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.