Peace River Water Use Appeals Proceed

The appeals of the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s proposed approval of a permit to pump significantly more water from the Peace Rive are proceeding.

The latest word is that there is a recommendation to consolidate the appeals filed by the Polk County Regional Water Cooperative, Polk County, Bartow, Fort Meade, Lakeland, Winter Haven and Wauchula since their appeals raise more or less identical issues. No date for the formal hearing before an administrative hearing officer has been scheduled.

The issue involves a request by the Peace River Manasota Water Supply Authority, which supplies water to customers in Charlotte, Manatee and Sarasota counties to double the amount of water it would be allowed to withdraw from the river as part of a 50-year water supply plan.

The appeal was filed this spring after Polk officials belatedly learned of the downstream utility’s plans even though PRMWSA officials contend it had been under public discussion for some time.

The heart of the issue is that if Swiftmud were to grant the permit, it would prevent any other utility from withdrawing water from the river because PRMWSA’s permit would consume all of the water that Swiftmud officials currently feel is the river’s sustainable yield.

Although Polk had not planned to use river water to meet its supply needs in the short term, Polk Regional Water Cooperative officials filed for a permit to withdraw water near Fort Meade as a defensive measure. It is unclear how much water would be available, providing Swiftmud granted this permit. Obtaining water from the Peace and Alafia rivers are part of the Polk cooperative’s long-term planning options.

Under PRMWSA’s existing permit, water is withdrawn only during high flow periods and only a limited percent of that flow can be diverted. The rest of the water—despite some talk in Polk County about water being wastefully allowed to “flow to tide”—is necessary to maintain the health of the Charlotte Harbor Estuary.

The status of the appeal will be discussed at the next PRWC meeting, which is scheduled for 2 p.m. July 19 at the Lake Myrtle Sports Complex in Auburndale.