Palm Beach County’s Nineteen Drainage Districts

Palm Beach County’s 19 drainage districts represent the secondary tier in a complex system of drainage under the supervision of Florida’s South Florida Water Management District to mitigate flooding in the wet seasons and conserve water in the dry seasons so that the County has sufficient water to meet consumer, industrial, and agricultural needs all-year-round.

Congress began investigating the swampy marsh conditions of the federal lands in Illinois and Missouri in 1826. Members made several attempts at draining the lands. But it was not until 1849 when Congress passed the first Swamp and Overflowed Lands Act granting the State of Louisiana all federal lands in the state for its successful reclamation of the lands.

The 19 special drainage districts of Palm Beach County

The 19 special drainage districts of Palm Beach Couss passed the first Swamp and Overflowed Lands Act to grant all the federal lands in the State of Louisiana for its success in reclaiming its swampy lands into arable and otherwise useable lands.

One year later, Congress passed the second Swamp and Overflowed Lands Act (1850) to grant to the new State of Florida all federally owned Swamp and Overflowed lands reclaimed and made usable.  By the early 1920’s, Congress had granted to the Sunshine State a total of 20 million acres of federal lands out of Florida’s 35 million acres –forty percent of the land area of Florida, except for Spanish, French, and Indian grants of lands, which constituted a small amount of land by comparison.

Congress’s land grants made possible the construction of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway when private individuals incorporated the Florida Coast Line Canal & Transportation Company to build the waterway in addition to Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway from Jacksonville to Miami. Still, little of the swamp lands had been reclaimed except those drained in the early 1880’s by Hamilton Disston, a Philadelphia saw manufacturer. Disston drained only some of the lands in southwest Florida before he gave up the project.

The pivotal date in drainage was to be 1905.  As if the stars had aligned, the election of President Theodore Roosevelt placed a new emphasis on the nation’s resources.  Roosevelt convened several assemblies like the National Drainage Congress and others emphasizing conservation and inland waterways.  The same year, Florida elected a progressive Democrat to begin a plan to drain the Everglades to create more land for the average farmer.  Broward also promoted legislation that permitted local areas within a city or town to form special drainage districts.  By 1935, more than 125 drainage districts like the Lake Worth Drainage District had been created to drain the lands within its boundaries and place liens on drained lands to enforce payment of the liens to pay for the projects.

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