EVEN 152 YEARS AFTER it was made famous by Stephen Foster, the Suwannee fits the song. From the Okefenokee Swamp in southeastern Georgia (the continent’s biggest swamp, and one of the few elevated ones), it winds down 235 miles to the Gulf of Mexico in northern Florida. Of all major American rivers it is the least polluted and least obstructed.
On other rivers, “flood control” projects such as dams and levees promote property damage by encouraging floodplain development, then failing. On the Suwannee there’s only one kind of flood control, the only kind that ever worked — wetlands. Many of these wetlands are called “isolated,” meaning that if bureaucrats and engineers dump dye into them, it doesn’t show up anywhere they are looking. But there is no such thing as isolated wetlands; the very term connotes ignorance of the natural world. “Isolated” wetlands store and filter water for the aquifers they flow into, and animals that live elsewhere in forest, prairie, or even desert seek them out to feed and breed in.