POLK COUNTY – On Sept. 28 Polk County Assistant County Manager and Polk Regional Water Cooperative (PRWC) Executive Director Ryan Taylor sent an email to many county mayors and municipal commissioners “suggesting” that if contacted by the press about recent water litigation against the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD), that they respond with what appeared to be an inaccurate statement.
Taylor’s Sept. 28 email also suggested that county mayors and commissioners not attend a scheduled Oct. 3 public meeting with SWFWMD Executive Director to talk about future public water supplies.
On Oct. 1 SWFWMD Executive Director Brian Armstrong said Assistant County Manager Taylor’s Sept. 28 email “mischaracterized” his plan to meet with Polk County mayors and commissioners Oct. 3 to talk about future water sources.
Armstrong, Taylor, and the PRWC board all say that by 2035 there may not be enough easy to reach water in the Upper Floridan Aquifer and that alternative water sources will need to be found. Currently, the plan is to spend north of $600M on two sets of wells into the Lower Floridan Aquifer, which may quadruple Polk County water bills for the next generation. On Sept. 19 and on Oct. 3, Armstrong proposed a future water plan that may be much less expensive than anything the PRWC has previously considered.
The litigation between PRWC and SWFWMD began in May over plans to pull water off Peace River, Peace Creek and the Alafia River in Polk County. The PRWC board, on advice from PRWC attorney Ed de la Parte, agreed to keep an Oct. 8 legal mediation about this legal fight secretive.
Davenport City Manager Kelly Calihan and Davenport Utilities Director Mike Stripling were the only Polk County officials to attend the Oct. 3 SWFWMD meeting. Calihan said he attended based on Armstrong’s Oct. 1 email and that he thought Armstrong’s proposal was worthy of future study. On Sept. 19 Davenport City Commissioner Tom Fellows was one of the PRWC board members who spoke in support of putting litigation on hold to work closer with Armstrong and SWFWMD.
Armstrong and Hillsborough County water official Bart Weiss spoke for around 40 minutes Oct. 3 about their plan of Hillsborough County selling water to Polk County to help meet future water needs, and at the same time, help recharge the aquifer.
Hillsborough County has one of the largest reclaimed water projects in the country. This water is normally used for landscaping, golf courses, and industrial uses but in the wet season, only a small percentage of it gets used and this reclaimed water is wasted. The plan is to pump this water into the aquifer instead of letting flow out into the Gulf of Mexico. Five injection wells would block saltwater intrusion and make more potable water available to be pumped out of the Upper Floridan Aquifer.
The five Hillsborough County injection wells could produce as much as 22 million gallons of water per day to be shared by Polk and Hillsborough counties after building around 20 miles of pipe. Armstrong said if similar wells were built in Polk County, even more water would be available and doing such would help the aquifer even more.
Armstrong said exact details are not available and that on Oct. 8, SWFWMD lawyers would be repeating their desire that the PRWC put litigation on hold and start cooperating with area government officials.