WINTER HAVEN – As part of Florida City Government Week, city staff and commissioners recently hosted several events highlighting how your tax dollars benefit the community. One of these events was particularly newsworthy.

For more than a year, the newspaper has been attempting to warn the public that due to explosive population growth, so much water is being pumped out of the Upper Floridan Aquifer that some area lakes, rivers and springs are running dry. The Polk Regional Water Cooperative board thinks the best solution to this problem is primarily sucking water from Lower Floridan Aquifer. These mayors and commissioners are close to authorizing loans of nearly $1B to make this plan a reality. Some have admitted that water bills in the future could skyrocket when county taxpayers start making payments on these loans and start paying the added costs to desalinate water that far below the ground.

Beside some opposition to this plan from Frostproof elected officials who decided to leave the PRWC board last year, last week City of Winter Haven utilities staff became the second group of area leaders to publicly express opposition to building Lower Floridan Aquifer wells in Polk County during a Florida Government Week program called Water in Winter Haven: Today and Tomorrow.

“What we want to do is delay that (plan) as long as possible,” Winter Haven Utility Services Department Director Gary Hubbard said.

Hubbard and other city staff said beginning around February, they have tentative plans to hold public workshops to educate the public about other possible solutions to this problem. City staff said the easiest way to solve this problem may be conservation. For example, Hubbard said that 40 percent of the water pumped out of the Upper Floridan Aquifer is used for irrigation by 15 percent of Winter Haven area residents. This does not include those with private residential and commercial wells. (Those amounts are not currently documented by any government staff and are unknown.)

Hubbard said city staff are considering putting together some presentations to the city commission asking permission to consider raising water rates for the 15 percent of residents who consume substantially more water than the average resident.

Winter Haven Assistant Utility Services Department Director Mike Britt said there are currently 22 city wells that, on average, pump 9,500,000 gallons of water out of the Upper Floridan Aquifer every day and that SWFWMD staff are considering capping the city water permit at 10 mgd.

“We don’t have much room to work with so the future for Winter Haven water supply means we have to kind of be looking at other ways to provide water resources to the community,” Britt said.

Britt said of the 9.5 mgd pumped out of the ground now, only 5 mgd is treated meaning roughly 4.5 mgd of water is sprayed on lawns and flowers around Winter Haven every single day. Limiting lawn irrigation through raised rates for high water users and pumping treated waste water into the ground could create a situation where SWFWMD may not cap the Winter Haven water permit in the coming years. Pumping treated waste water into the Upper Floridan Aquifer in Winter Haven may lead to SWFWMD not capping future use of the Upper Floridan Aquifer in Winter Haven, Britt said.

Pumping treated waste water into the ground is a concept that SWFWMD Executive Director Brian Armstrong recently pitched to the Polk Regional Water Cooperative. Armstrong said if this concept was done throughout the county, it could provide substantially more water supply in the future. The PRWC has other ideas and are currently in litigation against SWFWMD in an expensive water war, much of which has been fought behind doors closed to the public and press.

During the next PRWC meeting at Lake Myrtle Sports Complex in Auburndale on Nov. 14 at 2 p.m., the board has plans to meet secretly, again, with PRWC lawyer Ed de la Parte. There is a chance that some members of the board discuss this litigation publicly afterward. Members of the public have a chance to speak at these meetings but to date very few have utilized that freedom.

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