the environmentalists who got the legislation passed may have hoisted their Champagne glasses too early. The message from the astute Grunwald is that the follies of the past should convince us to keep the guns stacked and the powder dry for the next battle in the unending war for this swamp.

Guy Martin is a senior correspondent for Condé Nast Traveler and a contributing editor for Field and Stream.

Palm Beach Post
Michael Browning
July 30, 2006

Until now, there have been but two authoritative books on the Everglades, both sadly out of date today: Marjory Stoneman Douglas' 1947 The Everglades — River of Grass , and Mark Jackson Hanna's and Kathryn Abbey Hanna's 1973 Lake Okeechobee.

Now, there is a third, and it is magnificent. Michael Grunwald, a reporter for The Washington Post , accomplished in two years what the rest of us scribblers have been dithering over for a decade or more.

His definitive history reads as quickly as a good magazine article. Best of all, The Swamp is up-to-the-minute.

Early surveyors spoke of its "utter worthlessness to civilized man." They called it a "wasteland." Grunwald advances surefootedly through it, detailing the Second Seminole War and Henry Flagler's ingenious scam to get hundreds of thousands of acres of coastal property donated to him for his Florida East Coast railway by promising to drain the Everglades to the west — something he never had any intention of doing. Among the book's strengths are Grunwald's pen-portraits of the characters whose careers intertwined with the Everglades, a kind of Madame Tussaud's waxworks of rogues like Richard Bolles (after whom a school is named in Jacksonville) and saints like Charles Torrey Simpson, the environmentalist who saw the Glades' uniqueness and beauty early on. The best of these sketches is that of Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, the namesake of Broward County and the father of Everglades drainage. Here Grunwald has actually turned up new material, proving Broward, for all his championing the rights of the common man, was on the take, accepting payments from Bolles in the form of 27,000 acres of free land. This isn't even in Samuel Proctor's definitive biography of Broward. It's utterly new.

Grunwald's lucidity and organization falters somewhat in the last section of the book, "Restoring the Everglades." He begins to jump back and forth and his timelines, hitherto so linear and clear, knot up and become hard to follow.

To be fair, it isn't his fault. By now, the Everglades is a battleground for a huge tangle of competing interests: Big Sugar, vegetable farmers, conservationists, developers and others and the federal government's Army Corps of Engineers. Politicians swear they will save the place, then backpedal nimbly.

The author handles this by stepping back from time to time and doing what may be called "The Grunwald Pile-On," a huge accumulation of horrors that is almost comic in its enormity: "As bulldozers plowed deeper into the Everglades, downtowns were dying and suburbanites were idling in traffic; Miami was America's poorest city, and the average south Florida commute doubled in a decade. The entire Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metropolitan area was becoming an indistinguishable glob of gated communities, strip malls, Comfort Inns, RV parks, Taco Bells, and clover-leaf interchanges.

"The regional economy was a kind of ecological Ponzi scheme, dominated by low-wage tourism and construction jobs that relied on the constant pursuit of more people and more developers that put more stress on nature."

Yet Grunwald wants to move back here, he said at a recent talk at Florida Atlantic University. He misses the place. Even martyred, Florida looks magnificent. We've yet to find the tipping-point, when it becomes uninhabitable.

Grunwald has traced the first and middle stretches of our Road to Perdition. The rest is up to us.

Naples Daily News (Interview)
Kate Spinner
May 21, 2006

Michael Grunwald, an investigative reporter for the Washington Post, has written a book on the Everglades called The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida and the Politics of Paradise.

Taking readers through the history of settlement in South Florida to the present day, the book recounts monumental attempts to drain the Everglades in the early 20th century, the consequences of that and the struggle to bring back what was lost without, as Grunwald puts it, "goring someone's ox." Grunwald spent about two years in South Florida conducting research for the book. Prior to writing it, Grunwald also wrote two long series on Everglades restoration for the Washington Post and investigative pieces on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

He spoke about his book to a crowd of about 150 people at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida Nature Center. After the discussion, he answered questions for the Daily News.

Kate Spinner / Daily News staff writer

Q. Why is it important for people to know about the Everglades?

A. There are a few reasons. The first is it's a spectacular and mysterious and unique place. God ain't making any more Everglades.

But I would also say that even if you don't care about the panthers and the gators and the otters and the royal palms and the wild orchids and all the other magical things in there, if you live in South Florida, what's bad for the Everglades is probably bad for you.

The aquifers that store South Florida's water, drinking water, sit right underneath the Everglades, and what I'm hearing more and more is as people have sprawled into the Everglades, it has hurt their own quality of life — sitting in traffic all day long, their kids are in overcrowded schools and you're starting to lose that sense of place that made South Florida, South Florida.

And then, if you don't care about the critters and you don't live in Florida, you should still care about the Everglades because now they're about to start the largest environmental project in the history of the planet to try to restore it.

It's the model for projects in the Chesapeake Bay and Louisiana coastal wetlands and the Great Lakes and even the Garden of Eden marshes in southern Iraq, so South Florida is really the place where we're going to figure out whether man can live in harmony with nature.

It's sort of the ultimate test of sustainable development.

Q. Talk about how your obsession with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers led you to the Everglades.

A. In 2000, I was investigating the Corps for the Washington Post, and I was writing about how they were cooking the books for a lot of their economic studies to justify basically boondoggle construction projects. Usually they're building dams or building navigation locks, and a lot of them had pretty serious environmentally destructive qualities. But while I was doing it, I heard that the Army Corps was in charge of this mega-project to restore the Florida Everglades, and that this was the same Army Corps that had helped destroy the Everglades. So that, in itself, just seemed like a really interesting way to write about man's abusive relationship with nature and his efforts to make amends.

Q. The Everglades National Park people didn't like the original Everglades Restoration Plan because it wasn't restoration. How did a plan that wasn't restoration get passed as restoration?

A. At the risk of sounding like a flak, I do talk about it in pretty good detail in the book. It was partly people letting hope get the better part of experience. It was partly a political calculation that this was the best that you were going to get, because Florida's economic interests are so powerful, that if the sugar industry and the rock mining industry and the development industry and the water utilities weren't on board, that you'd never get anything to save the Everglades. And frankly, there were some environmental groups who, at the time, seemed a lot more interested in telling their funders that they were saving the Everglades than making sure that the plan was as good as it could be.

In fairness, I think a lot of them felt that there would be adaptive management and that perhaps the plan would get better in the future and that 2000 was this real moment in history, where you had such political pressure to get something, that this was the time to do it.

But some of the groups really didn't want to hear about the problems with the plan; they just wanted to talk about passing it.

Q. Is the plan getting better?

A. I haven't really seen a lot of evidence about that. I write about this one memo in the book where the guy who's overseeing the plan for the Army Corps in Washington says we're already way behind schedule, way over budget and this isn't restoration at all.

I do see some signs that people in South Florida are getting tired of runaway sprawl and the way it's starting to affect their lives, and that could lead to better decision-making. But the actual plan is still pretty much the plan.

To the extent it's changed, it's mostly been realizations that some of the silver bullets that the water managers had been counting on to store some of this water for this project aren't really going to work.

There doesn't really seem to be a Plan B right now.

Q. Has there been any progress, or are we just spinning in circles and repeating past mistakes?

A. They've bought some land, and that will be helpful because once land is in the public domain, that makes it awful hard to develop it. There has been some progress, for instance, on the modified water deliveries plan, which is sort of Everglades restoration before there was Everglades restoration. It's been stalled for 17 years and the price tag has increased 500 percent, but there's some signs that they may at least be starting to do something with it.

And the Army Corps actually has increased the amount of bridge that they will build to let water underneath Tamiami Trail as part of that project. It's still not nearly as much as the scientists would like, but I would say those are signs of progress.

You also see signs that the Army Corps is at least hearing the outrage. When you see 500 people going to a water management meeting in Fort Myers because they're upset about red tide, and when you see [Gov.] Jeb Bush stop a sprawl development project in Dade County because he's worried about the aquifers underneath the Everglades and the well fields over there, I think those are some sort of positive signs that people are starting to take the ecosystem seriously.

Q. What is the biggest challenge standing in the way of Everglades restoration?

A. If you had to pick one challenge, it would probably be growth management. There are 7 million people down here, 50 million tourists, and there are going to be a lot more people coming because it's 75 degrees and beautiful in the middle of the winter. So people are going to come from Buffalo and Cleveland and Havana and Port-au-Prince.

The question is, where are you going to put them and can you sort of carve out a place for people, as well as a place for the critters and a place for the natural flows? Some of my environmentalist friends, they're very cynical about it, and it's understandable given the history because economic interests have historically won the battle for water against the Everglades and the battle for power.

But I'm maybe not as pessimistic as them, because I think people are starting to understand the connection between a healthy ecosystem and a healthy economy and I think people are tired of the way their paradise is being destroyed.

So, I think there is going to be a lot of pressure for people to show results, and if the Everglades Agricultural Area becomes another Broward County or if Southwest Florida keeps sprawling east into Big Cypress and the Everglades, it's hard to see how it's going to get done.

We're asking the Army Corps to paint this restoration masterpiece, and we're shrinking the canvas every day.

So that's the challenge, but I don't think it's impossible. I think it's just going to take political will and grassroots organizing of the sort that I write about in the book, (that) happened during the late '60s and early '70s — and not so much these days where it's not the same kind of reaching out to hunters and reaching out to fishermen and creating alliances with labor unions and developers and supporting development where it should be done and opposing it where it shouldn't. You don't see that kind of grassroots organizing, reaching out to minority communities. I haven't seen so much of it.

Q. What was one of the most striking things that you found when you were doing your research for this book?

A. One of the really fascinating things is the way so many of the people who have destroyed the Everglades have meant well.

I knew that we used to think of nature as something to be tamed, and now we think of it as something to be treasured. But I didn't realize that the people who led the fight to tame nature were the conservationists of their day; that Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, he dug those canals that led to the drainage of the Everglades ultimately, not because he was rapacious but because he was trying to save the Everglades for the people; that John Gifford, the guy who started the melaleuca infestation in South Florida, was South Florida's greatest conservationist of his day. He founded Conservation Magazine.

And so there's, I hope, a kind of deep lesson in there about unintended consequences and hubris and how we don't know what we don't know. That was certainly one of the striking things.

And then since the book was published, a striking thing has been how much people down here care. There's really been such an overwhelming response. People are really hungry for knowledge about this stuff. I think people understand that if we have a better understanding of how we got here, that it can help people get to where they need to go in the future.

