As Rainy Season Winds Down, Peace River Flows Lag

There has been a lot of discussion about drawing water into a reservoir somewhere around the confluence of Bowlegs Creek and the Peace River in the Fort Meade area in southern Polk County.

The problem with this idea is that it depends on high flows, which so far this year has not provided much water because some years the river flows heavily and sometimes it does not. This year, at least so far, is one of those years where flow is about a quarter of long-term average flow, according to USGS data that goes back more than half a century

Of course, this low flow occurred in 2004 just before three hurricanes raced across Polk County an augmented the flow to close to historic averages.

The question is whether the tradeoff between water planning and emergency planning is a good model.

Check back in October and find out


Behind-Schedule Polk Water Co-op Projects On Swiftmud Agenda

Polk Regional Water Cooperative was supposed to have been farther along with plans to drill two deep aquifer wellfields and figure out if they could get more water from the Peace Creek Drainage Canal and surrounding wetlands to remain qualified for millions of dollars from the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

It isn’t and the issue of whether to give the cooperative an extension will come before Swiftmud’s Governing Board on Tuesday.

The staff is recommending approval.

PRWC has been pursuing the projects after an in-depth analysis of central Florida’s water use revealed the main aquifer that had been used traditionally had reached its sustainable limit.

According to the staff report for Tuesday’s meeting discussioin, the delays were the result of reconfiguring the wellfield projects, which diverted resources from the Peace Creek basin efforts.

How to handle future land uses around the Peace Creek have been an issue in recent years as Winter Haven and, more recently, Lake Wales have approved or are considering approval of the development of thousands of acres along several miles of the drainage ditch’s watercourse.

Meanwhile, Swiftmud officials have recently raised concerns about plans by some governments that belong to the cooperative to go their own way to develop alternative water resources. They’ve been told there will be money for joint projects, not go-it-alone efforts.

One particularly troubling proposal that came up but was not pursued by officials in Davenport, one of the cities that wants to drill its own well, was to develop a wellfield on conservation land in the Marion Creek basin east of Davenport that contains extremely rare plants. That site ‘s rare plants had already been heavily impacted by a poorly planned pipeline project and restoration work is under way.



Polk’s Lopsided Development Regs Get Renewed Scrutiny

Sunday’s Ledger reported how a little-known provision tucked into the county’s growth regulations allowed a developer to gain approval of a subdivision near Eagle Lake the County Commission had previously denied.

This is certainly not an isolated incident and unsurprising given the history of the writing and interpretation of growth management regulations in unincorporated Polk County.

The particular provision governs approval of so-called infill development. County records show the provisions were approved in 2002 and 2003.

That date coincides with the early days of the writing of the county’s development regulations, which was greatly influenced by the development industry.

It gets worse.

Shortly after the County Commission finally voted in 2000 to belatedly approve updated development regulations as required by a 1985 state law, they appointed a so-called “Glitch Committee” made up of members of the development community and their consultants.

The committee’s job was to take yet another look at the development regulations to catch any problems for them they didn’t catch the first time around. This infill development provisions seems to date from that period.

The infill regulations are fairly well-hidden, occupying a few pages in a 136-page section on conditional uses, which may not be an obvious place to look. There were allegations that the developer did not know about this provision, either, until county planners suggested the developer use it.

Add to that is the infill development standards are generic enough to give applicants and planners enough latitude to justify administrative approvals.

That seemingly permissive interpretative atmosphere in Bartow is what the ongoing litigation in this and other recent zoning cases is examining.

Stay tuned.




PRWC Told To Stick Together

The Polk County Water Cooperative needs to stick together if they want continued funding and want to have a sustainable water supply project, Southwest Florida Water Management District officials told board members Wednesday.

The presentation is in response to some discussions by member governments to pursue alternative water supply projects on their own rather than joining in the countywide plan to develop wellfields, pipelines and treatment facilities to drill wells hundreds and thousands of feet into the ground to acquire water to treat for future water supply and to dispose of the contaminants from the process.

It was significant that some of the member cities, such as Davenport and Haines City, who have proposed the Lone Ranger approach, were not present.

Swiftmud officials made it clear that anyone who planned to go it alone would not qualify for agency funding.

