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.