Polk’s Hasty River Water Permit Requests As Full Of Holes As the Bed of the Peace River

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.

 

DeSoto Commissioners Deny Mosaic Mine Rezoning

The DeSoto County Commission voted 4-1 Wednesday to deny a request by Mosaic to rezone 14,000 acres for a future phosphate mine.

The vote came following a two-day hearing in Arcadia.

“Unbelievable but true,” said Marian Ryan, conservation chair for Ancient Islands Sierra and a member of Florida Sierra’s Phosphate Committee.

The DeSoto County vote came a week after the Hardee County Commission and Planning and Zoning Board approved a permit for Mosaic to mine 22,854 acres in Ona in western Hardee County.

Sierra opposed the expansion of mining because of the environmental impact on wildlife habitat and the Peace River and its tributaries.

There was no immediate word on whether Mosaic will appeal the vote, though that seems likely.

 

 

Legislators Appeal Sierra Court Win In Lands Case

The Florida State Senate President and Florida House Speaker filed an appeal Wednesday to attempt to overturn a ruling last month that they had diverted money that was supposed to be spent on new public land acquisition and restoration.

The ruling was in response to litigation brought by conservation organizations, including Sierra Club .

At issue was the implementation of the Florida Water and Land and Water Conservation Amendment, which three out of four Florida voters approved a ballot initiative in 2014 that amended the state constitution to require a portion of proceeds from the existing real estate transaction tax go to protecting new public lands.

Environmental groups sued to enforce the voters’ intent, charging the Legislature spent much of the preservation funds on other things.

Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson ruled June 28 that moving forward the state had to comply with the will of the voters.

Below are reactions to the decision to appeal the ruling from the plaintiffs.

 

Alisa Coe, Plaintiffs’ Attorney from Earthjustice who represents Florida Wildlife Federation, St. Johns Riverkeeper, Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, Sierra Club, and Manley Fuller:
“This appeal is an attack on the most important conservation victory in Florida in years. The facts are on our side. The will of the people is very clear from the passage of the constitutional amendment. It’s disappointing that the state’s political leaders are spending the taxpayers’ money to fight what the taxpayers want. Time is critical here. Every day we spend debating this in court is another day we lose the opportunity to protect more land in Florida.”

Manley Fuller, Plaintiff and President of Florida Wildlife Federation:
“The ruling should be upheld through the appeals process. The ruling would provide funding for the purchase of important conservation lands that protect watersheds and connect habitats from the Panhandle to the Keys.”

Frank Jackalone, Sierra Club Florida Chapter Director:
“House Speaker Corcoran and Senate President Negron are fighting against the clear mandate from Florida voters. The fate of Florida’s environment is at stake in this court case.”

Lisa Rinaman, St. Johns Riverkeeper:
“This appeal was filed to further block the conservation of many natural places in Florida. Protecting land is critical to the health of our rivers and our springs and is also needed to make Florida more resilient to hurricanes and flooding.”

Becky Ayech, Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida:
“We hope the court upholds the ruling. The ruling was 100% justified. The leaders of the Florida House and Senate must stop diverting funds the voters said should be spent on land conservation.”

Polk Septic Tank Fees Getting Pushback

Polk County commissioners, led by Commissioner George Lindsey, voted unanimously today to reapprove a resolution they passed unanimously in 2016—minus any local surcharges to cover the cost of performing some septic tank permitting work by the Polk County Health Department.

This issue has been building for a couple of months ever since local health officials began assessing the extra fees as new construction is cranking up again, along with the demand for inspections to allow the projects to proceed, and local builders complained.

The biggest increase involved the fee to review a new residential septic tank permits. That fee increased from the $100 the state fee schedule to $225 because of the $125 county surcharge. Most of the fee increases for the various services are more modest, in the $10 to $25 range, or non-existent.

Lindsey raised the issue in early June on behalf of his colleagues at the Polk County Builders Association, who complained the fee was enacted without any notice.

In fact, the fee schedule was quietly included as an attachment to the previous resolution without any indication fee increases would be involved, according to the backup for the agenda item.

Lindsey questioned why there is a local surcharge and why the full cost of the service isn’t included in the state portion of the fee.

Dr Joy Jackson, director of the Polk County Health Department, said the fees are set in Tallahassee, but she wasn’t sure who sets them or how they are determined.

She said she will bring figures explaining the rationale for the local fees when she meets with commissioners later this summer in preparation for a vote in September on local septic tank fees.

Lindsey asked Dr. Jackson what would happen if commissioners simply refused to levy the local surcharge.

She said builders would possibly have to wait longer to get their inspections because there would be fewer staff members available to provide the service if the funding to pay them were not available.

It seems one option would be to lobby someone in Tallahassee to increase the state fees, which would produce the needed amount of revenue but would force the builders to direct their complaints toward the Florida Legislature rather than the County Commission.

The real issue seems to be whether the fees are appropriate to allow the government to provide a service efficiently and whether not charging the fees would force the taxpayers to subsidize new development once again.

 

Peace River Water Dispute Continues

Here’s the latest on the challenge filed by officials in Polk and Hardee counties to an attempt by the Peace River Manasota Water Supply Authority to double the amount of water it pumps from the Peace River, according to an update provided Thursday to the Polk Regional Water Supply Authority.

Edward delaParte, the Polk group’s lawyer, said the challenge has been assigned to an administrative law judge and is scheduled to be heard in January in Tampa.

In the meantime, lawyers for the parties involved are scheduled to meet later this summer to try to reach a settlement to resolve the issue and reduce legal costs.

PRWSA officials have agreed to spend up to $175,000, the amount delaParte estimated pursuing the case will cost.

The core of Polk’s challenge is that the downstream permit request could, if granted, prevent Polk from seeking a future permit to tap the river for its projected water supply needs.

In the meantime, Polk has applied for permits to tap the Peace River, the Peace Creek and the Alafia River from the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

Swiftmud officials have requested more information on Polk’s permit requests before processing them further.

 

Let’s Go Mothwatching In Polk

We’ve spent years managing and protecting natural areas in Polk County.

The coming week is a time to learn more about the wildlife these lands are protecting.

I’m talking about National Moth Week, which kicks off Saturday.

Two local events have been scheduled so far, both of them on properties owned and managed by Green Horizon Land Trust.

One will be Saturday at Barbara Pedersen Preserve at the edge at 6609 Scenic Highway beginning at 8:30 p.m.

The other will be next Tuesday at Lewis Arboretum, located on Overlook Drive across from St. Matthew Catholic Church in Winter Haven.

Bring a folding chair, bug spray, refreshments and the kids.

These are family-friendly events.

The event will feature setting up lights near sheets and waiting to see what will be attracted to the lights and land on the sheet.

In addition to moths, these events typically attract not only moths,, but also beetles, mayflies, caddisflies and all other manner of flying invertebrate.

The event is free.

 

Despite Questions, Well Construction Proceeds

One of the questions revolving around the Polk Regional Water Cooperative’s quest for more water to keep the growth machine going is how productive the lower reaches of the Floridan aquifer will be and how expensive it will be to deliver whatever water the cooperative extracts to local taps.

Despite the questions, the infrastructure to support this effort continues.

One part you may have noticed as you drove down Boy Scout Road east of Lake Wales is construction of a well system, including a deep injection well to dispose of the brine that will result from treating this lower-quality water from the section of the aquifer Polk is exploring.

The County Commission purchased the 30-acre parcel on which the well is located for $600,000 in December. That doesn’t include the cost of the well construction.

County officials also plan to use the property for a future fire-ambulance station.