South Florida Sun-Sentinel
David Fleshler
April 2, 2006

In late 2003 Michael Grunwald left his desk at The Washington Post, moved to Miami Beach and set to work on a book on the Everglades.

The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida and the Politics of Paradise is a superb narrative of human attempts to master the southern Florida wilderness, from the early Spanish explorers to the 20th century real-estate hustlers to the modern engineers, activists and politicians collaborating on an uncertain plan to save what's left.

At The Washington Post, Grunwald wrote award-winning investigative stories on the Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency that corseted the Everglades in levees and canals, opening the way for the construction of Pembroke Pines, Weston, Wellington and the rest.

As he takes you briskly through 400 years of history, you can feel in your bones what a miserable place the Everglades was for human intruders, with its snakes, leeches, alligators, mosquitoes, and "razor-edged sawgrass." In describing the Second Seminole War—"America's first Vietnam"—he writes of an Army surgeon who "had the rare opportunity to experience the Everglades in its natural splendor, and he despised almost every minute."

Among Grunwald's gifts is a knack for capturing people in a few words, such as the railroad tycoon Henry Flagler, a businesslike man who signed his love letters "H.M. Flagler." Or the incorruptible federal drainage chief Charles Elliott, "a by-the-book bureaucrat who kept a private supply of pencils for non-official use."

He captures the elemental ugliness of the late 19th century plume hunters, who collected feathers for the women's hat industry. They "patiently shot out rookeries one bird at a time, leaving rotting carcasses and helpless chicks to be devoured by raccoons, crows and buzzards. They used quiet weapons. . . . so their shots sounded like snapping twigs. The birds rarely noticed them, and when they did, the adults rarely left their nests for fear of abandoning their young."

But what stands out in his portraits of the schemers, dreamers and hustlers who created modern South Florida is his fairness, his refusal to yield to the temptation to condemn them by the standards of today. (And he also indicates that some of today's would-be saviors of the Everglades show signs of being the old-time hustlers wearing a modern mask of environmentalism.)

Sure there were the out-and-out crooks, like the Rosen brothers of Baltimore, who sold nearly half a million acres of swampland by bugging hotel rooms to customize their pitches and driving marks out to the swamp and threatening to leave them there if they didn't sign a contract.

But the Everglades was ruined as much by idealism as by greed. Early 20th century Florida governor Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, whose name was stuck on the county that came to symbolize soulless urban sprawl, gets blamed today for the movement to drain the Everglades. But as Grunwald shows, Broward was a progressive, an "antirailroad, anticorporation, anti-Flagler populist," who wanted to drain the Everglades so ordinary people could have farms.

Today everyone is an environmentalist and everyone wants to save the Everglades. But as the book makes clear, the Everglades remains a tool for human beings pursuing their own interests.

The old destroyer, the Corps of Engineers, seeing environmental work as the best way to "grow" its budget, pushes through a restoration plan riddled with uncertain technologies and legal loopholes, a plan that could do more to fuel sprawl than help the Everglades. Republican politicians, eager to bolster one of their party's traditional weak areas, fall over themselves to support it.

Moderate environmental groups, having invested so much in the plan and eager for something to brag about in fund-raising letters, ignore objections from scientists. Gov. Jeb Bush rides herd on the project to make sure there's enough water to keep the suburbs growing.

In essence, the restoration project will capture and store fresh water that now gets dumped into the ocean by South Florida's chillingly efficient drainage system. But the plan provides the most immediate benefits to cities, allowing them to keep growing, while putting off the delivery of desperately needed water to Everglades National Park. And it relies on a complex and ugly system of pumps, reservoirs and wells that dismayed scientists and environmentalists who had hoped it would restore the natural flow of water through the Everglades.

While Grunwald writes with verve and wit, he's not working in the nature-writing tradition of Aldo Leopold or Edward Abbey, authors who drew spiritual strength from the wild. His base of operations was a highrise in Miami Beach, not a shack on a tree island. But then many defenders of the Everglades—most prominently Marjory Stoneman Douglas—didn't particularly like spending time there. And that is a theme of his book, the need to stop seeing nature strictly in terms of human purposes. As he wrote of the decision to save the southeastern Big Cypress swamp from being paved for an airport, "It was an act of mercy, a retreat from the Empire of the Everglades."

As this fine book shows, it's unclear whether the latest effort to save the Everglades will turn out to be an act of mercy or another one of arrogance.

Tampa Tribune
Mike Solinero
March 26, 2006

Even the biblically unlearned are faintly familiar with God's instruction to "Be fruitful and multiply." Few, however, remember the rest of the verse: "And have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth." In Michael Grunwald's The Swamp, man takes God's advice to its extreme limits with tragic consequences for the Everglades.

In this richly detailed and enjoyable book, Grunwald examines the belief among pioneering Floridians that nature could and should be conquered. That thinking evolved, however. Now Florida and the federal government are trying to restore what's left of the Everglades in the largest environmental project ever attempted.

"I think this really is a way of telling the story of man and nature," Grunwald said recently, "man's abusive relationship with nature and his fledgling efforts to make amends."

For 130 years, draining the Everglades was an article of faith for most Floridians. Starting with the soldiers who slogged through the vast marsh in pursuit of Seminole Indians, to the politicians and capitalists of the 20th century, the Everglades was seen as a useless wasteland.

Even admirers of the swamp's beauty thought it worthless in its inundated state.

Buckingham Smith, a lawyer and legislator who spent five weeks in the Everglades in 1848, wrote of its subtle treasures: "Lilies and other aquatic flowers of every variety and hue are seen on every side. . . and, as you draw near an island, the beauty of the scene is increased by the rich foliage and blooming flowers of the wild myrtle and honeysuckle."

Yet Smith wanted the swamp destroyed and converted into something useful for mankind. Smith also thought the job could be done cheaply - for between $350,000 and $500,000. The current restoration project is estimated to cost $7 billion or more.

"Probably in every chapter you will find someone confidently proclaiming that something will be the case that turns out to be 100 percent wrong," Grunwald said of "The Swamp." "It is a book about hubris and unintended consequences."

Gov. Napoleon Bonaparte Broward (1857-1910) was the father of the drain-the-Everglades movement. Broward thought a series of canals running east, west and south would do the job. Yet the project that consumed Broward throughout his political career was left largely unfinished when he died at 53.

It was not until the late 1940s and early 1950s that the Everglades would finally be subjugated. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which Grunwald refers to as "America's shock troops against nature," were given the job after a 1947 flood wiped out homes, farms and businesses in South Florida.

Grunwald describes the resulting project as the "most elaborate water control system ever built, the largest earth-moving project since the Panama Canal." Through an elaborate system of canals, dikes, spillways and pumps, the corps transformed the upper Glades into an agriculture district, the central glades into giant reservoirs, and the eastern glades into suburbs and farms.

The project ensured the success of the sugar industry and enabled the massive post-World War II population growth in South Florida. It also was an ecological disaster. Polluted waters from sugar cane fields and cattle ranches have replaced the glades' native saw grasses with cattails and other invasive species.

To control flooding, massive amounts of polluted fresh water are pumped out to the brackish St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers estuaries. These once-prolific aquatic nurseries are in ecological meltdown.

Ironically, the corps is charged with undoing what it did 50 years ago. That has caused more than a little heartburn for conservationists, already uneasy about their alliance with developers and sugar growers to restore the Everglades.

"We're asking the Army Corps of Engineers to paint this restoration masterpiece," Grunwald said, "and they're not exactly Picasso."

Grunwald reports in this book and in a previous series in The Washington Post, where he covers environmental issues, that the restoration project is in trouble.

"They haven't built the project yet, and it's already being hijacked by the state to focus even more on water supply," he said.

Yet he remains hopeful. He notes that Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was in the room when former President Bill Clinton signed the Everglades legislation. That same day, the U.S. Supreme Court was hearing oral arguments in Bush v. Gore, the case that ended the highly partisan 2000 presidential election.

"When you have President Clinton and Jeb Bush holding hands and proclaiming we're going to save the Everglades, when you have the Army Corps staking its reputation on environmental results, at some point reality is going to have to catch up to the rhetoric, and there's going to be incredible pressure for them to show some results," he said.

American Heritage
Elizabeth D. Hoover
March 18, 2006

Everyone knows that Everglades National Park is a national treasure. It's a unique ecosystem, a river of grass 50 miles wide and often less than a foot deep, home to storks and ibises, alligators and crocodiles, mangroves and mahogany trees. But as Michael Grunwald explains in his highly entertaining new book, The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise, for a long time it was regarded as a dismal bog that needed to be drained, incinerated, and exploited.

Grunwald, a journalist for the Washington Post, Slate, and The New Republic, begins his lively history 200 million years ago, when South Florida emerged from the ocean during the last ice age. He describes the Everglades as "a vast sheet of water spread across a seemingly infinite prairie of serrated sawgrass, a liquid expanse of muted greens and browns extending to the horizon. It has the panoramic sweep of a desert, except flooded, or a tundra, except melted, or a wheat field, except wild." As soon as Americans clapped eyes on it, they wanted to transform it into something useful, meaning something that would make them money.

During the 1800s, as population grew in eastern and northern Florida, the Everglades remained impenetrable. Attempts at settlement left soggy pioneers with failed crops. Grunwald loads his book with colorful characters who tried to conquer the swamp, including carpetbaggers, con artists, and politicians eager to make a quick buck. He draws vivid characters with a few deft strokes, such as "a trim, clean-cut engineer with a military bearing, a Wall Street haircut, and a formidable aura of confidence and competence." An Audubon Society representative "looked like Buddy Holly on an extremely tight deadline." One compelling character is Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, a former society-page reporter for the Miami Herald who after observing the deplorable state of the Everglades became a "relentless reporter and fearless crusader." In 1947, the same year Everglades National Park was dedicated, she published The Everglades: River of Grass, a book that brought the area and its travails to a broad popular audience. With her diminutive frame, large glasses, and signature floppy hat, she cut a unique figure, and she fought for the Everglades tirelessly until her death in 1998 at age 108.

From the early 1900s, when conservation often meant protecting the rights of hunters and fishers and turning "useless" wilderness into farm land, until the arrival of the Army Corps of Engineers after the 1928 hurricane, Everglades development roughly followed a cyclical pattern. Overblown promises of taming a landscape that wouldn't be tamed lured settlers, the swamp would obediently dry up as the canals cut through it, and then it would either reflood or become parched enough to catch fire. Most of the settlers would then leave.

