Horse Creek, Charlie Creek Minimum Flows Meetings Planned

The Southwest Florida Water Management District is planning a series of public meetings beginning July 17 and continuing through Oct. 2 to update minimum flows and levels for Horse Creek and Charlie Creek, two major tributaries of the Peace River.

The meetings will principally involve peer review of draft report by scientists, but public comments are allowed throughout the process, according to Swiftmud officials.

A public workshop is scheduled for this fall. Formal Governing Board action is scheduled in November.

The idea behind setting minimum flows and levels for water bodies to prevent environmental harm as a result of water withdrawals.

Historically, the Peace River has been one of the most impacted streams in central Florida as a result of water withdrawals that included the loss of base flow that caused portions of the river in Polk County to cease flowing during droughts.

For more information, including a copy of the draft and the meeting schedule, go to

Minimum Flows for Horse Creek and Charlie Creek | (


Putting The Malaria News In Historic Perspective

The news that four people in Florida contracted malaria from local mosquito populations certainly drew attention because the disease is fatal if left untreated and is almost unheard of in modern times in this country.

There have been some suggestions that this is somehow vaguely connected to rising temperatures associated with climate change.

The reality is more complicated.

Malaria was once a common disease in Florida, according to some older schoolbooks titled Florida: Wealth of Waste? These books were published in the 1940s and 1950 and used in public and private schools and colleges.

In 1930, malaria was the fifth leading cause of death in Florida for children 1 through 4, causing 31.8 deaths per 100,000 population.

In 1940, (see figure above) Florida had the largest concentration of malaria cases in the Southeast. That year Florida officials reported 24,498 cases of malaria, 98 of them resulting in deaths.

There are a number of reasons malaria has declined in Florida.

Chief among them is the fact that homes had gradually become equipped with window screens and door screens to keep mosquitoes out. Today many homes are completely enclosed from the outside because they have air-conditioning.

Mosquito control efforts also increased, though the use of DDT in the early days had some serious environmental effects on wildlife that eventually led to its ban and its replacement with less harmful pesticides. Mosquito repellents also improved.

Also, as in the recent cases, public health surveillance for disease outbreaks is an important tool for detecting outbreaks early and taking appropriate action.



Polk OKs Long-Sought Project To Reduce Peace River Pollution

The Polk County Commission voted June 20 to buy 120 acres on the south shore of Lake Lulu in the Winter Haven Chain of Lakes for an environmental restoration project.

The $480,000 purchase from Harmony on Lake Eloise is part of a $1 million planned appropriation from President Joseph Biden’s American Rescue Plan for land acquisition and design for a wetlands treatment and wildlife habitat restoration project.

No money for construction of the project was listed.

A canal flowing out of Lake Lulu connects to a series of drainage canals that eventually reaches the Peace River near Bartow.

The need to reduce the flow of pollutants from Lake Lulu, where one of Winter Haven’s sewer plants was once located, has been an issue for decades.

That sewer flow was mentioned in a 1953 scientific paper that discussed the contributions of pollution into the Peace River system from Polk County that affected red tide occurrences downstream in the Gulf of Mexico at a time when sewer discharges in Florida were largely unregulated.



Polk Environmental Lands Tax Will Not Be Cut

Questions about whether the Polk County Commission would cut the amount of taxes that would be levied to preserve land were answered Tuesday.

The majority of commissioners agreed during a budget work session not to cut the voter-approved tax of 20 cents per $1,000 of taxable value of real estate.

Commissioner Rick Wilson, who chairs the committee that will oversee spending the tax’s proceeds, said he would “fight (cuts) to the bitter end,” Commissioners Bill Braswell and George Lindsey agreed not to cut the tax, cementing a majority.

The discussion came after Marian Ryan, conservation chair for Ancient Islands Group of Florida Sierra, addressed commissioners at the beginning of Tuesday’s regular meeting.

She said although the county ordinance was indefinite about the exact tax rate, the ballot language was clear that the levy should be 0.2 of a mill.

During the budget work session county staffers said the tax will produce an estimated $11.3 million in the 2023-24 fiscal year.


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.