Swamped in Florida
"People see alligators in the park and think everything is good. That's ridiculous," a naturalist tells travel journalist W. Hodding Carter. In the pages of Stolen Water: Saving the Everglades from Its Friends, Foes and Florida, Carter describes what visitors do not see: a monumental battle between nature and civilization that began more than a century ago. The Everglades, a shallow, slow-moving river, was mistakenly despised as a swamp in the early 1900s. Since then, state and federal officials have built canals, levees and dams to drain it "and by the time certain people realized it was a river, we'd already turned it into a swamp," says Carter, thereby creating precisely what they were trying to eliminate in the first place. Carter says civilization's interference causes 1.7 billion gallons of fresh water to be dumped wastefully every day into the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Among the consequences: 90 percent of the Everglades' wading birds have vanished, more than 60 species of animals face extinction, and mercury levels in fish are seven times higher than considered safe by the government. After weighing such issues as industrial pollution, population growth and flood control, Carter, who went into the Everglades "knowing nothing," deplores what he sees as a "half-assed" management program. Written in a conversational manner and splashed with humor, this book deserves a wide readership, especially among legislators who still have a chance to save an area unlike any other on Earth.