The Army Corps of Engineers trooped in to dam lakes, straighten rivers, and drain the basin into the ocean. Overzealous in its efforts, its turned vast swaths of the Everglades into a dust bowl. In 1939 nearly a million acres burned, chasing out the remaining Seminole Indians and devastating wildlife.

The first real attempt to preserve some of the remarkable ecosystem came in 1914, when the Florida Federation of Women's Clubs launched an effort to create the first state park around Paradise Key, a lush palm-covered island in the middle of the swamps. At 4,000 acres, this was a tenth of a percent of the Everglades, but it was a start. The preservation effort got much bigger during the 1930s when Ernest Coe, a landscape painter, started the crusade to create Everglades National Park. His romantic campaign was taken over by the more practically minded Spessard Linsey Holland, governor of and later senator from Florida. Holland negotiated an area that was smaller than what Coe had envisioned but, at 1.3 million acres, still the nation's second largest national park.

The park was dedicated in 1947, but its sustainability was immediately threatened. It was besieged on all sides, starved of water by Army Corps of Engineers projects and polluted by sugar growers to the north. Anyone visiting it in the 1950s saw a shriveled, barren landscape that had lost much of its wildlife.

In the 1980s a major effort got underway to undo much of the Army Corps' draining, canal digging, and diking in the hopes that the Everglades could then fix themselves. But the biggest boon for environmentalists came in 2000, when the country's largest environmental restoration project ever was signed into law in the eleventh hour of the Clinton presidency. The Everglades Forever Act slipped under the radar of public attention as the nation was transfixed by Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court case that decided the winner of that year's presidential election.

The biggest threat to the Everglades now is runaway urban sprawl to the north and northeast. President George W. Bush has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to defer to the state in enforcing the Everglades Forever Act. His brother Governor Jeb Bush has extended the deadline for the cleanup of phosphorus runoff from sugar growers and made sure the bill contained other allowances for commercial interests. Some environmentalists now call it the Everglades Whenever Act. As the governor has worked to meet the water needs of businesses-needs that compete with those of the park-one Army Corps engineer working on the project has complained, "It's different than what we told Congress we would do-and it's not restoration!!!"

And so the future of a unique and fragile environmental treasure remains as it has been since civilization first reached the area-dangerously uncertain.

-Elizabeth D. Hoover is a former editor at American Heritage magazine.

New York Times
William Grimes
March 8, 2006

For at least a century and a half, the Everglades wrestled with an image problem. Today, looking at its endless acres of swaying sawgrass, Americans see precious wetlands, home to the egret and the orchid. But for earlier generations, the Everglades was simply a swamp, a mosquito-infested wasteland. "The first and most abiding impression is the utter worthlessness to civilized man, in its present condition, of the entire region," wrote Buckingham Smith, a Harvard-educated lawyer and historian sent by the government to study the Everglades in the 1840's.

Drain it, settle it and put it to productive use. That was the mission, pursued zealously by wave after wave of engineers, politicians, real estate sharks, simple farmers and sun chasers from the North and Midwest. Their quest, fueled by ignorance and greed, transformed one the country's great natural wonders into an ecological disaster area, or to adopt the persuasive metaphor proposed by Michael Grunwald in The Swamp , a desperately sick patient. There is still movement in the limbs, and a faint touch of color in the cheeks. After an almost fatal delay, doctors have arrived on the scene. But the vital signs are weak. The Everglades may not make it.

Mr. Grunwald, a reporter for The Washington Post , tells three intertwined stories in The Swamp . Beginning at the beginning, he describes the creation of the Everglades, the unique "river of grass" whose exotic wildlife and vegetation held naturalists like John James Audubon spellbound, and traces the ill-advised efforts to tame it. His second theme is politics and power, the high-stakes battles over the Everglades waged by environmentalists, developers, sugar barons and politicians.

Finally, there is "the swamp" itself, whose intricate, far-flung ecological system Mr. Grunwald evokes in loving detail, from the twists and turns of the Kissimmee River to the shores of Lake Okeechobee to the herons, mangroves and purple gallinutes of the Glades. He even finds imaginative space for periphyton, the "golden-brown Everglades goop" that clumps around aquatic plants "like slimy oatmeal sweaters," providing nutrition for small fish, prawns, insects and snails. The Everglades, Mr. Grunwald writes, was always too subtle to command love and respect, "less ooh or aah than hmm." In his hands, the ooh and aah come to life.

The Swamp abounds in rascals, visionaries and visionary rascals. One of Mr. Grunwald's virtues is his clear-eyed refusal to impose present-day standards on past behavior. The can-do engineers and ruthless tycoons who looked at Florida's squishy, malarial landscape and saw paradise in the making usually thought they were rendering a service to mankind. The most enlightened minds of the Progressive era believed in a "wise use" policy toward nature. The land and its gifts were there to be managed and turned to profitable account, and that's exactly what the early would-be conquerors of the Everglades intended to do. "The Everglades of Florida should be saved," Napoleon Bonaparte Broward announced after being elected governor in 1904. "They should be drained and made fit for cultivation."

Mr. Grunwald, a terrific writer, moves along at a cracking pace. The dredges dig, the railroad advances, the politicians scheme and the dreamers paint their Technicolor fantasies. There is a feverish quality to the endless engineering assaults, the mad plans to re-channel the circulatory system of the Everglades, the blind determination to ignore the forces of nature. For example, no one quite understood that South Florida often experienced powerful hurricanes, so hundreds of poor farmers died in 1926 and 1927 when Lake Okeechobee overflowed.

The wildlife seemed like an inexhaustible resource, so when the fashion in women's hats demanded feathers, plume hunters went on a rampage, killing spoonbills, great white herons, snowy egrets and flamingos. An estimated five million birds were slaughtered in 1886 alone. A birdwatcher strolling along the Ladies' Mile in Manhattan saw feathers from 160 species in the store windows. Some hats supported entire birds. Belatedly, Florida imposed a plume ban, and in 1903 Teddy Roosevelt created a five-acre bird sanctuary on Pelican Island.

Again and again, wanton destruction led to horrified realization, followed by remorse and pledges to repair the damage, or the creation of parks, most notably the Everglades National Park in 1947. But year after year, acre by acre, the Everglades shrank. The Army Corps of Engineers continued to see flood control and economic development as its primary mission, not protection of the ecosystem.

The Swamp turns a corner in the early 1970's, when the heroic era of digging and planting and damming comes to an end. The last third of the book deals increasingly with intricate political and economic maneuvering over the Everglades. Nowadays, all politicians want to be seen as friends of the Glades. Rock-ribbed conservatives have found common cause with conservationist firebrands. Conversely, in the last presidential election, friends of the earth lined up against the ecologically sensitive Al Gore when he refused to take a stand against a proposed airport in Homestead, on the Everglades' fringes.

Elections, Mr. Grunwald points out, tend to be very good for the Everglades. In 2000, the $8 billion Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan was making its way through Congress. It passed because E. Clay Shaw Jr., the 10-term Republican congressman from Fort Lauderdale, found himself in a tight race, and the Republicans held a razor-thin majority in the House. The speaker, J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, threw his full weight behind the plan. "We knew this could come down to two seats, and if that meant we had to spend $8 billion for Mr. Shaw, that's what we were going to do," an aide to Mr. Hastert recalled.

The Swamp ends on an uncertain note. The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan passed, but its goals seem ambiguous. Half the original Everglades has disappeared, the remainder is slowly dying and the pressures of population growth and development in Florida continue unabated. (The sugar fields may one day give way to something even worse: condominiums.) Good intentions, and lots of government money, may not be enough. In the future there may be no ooh, no aah, not even hmm.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
March 4, 2006

There is nothing like it anywhere else in the world, this river of grass, the Everglades that once covered south Florida from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay. Drainage, reclamation, farming and development now limit it to south of US 75, Alligator Alley. It is less than half its original size.

Washington Post reporter and author Michael Grunwald has crafted an engaging, readable and insightful study of Florida's Everglades, how it got to its present state and what is left of it. He also warns that unless development is controlled, the end of the Everglades is in sight.

Grunwald declares that the Everglades, in the same latitude as the Sahara and Arabian deserts, would be a desert too, except that it is surrounded on three sides by water which results in dry winters and hot, humid, very wet summers.

Its porous limestone base tilts perhaps two inches in a mile so water flows almost imperceptibly. The flow through the saw grass created teardrop-shaped islands, now almost all gone in the march of civilization.

White men considered the Everglades a pestilential marsh and began draining it, cultivating it and, along its edges, paving it over.

Early in the 20th century, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took over and "finally caged the beast with one of the most elaborate water-control projects in history, setting the stage for south Florida's spectacular postwar development."

The trouble was, Grunwald explains, that "the beast" is also south Florida's heart, filling its aquifers with fresh water for its burgeoning population, easing the effects of floods and droughts.

With south Florida at the brink of impossibility, the Corps is beginning to undo what it did.

Land sales began on a wide scale in the 1800s, but the swamps and marshes had to be drained before people could use their purchases. That didn't always happen and gave rise, Grunwald reports, to at least one buyer declaring he had bought "land by the gallon."

Citrus, sugar cane and vegetable growers have converted thousands of acres of the frost-free Everglades into agricultural factories. The underlying ground and water lack phosphorous, perfect for the unique saw grass. But, Grunwald says, the leaching of phosphorous from fertilizers is killing the saw grass and allowing the invasion of cattails.

Grunwald says it was not until late in the 20th century, long after the Everglades' eastern reaches had been drained and developed, that environmentalists convinced Floridians and the nation that the Everglades were worth saving as a national treasure and necessary for life in south Florida.

Now, the Army Corps of Engineers has begun dismantling its drainage canals and river-straightening projects.

Some short stretches of the Kissimmee River, as it flows south from the Orlando area into Lake Okeechobee, have been restored and its waters there are flowing clean again. But much remains to be done, Grunwald declares.

With fits and starts, the state and Corps are making progress. But as fast as officials solve one problem, people move to Florida for its sun and fun--and create new problems for the Everglades.

Grunwald has written a fascinating story of the rise and fall of the Everglades and the efforts to help it to rise--and flow--once again.

