Peace River Water Permit Request Has Revived Old, New Concerns

The Peace River Manasota Water Supply Authority has been pumping water from the Peace River for decades to supply the growth demands of Charlotte, Sarasota and Manatee counties, but their latest request to essentially monopolizes all of the river’s potential sustainable withdrawal allowance has caused a swift and united reaction upstream.

First a little background.

Historically, Polk and other inland areas along the Peace River have not been interested in using the river for anything other than recreation and as a convenient place to dump their treated sewage.

That began to change a decade ago when it became clear that the Floridan aquifer, the traditional source for drinking water, irrigation water, mining process water and power plant cooling water was about tapped out. This was something a few far-sighted people had predicted would happen as long ago as the 1940s—even before Kissengen Spring south of Bartow quit flowing in 1950 because of aquifer overpumping—but now the monitoring and data are good enough to prove there’s a problem and people started listening.

You have to understand that it wasn’t until 1975 that anyone actually needed a permit to pump millions of gallons of water a day from the ground as the water management districts transitioned from their original role as flood control districts intent on ditching and draining the landscape to regional water managers who began to realize the resource wasn’t unlimited or a nuisance and began serious planning.

In the meantime, much of Polk was declared as something called the Southern Water Use Caution Area, which signaled the end to unlimited withdrawals. Polk and some agriculture interests challenged the restrictions in what turned into the longest administrative hearing in Florida history. In the end, the water managers’ restrictions were sustained. The documentation that the problem was more widespread through studies initiated under the Central Florida Water Initiative added to the concerns.

Water fuels the growth machine. Politicians throughout Polk are nothing if not growth-oriented. The idea that development permits would ever be denied because there’s simply no more water available is unthinkable in their universe.

The new water reality set the stage for the creation of the Polk Regional Water Cooperative to get all local governments together to figure out how to find more water and how to pay for it.

The alternatives on the table to deal with the near-term shortage through 2035 have involved improved conservation, funding of research to figure out whether using the deeper, saltier portions of the Floridan aquifer will provide a sustainable source of water and establishing some reservoirs along the Peace Creek Drainage Canal to set up some recharge credits that might allow more pumping from the fresh water aquifer.

The question in the back of many water planners’ minds has been where to get water beyond 2035.

One plan involved tapping the Peace River near Fort Meade and building a reservoir to store it and setting up a pipeline to get it to other users. Polk County recently formally applied for a permit for the Fort Meade withdrawal even though it may not need it for years to come.

That’s where the PRMWSA permit comes in.

The authority applied for a permit to add an additional withdrawal point in DeSoto County to bring its total withdrawal to 258 million gallons a day. Its current permit, issued in 2011, allows 120 mgd in withdrawal from its existing withdrawal pipe, which is also in DeSoto County.

As it turns out 258 mgd is pretty much equal to the cap the Southwest Florida Water Management District has set for the maximum public supply withdrawal from the entire 105-mile length of the river.

Technically the cap is 400 cubic feet per second. A cubic foot per second is 646,320 gallons per day.

The water authority applied for the permit last fall, but no one noticed until recently because, opponents allege, the legal advertisements on the permit were not published in media outlets upstream and the language in the advertisement that was published didn’t clearly lay out what the request involved.

That and some other alleged technical and administrative shortcomings in the permit request are the main points in the challenges to the authority’s permit request that have been filed by the Polk Regional Water Cooperative, Polk County and the cities of Bartow, Fort Meade, Lakeland, Winter Haven and Wauchula.

Polk officials further argue that since about a quarter of the river’s drainage basin lies in Polk County, fairness requires that the county deserves a piece of the river’s flow.

Whether this is a real “water war” in the way events played out in the Tampa Bay area decades ago is something that will be clearer as events unfold.

What it does highlight is a tension that has existed since those times between coastal and inland counties over the prospect that somehow the coastal utilities would eventually reach inland for new water supplies at the inland counties’ expense. This played out in the dispute over the proposed development of the Cone Ranch wellfield in eastern Hillsborough County a few years ago. That wellfield was never built.

The concern with Cone Ranch and PRMWSA’s permit request is that although neither withdrawal lies within Polk County, the withdrawals could pre-empt so much of the resource that future permit requests in Polk County would be denied to prevent further harm to the resource.

Meanwhile, the river and the organisms that inhabit it need water, too. So does the Charlotte Harbor estuary.

The next several years are going to require vigilance to make any decisions on water use look at everyone’s long-term benefits and not just the benefits of a few.

Polk’s Water Future Still Unclear, Sierra Told

The only thing certain about the future of water consumption in Polk County is that doing

it the way we’ve done it for decades will be unsustainable, representatives of the

Polk

Regional Water Cooperative told Ancient Islands Sierra Thursday.

That means spending millions of dollars to study whether it’s really practical to pump

and treat brackish water from the lower reaches of the Floridan aquifer or whether

collecting stormwater at key points along the Peace Creek Canal would provide enough aquifer recharge to justify pumping additional water from the freshwater section of the aquifer.

