In Midsummer Peace River Flow Lags As Water Supply Aspirations Continue, Reliability Issues Remain Unanswered

Despite the exercised predictions from local television meteorologists, little rain fell in the area so far over the weekend.

Why this is significant isn’t about the vagaries of local weather, but about the continuing efforts to keep the growth machine spinning by tapping peak flow in the Upper Peace River in Polk County.

We’re halfway through this year’s rainy season and river flow in Polk County is about a third of historic average flow at the Bartow gauge. That means so far there isn’t much peak flow this year.

There’s still enough water in the river to launch a canoe, but if you’re looking for water to fill a reservoir, you’re probably out of luck.

That exposes one of the issues in supplying any utility, which is reliability.

Expect to hear more discussion of this issue as so-called alternative water supply planning efforts continue.

The backup plans are to tap deeper, more polluted sections of the Floridan Aquifer and to argue that restoring wetlands will provide the recharge to justify business-as-usual in tapping the better quality sections of the aquifer.

There are competing plans emerging as some cities in eastern Polk that have been annexing aggressively to expand their boundaries into the former agricultural areas of rural Polk want to go it alone in developing allegedly alternative water supplies of their own outside of the joint strategy proposed by the Polk Regional Water Supply Authority.

This is fueled by their development ambitions—subdivisions are sprouting out there like mushrooms after a winter rain—ignoring the fact that residential development costs more than it ever pays in local tax revenue, especially when you do impact fees on the cheap.

The PRWC projects were tentatively funded by the Southwest Florida Water Management District under the assumption that the coalition would hold together. That’s less clear now and Swiftmud officials plan to attend the next PRWC meeting on Aug. 4 to discuss this issue.



What If Florida Followed Maine’s Example On Recycling?

Officials in Maine have approved a tough new regulation that forces the companies that manufacture the plastic products that are difficult if not impossible to recycle to pay up to support local recycling programs.

The concept, known as extended producer responsibility charges the companies that produce the waste that local governments are stuck dealing with fees to cover some or all of the costs of local recycling programs.

These programs have been passed in some form in 33 states, the New York Times reports, but most do not deal with the plastic and packaging issues.

How to handle the cost of recycling programs was less of an issue for local governments when China was accepting shipments of plastic waste from all over the world for reprocessing it. When China stopped accepting the waste—and other countries that were possible replacements also began turning down imports they said made their countries into dumping grounds—local officials had to rethink their recycling programs were worth continuing.

Added to the calculation is the fact that the value of recyclables, like all commodities, varies with the market. This is especially true of plastics.

Part of the problem is that the petroleum industry, which is the industry behind the plastic industry, has deluded the public for years about plastic recycling. It was sold as easy, with the recycling logos on bottles and jugs that implied all you had to do was to put it in the right bin.

This was a lie. The fact is the chemical makeup of some plastic containers is so complex that it is unprofitable to try to recycle them.

Another factor affecting the cost of local recycling programs is the lack of education and enforcement of curbside recycling standards, which can result in a high rate of contamination. That means people putting items in their recycling carts that either can no longer be recycled or were never considered recyclable.

If Florida were to pass a law like the one in Maine—and in many European Union countries—it could provide incentives to do more to encourage legitimate recycling efforts and to provide an opening for state officials to require local governments to do more to combat the contamination problem.

The proposal would run into the usual opposition from retailers and manufacturers who typically claim this will raise prices for consumers. However, independent analyses have concluded the effect on product prices is negligible, according to the same New York Times article.



Just How Serious Is Polk On Water Conservation?

The Central Florida Water Initiative, the regional water supply organization that involves three water management districts and all or parts of five counties including Polk has recently been touting water conservation efforts in Polk County as way to avoid the expensive efforts to develop alternative water supplies. In Polk the alternative water supply efforts involve drilling deep into the lower-quality sections of the aquifer and treating the water similar to what occurs at a desalination plant to remove impurities. The plan is to pump the treated water into a pipeline system to be shared by participating cities and to inject the wastes from the process into an even deeper section of the aquifer.

The price tag for this and other projects, such as possible reservoir along the Peace River, will run into hundreds of millions of dollars.

Meanwhile, Polk County and Winter Haven are involved in pilot projects to test the feasibility to use treated sewage that’s not already committed to other uses such as power plant cooling and lawn irrigation as a possible future source of drinking water.

That brings us back to water conservation.

The main target justifiably is landscape irrigation because that involves the bulk of residential water use.

So far, the main effort involves encouraging voluntary efforts by homeowners. Plant a more sustainable landscape. Have your irrigation system checked out by an expert. Make sure you have a rain sensor connected to your irrigation system. There is some thought of belatedly requiring higher standards for new construction.

Development trends may be taking care of some of the problem in a way. There are more and more subdivisions being proposed that include homes on 40-foot lots, which means they have hardly any yards at all.

Nevertheless, newer homes often come with irrigation systems. An analysis done a few years concluded that newer homes were more likely to be a source of higher water consumption than older homes simply because they had automatic irrigation systems.

