Remember the Bluebelt Amendment? It may be coming back

In 1988 Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment that would allow local officials to allow property tax breaks for land that offers high recharge value to the aquifer.

The idea was championed by the late Henry Swanson, a longtime head of the Orange County Extension Office.

The Legislature left it up to counties to decide whether to authorize the tax break. There were few if any takers.

Now comes Denise Grimsley, a Republican candidate for Florida agriculture commissioner, who has issued an extensive position paper on water, which includes encouraging more counties to enact the tax break.

The tricky part of this tax break is what the incentive means for landowners.

For instance, if the property already has a greenbelt classification, the taxes are already pretty low.

To qualify for another exemption, the landowners would have to establish whether their property qualifies for the additional tax break.

This requires some kind of technical evaluation, according to a 1990 U.S. Geological Survey pilot study to determine how this all might work.

Most of the rest of Grimsley’s views on water resources and water pollution pretty much mirror the existing philosophy in Tallahassee and those of the current ag commissioner.


Florida Officials Want Feedback On Greenways And Trails Plan

Florida’s Office of Greenways and Trails is seeking comments on its latest draft plan to fund, expand and promote the state’s trail system.

The deadline to comment is Aug. 31. Comments should be directed to .

–Some of the highlights of the proposal include:

–Proposing land or water trails that provide important links to conservation lands, historic sites or other destinations.

–Connecting existing trails to provide some longer, multi-day trail experiences.

–Securing funding –the Office of Greenways and Trails has received no state funding from the Florida Forever program since 2010—to develop new trails.

–Develop a marketing program to make the public and tourists more aware of the trail system’s recreational opportunities.

–Providing technical help to small and rural communities to develop local trail systems.

In the meantime, visit a new trail or a new trail section and get to know what the system has to offer.

To learn more about the Florida hiking, bicycling and paddling trails, go to this site.




Stormwater Tax Funding Lots of Projects

The stormwater tax the County Commission finally approved in 2012—after 25 years of discussion-is helping to pay for a lot of water-quality improvement projects, according to the annual report presented to the County Commission Tuesday by Dave Carter, chairman of the Stormwater Technical Advisory Committee.

Overall there are $15.6 million in planned projects.

They include restoring the natural rehydration of drained marshes wests of Crooked Lake, restoring drained and damaged habitats along tributaries of the Peace River, restoring depressed lake levels on Lake Eva in Haines City, Lake Annie in Dundee and Lake McLeod in Eagle Lake. Another project would explore the feasibility of reducing pollution to Crystal Lake.

Carter said the current tax rate of 10 cents per $1,000 of taxable value is adequate to fund approved projects for the foreseeable future.

Summer Rains Fuel Peace River For Now

The Upper Peace River’s only source of water is rainfall.

The ebb and flow of river flow react graphicly to the weather.

It has been rainy in recent months in the upper part of the basin and relatively dry in the lower part of the basin.

A spot check of tentative river flow data compiled by the U.S. Geological Survey and rainfall data compiled by the National Weather Service illustrates shows the vagaries of this phenomenon.

July rainfall in Winter Haven was 13.14 inches (4th highest on record) and 12.26 inches in Bartow (15th highest on record). Flow in the Peace River at the Bartow gage was around 150 percent of average flow this week., but by the time the river reached Fort Meade and more tributaries had fed in, flow was more than 300 percent of average.

The flow at Zolfo Springs was about 250 percent of normal but rainfall in Wauchula in July was only 4.02 inches, which appears to be the 9th driest on record.

The flow at Arcadia was about 150 percent of average. Last month’s rainfall in Arcadia was 8.28 inches, the 48th wettest July on record.

None of the river flows was record-setting. Most of the records in this part of Florida date to 1960, the last year that scientists used to describe the wet period of the 1940s and 1950s.

Water managers use that data and something they call the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation to argue the recent declines in streamflows are directly tied to changes in rainfall patterns.

How climate change will affect future rainfall and streamflows in Central Florida is a question that will bear directly on water supply planning as utilities look for non-traditional/alternative sources of water.

This year’s rainfall and consequent river flows have attracted attention because they are unusual, not the basis of long-term planning.

It will be interesting to see what the figures look like by year’s end.


Developer Withdraws Lake Kissimmee Golf Resort Proposal

Plans for 2,900-acre golf course development on Lake Kissimmee have been withdrawn, Polk County officials confirmed today.

