WINTER HAVEN – Over the past 100 years or so, it's been relatively cheap to draw water out of the Floridan Aquifer and pipe it to your home or business.
At a Winter Haven City Commission meeting Sept. 10, Winter Haven Assistant Utilities Director Mike Britt relayed to the commissioners that those times have changed.
“There is no doubt that water is going to be more expensive in the future,” Britt said. “We have basically run out of inexpensive ground water that we have enjoyed for over a century.”
Britt and City of Winter Haven Utilities Director Gary Hubbard spoke to commissioners about a proposed two-year, $1.3 million study to map out future alternative water supplies.
“It's staff's expectation that this will be one of the most comprehensive and pragmatic water resource planning efforts that's been undertaken by a local government in Florida,” according to city documents.
Britt said concepts in what has been called the “One Water Master Plan” have been discussed for 20 years.
In 2001, many of the Chain of Lakes canals were dry due to an extreme drought and experts noticed that the Floridan Aquifer was further drying out from excessive pumping. State regulators told local leaders to start planning for alternative water supplies to fuel future needs and hundreds of ideas were discussed, though most of these ideas were not prioritized.
Instead, plans have taken shape in recent years to draw saltwater out of the Lower Floridan Aquifer, to treat the water, and pipe it throughout the county with a particular focus on the enormous growth in Polk’s northeast corner.
Two years ago, the Polk Regional Water Cooperative was formed to further this plan, authorizing a $23 million, five-year feasibility study of desalination plants. The PRWC board is considering building two desalination plants currently — one in Lake Wales and the other in Lakeland — at a cost of around $1 billion, based on PRWC documents.
PRWC loan payments would start in 2032 if this infrastructure is built out as planned.
Winter Haven’s One Water Master Plan appears to be an exploration of additional alternatives to the PRWC plan.
“Storing and recharging more water in this headwaters region according to its natural capacity are the two highest priorities,” according to One Water Master Plan documents.
The plans may seem very different, but Britt says plans by the city and the PRWC are getting closer together.
“There are positive signs that this is happening,” Britt said. “Winter Haven's role at the moment is to move forward with the direction we have been moving since 2000 and work towards what is a combined solution, long-term.”
The primary One Water Master Plan concept that applies to alternative water supply is that the city would get credit for recharging the aquifer, allowing an equal amount to be drawn the old fashioned way.
Hubbard also said around 40 percent of all city treated water gets sprayed on lawns. If half of that was conserved, and the city didn't let treated waste water flow downstream, the city would have around 6 million gallons of water per day to store or recharge. Another 6 million gallons of water per day would put the city in good shape, but Hubbard said the city may need to purchase another 2 million gallons of water per day from the PRWC board in the coming years, once pipes are built to places other than along the Lake Wales Ridge.
Britt said the One Water Master Plan was not his idea, but Hubbard's. That said, Britt has been working on this problem in Winter Haven for decades.
“By the time (the One Water Master Plan) is complete, it will be 20 years in the making, right before I retire in September 2021,” Britt said.
Contact Charles A. Baker III at firstname.lastname@example.org.