New Republic
Gregg Easterbrook
March 13, 2006

It seems hard to believe that South Florida, home to more than six million people, some exceedingly desirable real estate, and a striking percentage of the world's best-looking sunbathers, was considered a hellhole only a little more than a century ago. Yes, I know how hard it is to find parking in the South Beach part of Miami, but I mean a real hellhole: thousands of square miles of impassable swampland infested with clouds of vicious mosquitoes. Dystopian environmental conditions in South Florida were dictated by the Everglades, the "river of grass." The world's largest marsh, the Everglades were defined by an enormous expanse of very slow-moving water at barely above sea level, which caused the Everglades to exist in a condition of perpetual flooding. This made the region close to worthless to people, but an ideal habitat for many plants and for wading birds; the old Everglades offered an Edenic profusion of iridescent flocks of herons, egrets, spoonbills, gallinules, ospreys, and ibis rising together toward flight in scenes whose glory might have been an argument for intelligent design, until representatives of the supposedly most intelligent of animals dedicated themselves with singular purpose to making the whole thing into a colossal mess.

Human blundering with the Everglades is the subject of Michael Grunwald's book. A reporter for The Washington Post, Grunwald moved to Florida for several years to research a history of how humanity damaged the Everglades and is now attempting to restore the river of grass to some of its former splendor. During his stay in Florida, Grunwald tormented readers of this magazine in cold or overcast locations with a dispatch on conditions in perfect-climate, glamour-filled modern Miami—reporting that almost every winter day was sunny and 75 degrees, describing himself relaxing by the pool, gawking at bikini-clad beauties at his apartment building, "one of those sexy South Beach buildings full of impossibly thin model-type women" plus buff magazine-cover young men. How Grunwald suffered for his subject! But the sacrifice was worth it. The Swamp is a tremendous book—impressive in scope, well researched and well written, rich in history yet urgently relevant to current events, altogether deserving of laurels. My only regret about the book is that I couldn't read it by the pool of Grunwald's apartment building.

The Swamp spends its first half on the arrival of modernity in Florida: clashes with the Calusa and the Seminole, crazy plans to farm the Everglades, and the two Florida land booms--first the phony boom when prices skyrocketed on swindlers' claims that South Florida was already converted from swamp to dry land for development, then the true boom that occurred once significant acreage of the southern portion of the state actually was dry. In response to an Everglades land lottery, "thousands of northerners descended on Fort Lauderdale in the spring of 1911, transforming the piney-woods hamlet. . . . into a tent city," Grunwald writes of one typical Florida land-promotion scheme that turned out to be pretty much pure swindle. His early history of Florida is full of colorful rapscallions and quagmires in the literal sense. Thus he describes the Second Seminole War, an effort in the 1830s to end Seminole independence, as "America's first Vietnam, a guerrilla war of attrition, fought on unfamiliar, unforgiving terrain, against an underestimated, highly motivated enemy who often retreated but never quit." And he adds of this war that "soldiers and generals hated it," as would prove true of all other guerrilla conflicts in which the United States would become engaged.

The historical portion of the book continues to an extended recitation of Henry Flagler's obsession with South Florida and his lavish spending to make the area the country's upper-class playground. Flagler was a struggling Midwestern grain merchant who became the business partner of one John D. Rockefeller. Their Standard Oil corporation made Flagler quite a bit richer than Croesus; he spent most of his wealth building railroads and luxury hotels in South Florida in the late nineteenth century. His tale is colorful but oft-told in histories of Florida, and The Swamp grows a bit waterlogged in this section. But then Grunwald gets to the fascinating material that you have not previously read--how the various late nineteenth-century plans to make South Florida habitable for large numbers misunderstood nature and backfired.

Florida is shaped as a thick walking stick with two large lakes (Kissimmee and Okeechobee) in the upper portion and the Everglades below. The gradient is north-to-south, but extremely slight. Water flows southward from the lakes, but very slowly, in a sheet movement that is not energetic enough to cut many riverbeds. The result is a vast marshland. Beginning with a man named Hamilton Disston, who was born in Philadelphia in 1844, visionaries resolved to drain the marshland by digging artificial rivers that would carry water to the ocean before it could reach the Everglades. Initial attempts failed, and became the subject of much derision. "Some men believe the Everglades should be drained, while others urge annexation of the moon," an editorial of the era scoffed.

To make a long story short--the long version is smartly and vividly told in The Swamp--Disston and those who followed him cut their artificial rivers directly east and west of Lake Okeechobee, these being the shortest routes to the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, thereby transforming the north-to-south water equilibrium of the state. And sure enough, the Everglades began to dry. The retreat of the waters from much of South Florida set in motion the land boom that succeeded. As major migrations to Miami and other South Florida areas proceeded in earnest, the state growing at four times the national average after World War II, the Army Corps of Engineers assumed responsibility for water management in the Everglades and began replacing the meandering rivers of the region's lore with straight-line concrete canals.

But as men and women moved to the area in great numbers, it became clear that nature had not gone away. In 1926, a powerful hurricane killed thousands of people in South Florida, while flooding much of the recovered land. In 1928, another cruel hurricane killed perhaps 2,500 people, and with "the soils of the Everglades far too saturated for burials," some were interred in a mass grave in what is now the tony address of West Palm Beach. And does the following sound familiar? When the storm hit, "Florida's initial reaction was denial. Governor John Martin refused to activate the National Guard, claiming the storm had done little damage."

Anyone who moves to the Gulf Coast places himself or herself into the path of ferocious storms that nature quite regularly sends. South Floridians were also placing themselves into the path of an environmental risk of their own making: the disruption of the Everglades. When significant areas were deprived of water, land and vegetation that had adapted to a saturated condition dried so much that devastating fires swept much of the state. The wading birds whose outlines symbolize Florida revelry began to fly away, or to die. New plant species wiped out the indigenous species that evolved in marshes. The Corps' concrete-lined canals so disrupted the natural flow of sediment that former fisherman's paradises such as the St. Lucie River became trenches of mud. When sugar plantations spread across much of the reclaimed Everglades land, chemical runoff, especially farm nutrients, began to kill downstream fish. (Too much of a good thing in terms of nutrients is bad for aquatic environments, just as it is bad for people; many marine organisms cannot live in phosphorous-overloaded water.) And water flowing south toward the new population centers of Miami and its environs became filthy, as the marshes that served as natural filters disappeared.

The second half of Grunwald's book is devoted to his recounting of efforts to reverse mistakes made in the management of the Everglades: first by placing some of the un-drained Everglades into preservation status, then by limiting pollution from sugar plantations, then by replacing some of the artificial east and west water flow with natural north-to-south movement, and finally via the current $7.8 billion federal and state effort to restore a reasonable amount of the central Everglades' water pathways to their pre-canal condition. State and federal political leaders desperately opposed holding sugar growers accountable for pollution of the Everglades until it became clear that there was strong public support for the preservation of the region. Then there was extended fighting about whether clean water created by restoration would be used to secure the future of Everglades National Park or as a water supply for the future expansion of Miami. (Mostly, the park won.) And finally there was a fight about whether environmental lobbies would endorse the deal or denounce it for not being utterly perfect in every way. As Grunwald shows, water-quality improvements turned out to happen faster, and be better, than expected. Today Everglades restoration is going well.

Closing this fine book, I had a small complaint and a big complaint. The small one is that The Swamp takes numerous potshots at the developers and amusement-park builders who crowded into Florida, but dodges an important aspect of economic growth that affluence makes possible: environmental protection. Townhomes can be tacky, and freeway congestion is infuriating; but the global population is expanding, and people must live somewhere. If environmentally destructive development (which is the story of most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries) makes possible environmentally clean development (which has been happening roughly since the mid-1980s), the outcome is high living standards plus a respect for nature. And that is a good outcome.

My big complaint is that Grunwald's analysis of human interaction with the Everglades reflects what I once called the Fallacy of Environmental Correctness. The Swamp presents the pre-European-contact condition of Florida as correct in some first-causes sense, while implying that all human tampering with the Everglades was an offense against the proper order of things. Since the human lifespan is less than a century, we tend to think of environmental conditions as fixed. Yet when they were first seen by the conquistadors in the sixteenth century, the Everglades were just the latest variation on an endlessly changing natural landscape, created rather recently in geological terms and certain to be altered many more times in the future, whether humanity acted or not.

Not that long ago, much of North America was buried under an ice sheet, and what is now the Everglades region was drastically different. Step back further, into the Oligocene Epoch, and North America was arid, with no marshlands to protect. Step further back and Earth's temperatures were much higher than today; the birds of the current Everglades could not have lived at Florida latitudes in hotter prior eras. Or think about the future: even were there no Homo sapiens, a few thousand years into the future, the Everglades are sure to transform in unpredictable ways. There is no "correct" condition for a land area or biosphere. There is only the condition that happens to obtain at the moment. Given that humanity arises from the natural scheme, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with our monkeying around with nature. Some of this monkeying fulfills our purposes as moral and historical agents—if it is done wisely, as Michael Grunwald has persuasively shown.

Boston Globe
March 5, 2006

A tale of man's naive conquest of nature and the unprecedented effort to reverse some of the damage, The Swamp arrives at a fascinating point in Florida's history.

In Tallahassee, a pro-business, Republican administration headed by a former developer is getting serious about growth-management and sustainable quality-of-life issues. State planners recently urged Miami-Dade commissioners to reject homebuilders' efforts to expand the Urban Development Boundary deeper south and west into the Everglades.

At the same time, environmental managers have warned Miami-Dade that it cannot expect to draw hundreds of millions of gallons of additional freshwater from the aquifers if the county does nothing but pay lip service to the concepts of reuse and conservation.

How did we get to this point?

Michael Grunwald, an award-winning national reporter for The Washington Post , provides a lot of the context in this ambitious, deeply researched blend of environmental, social and political history of the Manifest Destiny forces that built Florida. The Swamp grew out of a four-part series reported by Grunwald in 2002 that took an in-depth look at the highly touted, but deeply compromised, $8 billion plan to restore the Everglades.

Grunwald proves to be a surprisingly deft historian, interweaving the natural history of the last American frontier through the massive cast of characters who struggled to conquer, drain, farm and develop the once impenetrable Everglades. The hubris and greed of drainage boosters, land speculators, engineers, railroad and sugar barons and developers oozes from the pages.

The Swamp also charts the emergence of the modern environmental and conservation movement and the intramural squabbling and factionalism in its ranks.

To his credit, Grunwald lets the facts of the ecological collapse and unintended consequences of explosive growth and flood control projects tell the story rather than letting the book deteriorate into an anti-progress screed. There is no need to ratchet up the outrage when 90 percent of the Everglades' wading bird population has vanished, and the ecosystem is home to 69 endangered species.

