Permit Restrictions, Mediation Loom Over Polk Water Cooperative

This week members of the Polk County Regional Water Cooperative learned that the current permits city and county utilities have now will be reduced within the next couple of years and the chance of ever getting a permit to tap the Upper Floridan Aquifer any further will be slim to none.

The news was not unexpected because regional water managers have been talking about restrictions for some time after determining the aquifer has been pretty much tapped out.

However, board members didn’t seen concrete figures until documenting the reductions until recently.

That means any additional water demand to meet future growth will have to come from somewhere else.

In other words, the end of the relatively unlimited development water pipeline is within sight.

When exactly this will take effect is hard to answer.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the water management districts, is in the process of adopting new administrative rules that will establish the new restrictions. They are scheduled to be adopted in September.

However, it is likely the rule will face legal challenges that may take time to resolve.

Some parts of the presentation to the PRWC board Wednesday afternoon sent mixed messages about water scarcity.

One of the centerpieces of the new rules is to reduce per-capita water consumption to 100 gallons per day.

However, if a utility—or more precisely its customers—don’t take that conservation goal seriously, not to worry.

All utilities have to do is to submit a plan to correct the problem, but they have 20 years to fix it.

Water officials on this week’s video presentation acknowledged it may take time to implement effective e conservation measures.

However, there’s a big difference between not being able to do something overnight and being given a generation to fix it.

You have to wonder what the cumulative impact of the water wasted all of those years will amount to.

The only real hammer is that these utilities’ water withdrawal permits will be capped at less than they are now and if people waste water, there will be no water available for new customers, so that could take care of itself if the development lobby has any say in the process.

The other question is how the exemptions built into the rules will be applied. Is it proper to transfer the water used for a now-abandoned citrus grove, for instance, to a public utility to continue business as usual or should the water allocation be canceled to allow the aquifer to recover?

Most of the focus on the future has been devoted to looking at alternative water sources. The primary projects involve tapping the deeper, poorer-quality section of the aquifer, treating it and pumping it to utility customers at a higher price than what they’re paying now.

However, there is some dissent among cooperative members about who should pay for the projects. One project is in eastern Polk County. The other project is in western Polk. The dispute revives the perennial issue of the geographic divide between the two sections of this sprawling county.

Board members are scheduled to meet later this month to discuss hiring a mediator. That will delay a decision, which has raised the question of whether the water board members can resolve their differences in time for the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s Governing Board to consider continued funding for the co-operative’s alternative water projects.

In the past some Swiftmud board members have had little patience with Polk officials when they thought they were not cooperating with the agency. This occurred last in 2008 over the Peace River permit dispute.

The funding for Polk’s alternative water projects is contained in an agreement between Swiftmud and the PRWC, but if Polk wanted to renegotiate the agreement to allow the board to work out its differences, it’s unclear what Swiftmud’s reaction would be.

As PRWC board members were reminded, the makeup of the Swiftmud board changes and that may change their decision-making. It is worth noting that Gov. Ron DeSantis has not filled a long-standing vacancy for one of the two Polk County seats on the 13-member board, which at the moment has only nine members.




Five Years Later, BS Ranch Odor Complaints Persist; DeSantis DEP Does Nothing To Improve Things

It has been five years since the BS Ranch project began excepting all types of hazardous waste to produce so-called soil at its plant in an industrial facility on the outskirts of Lakeland.

The odor problems that were raised then continue now.

We were hopeful that the result of a Florida Department of Environmental Protection lawsuit would produce results. The settlement called for the installation or odor-control technology. That apparently has not occurred.

There are three possible explanations for this.

The system was never installed.

The system was not installed properly.

The system didn’t work as advertised.

Whatever the reason it is another failure of the continued weak-kneed environmental regulation that has been a hallmark of the recent Republican administrations in Tallahasee.

A code enforcement case filed by Polk County remains unresolved for reasons that remain unclear. The hearing was in December and a ruling remains unsigned.

Meanwhile, residents and business owners continue to suffer the results of this lackluster environmental oversight typical of the current weak environmental regulatory regime in Tallahassee under our so-called “environmental” governor. Ron DeSantis has been a disappointment. That’s really no surprise since he has turned into a Trump toady.

It may take a successful election to oust Trump before we see any improvement.

In the meantime, the people suffer.

June Was Hotter and Drier Than Average In This Part of Florida

The numbers are in and it was not a good month to trying to survive outdoors, according to figures compiled by the National Weather Service for our area.

There were no record-breaking temperatures, but temperatures in many places were above average.

Rainfall was slightly below normal in many places and probably would have been farther below normal except for rainfall in early June from Tropical Storm Cristobal.

