What Peace River’s Rainy Season Flow Tells Us About Water Policy

Central Florida’s rainy season arrived early this year.

Any look at a weather radar map on most afternoons shows bands of rain moving across the landscape.

June rainfall was not record-setting in the area, but the totals were respectable.

Nevertheless, the upper reaches of the Peace River, which drains a watershed stretching to Lake Hamilton to the northeast and Lake Gibson to the northwest is barely flowing robustly enough for canoe outings and is running only about a quarter of average for this time of year in Bartow.

Rivers typically pick up flow as they course downstream.

The Peace River does not accomplish this normalcy except in times of high flow following heavy storms or hurricanes.

If you look at the flow at Fort Meade, you will see it is two-thirds of the Bartow flow.

The reason for this is well-known.

Decades ago industrial water use, which in those days was completely unregulated, began lowering the aquifer level by about 50 feet in that part of Polk County.

Historically ground water flowed from vents in the riverbed into the river to augment its flow. Nearby a second-magnitude spring called Kissengen Spring bubbled into a popular swimming hole between Bartow and Homeland.

Today the situation is reversed. River water flows into the riverbed vents before it gets very far downstream. At times, portions of the river flow backwards into an offstream sink.

Water managers have spent millions of dollars to turn Lake Hancock into a reservoir to keep the river from running dry, as it has during periodic droughts beginning in 1981.

How does this history apply to the current efforts to find more water to pump from the ground under the Polk Regional Water Cooperative?

It means we need to pay attention as the plans slowly unfold to implement already agreed-upon project to probe lower regions of the aquifer that models reportedly tell us can sustain water pumping, at least in the near future.

The main problem is that most of this will occur slowly over the period of a generation or more.

That’s why it is also important to pass along what we know today to the next generation who will experience the effects of whatever faults occur in the models or whatever political decisions occur to ramp up the pumping to feed the growth machine.

These are questions we will only ignore at our peril.




State Park Campground Groundbreaking A Hit

A crowd of about 75 people showed up at Colt Creek State Park to witness the groundbreaking for a new campground that will cater to RV enthusiasts.

Up until now, all of the camping had been primitive camping at a few sites within the 5,026-acre park in Green Swamp north of Lakeland.

Although a campground had always been in the park’s master plan, people credit Paula Dockery, founder of the Friends of Colt Creek State Park, for keeping it on state officials’ radar.

Tuesday’s event was attended by a crowd of state agency staff members, local elected officials and park supporters from the community.

Speaker after speaker emphasized how this project, which is expected to be completed by early next year, will expand outdoor recreation offerings in Polk County and attract more visitors to the newest local state park, which opened in 2007.

The campground site is located at the edge of an extensive pine forest with views to nearby meadows and hardwood hammocks.

It will be designed primarily to accommodate RV users, but will have a handful of primitive camping sites.

Recycling Market Changes Coming To Polk

Expect some changes in recycling later this year.

You will no longer be asked to put glass bottles and jars in the recycling containers in unincorporated Polk County.

The change will begin Oct. 1.

There has been some pushback from the public on the end to glass recylcing, but that pushback ignores the economics of recycling.

Recyclable materials are commodities the same as oil, oranges, and any other product whose prices are set by the market.

The standards for what materials end users will accept is changing, too.

Glass breaks and contaminates loads of other materials, making them less marketable.

Elsewhere in Florida, the market is causing other changes.

In Orange County, county officials are now charging cities to process recyclables at a rate higher than it would cost them to simply dispose of it in the county landfill, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

Orange officials cite the lower market prices for recyclable materials for the move.

Some prices have recovered somewhat from the low prices that were being paid during the economic recession.

Others, such as iron, are half what they were a few years ago when there was heavy demand from China before its economy ran into problems.

Despite the changes, recycling generally uses less energy than producing new products from raw materials.

If you haven’t been recycling, consider starting. It is worth the effort and will become more convenient with the advent of recycling carts instead of recycling bins.

There’s still no word from county officials about turning in the old recycling bins. Stay tuned.

Mosaic Peace River Park Expansion On Agenda

A proposal to donate 32 acres to Polk County to allow for the expansion of public recreation facilities is on the County Commission agenda for next Tuesday’s regular meeting.

The property being donated by FMP Groves lies between the existing park property and the railroad line along U.S. 17-98.

According to the agenda backup, the land could be used to expand a flight area used radio-controlled aircraft hobbyists and could be the location for a disc golf course.

The park’s other facilities include a trail system used by hikers and equestrians and an extensive boardwalk system in the Peace River floodplain that provides two access points to the river for fishing and nature viewing.

The park’s entrances are on County Road 640.

In other park-related developments, Polk officials are working with TECO on the construction of a reclaimed water pipeline through a portion of Loyce Harpe Park in Mulberry. The water will be shipped to TECO’s Polk Power Station.

Should Water Management District Boards Be Elected?

The idea that any government body with taxing authority should elected comes up from time to time.

The latest salvo came in a guest commentary written by Sanibel City Councilman Chauncy Goss that was published in Eco-Voice Daily, an online compilation of articles and commentary from south Florida.

He specifically mentioned the unelected members of Florida’s five water management districts. All are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Florida Senate.

The makeup and method of selection of the water management district boards is now governed by state law.

The water management districts’ ability to levy property taxes was authorized by a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1976.

The districts have the authority to levy varying amounts of property taxes ranging from between 5 cents per $1,000 of taxable value in the Panhandle to $1 per $1,000 of taxable value in the Tampa Bay area.

The idea of whether the boards should be elected instead of appointed has been discussed in the past.

The idea of having elected boards was rejected because it could lead to decisions based on short-term political considerations rather than long-term sustainability, the winning argument went.

This does not mean that there is no politics in water policy decisions.

Board appointments often reflect the politics of whoever sits in the governor’s mansion and that affects board policies.

That includes tax rates, staffing levels and environmental permitting.