Lake Hancock Water Reservation Proposed; Swiftmud Plans Jan. 8 Meeting At Circle B

Work to raise Lake Hancock’s regulated level was completed in 2015 at great public expense to store water to replenish the depleted Upper Peace River and to comply with a state law requiring water management districts to set minimum flows and levels for water bodies and to come up with plans to restore flows in levels in places where they were lacking.

Now the Southwest Florida Water Management District is proposing formally reserving the water in Lake Hancock for river flow restoration.

A draft study outlining the plan and its background has been prepared and will be the topic of a public meeting at 5 p.m. Jan. 8 at Circle B Bar Reserve.

Swiftmud’s Governing Board is scheduled in February to consider authorizing the agency’s staff to proceed with formal rulemaking to implement the reservation.

Some highlights from the study include:

  • It will not affect existing permitted water withdrawals from the river, primarily the Peace River Manasota Water Supply Authority’s withdrawals for public supply for coastal utilities.
  • It will not significantly affect the amount of fresh water in the Lower Peace River needed to maintain the proper conditions in the Charlotte Harbor estuary, whose restoration has been the focus of years of efforts under the federal National Estuary Program.
  • The reservation precedes a planned reevaluation of minimum flows in the Upper Peace River in 2025, which will also take a look at setting medium and high flow ranges as well, something the environmental community including Sierra Club has long advocated.

The study does not address a conceptual proposal by some Polk officials to establish an off-stream reservoir on mined lands near the Peace River to capture water from high river flows as part of Polk’s long-term water-supply planning and how that would affect the overall river flow standards on all sections of the river.

Polk Swiftmud Board Vacancy Drawing Pushback

The Polk County Commission agreed Tuesday to draft a resolution to send to Gov. Ron DeSantis urging him to fill a vacancy on the Southwest Florida Water Management District Governing Board involving one of the two seats allocated to Polk County.

The seat has been vacant since August.

Haines City businessman Paul Senft, who was honored Tuesday for his public service, said he applied in February to serve another term on the board. His term expired in March, but under the rules was allowed to continue serving until August.

Whether anyone else has applied for the seat has been a well-kept secret in Tallahassee.

DeSantis’ so-called Communications Office has not responded to emails in recent weeks asking for a list of applicants for the position.

Polk received a second seat on the 13-member Governing Board in 2007 under legislation that expanded the board from 11 to 13 seats, putting it on equal voting footing with coastal urban Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, which had two members each.

Why DeSantis is holding up the appointment has been a matter of speculation.

One rumor is that DeSantis thinks the Swiftmud board has too many members and would like to reduce its size, though it is unclear what the reason is. There was a proposal in 2013 that was never considered by the Florida Legislature to reduce the board’s membership to nine seats to match the size of the other water management district boards. Any change in the board’s makeup would require legislation.

Another rumor is that DeSantis was looking for an environmentally-conscious Polk County appointee who was also a Republican and was not involved in supporting his opponent Adam Putnam in the 2018 gubernatorial race, which one observer said was like trying to find a unicorn or simply a ploy to keep the seat vacant so it would easier to eliminate.

This comes at a time when Polk is trying to continue to secure funding from Swiftmud to finance alternative water supplies to continue to support the county’s and cities’ growth ambitions.





BS Ranch Saga Continues; DEP Suit Settlement Coming

The long-running dispute with Polk County code-enforcement officials over odor problems at BS Ranch & Farm, a soil manufacturing plant on the outskirts of Lakeland, continues going into the fourth year.

Meanwhile, the lawsuit filed against the company by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection earlier this year appears on the verge of being settled in a way that could solve the odor problem if BS Ranch’s owners abide by the terms of the settlement.

That would come from the construction and operation of something called an off-gas control and treatment facility.

If that facility, which was reportedly recommended some time ago as a solution to the odor problem, works as proposed, the strong sewage odors that have plagued area residents and employees at the surrounding industrial plant for years could end eventually.

The odor complaints were also the focus of a special master code enforcement hearing involving a series of enforcement cases involving recent odor complaints.

However, BS Ranch & Farm’s lawyer responded that the violation isn’t the odor, but the failure to correct the odor problems after being giving due notice, which she claimed did not occur.

Polk County’s lawyer didn’t immediately respond to that claim.

Both sides are scheduled to file written closing arguments By Wednesday.

My main observation is that BS Ranch has had plenty of notice that it had a chronic odor problem, regardless of whether Polk County properly afforded the company its proper due process rights.

That’s meant not to diminish the importance of due process, which is a core constitutional principle, or to defend Polk County’s handling of this case, which has been a disaster from the onset.

It’s just that sometimes legal claims can tax our credulity.