That's not to say that Grunwald doesn't have plenty of room to vividly describe the ‘‘mind-numbing homogeneity'' that the onslaught of post World War II urban sprawl has wrought on the modern landscape. ``The entire Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metropolitan area was becoming an indistinguishable glob of gated communities, Jiffy Lubes, strip malls, Comfort Inns, RV parks, Taco Bells and clover-leaf interchanges. The regional economy was a kind of ecological Ponzi scheme, dominated by low-wage tourism jobs that relied on the constant pursuit of more people and more development that put more stress on nature.''

Like the hard-to-navigate Everglades itself, it's easy to get lost toward the end of The Swamp. Grunwald gamely tries to explain the $8 billion Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan through the biologists, water managers, developers, Big Sugar interests, Native American tribes, environmentalists, politicians and Army engineers jousting over every detail. But the restoration compromise is far too complicated and the dueling stakeholders too numerous and their positions too diverse for lay readers to keep straight amid a swirling 2000 presidential election and the intricate local battle over the failed development of a new airport at the Homestead Air Force Base.

This is a minor failing, not a fatal flaw. The story had to end somewhere. The problem is that the fight over the Everglades—and the future of a sustainable Florida—is far from over. As Grunwald explains, the most expensive public works project in U.S. history is already behind schedule, over budget and veering off course.

Let's hope Grunwald, or some similarly skilled historian or journalist, picks up the story five, 10 or 15 years from now. Because now it isn't even clear if the restoration plan will actually ‘‘restore'' what's left of the Everglades. The ecological benefits of the plan won't be seen for decades in some of the parched areas of Everglades National Park. Many believe the plan is really a Trojan horse for the development community, a massive water-storage project that will keep the South Florida Growth Machine chugging along for decades to come.

Miami Herald
March 5, 2006

A tale of man's naive conquest of nature and the unprecedented effort to reverse some of the damage, The Swamp arrives at a fascinating point in Florida's history.

In Tallahassee, a pro-business, Republican administration headed by a former developer is getting serious about growth-management and sustainable quality-of-life issues. State planners recently urged Miami-Dade commissioners to reject homebuilders' efforts to expand the Urban Development Boundary deeper south and west into the Everglades.

At the same time, environmental managers have warned Miami-Dade that it cannot expect to draw hundreds of millions of gallons of additional freshwater from the aquifers if the county does nothing but pay lip service to the concepts of reuse and conservation.

How did we get to this point?

Michael Grunwald, an award-winning national reporter for The Washington Post , provides a lot of the context in this ambitious, deeply researched blend of environmental, social and political history of the Manifest Destiny forces that built Florida. The Swamp grew out of a four-part series reported by Grunwald in 2002 that took an in-depth look at the highly touted, but deeply compromised, $8 billion plan to restore the Everglades.

Grunwald proves to be a surprisingly deft historian, interweaving the natural history of the last American frontier through the massive cast of characters who struggled to conquer, drain, farm and develop the once impenetrable Everglades. The hubris and greed of drainage boosters, land speculators, engineers, railroad and sugar barons and developers oozes from the pages.

The Swamp also charts the emergence of the modern environmental and conservation movement and the intramural squabbling and factionalism in its ranks.

To his credit, Grunwald lets the facts of the ecological collapse and unintended consequences of explosive growth and flood control projects tell the story rather than letting the book deteriorate into an anti-progress screed. There is no need to ratchet up the outrage when 90 percent of the Everglades' wading bird population has vanished, and the ecosystem is home to 69 endangered species.

That's not to say that Grunwald doesn't have plenty of room to vividly describe the ‘‘mind-numbing homogeneity'' that the onslaught of post World War II urban sprawl has wrought on the modern landscape. ``The entire Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metropolitan area was becoming an indistinguishable glob of gated communities, Jiffy Lubes, strip malls, Comfort Inns, RV parks, Taco Bells and clover-leaf interchanges. The regional economy was a kind of ecological Ponzi scheme, dominated by low-wage tourism jobs that relied on the constant pursuit of more people and more development that put more stress on nature.''

Like the hard-to-navigate Everglades itself, it's easy to get lost toward the end of The Swamp. Grunwald gamely tries to explain the $8 billion Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan through the biologists, water managers, developers, Big Sugar interests, Native American tribes, environmentalists, politicians and Army engineers jousting over every detail. But the restoration compromise is far too complicated and the dueling stakeholders too numerous and their positions too diverse for lay readers to keep straight amid a swirling 2000 presidential election and the intricate local battle over the failed development of a new airport at the Homestead Air Force Base.

This is a minor failing, not a fatal flaw. The story had to end somewhere. The problem is that the fight over the Everglades--and the future of a sustainable Florida--is far from over. As Grunwald explains, the most expensive public works project in U.S. history is already behind schedule, over budget and veering off course.

Let's hope Grunwald, or some similarly skilled historian or journalist, picks up the story five, 10 or 15 years from now. Because now it isn't even clear if the restoration plan will actually ‘‘restore'' what's left of the Everglades. The ecological benefits of the plan won't be seen for decades in some of the parched areas of Everglades National Park. Many believe the plan is really a Trojan horse for the development community, a massive water-storage project that will keep the South Florida Growth Machine chugging along for decades to come.

Seattle Times
March 5, 2005

Sometimes it seems that humans just ruin everything they touch. In the early 19th century, as Florida's new ruler, the United States, was trying to empty the former Spanish territory of the Seminole tribes, no more than a few dozen white people called south Florida home. The Everglades was just a huge swamp. By 2000, there were 7 million residents and nearly six times that number of tourists coming through every year. The phenomenal growth of the area has had a devastating effect on the Everglades--which has been drained, filled and polluted in the name of progress--and its indigenous wildlife. In this page-turner, Washington Post reporter Michael Grunwald describes how in a rare moment of bipartisanship, Democrats and Republicans got together at the end of former President Bill Clinton's tenure to reverse the damage this encroachment had cost, launching the biggest environmental project in American history. In the process, Grunwald spins a vast and profoundly enlightening history of the region, showing how the very forces that ruined the Everglades are now being employed to resurrect its grandeur. Success is not assured. “Most of all, the Everglades is a moral test,” Grunwald writes. “It will be a test of our willingness to restrain ourselves, to share the Earth's resources. . . . If we pass, we may deserve to keep the planet.”

Winnipeg Free Press
Douglas J. Johnson
March 5, 2006

ON the day in December 2000 that the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments to decide the presidency of the United States in George W. Bush, et al v. Albert Gore Jr., et al—otherwise known as the "hanging-chads Florida recount" case—the same Al Gore lined up with his adversary's brother to enact a landmark piece of environmental legislation.

In a remarkable feat of political bipartisanship, then vice-president Gore and Florida governor Jeb Bush joined forces to shepherd legislation through the U.S. Congress that "saved" Florida's subtropical paradise, the Everglades.

Washington Post reporter Michael Grunwald's The Swamp starts with that victory. It was an enlightened moment, from which he travels backwards in time, and one that stands in marked contrast to the mostly benighted history of human endeavours in the Everglades. But The Swamp is also about the larger story of the transformation of south Florida, in Grunwald's words, "from a virtually uninhabited wasteland to a densely populated Fantasyland with seven million residents, 40 million annual tourists and the world's largest concentration of golf courses." If south Florida is the "paradise" of Grunwald's subtitle, it wasn't always thought so.

Just over 100 years ago a U.S. army officer stationed in Miami during the Spanish-American war thought it the polar opposite. "If I owned both Miami and hell," he declared, "I'd rent out Miami and live in hell." As for the Everglades itself, Americans, and Floridians in particular, thought it a "God-forsaken swamp," that must be reclaimed from mosquitoes, rattlesnakes and alligators and turned into farmland and communities.

"Wetlands were considered wastelands," writes Grunwald, and Floridians' favourite catchphrase when talking about the Everglades during the 19th and more than half of the 20th century, "draining the swamp," was a metaphor for America's war on nature in south Florida. Entrepreneurs and engineers spent decades and great wads of public and private capital deploying dredges and building canals in mostly abortive attempts to channel its shallow waters east to the Gulf and west to the Atlantic.

The net result was some cleared and arable land, but lots more flooding, drought, pollution and extinction or near-extinction of flora and fauna native to the Everglades. The Swamp is, more or less, a story with a happy ending.

"The pursuit of paradise and the ideal of progress, which once inspired the degradation of nature. . . . now inspires its restoration," writes Grunwald. The history of the Everglades is "a story about hubris and unintended consequences, about the mistakes man has made in his relationship with nature and his unprecedented efforts to fix them."

But, to analogize from another genre of non-fiction, travel writing, the book's appeal lies not in its destination but its journey. And Grunwald is a terrific guide.

The Swamp is textbook good journalism—objective and definitive, yet dramatic in delivery and passionate in its judgments. Grunwald's account of the Everglades' transformation from ecological wonder to wasteland and, if not back again, at least back on the path to being a natural jewel, is a beguiling read.

Huntington (WV) News
David M. Kinchen
August 4, 2006

The Florida hurricane of 1928, which struck the hardest at Lake Okeechobee, killed 2,500 people, mostly poor blacks who drowned in the vegetable fields of the Everglades, writes Michael Grunwald in The Swamp.

The death toll was second only to the Galveston, Texas, hurricane of September 1900, when 8,000 to 10,000 died. The Okeechobee hurricane death toll was higher than that of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, “another case of poor blacks in low-lying floodplains betrayed by inadequate dikes.”

Subtitled “The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise,” The Swamp is a lively, entertaining and thoroughly researched book about humans attempting to take a perfect ecosystem—the Kissimmee River valley, Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades—and trying to “improve” it.

We humans never seem to leave well enough alone, as the siting of New Orleans and the monstrous over development of South Florida amply demonstrate. I could add the development of a gigantic megalopolis in a place that gets about 14 inches of rain a year—greater Los Angeles—and the more recent out of control development of another city in a desert, Las Vegas. The real motto of Homo Americanus seems to be: “anything worth doing is worth overdoing—and then some.”

A prize-winning national reporter for The Washington Post , Grunwald traces the history of the Everglades from its beginnings in the Ice Ages to its function as a natural “river of grass,” as Marjory Stoneman Douglas dubbed it in her 1947 Rivers of America book (Those wonderful books enchanted me when I was in high school in the 1950s! Numbering 65, they rivaled the WPA guidebooks to the states in sheer readability) to thoroughly misguided attempts to drain the swamp that isn't a swamp. It really is a slow moving body of water than once covered much of southern Florida, providing a lush habitat for thousands of species of animals and plants and purifying the water through sawgrass (not really a grass) and limestone aquifers, Grunwald writes.

