If you have been driving along Walkinwater Road east of Lake Wales and wondered what’s up with the giant drilling operation near the entrance of Walkinwater Estates, it is all about providing enough water to keep the development machine humming until at least mid-century.
The project is being carried out by the Polk Regional Water Cooperative, a consortium of local governments that is using a combination of government grants and government loans to finance the planning, permitting and construction of what is probably one of the largest utility projects in the county’s history.
Here’s what’s happening.
Decades of unabated development as well as traditional agricultural operations and mining has depleted the Upper Floridan Aquifer to the point that there is no more water than can be sustainably withdrawn.
That means water users have to come with alternative sources. For public utilities that means tapping a previously unexploited underground reservoir called the Lower Floridan Aquifer.
The reason that part of the aquifer has never been tapped is because the water is not fresh and easily treated to standards required for drinking, cooking and bathing. That means it has be treated with a process called reverse osmosis. This is an energy-intensive process that pushes the water through a membrane to strain out the salt and other impurities.
The disposal of the waste products reverse osmosis produces requires the construction of an even deeper well—8,000 feet deep according to a presentation at a recent public hearing—to finish the job. Meanwhile, the treated water will be pumped into a 65-mile network of pipelines and sent to local water plants as far away as Bartow and Auburndale. Once the water reaches the plants, it will be blended with the water the plant is already producing and shipped through conventional water lines to customers.
The current schedule calls for construction to begin on the pipeline in 2024 and be completed by 2026.
How much extra the cost of the wells and pipelines and other infrastructure required to provide water for future customers will fall onto the backs of existing customers who did not create the demand the project is planned to meet, is still unclear at this point.
If you are a water customer anywhere in Polk County, you might want to pay attention. It will affect tens of thousands of customers.