County Commissioner George Lindsey III, the cooperative’s current chairman, gave a presentation along with Assistant County Manager Ryan Taylor and consultant Mary Thomas.

The major points of Thursday’s presentation were:

–The regional approach to water planning by local governments improves chances of getting adequate financial help to implement expensive projects.

–A major challenge is to hold the coalition board made up of elected officials together long term when elections change the makeup of some local governing bodies.

–Developers have been slow to adopt water-conservation programs, despite offers of subsidies to implement better practices in new subdivision.

–The price customers should expect to pay triple what they pay now for potable water.

–Conservation remains a priority because it costs the less to implement.

–It’s still unknown how practical some of the proposals are in either delivering adequate supplies and in being able to be implemented affordably.

Any final proposal will get an outside professional review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Even Balloon Releases Have A Lobbying Group

Balloon releases litter the landscape and sometimes endanger marine wildlife, but stopping these releases can be challenging.

One reason is a group called the Balloon Council, according to Treehugger.

The article also informs us there is a way to fight back.

An organization called Balloons Blow offers fact sheets on the environmental damage balloons cause.

This a really relevant topic as graduations are occurring all over Florida and other events such as weddings are common at this time of year. Both sometimes include balloon releases.

If you hear one is planned talk to organizers and ask them to celebrate in a more sensitive manner.

 

Solar Advancing In Polk County

Solar farms keep coming to southwest Polk County.

The Polk County Planning Commission voted unanimously this week to approve a solar farm in Chicora, The Ledger reports.

Meanwhile, an additional solar farm has been proposed for a 358-acre site owned by KMT Farm and Timber Company between U.S. 98 and
E.F. Griffin Road. It is scheduled to come to the Bartow Planning and Zoning Commission May 14. If city officials approve the project, it will be operated by Tampa Electric.

This is the latest addition of solar power to Bartow.

In March city officials announced an agreement with NovaSol Energy for the addition of solar power to the city’s power grid.

Also in March, city officials approved a TECO solar farm near the Peace Creek north of State Road 60.

 

FEMA May Allow Rebuilding In Flood Zones

Over the years the government has bought several homes in places in Polk County such as the flood plains of Peace Creek, Lake Lowery and Lake Seward after they suffered repeated flooding.

The idea was to reduce the impact of the taxpayer subsidy for poor development decisions.

Now it seems that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is thinking about allowing people to rebuild in these flood-prone areas as long as they build to a still-undefined higher standard.

It seems there is some pressure from local governments who are concerned leaving the land vacant will have a major effect on their tax base.

What’s missing from that discussion is that these local governments are the ones who approved the developments in the first place and enacted development codes that usually don’t adequately deal with the changes new development causes within a drainage basin as far as the amount and velocity of runoff.

The idea has drawn criticism from environmentalists and public works officials.

This comes at a time when people in flood zones are already complaining about high flood-insurance rates as federal officials are trying to make the rates reflect the true cost of dealing with claims. That is, they’re trying to run government like a business.

The reason the government is in the flood insurance business in the first place is because the private insurance company knows a bad risk when they see it and are not interested in writing policies at rates anyone can afford. Business owners never like to run businesses like the government.

 

 

Gaye Sharpe Named To Succeed Jeff Spence

Gaye Sharpe, whose skills as a scientist, manager and fifth generation Polk County native helped to make the Polk County Environmental Lands Program a success, has been tapped to become the new director of parks and natural resources.

Sharpe, whose appointment by County Manager Jim Freeman must be confirmed by the County Commission, will succeed longtime director Jeff Spence, who is retiring.

She played a key role in the development of Circle B Bar Reserve and Polk’s Nature Discovery Center and had been involved in a variety of environmental monitoring work before taking over the Environmental Lands Program, which was funded by tax proceeds approved in a 1994 referendum organized by Sierra and other local environmental groups.

Her appointment provides some continuity in the program at a time when taxpayer funding for the program has ended, forcing the program to be supported by an endowment created to provide a sustainable funding source for the management and operation of the sites purchased by Polk County and its partners.

Kissimmee River Wild And Scenic Status Advances

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto’s efforts to give the Kissimmee River federal Wild and Scenic River status passed an important milestone this week.

Soto secured a unanimous vote in the House of Representatives to support legislation that would launch a study of the proposal he broached last year.

The bill has been referred to the Committee for Energy and Natural Resources in the Senate.

The Kissimmee River was once a winding 103-mile river that was ditched in the 1960s for flood control, destroying thousands of acres of riverine marsh habitat that once attracted large numbers of waterfowl.

The project, which was opposed by the environmental community and many outdoors groups, also eliminated the river’s environmental services as a natural pollution-treatment plant.

By the 1980s government officials acknowledged the project was a mistake and launched a study to undo most of the damage.

That brought on the largest river-restoration project in world history through Congressional authorization in 1992.

Work finally began in 1999 and is scheduled to be completed in 2020, about five years after the initial predicted completion date.

The entire river will not be restored because of encroachment in the floodplain by development on the south end of the river near Lake Okeechobee that officials decided makes some flood protection necessary unless the property owners were bought out and forced to move, which was not approved.