If they are planning to spend money to seek water from the Lower Floridan Aquifer, for which there are currently no water restrictions on withdrawals, their permit applications may be approved.

Nevertheless, it was also clear that the cost will be large. It would cost an estimated $60 million to develop even a modest amount of water from these alternative sources.

Meanwhile, PRWC board members voted to proceed with their deep well projects.

Stay tuned for the future cost analyses.




Polk Stormwater Projects Vindicate Efforts By Sierra To Pass Tax

Ancient Islands Sierra activists urged the Polk County Commission for decades to enact a stormwater tax to tackle the historic pollution threats to local lakes and rivers.

After some false starts, commissioners finally passed the tax about a decade ago and appointed a technical committee to review potential projects to make sure they money was being spent effectively. This was similar to the committee that reviewed environmental lands purchases.

A report Tuesday from David Carter, the technical committee’s chairman, vindicates the environmental benefits that we advocated for so many years to bring to reality.

The Lake Gwyn project in Wahneta, which treats lake stormwater discharges from sections of the Winter Haven area, has reduced nitrogen pollution by 30 percent and phosphorous discharges by 59 percent.

A nearly completed project near Lake Conine in Winter Haven will eliminate the last direct discharge into the lake via a ditch system built many decades ago when that was standard practice and a common cause of surface water pollution.

A project under way west of Crooked Lake, Polk’s only water body designated an Outstanding Florida Water, will restore wetlands and treat water that historically flowed into the lake via agricultural drainage ditches.

Work is under way on a state-mandated 20-year stormwater needs analysis and training county staff to conduct further work, such as a lake vegetation analysis.

Meanwhile, the majority of the 108 lakes local officials monitor are either improving or retaining their existing water quality.

This wouldn’t have been possible with funding from the stormwater tax.

Also, like the Polk County Environmental Lands Program, when governments have a serious, dependable funding source to address a problem, this allows them to leverage that funding to form partnerships with other agencies to further the program’s goals and stretch the dollars.

This has been a success story that should be celebrated as a victory for the vision of the local environment community.



Kissimmee River Finally Restored, Sort Of

Officials from state and federal agencies gathered somewhere along the restored section of the Kissimmee River in Highlands County recently to celebrate the completion of the $1 billion “restoration” project. The public was not invited.

Restoration must be put in quotes because only part of the river has been restored. The rest of it is still controlled by locks and dams built in the name of the flood protection that got Congressional approval for the original project in the first place.

Politics and a lot of fudged data got the original project, which turned a meandering 103-mile river into a 56-mile ditch, approved in 1954. Ultimately changing politics and the environmental reality of what a bone-headed idea the original project was got the recently completed project approved in 1992.

The first Kissimmee River restoration meeting I attended was in the old Lake Wales City Hall sometime in the late 1970s, I think. The room was packed with local environmental leaders from, Sierra and other groups, boaters and anglers.

I learned from talking to the old timers that decades earlier local boaters had organized the Kissimmee Boat-a-cade to demonstrate what a great natural river the Kissimmee was when word first emerged that there was a move afoot to channelize it.

Nevertheless, the fix was in and to a certain extent the legacy of the original political decisions endured into the new project. The drained river gave ranchers additional free year-round pasture in the river’s historic floodplain. When the restoration project began, the taxpayers had to buy back what was probably originally state submerged land in the first place to secure the right to reflood land that seasonally flooded naturally. They did that not because it was right, but to avoid years of litigation over property rights claims that would have driven up the project’s costs and delayed its construction.

Nevertheless, anyone who has visited the restored sections of the Kissimmee River has witnessed the numbers and diversity of waterfowl and wading birds that have returned to their historic haunts. This is in stark contrast to the view along the unrestored sections, such the area just south of State Road 60, which are relatively sterile environmentally.

Sierra Club’s Ancient Islands Group, notably the late Richard Coleman, was involved in pushing for, supporting and monitoring the decades of work that went into planning and eventually implementation of what has been called the largest river restoration project in history.

By the way, the project also produced improved public access points along the river and elsewhere in the Kissimmee River Basin.

If you have a boat and haven’t been out on the river, but the trip on your list. If you visit the restored sections of the river, you won’t be disappointed.