Here’s a summary from major cities within Ancient Islands area. Average temperature and rainfall are in parentheses, followed by the year records were first kept.

Arcadia: 80.9 (80.2) ; 8.21 in. (9.1 in) 1899

Bartow: 81.9 (81.9) ; 8.26 in (7.24) 1892

Lakeland: 82.9 (80.8); 6.82 in (8.02) 1915

Wauchula: 80.9 (82.1); 7.5 in. (8.07) 1933

Winter Haven: 83.4 (82); 6.09 in. (7.71) 1941

The absence of presence of rainfall directly affects the Peace River, which flows through much of the area, because its flow is rainfall dependent in the absence of artesian flow due to the lowering of the regional water table.

Here’s a summary of river flow at selected spots today. Average flows for this date is in parentheses. Figures are in cubic feet per second.

Bartow at SR 60: 86.8 (220)

Fort Meade: 137 (245)

Zolfo Springs: 316 (812)

Arcadia: 515 (1650)


Solar Projects Continue in Polk

Tampa Electric is planning another solar power project, according to preliminary information submitted to county planners.

The latest project, which will be called Magnolia Solar, will be located south of State Road 60 along the Polk-Hillsborough line west of Mulberry.

The utility announced plans earlier this year to add 600 megawatts of solar power to its inventory by 2023. Once those projects are completed, TECO will have 1.25 gigawatts of solar generation capacity.

The vast majority of TECO’s power generation relies on fossil fuels.


Long-Sought Wildlife Crossings Included In I-4 Expansion Plans

It has been increasingly difficult for wildlife to safely cross the section of Interstate 4 that bisects the southern edge of the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern since it opened to traffic more than half a century ago.

Ancient Islands members Marian and John Ryan have been working to secure such a crossing since 1992, but have encountered repeated delays by transportation officials.

Some relief may be on the far horizon.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is reviewing a permit to install wildlife crossings under I-4 east of County Road 557 through sections of Hilochee Wildlife Management Area.

This will come in connection with the planned future widening of this section of the highway sometime in the future—the project is unfunded– and as a result the construction schedule for this section or a section farther east in Polk County is undetermined.

The only crossing beneath this section of I-4 today is a narrow crossing between two upland areas that was built to allow vehicles and cattle to cross after the original highway project divided a private ranch that once occupied the property.

The proposed wildlife crossing , which is to be located between the existing underpass and the County Road 557 interchange, would accommodate movement of wildlife inhabiting wetlands.


Wildwood Sprawl Taking Over Proposed Conservation Lands

Wildwood officials are poised June 8 to consider adoption of a growth plan amendment that will turn most of a 12,512-acre ranch that was once proposed for conservation purchase into the newest section of The Villages. A large group of residents oppose the plan change and opposed the annexation that led to it.

The Villages, in case you are unfamiliar with the area, is an upscale retirement community that occupies parts of Lake, Sumter and Marion counties.

The new development is the result of the latest southward annexation by the city, which has been converted from what was once a small community at the crossroads of highways and railroads into a city that sprawls past communities such as Coleman and Sumtervillle deep into rural areas of central Sumter County a few miles east of Bushnell.

This provides an example of the lower oversight of growth decisions by the state in recent years.

The annexation and subsequent development has been opposed by a group called Save Rural Sumter, which has raised concerns about how the amount of development proposed for the site—14,455 homes, 1.8 million square feet of commercial development and 110,000 square feet of government building space—will stress the water supply, which is stressed in many other parts of central Florida.

In addition, opponents argued the property lies in an area critical for wildlife movement and provides important habitat.

Preservation of the land was proposed by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, but land-acquisition funds were cut over the past decade. Additionally, Sumter County officials opposed the purchase, according to correspondence on file at the district.



Polk Proposes Its Own Mt. Trashmore

Mt. Trashmore was a well-publicized high-rise landfill that loomed over what was once a rural area of Broward County that rose from 10 feet to 225 feet above ground level.

Polk County solid waste and planning staffers are proposing a plan that would eventually dwarf that trash pile.

The proposal is to allow landfills in Polk County to be as tall as 480 feet above ground level. The Polk County Planning Commission is scheduled to consider the proposal on Monday.

The elevation puts it slightly below an elevation that would require approval by the Federal Aviation Administration as a potential hazard to aircraft.

The change will go before the County Commission next month.

The idea is to allow for future expansion of the landfill on the outskirts of the Winter Haven-Lakeland area near Kossuthville well into the future.

It would also apply to private landfills, such as the Innovation Industrial Park south of Mulberry, according to the staff report, which has a county land-use permit and a pending state environmental permit.

The idea behind the proposal, according to the county staff report, is to eliminate the need for future landfills in Polk County. Some were proposed several years ago, but were not approved.