The money that voters approved in 2014 to be used to restart the Florida Forever program will be going to local water projects, a county lobbyist confirmed to the Polk Regional Water Cooperative board Wednesday.
Frank Bernardino said as long as the projects provide a “public environmental purpose,” they will qualify for the funds.
The list of projects and the amount of funds involved will be discussed at the Nov. 15 meeting after the projects are ranked.
The authority to submit Polk projects for consideration for special state funding under Amendment 1 was contained in legislation approved this year under a bill proposed by Rep. Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland, called the Heartland Headwaters Protection and Sustainability Act, Bernardino said.
Board members were told only a handful of the proposed projects involved environmental restoration. The rest involved drinking water, sewer, drainage and water conservation projects.
The Amendment 1 money will not be used for the cooperative’s major planned expenditure, which is the $17.1 million the board agreed to spend Wednesday to hire a group led by Carollo Engineering, a national engineering firm with offices in Florida, to study the feasibility of using the lower Floridan aquifer to supply future water needs. The vote involve spending an additional $5.8 million for well construction, administration and securing third-party review of the engineering work.
The source of money for that work will be funded with grants from the Southwest Florida Water Management District and a loan from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s state revolving loan fund.
The question of whether the lower Floridan aquifer—the upper Floridan aquifer is the main source of local water supplies now—will provide enough water to supply future demands for growth has not been established, Jason Mickel, Swiftmud’s water supply section manager, told the group.
“There is no slam dunk yet,” he said.
In addition to determining whether the water quality is acceptable and whether the wells are productive enough to be worth pumping for public supply, the research is also intended to determine whether the area of the aquifer where the wells are drilled is really a separate section of the aquifer.
Unless that can be established, it may be difficult to obtain a water-use permit because of the coming cap on tapping the upper Floridan aquifer because it has nearly reached its sustainable limit.
In reality, the legacy of water overconsumption plays into parallel efforts by Swiftmud officials to plan the recovery of a 5,100-square-mile area called the Southern Water Use Caution Area that includes most of Polk County.
It is an area where lake levels and river flows do not meet minimum standards, mostly as the result of past water withdrawals.
The best-documented case involves the Upper Peace River, whose base flow was seriously reduced decades ago when adjacent Kissengen Spring quit flowing in 1950 and when sections of the river disappeared beginning in the early 1980s after supplementary flow from sewer plants was diverted to be used for power plant cooling water.
That led to the purchase of land around Lake Hancock to form a reservoir to be used to release water to supplement river flow when necessary.
The steps to recover lake levels on the Lake Wales Ridge are still to be determined.
The effect of groundwater pumping on lake levels in the area was documented several years ago, at least regarding Crooked Lake.