Arbuckle Creek Corridor Gaining More Protection

Arbuckle Creek is a blackwater creek that meanders for 24.7 miles from the south end of Lake Arbuckle in Polk County to Lake Istokpoga in Highlands County.

It is surrounded primarily by ranchlands that are home to a variety of native Florida wildlife.

Thousands of acres of this land along the creek are protected by a variety of federal, state and private conservation acquisitons.

The most recent announced conservation easement acquisition involves a deal finalized earlier this year for the 1,250-acre Arbuckle Creek Ranch though the efforts of Conservation Florida. This organization is among a variety public agencies and private organizations that have been active in securing conservation easements and similar protections for property along the Lake Wales Ridge and the Everglades Headwaters, two key areas in local land-protection efforts.

The deal also furthers efforts by the U,S, Air Force to prevent development encroachment that could affect operations at the Avon Park Air Force Range, a major training base in Polk and Highlands counties.

This and several other acquisitions, either through outright purchases or the purchase of conservation easements, contributes to the preservation of regional wildlife corridors as well as preserving habitat for rare and endangered species of plants and animals.

The portion of this landscape in Polk County will be one of the focuses of the renewed conservation land-protection effort expected to get under way in coming years, thanks to voter approval of additional funds for conservation land purchases in a November 2022 referendum organized by local conservation activists.




Florida Cabinet OKs Heartland Conservation Buys

More More land in this part of Florida will be protected via a series of conservation easements approved Tuesday by the Florida Cabinet sitting as the Trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund.

Conservation easements allow owners of working lands to continue their historic operations, but limit future development.

The purchases were:

An easement covering 1,071 acres along Horse Creek, which has been endangered by phosphate mining, owned by the Keen Family Ranch in DeSoto County.

An easement covering 1,027 acres in Hardee County owned by the Charlie Creek Cattle Company that is the third purchase from this property owner dating from 2017.

An easement along the Kissimmee River in Highlands County totaling 3,068 acres owned by Doyle Carlton III LLC.

An easement totaling 3,634 acres owned by Midway Farms near Frostproof.

An easement totaling 549 acres owned by Grubb Ranch in Hardee County near Highlands Hammock State Park.

A 643-acre easement in Highlands County owned by Sandy Gully Dairy adjacent to Highlands Hammock State Park.

These are key parcels that protect portions of the Peace River Basin, the Lake Wales Ridge and the Everglades Headwaters, three key areas targeted for protection by Sierra Club and other environmental groups.


Peace Creek, Peace River May Not Yield Projected Water Supply Bonanza, Polk Water Cooperative Members Told

In addition to drilling into the Lower Floridan Aquifer to find enough water to continue to fuel Polk’s growth juggernaut to handle its projected 1 million residents in the next decade or so, the Polk Regional Water Cooperative was seriously looking at surface water, too.

That involved plans to either directly withdraw water from the Peace Creek drainage canal or from a reservoir along the Peace River near Fort Meade or to store water underground to get credit for recharge. That would allow some utilities to continue using the Upper Floridan Aquifer for their water demands.

Preliminary estimates put the potential from those sources at 40 million gallons a day.

Not so fast, the folks at the Southwest Florida Water Management District have been communicating recently.

The agency recently launched a much-awaited study to get a better idea of how much water the Peace River needs at various flow levels to accommodate not only the need for fish to be able to swim downstream without being stranded on a sand bar—that study was completed in the 1980s– but what various creatures ranging from frogs to aquatic invertebrates need to thrive during typical medium and high flows.

The study will be completed by 2025.

By then the cooperative is scheduled to already be well under way toward building a water plant and a pipeline system in eastern Polk County, relying on water from a series of wells that have been drilled near Lake Walk-in-the-Water east of Lake Wales and another series of wells that will be drilled even deeper to get rid of the water-treatment plant waste.

The estimated capital costs for that project have already topped half a billion dollars and may increase before the so-called alternative water supply begins flowing west toward cities along the U.S. 27 corridor and beyond.

Meanwhile, Swiftmud officials have told the folks at the cooperative that it is unclear how much, if any, water will be available from the Peace River system and have asked and cooperative has agreed to shelve any further studies until the minimum flow study is completed.

Meanwhile, I was curious why the medium and upper flow studies were coming now so many years after the initial work, which had actually been mandated by a 1972 law that apparently allow for long delays.

The answer I received from Swiftmud officials was that this was part of a long-range plan to implement the recovery strategy for something called the Southern Water-Use Caution Area.

For those of you who may relatively new to the region’s water problems, the SWUCA was designated in 1992 to deal with declining aquifer levels, lake levels and river flows caused by overpumping of the aquifer.

