There are still some missing pieces in Polk’s water plan, based on what I heard Tuesday night at the latest local water summit put on by the Polk County Water Cooperative.
The cooperative is a paradox.
It is an innovative confederation of local officials uniting in Polk County for the first time to find a way to deal with water problems by embracing a plan that promotes doing things the way they’ve always done it, regardless of the cost.
The problem they confront is that public water utility departments have tapped out their traditional, relatively cheap sources and will have to find a way to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to find additional water somewhere to maintain current growth patterns.
The current projections only guarantee water for the next generation.
After that, who knows?
The missing pieces are where the money will come from to finance these plans, which lean heavily on what amounts to a network of inland desalination plants to tap poor quality water in a section of the aquifer beneath the fresh water section that has been the traditional source up until now.
Local officials and their consultants have come up with some credible proposed sources that include getting money from the water management district, getting money from the Florida Legislature, issuing ponds, asking the voters to increase the local sales tax and raising utility rates.
The nagging concern for all of us who are municipal utility customers is that there could come a day when our water bills are as high as our sewer bills. What the future rates will be is a big question mark because the plan isn’t far enough along to provide good numbers, but you can’t say you weren’t warned.
There are alternatives, such as capping water permits, but while that’s technically defensible, the politics are against it for now.
Nothing is going to happen immediately.
Polk legislators may make a run at a bill this year that would authorize money for water projects and give Polk the right to use voter-approved sales tax money for water projects. The rationale for the legislation is that Polk is a special place at the headwaters for several rivers and home of the Green Swamp and deserving of state help.
As I wrote in an earlier post, some of the bill’s introductory language needs some fact-checking and wordsmithing, but if it promotes more growth in Florida, that may not matter, for now.