Peace River Legal Dispute Settlement Sessions Set For Dec. 19

The Polk Regional Water Cooperative had already scheduled a special meeting for 2 p.m. Dec. 19 to consider a proposed settlement agreement to resolve a dispute over water permitting along the Peace River.

At Tuesday’s meeting of the Peace River Manasota Water Supply Authority, whose permit request is the focus of the legal dispute, Doug Manson, the agency’s lawyer, recommended that the agency’s board schedule its time to consider the settlement at a special meeting at 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 19 at the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s Sarasota office.

PRMWSA’s board met in a private attorney-client meeting during Tuesday’s regular meeting to discuss strategy regarding the settlement .

The dispute is about PRMWSA’s request for a 50-year permit to double its permitted withdrawal from the Peace River.

Polk officials, who were joined by officials in Wauchula, the county seat of Hardee County, opposed the permit request. They claimed the proposed permit would tie up all of the water available for withdrawal from the river, closing off other upstream utilities’ options for developing future water supplies.

Polk officials also criticized Swiftmud officials for not being transparent about the pending permit by not sending notices to all upstream interests who might be affected.

The pending settlement was announced at the Nov. 14 PRWC meeting after earlier talks had reportedly resulted in an impasse.

A separate issue is Polk’s pending permit application to withdraw water from the upper Peace River and Alafia River, which are still under review.

The settlement reportedly conditions PRMWSA’s agreement to scale back its permit request on Polk’s ability to get those permits.

Swiftmud officials had earlier offered an alternative to Polk to obtain water from Tampa Bay Water. But that depended on the results of a pilot project that has drawn criticism from some TBW board members. It involves pumping treated sewage into the aquifer near the coast to form a barrier to halt salt water intrusion. That barrier would supposedly enable TBW to construct drinking water wells farther inland.

Polk’s planning also involves drilling wells into the Lower Florida Aquifer in hopes of being able to get enough useful water to aid with projected long-term supply deficits.

However, at the Nov. 14 meeting PRWC projects director Gene Heath acknowledged this approach has yet to be proven to be viable.