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Posted 9/10/2013

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By Annie Chambers

In June 2013, Jacksonville District’s “River of Interests: Water Management in South Florida and the Everglades, 1948-2010” became the first U.S. Army Corps of Engineers publication to be placed on the American Library Association’s (ALA) 2012 Notable Documents list.  It was one of 20 federal publications to be so honored.

The honor was bestowed by the ALA’s Government Documents Roundtable panel. The panel includes representatives of 10 universities, including Northwestern University, University of San Francisco, University of Florida, Stanford University, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and others. The Roundtable provides a forum for the exchange of ideas by librarians who work with government documents and increases communication between documents librarians and other information professionals. Its "Notable Documents List" was initiated in 1982, with a goal to promote awareness and acquisition and use of government publications by libraries and patrons. The list also recognizes the individuals and agencies involved in producing such information sources. If one is not versed in library terminology, it may help to equate this notable award to winning the Pulitzer Prize of government documents.

Oriana Armstrong, district librarian, and a host of team members, including Jim Vearil and Daniel J. Hayes of Jacksonville District, Dr. Marty Reuss, headquarters Office of History retiree (and the first contracting officer’s representative for the project) and Susan Sylvester of the South Florida Water Management District, spent nearly seven years collectively, under three different initiatives, compiling historical photos, archiving documents and peer reviewing literature for consideration in the scholarly work. The team worked countless hours with authors Matthew Godfrey and Ted Catton to help pull together what Armstrong said is a “masterful work of science and scholarship.” 

“A librarian, similar to an engineer, is professionally certified and trained in the structured technical knowledge found in American National Standards and International Standards. Librarians take pride in putting their ‘stamp’ on finished products that meet the accuracy of these specifications,” said Armstrong.  "It is very important to document the history properly, since events put in writing have a tendency to have a forever impact on legitimate history. History based on imaginative inaccuracies can have a very long life of misinformed assumptions, an anomaly that has sometimes occurred in the annals of our written histories.

“The research process was taken very seriously. Engineers have building standards; so do librarians,” Armstrong explained. “‘River of Interests’ was not built with our hands, but rather with our minds. The authors visited south Florida, both the urban and agricultural sides, and their visits around the area helped to paint a picture of an ongoing water management struggle.”

In fact, in addition to south Florida, the authors traveled to archives in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. in their search for material.  “Library Journal” described the book as a “thoroughly researched and footnoted report, which describes the historical conflict between environmentalists and economic interests in the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee River region in south Florida. There are dozens of maps, some dating back to the mid-19th century, and color photographs familiarize the reader with this fascinating ecosystem.”
The book chronicles how, in response to deadly flooding in south Florida in the early 1900s, Congress authorized the Central and Southern Florida (C&SF) Project in 1948. Together with the state of Florida, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District constructed and managed an elaborate water management system consisting of 1,000 miles of canals, 720 miles of levees and more than 1,500 water control structures – the largest civil works project of its time.

Unfortunately, these alterations also had unintended adverse environmental consequences for much of the south Florida ecosystem, and with the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2000, Congress authorized the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), a holistic program to restore and sustain hydrological and biological characteristics that defined the original pre-drainage Everglades. The need to restore more natural water flow to Everglades National Park is a paramount goal and a key driver of the restoration efforts. 

The Corps and its partners have pioneered new work in environmental science throughout the restoration effort. Much has been learned through rigorous research, applied science, extensive monitoring and the development and refinement of computer models.

“Nathaniel Reed, former assistant secretary, Department of the Interior, played a key role in providing insight for the book,” said Armstrong. “He added to the push and pull of the dilemma of the Everglades, the real analytical drama of Everglades saving or Everglades perishing.”

“I teach a humanities class on the interactions between people and society, and I have been working along on how to include some of this material in that class,” said Dr. Kenneth Walsh, San Diego State University professor. “I find it a really interesting look at the whole problem, and it fits nicely into material I use to talk about the impacts of the hurricanes in the Everglades in the 1920s.”

Closer to home, Professor Richard G. Hamann, University of Florida’s Levin College of Law, said that he will use “River of Interests” in his “Everglades Field Course,” adding that “the Corps is to be commended for sponsoring such a publication.”

Documenting the history of Everglades restoration started in the early 2000s under the watchful eyes of several consecutive district commanders. In January 2009, responsibility for the project changed hands from project management to the district library. Then commander Col. Alfred Pantano was integral in making the final work a reality, giving the authors direct access to subject matter experts.  “River of Interests” was bound and ready for distribution by July 2012, when Pantano left on deployment to Afghanistan.

“The readability of “River Of Interests” is phenomenal, providing readers with all they need to know about the history of the Everglades – from mankind’s initial intervention in nature to the restoration efforts conducted through 2010,” said Pantano. “Read it to understand the past, for the good of the future.”

Since work began on “River of Interests,” the $53 million Picayune Strand Restoration Project became the first CERP project to break ground in January 2010. With construction of the Merritt Canal Pump Station in Collier County, removal of 95 miles of roads and installation of 55 plugs in the Merritt Canal, the project will restore water flow across the landscape, rehydrate drained wetlands, improve estuarine waters and return habitat to threatened wildlife communities.

Progress also continues to be made on the Tamiami Trail Modifications Project, which once completed, will allow additional water to flow into Everglades National Park. Construction of the one-mile bridge was completed in March 2013 and is open for traffic. Currently, the old roadway is being removed and an additional 9.7 miles of roadway is being modified as part of the project, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2013.

“‘River of Interests’ is a very impressive book and a tribute to the outstanding effort of your staff,” said Christopher D. Barth, U.S. Military Academy librarian. “It will be a worthy addition to our research collection. We are pleased to add this to the library collection for the benefit of cadets and faculty.” 

“The book is a tremendous accomplishment,” said John Lonnquest, chief, Office of History at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers headquarters. “It is a wonderful contribution to the literature on the Everglades, chronicles the federal government's changing role in water resources management policy, and highlights the significant contributions of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in shaping south Florida.”

The book may be viewed online at: http://www.evergladesplan.org/about/river_interest_history.aspx

everglades Jacksonville District Notable Documents Picayune Strand Restoration Project River of Interests Tamiami Trail Modifications Project U.S. Army Corps of Engineers USACE water resources management