Tag Archives: 1850s florida

Are Lake Okeechobee’s Drained Lands Really Ours to Navigate? SLR/IRL

Lake O has been drained and lowered so that it is 250 square miles smaller than it was in the mid 1800s.
Lake O has been drained and lowered so that it is approximately 250 square miles smaller than it was in the mid 1800s. (SFWMD) Florida became a state in 1845.

“Navigable waters of the state” are protected under Florida law. They cannot be sold–they cannot be owned. They belong to the public…

Although the Swamp Lands Act of the 1850s allowed for drainage of Florida’s swamp lands, in some instances the drainage and claims may have been overdone. In accordance with state law “you can’t convey what you do not own.” This is part of what is known as “The Public Trust Doctrine.”

Hmmm? In all the excitement to develop, did the state break its own rules in conveying lands south and around the lake? Certainly powerful entities own those lands today.

—–That would be a bite wouldn’t it?

Let’s look a bit closer….

It is common knowledge that Lake Okeechobee has lost a tremendous amount of its former self, and that large portions of the lake have been drained and diked for agriculture and development.

Just recently while attending a  University of Florida Natural Resources Leadership Institute presentation in Clewiston, Jeff Summers of the South Florida Water Management District gave a Power-Point presentation using the slide below. It shows the natural vs. altered conditions of the lake going from approximately 1000 sq miles in the 1850s  to 750 square miles today. –Thus the approximate water stage has gone from 20 feet to 14 feet. Definitely a loss of navigable waters–don’t you think? Today those lands around the lake are used for growing mostly sugarcane. Today most of those lands are “owned.” How could this be as they were once under water enough to be “navigable waters of the state?”

Slide from Jeff Summer's power point presentation SFWMD, 2016.
Slide from Jeff Summer’s power point presentation SFWMD, 2016.

The excerpt below is straight out of the “Florida Bar Journal” as shared by my brother Todd. After reading the paragraph, click on the link below to read the entire article. It is certainly worth thinking about…The maps below show land ownership.

Florida Bar Journal’s article conclusion:

The Public Trust Doctrine imposes a legal duty on the state to preserve and control title and use of all lands beneath navigable water bodies, including the shore or space between ordinary high and ordinary low water, for public use and enjoyment. The people of this state have raised the protection afforded by the doctrine to constitutional stature. In the most recent challenge to this doctrine, the Florida Supreme Court relied upon this constitutional provision in reconfirming longstanding Florida law that swamp deeds do not create a private property interest in sovereignty lands. Attempts to use swamp deeds as a justification to legislatively redefine the ordinary high water boundary and thus transfer all or part of the shore to the adjacent private owner are similarly inappropriate and unconstitutional.

Full article Florida Bar Journal, April 2001: http://www.floridabar.org/DIVCOM/JN/JNJournal01.nsf/Articles/8D98D298C0060C0785256B110050FFB7

Map of land ownership TCRPC 2016
Map of land ownership south and around Lake O TCRPC 2016. Key below.
Key
Key to above map, 2016 TCRPC.
The bigger picture. Lake O used to flow to the Everglades. Google Earth map 2016.
The bigger picture: Lake O used to flow to the Everglades but is now directed to the northern estuaries St Lucie/IRL and Caloosahatchee causing great destruction.  Google Earth, 2016.

 

Navigable Waters of the State: http://www.floridageomatics.com/publications/legal/submerged1.htm