Land along the Peace Creek near the U.S. 27-Cypress Gardens Boulevard intersection following the 2004 hurricanes
Land along a World War I-vintage agricultural drainage project that eliminated thousands of acres of natural wetlands may be on its way to partial restoration.
On Tuesday the Polk County Commission agreed to accept a $7 million grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection that will aid in the eventual restoration of land along the Peace Creek Drainage Canal.
The Peace Creek Drainage Canal is a 31-mile-long ditch that begins at the south end of Lake Hamilton along a course that takes it through the outer suburbs of Winter Haven and Lakes Wales before joining Saddle Creek in northern Bartow to form the Peace River.
According to maps from about the time of Florida statehood in 1845, there was a natural stream between the beginning of the Peace River and the drainage canal’s first crossing of what is today State Road 60. Beyond that lay a network of marshes and sloughs.
Canal dredging, which began around 1915, was intended to drain 224 square miles as much as possible to allow agricultural activities ranging from a banana plantation to cattle ranching to occur.
Restoration of some sort has been discussed since at least 1991.
The tentative plan outlined Tuesday appears to target some of the lowest-lying flood-prone areas along the canal such as the area around the intersection of Cypress Gardens Boulevard and U.S. 27 and areas along State Road 60 between Lake Wales and Bartow.
The work, which will be aided this year with an additional $7.9 million from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, is intended to begin work on project design and a plan to determine which property the county will attempt to purchase to carry out the project.
County Manager Bill Beasley said additional funds are expected to become available later in what he described as a “multi-year project.”
Although officially this is wetlands restoration and flood control project, in the background are the Polk Regional Water Cooperative’s efforts to use wetlands storage and consequent aquifer recharge along the Peace Creek Drainage Canal as part of a long-term strategy to secure additional water supplies for new development.