There was supposed to be some kind of informational meeting held today to give Polk Regional Water Cooperative board members a chance to ask questions about the details of a plan by Hillsborough officials to offer an alternative to tapping the Upper Peace and Alafia rivers for future water supplies.
But local city managers were told in an email from Assistant County Manager Ryan Taylor they should advise commissioners not respond to the offer and instead to confine their discussions to confidential mediation sessions, the next one of which is scheduled next week in Tampa.
That email drew a quick response from Brian Armstrong, Swiftmud’s executive director, who argued the meeting he proposed was simply to allow Polk officials to learn more and that the settlement discussions would not be part of the meeting discussion. He accused Polk’s lawyers of essentially going behind Swiftmud’s back to scuttle the meeting.
What the Hillsborough County proposal involves is a plan, which is still in the pilot stage, to pump threated sewage underground near the coast to create a freshwater bubble that will halt the inland progress of saltwater intrusion.
If that plan works, it would allow freshwater withdrawals from wells farther inland in Hillsborough County and some of the water pumped from those wells could be piped to Polk County to solve its projected water supply shortage.
That all depends on the project’s success—PRWC lawyer Ed de la Parte disputes Hillsborough’s claim that it generates enough wastewater to make it work—and whether Polk and Hillsborough officials can reach an agreement on the details of the water transfer.
It’s hard to know from the outside what ‘s behind the strategy of advising Polk officials to boycott the informational meeting.
It could be that there’s a feeling Polk could get a better deal if it doesn’t jump at the first offer that’s put on the table or it could be that it’s simply more lucrative for the professionals involved to string out this drama out as long as possible.
If there isn’t a timely resolution to the dispute, it will be interesting to see what, if anything, whichever candidate succeeds Gov. Rick Scott does about this dispute in the governor’s role in overseeing water management districts and state water policy.