In some respects, the destruction of the Everglades was inspired by the draining of the swamp where Chicago now is, Grunwald suggests. In fact, one attempt to “improve” the Everglades came from a 1913 report produced by 65-year-old Isham Randolph, “one of America's best-respected hydraulic engineers.” Randolph had served on the Panama Canal board and had overseen the Chicago Drainage Canal, “a gargantuan project best remembered for reversing the flow of the Chicago River.”

Almost all the attempts to destroy the Everglades were motivated by development, first of cattle ranching in the Kissimmee Valley, where the winding river was turned into a die-straight canal to keep the river from flooding the land; to draining areas south of Lake O to create gigantic sugar-growing fields. I've never understood the need for so much sugar—I never use it in my coffee or cereal—but it produced multimillionaires who had terrific clout in Florida. One of them--in fact the father of the Everglades sugar industry, Grunwald writes--was Ernest “Cap” Graham, father of the late Washington Post publisher Phil Graham, Miami Lakes developer Bill Graham and Florida Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham.

The 1928 hurricane—they weren't named in those days—ended the Florida land boom for almost two decades, but it didn't stop plans by a variety of developers and Florida governors to dig canals, build dikes that would withstand hurricanes and generally destroy an ecosystem unique in all the world.

The Everglades National Park that was dedicated by President Harry Truman on Dec. 7, 1947--a month after the publication of Douglas' The Everglades: River of Grass . The park included only 1.3 million acres, excluding all of the upper Keys, Big Cypress and “everything else north of the Tamiami Trail, the coral reefs, the Turner River area, the marshes of northeast Shark Slough along the park's eastern boundary, and a 22,000-acre tract of farmland inside the park known as ‘The Hole in the Donut.'”

The newest Florida land boom was underway when the park was dedicated, spurred by the returning veterans of WW II who fell in love with Florida and the arrival of what one wag called “the newly wed and the nearly dead.”

Huge suburbs sprawled out in Southeast Florida, from Dade County on the south to Broward County (Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood ) named after Florida Gov. Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, who was a major swamp-draining advocate, north to Palm Beach County, whose growth was spurred by Henry Flagler, John D. Rockefeller's right-hand-man at Standard Oil.

Flagler built the Florida East Coast Railroad, inspired by his honeymoon with his second wife in St. Augustine. That's a true capitalist: Dreaming of railroads, monster resort hotels and cities like Palm Beach and West Palm Beach while on his honeymoon!

The Swamp is a great read for anyone interested in the politics of development. The second half of the book deals with attempts to preserve – even restore to something like its natural state--much of this unique ecosystem.

Long before Rachel Carson's Silent Spring spurred the modern environmental movement, Grunwald says, Aldo Leopold, a pioneer ecologist, wrote A Sand County Almanac , which was published in 1949 shortly after his death. In his book Leopold persisted in “questioning the notion that nature existed to serve man, calling for a land ethic in which people would be responsible citizens of the earth rather than its conquerors.”

Leopold (1887-1948), an Iowa native and a long-time Madison, Wis. Wisconsin resident, was a founder of the Wilderness Society in 1935 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aldo_Leopold) and inspired Floridians like Ernest Lyons, editor of the Stuart News, who made a stirring ecology-based case against a massive flood control project by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Lyons warned against the “Hollandization”--referring to the land ethic of the Netherlands--of South Florida, arguing that the project would provide land reclamation for the few and destruction of natural wetlands that provided nature's better way of flood control.

The Everglades may have even cost Al Gore the presidency in 2000, Grunwald suggests. Gore's refusal to come out against the proposed Homestead airport that would have gobbled up a huge chunk of the Everglades resulted in environmental diehards turning away from a resolute supporter of ecology, toward Ralph Nader. Gore lost Florida by 537 votes. “Nader received more than 96,000 votes, and some operatives attributed 10,000 of them to the airport issue. That was more than enough to elect a president who would support oil exploration in the arctic National Wildlife Refuge…and enrage environmentalists like no president since Ronald Reagan,” Grunwald writes.

A prediction: The Swamp will be on everybody's short list for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. If I were voting, I'd give it both honors!

March 2006

In its prime, the Everglades was home to a phenomenal array of plants and animals, each perfectly adapted to this exceptionally fecund Florida swamp. The Everglades may also have been "man's first permanent home in North America," a remarkably nurturing place for the Indians, who understood how to reap its bounty without damaging its pristine ecosystem. But ever since the days of the conquistadors, ambitious and greedy men who were stubbornly ignorant of the true nature of the wetlands' carefully balanced ecosystem have viewed this daunting wilderness as an "agricultural diamond in the rough" and consequently this crucible of life has been the scene of violence, destruction, and mass extinctions. Award-winning journalist Michael Grunwald tells this tale of hubris and horror, a story that will be new to most readers, with just the right mix of awe and anger, fact and analysis, drama and edgy humor. The swamp itself is a complex and volatile character in this avidly detailed yet never boggy saga, and its grandeur and lushness is matched by a colorful cast of determined and eccentric individuals. In command of facts political, biological, environmental, social, and cultural, Grunwald recounts the grueling and brutal Seminole wars, the Reconstruction-era land rush, the notorious boom during the Roaring Twenties that turned Florida swampland into "a national punch line," the far more devastating postwar development and exploitation, and on to epic battles in Congress to save what little was left of the Everglades at the close of the twentieth century. Grunwald portrays with great empathy the Seminole warrior Osceola; the railroad-loving tycoon and highfalutin developer Henry Flagler; the dredging fanatic and governor Napoleon Broward, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas of Rivers of Grass fame, an Everglades activist for many of her 108 years. The story of the Everglades is a story of ambition and technology run amok as one determined zealot after another attempted to dredge, drain, channel, tame, pave, and develop this once perfectly functioning natural marvel, precipitating utter ecological chaos. This watery, green, grassy, and teeming swamp became a blasted place of fires, drought, dust storms, pollution, and increased hurricane damage. The most conspicuous outrages were the bird massacres. The Everglades supported 2.5 million wading birds up until the late nineteenth century, when men with guns began picking them off just like their kindred killers in the West shot down buffalo and wolves. The slaughter of the Everglades birds intensified as hats with feathers and plumes became all the rage. So high were the body counts, so rapidly did the bird population plummet, the Everglades became the catalyst for the conservation movement and the site of the first national wildlife refuge during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. But these efforts came too late and achieved too little. As the population in south Florida grew (at a rate four times faster than the rest of the country), the great swamp was ravaged. Grunwald stolidly chronicles one foolhardy scheme after another, then tracks the passionate and carefully informed objections to the assault. It's shocking to read such meticulously documented coverage of how the simplest of technologies can destroy so much wilderness and so many life forms so quickly, a harsh reality matched by the viciousness and hypocrisy marshaled against environmental campaigns. Grunwald is tireless in his reportage on the political machinations both overt and covert (and corrupt) that ensured nature's defeat in favor of the sugar industry, luxury resorts, NASA, Disneyland, housing developments, and malls, not to mention insecticides, highways, and airports. Finally, when the Florida panther has all but vanished and half of the Everglades is gone, Clinton and Gore, with the help of the self-described Florida swamp rat Janet Reno and Bruce Babbitt, established an Everglades restoration project that has had some success. But much more needs to be done. Many aspects of the Everglades' story are even more relevant in the aftermath of the ferocious hurricanes of 2005, enhancing the importance of Grunwald's intense and involving portrait of the Everglades past and present, an essential volume in the morbidly fascinating case of humankind versus the rest of life.

Publishers Weekly
December 19, 2005

Starred review. Washington Post reporter Grunwald brings the zeal of his profession—and the skill that won him a Society of Environmental Journalists Award in 2003—to this enthralling story of “the river of grass” that starry-eyed social engineers and greedy developers have diverted, drained and exploited for more than a century. In 1838, fewer than 50 white people lived in South Florida, and the Everglades was seen as a vast and useless bog. By the turn of this century, more than seven million people lived there (and 40 million tourists visited annually). Escalating demands of new residents after WWII were sapping the Everglades of its water and decimating the shrinking swamp's wildlife. But in a remarkable political and environmental turnaround, chronicled here with a Washington insider's savvy, Republicans and Democrats came together in 2000 to launch the largest ecosystem restoration project in America's history. This detailed account doesn't shortchange the environmental story—including an account of the senseless fowl hunts that provoked abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1877 broadside, “Protect the Birds.” But Grunwald's emphasis on the role politics played in first despoiling and now reclaiming the Everglades gives this important book remarkable heft.

February 15, 2006

Starred review. A lively appreciation of the Everglades as an ecosystem worthy of care and protection—quite a turnaround in attitude, as Washington Post reporter Grunwald reveals.

The natural Everglades encompasses an area twice the size of New Jersey, and it lacks both immediately spectacular features and elevation: One "pass" there is marked at a mere three feet above sea level. Yet huge quantities of freshwater slowly roll down the Everglades; as Grunwald writes, "a raindrop that fell in its headwaters in central Florida could have taken an entire year to dribble down to its estuaries at the tip of the peninsula." Nineteenth-century white explorers damned the "Sea of Grass" for its heat, mosquitoes, vast store of reptiles, renegade Indians and runaway slaves, but speculators and capitalists came along who recognized a couple of salient facts: Rich in organic peat, the Everglades could be an agricultural paradise, and it could sustain whole cities.

All that was needed was to remake the plac e entirely--drain the swamps, build vast canals and railroads, divide it into c ozy lots. Grunwald's account of the con games and fly-by-nights that made modern So uth Florida possible is a learned entertainment, though it becomes somewh at less amusing once it's known that the same actors and forces are in play today ; one illustrative moment comes when Jeb Bush, governor of Florida and brother of the president, came close to selling off Florida's water rights in the Evergla des for the pittance offered by a little company called Azurix, "an aggressive new player in the $400 billion global water market"—and, as it happens, a subsidiary of Enron. Happily, the deal didn't go through. More happily still, Grunwald writes that many wide-ranging measures to help restore the Everglades have been successful. Still, "drive through the region's strip-mall hellscapes," Grunwald concludes, and it's clear that much remains to be done to save the Everglades. This lucid history and call to arms is an essential companion to that work.