That means that at some point utilities will have to be more active in monitoring their customers water use to spot signs of overuse or misuse of water.

I’ve driven regularly by homes where lawn sprinklers are running nearly daily even after ample rainfall.

It seems there is a way to develop a computer program to analyze water use by individual customers to spot problem areas that need either education or, failing that, enforcement.

Business as usual isn’t going to cut it anymore and the sooner utilities educate their customers about that fact, the less demand there will be for expensive projects.



Polk Seeks To Fine BS Ranch $88K For Odors In 2019 Code Case

Polk officials issued a terse press release Wednesday saying county code enforcement officials had decided to fine the controversial BS Ranch & Farm soil manufacturing plant on the outskirts of Lakeland $88,000 for a handful of verified odor problems traced to the business.

This enforcement dates to a 2019 code enforcement case. That case came after four years of problems at the plant, which began operating without proper state and local permits. Wednesday’s announcement apparently doesn’t involve subsequent problems over the past two years.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which initially granted the plant and after-the-fact permit, finally had enough and filed a lawsuit in early 2019 to force the company to comply with the permits and to take action to curb its odor problems.

The reason this case has dragged on was because BS Ranch hired lawyers, who have fought the enforcement efforts and disputed the odor and environmental complaints. In addition because Polk officials naively rushed an initial approval of the plant, the business was able to argue it had some entitlements.

By the way, this saga could go on. BS Ranch has 10 days to appeal the county’s action, the press release said.



Biden Administration Undoes Trump Gypsum Road Use Decision

The Joseph Biden administration’s Environmental Protection Agency has withdrawn a proposal announced in October to the allow the use of phosphogypsum for road projects within 200 miles of the waste stacks.

Most of the waste stacks in Florida are in Polk County, the location of the major fertilizer manufacturing plants.

Phosphogypsum is one of the waste products from fertilizer manufacturing. It is slightly radioactive and contains unnatural concentrations of heavy metals and other contaminants that can potentially affect public health. The earlier proposed rule reflected that concern and included a condition that any roads made with this material could not be abandoned and the land converted to another use. The main concern was that if a home were constructed atop a road containing this material, residents could face greater exposure to radon gas.

The Trump Administration’s decision was in response to a long-time request by the fertilizer industry, which supplied research to support its requests, to allow other uses of this material as an alternative to the corporations’ responsibility for perpetual caretaking and monitoring of the stacks, even after they are no longer active.

This was more of a temporary political victory for the fertilizer industry than any else. It didn’t seem to produce any real effect on road construction practices in Florida. State and local road engineers said after the announcement that they didn’t plan to use the material, which some engineers consider inferior to conventional materials used in building road bases.



Lakeland Takes Different Approach In Zoning Lawsuits

Lakeland is facing two federal lawsuits over the City Commission’s decision to deny applications erect a couple of cell towers in different neighborhoods, The Ledger reports.

These lawsuits allege the city’s decision was not based on much besides the number of residents who showed up to oppose the projects, arguing everything that the private property owner should build something on their property to raising concerns about the health effects about emissions from the towers.

However, unlike a lawsuit filed earlier this year over the Polk County Commission’s decision to approve a suburban development next to rural homesteads, Lakeland’s lawsuit will be defended by its own legal staff rather than hiring outside counsel for what will probably amount to a tidy sum.

Although the facts and law are different in the two cases, it will be interesting to see if the outcomes are any different.


DEP Head Vacancy, Politics and The Law Collide

Noah Valenstein’s resignation as the head of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has touched off an interesting debate over executive power that may still be an issue during next year’s election.

Gov. Ron DeSantis recently announced he planned to name the new FDEP head all by himself without consulting the Florida Cabinet.

As it turns out, one of DeSantis’ announced opponents in his bid for re-election is Cabinet member Nikki Fried, Florida’s secretary of agriculture and consumer services.

She pushed back, charging that was illegal.

No, it’s not, DeSantis replied.

A check of the Florida Constitution and Florida statutes shows Fried was right.

20.055 (1) of Florida statutes reads:

The head of the Department of Environmental Protection shall be a secretary, who shall be appointed by the Governor, with the concurrence of three members of the Cabinet. ”

Section 6 of the Florida Constitution reads:

“When provided by law, confirmation by the senate or the approval of three members of the cabinet shall be required for appointment to or removal from any designated statutory office.”

Florida has a three-member Cabinet, so that means the vote must be unanimous.

That means Fried potentially has veto power if DeSantis appoints, for instance, someone with strong ties to the enterprises the department is supposed to regulated.

That also may be why DeSantis doesn’t want to deal with any dissenting voices if he is thinking of making some Trump-like appointment (coal lobbyist to head EPA), which would mirror some of the other decisions that have emerged from DeSantis’ office recently.

Just for the record, Sierra Club has made no endorsements in the governor’s race.

Sierra does support strong environmental protection and who leads the agency sets the tone for whether the protection is strong or weak.