WEST PALM BEACH – The Florida flood of 1947 left most of South Florida underwater. The flood was the reason the Central and South Florida Flood Control Project (which later became the South Florida Water Management District) was established, Tom DeBold, SFWMD bureau chief for Regional 3 Field Operations Division explained, at the June 10 SFWMD Governing Board meeting.
Hurricane Irma resulted in similar rainfall to the 1947 event, he said. Without the flood control system, Irma’s floodwaters would impact more than 8 million people.
He said before and after storms, SFWMD staff:
• Continually monitor weather conditions and water levels;
• Open gates as needed to lower water levels in primary canals in anticipation of expected heavy rainfall;
• During and after storms, route excess water
SFWMD manages 4,310 miles of canals and levees, 762 structures, 621 project culverts and 89 pump stations. In an average year, the system moves 20 million acre feet of water (an acre foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre with water one foot deep). They maintain and operate the system as well as keep it clean. District staff removes vegetation and debris from the canals, ranging from small items like plastic bottles to larger debris such as mattresses and couches. “If it floats you can guarantee you’ll find it in the canals," he said. "In some areas the problem of people throwing garbage into the canals is worse than others," he added.
Without this system, life in South Florida as we know it would not be possible, he said.
“I was here in 1947,” said SFWMD Governing Board Member Ron Bergeron. “We had to retreat to high ground.
“My grandfather was a game warden,” he said. “He went around picking up people in his airboat from rooftops.”
He said many people who live in Florida now take flood control for granted.