This decline had been suspected for some time, but it took a while to gather the data to come up with a regulatory proposal to deal with it that would withstand legal challenges from water permit holders who could be affected by limits to pumping.

Polk County officials and a number of commercial interests did challenge the rule. Following what was described as the longest administrative hearing in Florida history up that time, Swiftmud prevailed. That allowed the agency to work on a plan to fix the problem, but it took awhile to come up with analytical tools to do that in some cases.

Meanwhile, the competition for water resources and uncertainty about the sustainability of the aquifer spread to more areas of central Florida, leading to the initiation of something called the Central Florida Initiative in 2016.

That project, which involved not only Swiftmud, but the South Florida and St. Johns River water management districts as well, yielded a report that concluded that water users in this part of Florida had pretty well tapped out the Upper Floridan Aquifer and had to look for alternative sources.

That is what has led to the Polk water cooperative and similar projects in the region.

The good part is this will at least theoretically prevent the further overexploitation of the Floridan aquifer, whose level had already dropped 50 feet and caused at least one major spring to stop flowing by the time these plans came into place.

The bad news is that the water supply and demand projections go out only a couple of decades.

What happens after that if water demand increases and sea level rise threatens to contaminate some current freshwater supplies is anybody’s guess.

As Yogi Berra once reportedly remarked. The future ain’t what it used to be.




It Was A Record Warm April Or Was It?

The National Weather Service for the Tampa Bay area issues monthly summaries ranking temperature and rainfall throughout the region.

Figures like this are often used to discuss the changing climate.

But a closer look at the figures certainly raise questions. For instance, it was the second warmest April for Lakeland, whose records date to 1915, but the seventh warmest for Bartow, whose records date to 1892.

But when you look at the 10th warmest Aprils, the figures date from between 1929 and 2023 for Lakeland and 1908 (the warmest) and 2023 for Bartow. But the coldest Aprils range from 1915 to 2005 for Lakeland and from 1901 to 1987 for Bartow.

Figures for Winter Haven, whose records date only to 1941, show the 10 warmest Aprils occurred between 1945 and 2023 and its 10 coldest Aprils occurred between 1951 and 2005.

In Wauchula, whose records date to 1933, the warmest Aprils occurred between 1939 and 2023 and coolest between 1950 and 2007.

Rankings for rainfall didn’t come close to records at either end of the spectrum at those locations.

Some Thoughts On The Radon To Roads Bill

It seems clear—it was actually clear the moment the bills were filed given the supine proclivities of his year’s Legislature—that a proposal that would allow state transportation officials to study whether the material from those mountains of phosphate waste byproducts that dot the landscape of Polk County would replace limerock as a road base material was going to pass.

Whether Gov. Ron DeSantis will sign the bill is still unknown. Environmental groups, including Sierra, are arguing for a veto.

This is an odd piece of legislation for a number of reasons.

First, it not as though no one has ever built a road in Florida using this material.

Parrish Road east of Fort Meade was built using this material decades ago. A University of Miami research team looked at how everything worked out. The researchers reportedly concluded they found no problems.

The other question that the curiously incurious staff analyses of the legislation is just how much of this material, which is slightly radioactive and contains a number of toxic elements, is really a practical way to reduce the volume of these stacks and relieve Mosaic—the main owner of these properties—of its eternal responsibility for managing and monitoring these waste stacks.

So far we are left to guess. It is not hard to conclude the lack of staff research may be tied to the perception that the fix was in on these bills and there was no point in putting a lot of effort into the analysis.

Opponents often mention sinkholes, which allows the material to migrate into the aquifer. Sinkholes are rare in Bone Valley, as evidenced by the near absence of natural lakes in the main areas where mining has occurred. However, when they do occur, the results are spectacular. How many remember the aerial photo that showed a helicopter dwarfed by the chasm at the top of the stack at Mosaic’s New Wales plant?

Mosaic argues the environmental effect on drinking water supplies is overblown, arguing they crank up their large pumps and divert the contaminated water in the aquifer to their ponds. This is not a matter of simply being good neighbors. They know that if any of the polluted water gets past the boundaries of their property, they will be in a major violation of their permits.

Then there is the current ban by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is significant. State transportation officials can study the issue until they retire, but unless federal environmental policy changes, it is merely an academic exercise.

Meanwhile, Jason Garcia at Seeking Rents reports that legislators are also proposing to fund some sort of study of this waste at Florida State University to see if it is feasible to extract trace elements from the waste, including some of the so-called “rare earth” elements that are used in electronics.

The main element that has been studied for extraction in the past has been uranium, but it never seemed to economically feasible, based on the market price.

There has been research involving the extraction of other elements such a yttrium, but if you’re thinking there is lithium or some other element that’s key making electric vehicle batteries, this material doesn’t seem to be the place for it.