The project known as Lost Oaks was proposed for a sprawling site north of Coleman Landing at Shady Oaks, a county lakefront park.

The Polk County Planning Commission, which rarely recommends denying any project, voted 4-3 to deny this one following testimony from local environmentalists and area property owners about the site’s unsuitability for development and its potential conflict with planned wildlife corridors and military flights at nearby Avon Park Air Force Range.

The case had been scheduled to be heard Aug. 7 by the County Commission.

The site had originally been purchased for conservation by the South Florida Water Management District as part of the Kissimmee River restoration project to return lake levels t o historic patterns, which would sometimes flood some of the property.

However, the property returned to private ownership as a result of a land swap involving the district’s interest in obtaining a parcel near Lake Okeechobee for the Everglades restoration.

The development was first proposed a couple of years ago, but concrete plans did not surface until this year.

Polk’s Hasty River Water Permit Requests As Full Of Holes As the Bed of the Peace River

I finally have had a chance to look at Polk County’s trio of applications to the Southwest Florida Water Management District to withdraw water from the Peace and Alafia Rivers to supplement local utility demands and to capture water along the Peace Creek to supposedly recharge the aquifer.

They all need work, a fact I’m sure the people who prepared them realized when they hastily submitted the applications within the past couple of months. This occurred about the time the Polk Regional Water Cooperative was talking about challenging Swiftmud’s plan to issue a permit to the Peace River Manasota Water Authority to increase its withdrawals from the Peace River.

Here are the problems that have surfaced so far:

The Peace River permit proposes to withdraw 18 million gallons a day. Swiftmud’s initial questions were: Why 18 MGD? Where are you going to put the pipe? Do you know you need a separate permit to build a reservoir? Do you know we won’t consider giving you a water permit until you have the reservoir permit?

The Alafia River permit, which proposes to withdraw 10 mgd, resulted in similar questions. It reportedly caused some blowback from Tampa Bay Water, which was one of Polk’s proposed future water supply partners.

I’d add that the proposed withdrawal site is a Polk County Environmental Preserve site called Alafia Reserve, which is tucked into a residential subdivision west of Mulberry. This may not set a good precedent. If you can run a pipeline through one county preserve (this one is jointly owned with Swiftmud, but Polk manages it) what other intrusions will be allowed in other preserves?

One more thing, although county officials don’t encourage people to visit this site because of problems with illegal ATV use and littering by area residents, it is a neat site. It contains one of the few Sabal Palmetto floodplains in the area and in spring it produces the biggest patches of Jack-in-the-pulpits I’ve seen anywhere in Polk County.

The Peace Creek request for 12mgd raises additional questions. Although there was a lot of talk about protecting and restoring the Peace Creek a few years ago, the real impetus is to persuade Swiftmud to let Winter Haven keep on pumping from the aquifer without worrying about alternative water supplies for now because they’re going to divert creek water to a series of reservoirs and recharge the aquifer to get water credits or something like that.

The problem is that the application does not include any information that actually documents a recharge rate that would justify a bigger water permit. Swiftmud officials also ask the water cooperative staff to explain how diverting water that would normally flow down the Peace Creek Drainage Canal to the Peace River would affect the amount of water available to pump from the river under the proposed Peace River permit application.

Swiftmud officials are also puzzling over the location of the permit site for this project, which is small area along State Road 60 south of the Peace Creek and west of Lake Garfield.

Lake Garfield, which went dry a few decades ago, has an outlet to the Peace Creek that is equipped with some kind of control structure, I have been told, but that outlet crosses SR 60 in another location than the site depicted in the permit application.


DeSoto Commissioners Deny Mosaic Mine Rezoning

The DeSoto County Commission voted 4-1 Wednesday to deny a request by Mosaic to rezone 14,000 acres for a future phosphate mine.

The vote came following a two-day hearing in Arcadia.

“Unbelievable but true,” said Marian Ryan, conservation chair for Ancient Islands Sierra and a member of Florida Sierra’s Phosphate Committee.

The DeSoto County vote came a week after the Hardee County Commission and Planning and Zoning Board approved a permit for Mosaic to mine 22,854 acres in Ona in western Hardee County.

Sierra opposed the expansion of mining because of the environmental impact on wildlife habitat and the Peace River and its tributaries.

There was no immediate word on whether Mosaic will appeal the vote, though that seems likely.