Ideas about Florida water change over time. Until just a few decades ago, the primary human notion was to drain it away, get rid of it. (See, for example, “Land into Water, Water into Land.“) That utilitarian view is still important but competing strains of thought have arisen. A mix of ideas about water jostle each other for priority even if water resources remain the same. As William Cronon said, “Nature is a mirror onto which we project our own ideas and values; but it is also a material reality that sets limits…on the possibility of human ingenuity and storytelling.” (p. 458) What will that mirror show about Florida water resources in a few more decades?
For one thing, it will reflect ever growing human dominance. We already decide on the allowable flows of springs, how much nutrient pollution is acceptable, how many panthers can survive in south Florida, the degree of risk from boats that we will impose on manatees, how many billions of gallons of stormwater to pump around in south Florida, how effectively or ineffectively to prevent invasive aquatic animals and plants, how many fish at what season and of what size can be extracted legally from fresh and coastal waters, how frequently “wild” fires should occur, etc., etc.
In the future, it will be even more clear that Florida lakes, springs, wetlands, and rivers are allowed to exist only by our sufferance. Even “protected” or “wilderness” areas will be intensively monitored and managed. None of them are or can be fully undisturbed or pristine. One consequence of this near-complete dominance may be that working landscapes and the watery environment of people’s actual daily lives become the focus of water meaning. Water resources outside of parks and preserves may be regarded as having values comparable or greater than those on the inside of a park boundary.
Perhaps these developing facts and orientations will lead to a more exploitative, utilitarian, and abusive approach to water. One hopes that, instead, it takes a positive turn toward the roles of water steward, guardian, or resource gardener.