Polk’s Growth Complicates Water Planning And It’s Not Alone

You have probably read repeated references to Polk’s growth as more people and rooftops spread across its once rural landscape.

Local economic boosters glibly celebrate this trend, but the reality is much more complicated when it comes to providing basic services.

Drinking water often is at or near the top of the list.

More than a decade ago regional water planners documented what some had long feared, which is that the Upper Floridan Aquifer, the source of most of central Florida’s drinking water, had pretty much reached its sustainable limit.

The idea of a development moratorium was never seriously discussed.

Instead, the talk veered to finding alternative water sources from somewhere else.

That brings us to next Tuesday’s meeting of the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s Governing Board.

The board will hear a discussion of the Polk Regional Water Cooperative’s request to get permission to temporarily increase its water pumping from the Upper Floridan Aquifer while it continues to work on a multiphase plan, which has been in the works for a few years, That plan is to drill wells deeper into the aquifer where there is no fresh water, treat that water with a process called reverse osmosis at a plant near network of wells in southeastern Polk County and pump the treated water via a pipeline system that runs for about 60 miles to reach water plants operated by the county and the cities.

The first such plant is not scheduled to be completed until 2027. More will follow over the next several decades.

This balancing act is allowed under the rules that emerged from the earlier evaluation of the water supply situation, This additional pumping will be allowed to continue for a time as long as there is no evidence the pumping is causing any environmental damage or affecting anyone else’s well.

The time span of this dispensation is hard to estimate. That’s because one of the problems laid out in the Swiftmud staff report is that water demand projections have become somewhat of a moving target.

Earlier in the process planners projected the need for 12.5 million gallons a day by 2045. Now that is the demand number for 2035 because of changes in population growth projections. It does not seem irrational to consider the possibility that the projection could change again.

Although the timing is still a matter of speculation, sea level rise and all of the economic consequences that accompany it could eventually drive more people inland to places like Polk County.

If it’s any comfort, Polk is not alone.

Tuesday’s agenda also includes a recommended emergency action to allow Tampa Bay Water, one of the major utilities serving customers to the west of Polk, to nearly double its allowed pumping from the Alafia River to replenish water in a reservoir whose water supply has been declining as a result of an extended drought.

Tampa Bay Water says it also needs dispensation from the normal rules to feed its growth machine, too.

Imagine that.



Posted in Group Conservation Issues.