February 1, 2006

Starred review. The phrase teeming with life could have been coined to describe the Everglades in its pristine state, but as Grunwald, an award-winning journalist for the Washington Post , so vividly describes, this vast Florida wetland has been under siege since the days of the conquistadors. As enterprising men attempted to drain, tame, and develop this fertile swamp, they wreaked ecological chaos instead, causing droughts, dust storms, wildfires, extinctions, pollution, and water shortages. Grunwald strikes just the right balance of awe, ire, and analysis in his expert and animated chronicle of the history of the Everglades, which encompasses the Seminole wars, a Reconstruction-era land rush, the notorious Roaring Twenties boom that made Florida swampland “a national punch line,” the even more rampant and decimating postwar explosion, on to congressional battles over the beleaguered swamp during the Clinton and Bush years. Grunwald is especially captivating in his profiles of the Seminole warrior Osceola and Marjory Stoneman Douglas, of River of Grass fame, an Everglades activist until her death at 108. The colorful, infuriating, and instructive story of the Everglades is a riveting tale of ambition versus ecological reality, politics versus science, and, on the upside, our gradual awakening to the true nature of nature.

Florida Monthly
February 2006

The River of Grass long has been the subject of literary tomes, including several works by author Marjory Stoneman Douglas. But it is doubtful that the Everglades' history has ever been examined so concisely as author Michael Grunwald has done in The Swamp.

Steeped in Florida history, this examination of the Everglades starts with Florida's Colonial period and touches on the Seminole Wars. It looks not only at the developments within different governments that tried taming the native peoples, animals and environment, but also the political backroom dealings and oft-cronyisms that lead to the pioneering, development and ultimate growth of Florida into one of the nation's most populous states.

Much of the book is dedicated to the post-Civil War industrial era, the real estate booms and swindles of the early 20th century.

But as outlined in The Swamp , the U.S. industrial spirit and motive to open the nation's last frontier wouldn't be stalled by Mother Nature. It was in the late 1800s that the first land-for-drainage and land-for-railroad schemes popped up, an attempt to develop Florida's southern half. Grunwald almost likens the philosophy of Florida pioneers such as Henry M. Flagler, David Levy Yulee and Napoleon B. Broward to "if there's land to build or farm on, they will come."

The draining of the Glades that began in the late 19th century and continued through the 20th century, as well as more recent efforts to reclaim and restore the River of Grass, comprise the final third of this book. The Swamp examines the restoration of the Kissimmee River, as well as the impact of sugar and development on the land. It explores the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects' impact on the Everglades' present delicate state.

The Swamp is a fascinating read for anyone interested in Florida's political, ecological and developmental history, particularly regarding the recent national political elections. The book even implies that the 2000 Presidential election outcome may have changed had one candidate made a stand against an airport.

Grunwald's book brings the Everglades' issues and its restorations to present-day. As a reporter for the Washington Post , he originally examined the Everglades in 2000 when assigned to pen a series of articles about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and its $8 billion effort to restore the Everglades. He returned in 2002 for a follow up and began work on The Swamp.

[other press]

Solares Hill (Key West, FL)

American History Has Flowed Through the Everglades’
by Nancy Klingener

Washington Post reporter Michael Grunwald came to Florida expecting to write a story about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finally doing good for the environment.

“I had spent a year beating up on the Corps, mostly about their 19th century-style water projects, and this was going to be the last piece, about a potential future for the Corps, restoring the stuff they used to mess up,” Grunwald says.

Instead, Grunwald found himself immersed in the swamp, the fascinating, infuriating, complex and ever-under-assault Everglades, the world’s largest wetland, namesake of an ecosystem that takes in rivers, lakes, marshes, mangroves, estuaries and the coral reefs off the Florida Keys.

Now, at the end of his five-year odyssey through the Everglades, he has produced “The Swamp,” which is being hailed from New York to Miami as an entertaining, interesting and essential history of South Florida and the successive attempts to drain and restore its famous Everglades.

Initially, the book was going to be about the current restoration plan, a $10.5 billion enterprise approved by Congress five years ago. But Grunwald found himself drawn back in time, to the Seminole Wars and early drainage attempts.

“I’m an Everglades exceptionalist—I think American history has flowed through the Everglades,” he says. “Hopefully people won’t just read this book because it’s ponderous and important and ‘eat your Wheaties’ stuff. I hope it’s fun. It’s a really wild story.”

The story includes the settlers and politicians who dreamed of drain ing the ‘Glades, men like the entrepreneur Hamilton Disston and grandly named Governor Napoleon Bonaparte Broward.

And it includes the visionaries who understood early on that the wetland was in fact the pumping heart of South Florida—for its human inhabitants as well as the herons, egrets, spoon bills and panthers who have dwindled to a tiny fraction of their pre-drainage populations.

After writing a four part series that ran in the Washington Post in 2002, Grunwald moved to Miami Beach to research the book. Living here gave him new he has produced “The Swamp,” which is being hailed from New York to Miami as an entertaining, interesting and essential history of South Florida and the successive attempts to drain and restore its famous Everglades.

Initially, the book was going to be about the current restoration plan, a $10.5 billion enterprise approved by Congress five years ago. But Grunwald found him self drawn back in time, to the Seminole Wars and early drainage attempts.

“I’m an Everglades exceptionalist—I think American history has flowed through the Everglades,” he says. “Hopefully people won’t just read this book because it’s ponderous and important and ‘eat your Wheaties’ stuff. I hope it’s fun. It’s a really wild story.”

The story includes the settlers and politicians who dreamed of drain ing the ‘Glades, men like the entrepreneur Hamilton Disston and grandly named Governor Napoleon Bonaparte Broward.

And it includes the visionaries who understood early on that the wetland was in fact the pumping heart of South Florida — for its human inhabitants as well as the herons, egrets, spoon bills and panthers who have dwindled to a tiny fraction of their pre-drainage populations.

After writing a four-part series that ran in the Washington Post in 2002, Grunwald moved to Miami Beach to research the book. Living here gave him new insights into the future of Everglades and restoration. He expected to find South Florida in decline, where weary residents spend time stuck in traffic, worrying about kids in overcrowded schools, watching the sprawl creep west, saying to them selves, “life is starting to suck here.”

“I came down here and found that all of those things are true—except for the sucking part,” Grunwald says. Which led to one of his Everglades conclusions.

“The challenge of the Everglades is finding an accommodation between man and nature. Because man’s coming,” he says. “It’s always going to be nicer than Cleveland and Buffalo in the winter, and it’s going to be nicer than Havana and Port-au-Prince all year long.”

Early indicators, such as the much-celebrated restoration of the Kissimmee River above Lake Okeechobee, show that the Everglades ecosystem still has a chance, Grunwald says.

“Nature is very resilient. I have come to believe this is do-able. Clearly right now they’re not exactly on track to do it,” he says.

He also subscribes to the Colin Powell Pottery Barn theory (unsuccessfully attempted as a warning to the president about invading Iraq). The theory goes: if you break it, you own it.

“We broke the Everglades. We own it,” Grunwald says. “It’s in the custody of the United States of America. That’s something I think everybody should feel implicated in.”

St. Petersburg Times

March 12, 2006
WEST PALM BEACH - In 1892, a team of surveyors set out across the Everglades to see if a railroad line could be built from Fort Myers to Miami. A few days of struggling through the thigh-deep muck and
razor-sharp saw grass convinced them that this was no place for a survey crew, much less a railroad.

"The bog is fearful," the expedition's log noted. Later one crewman recalled, "I thought that we were great idiots to come into such a place when we had no wings with which to fly out." These days, the "fearful bog" is only half as big as it used to be. Yet the River of Grass still retains the power to make everyone who tries to master it look like a king-size idiot.

For proof, dig into an entertaining new book published this month, The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida and the Politics of Paradise by award-winning Washington Post reporter Michael Grunwald. Though it's his first book, Grunwald does a fairly thorough job of portraying the dreamers and schemers who have tried to bend the Everglades to their will, usually with disastrous results. Don't take the title literally. The heart of the Everglades is technically a marsh. Grunwald's topic is not so much the biology of the Glades as the fact that every attempt to alter it inevitably becomes mired in a swamp of unintended consequences.

Grunwald begins and ends the book with the latest attempt to fiddle with the River of Grass, this time for its own benefit. The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, or CERP, aims to repair the damage done between the 1940s and 1960s by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which built 1,000 miles of levees and canals, 150 water-control structures and 16 major pump stations to make South Florida dry enough to be habitable.

The plan calls for holding back more than 1-billion gallons of water a day that's now flushed out to the tide. Then it could be redirected to mimic the natural flow through the River of Grass--and incidentally provide enough drinking water to double South Florida's population.

Although CERP was approved amid great hoopla five years ago, for the past year there have been persistent whispers that CERP is on its last legs.

Staunch supporters such as South Florida Water Management District member Mike Collins contend the rumors of CERP's demise are greatly exaggerated, but he added, "It ain't totally healthy, either."

Gov. Jeb Bush is asking the Legislature this year for $135-million to keep the restoration project moving. But state officials say the effort to save the Everglades has become, well, bogged down. "There's a tremendous amount of frustration," said Carol Ann Wehle, executive director of the water district, the state agency that's supposed to oversee CERP with the Corps of Engineers.

However, one corps official in charge of CERP, Dennis Duke, insists that 2006 will mark the true birth of Everglades restoration, not its last hurrah.

"To me, this is kind of The Year," he promised.

* * *

CERP was envisioned as the most complex and expensive environmental restoration project in history. Making it work will require multiple state and federal agencies to coordinate the construction of dozens of separate components by 2036.

Stuart Appelbaum, who leads the corps' planning effort, likes to say that saving the Everglades isn't brain surgery. It's much more complicated.

More expensive, too. Corps officials initially told Congress it would cost less than $7.8 billion. Instead it's climbed to $10.8 billion.

CERP is hardly a strong and steady lifeline. Crucial portions of it rely on unproven technology, such as using hundreds of deep wells to store the water as bubbles in the aquifer. Should that fail, no one has come up with any alternatives.

One of the most expensive and controversial components allows limestone miners to dynamite thousands of acres of wetlands in the eastern Everglades. Then their 80-foot-deep quarries could be turned into reservoirs, although no one knows how to stop the porous walls from leaking. The plan has been sharply criticized by Everglades National Park biologists, who contend it's not going to aid the park as much as help development.

Yet when it was unveiled, Grunwald notes, CERP won the endorsement of both Big Sugar and a consortium of environmental groups known as the Everglades Coalition. Their lobbyists walked the halls of Congress arm-in-arm to push CERP through, Grunwald notes.

Grunwald leads off The Swamp by recounting the bizarre scene in December 2000 when then-President Bill Clinton signed the CERP bill while Gov. Jeb Bush looked on, even as the U.S. Supreme Court was hearing arguments over who won the presidential election in Florida. Clinton used 18 different pens, Grunwald notes, and handed the first one to Bush.

"This is a great day," Clinton said, beaming. "We should all be very proud."

Despite all this bipartisan optimism, CERP was a house built on a couple of major fault lines:

* It depended on the state and federal government working as equal partners, splitting the cost and responsibility right down the middle.

* It focused on fixing the water flow, not its quality. Federal officials expected the state to comply with a federal court order to clean up a pollution problem that was converting the Everglades' saw grass marshes into a widening expanse of cattails.

Since Clinton handed out his pens, the corps has moved more paper than dirt. Meanwhile, the state has been found in violation of the court order on the pollution cleanup, not long after the Legislature extended the cleanup deadline.

In an internal memo first reported by the St. Petersburg Times last year, a top corps official wrote that, in the halls of Congress, "I'm hearing statements that "CERP is dead."'

That should have come as no surprise. After all, as Grunwald's book points out, if anything can go wrong with man's plans for the Everglades, it will.

* * *

Originally, the Everglades' natural plumbing worked just fine. Rain falling on Central Florida would flow south through the winding Kissimmee River to Lake Okeechobee. The excess would spill out of the lake and meander through saw grass, forming a river 50 miles wide and a few inches deep. The soldiers chasing the Seminoles through the Everglades in the 1830s failed to appreciate the delicacy and elegance of this arrangement, calling it "a most hideous region to live in, a perfect paradise for Indians, alligators, serpents, frogs and every other kind of loathsome reptile."

But the soldiers also reported that beneath the water flowing across the Everglades was a rich layer of muck that, if drained, would undoubtedly produce a year-round agricultural bounty. So for more than a century, politicians and promoters tried repeatedly to get rid of the water.

Grunwald tells this story well. He shows a keen eye for the hucksters selling Florida swampland, the public officials who touted development while on the take and the engineers who refused to acknowledge flaws even when unforeseen flooding killed thousands.

He debunks some myths, most notably that the man who actually started draining the Glades, Philadelphia magnate Hamilton Disston, lost his shirt and blew his brains out. Grunwald found evidence that Disston died a wealthy man, and not by his own hand (and credits his sources in his extensive footnotes, which are often as entertaining as the text.)

But there's an imbalance in the book that's surprising considering its origin.

The Swamp grew out of an outstanding four-part series that Grunwald wrote for the Post in 2002. CERP's problems had been well covered by Florida newspapers by the time the Post stories appeared, but his series marked the first time all of CERP's dirty linen had been hung on the same wash line. To the Post's national readership it seemed like a revelation.

However, CERP occupies a surprisingly small part in Grunwald's book, a fact he apologizes for in the footnotes. In an e-mail, Grunwald explained that he shifted focus because "the current fights over restoration (while fascinating in their details as well as their characters) were a part of a much larger and richer story about man and nature in the Everglades and everywhere else. The story of the Everglades felt like a more important story than the story of CERP."

Still, it would have been nice to see more about CERP and its people. A Reconstruction-era scalawag named William Gleason, who proposed draining the Everglades but never did, gets three pages. But important modern figures such as Appelbaum rate only passing mentions, and the controversies over the rock-mining reservoirs and the deep wells get no more than a couple of sentences.

When he does address CERP, Grunwald emphasizes the politics - and how quickly its support began to crumble.

* * *

In 2003 the Legislature, facing a swarm of 42 lobbyists employed by Big Sugar, voted to delay the deadline for the pollution cleanup by at least a decade.

Congressmen from both parties objected, as did the federal judge overseeing the case. But Gov. Bush signed the bill, cooling congressional support for federal funding for the Everglades. Meanwhile, disputes unrelated to CERP have stalled congressional action on bills that would authorize the corps to start moving dirt on a host of projects, including CERP. Normally those bills are passed every two years, but six years have gone by since the last one.

"It's like you've got plans for a new automobile, but you have to get each individual nut and bolt approved by the company's board of directors," said former Sen. Bob Graham. The best way to break the logjam would be to pass a separate Everglades authorization bill, he said, but so far no one has tried that.

The White House, busy with two wars and a hurricane, has done little to push for action. In fact, President Bush's proposed budget for next year calls for giving the corps just $50 million for CERP, less than half of what the state is offering to spend.

So in late 2004 Gov. Bush launched a program called Acceler8. The state would borrow $1.5 billion, he said, and build eight CERP projects right away.

But the projects chosen for Acceler8 have been criticized for focusing more on storing water than restoring nature. And congressmen have questioned whether the state is cutting corners that may hurt the endangered species CERP is supposed to help.

On Feb. 22, the agencies involved in CERP clashed during a meeting at the water district's headquarters in West Palm Beach.

Colleen Castille, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, warned everyone the state's Acceler8 push would proceed "no matter how much opposition there's going to be." Then Wehle and Collins complained about what Collins called "wading through 35 miles of paperwork" to get federal agencies to do anything.

Suddenly Castille and the top corps official in Florida, Col. Robert Carpenter, strode out. A reporter found them sitting in an otherwise empty cafeteria, engaged in an intense discussion.

Castille said she too was unhappy with the federal efforts. The rules of CERP say that before building the 68 CERP components, each one needs a separate Project Implementation Report. In five years, only two reports have been produced, she said.

Red-faced, Carpenter promised 17 more would be ready by year's end. But he conceded that even the planning for CERP has been slowed by red tape.

"It's like trying to run a race with a 50-pound weight on your back," he said.

* * *

In The Swamp, Grunwald gives a vivid description of how Disston's crews began the work of draining the Glades, and he later shows in heartbreaking detail the consequences after the corps finished the job.

He also nicely depicts how in the '60s the tide began to turn as people such as geologist Garald Parker and biologist Art Marshall began talking about what had been lost and how to get it back. Plenty of progress has been made since then. Everglades activists fought off a pair of jetports. Big Sugar made enormous strides in cleaning up its pollution. The corps began restoring the straightened Kissimmee River, and the state has bought about half the land needed for CERP. But if Congress and the Bush administration fail to act again this year, the rest of CERP may sink into a bureaucratic mire as deep as the one that trapped the survey crew in 1892.

"It doesn't look hopeful," said Joette Lorion, a longtime Everglades activist who now works for the Miccosukee tribe, which lives in Everglades National Park. "While everyone's haggling, the environmental destruction continues."

[sarasota herald-tribune]


The story of Florida, says Washington Post reporter and first-time author Michael Grunwald, is the story of man's fight to control the

Before Lake Okeechobee's water was corralled and flushed down man-made canals—into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers and eventually the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico—the southern part of the
Florida peninsula was about the most uninhabitable place in North America.

The Everglades made it so, with its blanket-thick hordes of
mosquitoes, razor-sharp sawgrass and thigh-deep muck.

Described by several 19th-century explorers and soldiers as hell on Earth in diaries and letters, South Florida until shockingly recently remained largely unsettled, Grunwald writes in his book, "The Swamp:
The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise."

It wasn't until the Everglades was drained that south Florida became a paradise for vacationers and snowbirds and, ultimately, the engine behind the fastest-growing state in the nation.

Yet even today, the state is still wrestling with its relationship
with the Everglades. A $10 billion plan to restore the "River of
Grass" is several years behind schedule and has been criticized as more of a plumbing project to ensure enough water for South Florida to double in population over the next 20 to 30 years than an actual environmental restoration.

Grunwald covers all that ground and more in "The Swamp," which shows how Florida's history and development have been inextricably linked to the Everglades.

The 34-year-old Harvard graduate first became interested in the story of the Everglades about six years ago, during the research for an award-winning series about problems with projects of the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers.

"I heard how the Corps was destroying rivers for barges and yet barges weren't using the rivers," Grunwald said. "While I was writing about all these crazy boondoggles, I also heard the Corps was getting into
environmental restoration work, and the Everglades seemed like a great example.

"The Corps was responsible for destroying the Everglades and was now responsible for the largest restoration project in history."

What started as an idea for one story on the Everglades restoration plan to cap his series on the Corps developed into a series all its own, and, eventually, "The Swamp."

For Grunwald, a Long Island native who majored in government at Harvard and who considers himself anything but a tree-hugger, the ramifications of the Everglades plan were immense.

"There is a saying among environmentalists that the Everglades is a test and if we pass, we get to keep the planet," Grunwald said. "I started to believe it (during the research). I don't come at this from
an environmental background. But I really started to see the
Everglades as a test case of whether man can live in harmony with nature.

"All these things you hear about—sustainable development, the politics of the environment, whether we'll be fighting wars over water in the 21st century—the answers might be in the Everglades."

Although "The Swamp" focuses on South Florida, it also provides a case study on the history of conservationism in the United States. The draining of the Everglades reflects the values from a different era, Grunwald contends.

"The early conservationists in the United States—and some of the most respected ones were in Florida—saw the drainage of the
Everglades as a godsend," Grunwald said. "They were changing pestilent wasteland into productive farmland. A lot of the same governors who were passing the first forest and oyster conservation laws were also passing Everglades drainage laws. It was a noble impulse."

It wasn't until the last half of the 20th century and the birth of the
modern-day environmental movement that people began to take a different view of what was being lost.

"In the late '60s and early '70s there was this realization that
humans were fouling their own nest," Grunwald said.

It was a time when a river actually caught on fire in Cleveland and bald eagles were at the edge of extinction. In the midst of an environment plagued by horribly polluted air and water, a real political backlash fomented. The movement was so strong that some of the country's most enduring—and successful—environmental
protections are relics from an era when a Republican sat in the White House.

"When you think of some of the laws that passed during the Nixon administration, it's extraordinary," Grunwald said. "And about that same time, the Everglades became something politicians wanted to be on
the right side of."

And that's where the real work begins, Grunwald says.

"Now that everyone is for the Everglades, it becomes harder," he said."It becomes technical, it becomes political. It becomes more about is this deal enough, is that deal enough? I tried to share some of the tensions in the book between some of the more confrontational
environmentalists and some of the ones who are more apt to cut deals."


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