Water file photo

During a Nov. 2 Davenport City Commission meeting, Commissioner Tom Fellows said the process of getting the city’s water use permit approved by Southwest Florida Water Management District staff was a two-and-a-half-year struggle.

Like many cities and areas within Central Florida, the City of Davenport has grown explosively over the past two decades.

Davenport city staff explained that, as the city’s previous water use permit was near expiration, residents were already using twice as much water as the city permit allowed.

“Every time we thought we were there, SWFWMD would come up with another requirement,” Fellows said. “It’s put Lance and his group to jump through hoops.”

Fellows was referring to Lance Littrell, a Client Services Manager for Kimley-Horn — a planning, surveying, engineering and design consulting firm. The city hired Kimley-Horn to help renew the city water use permit beginning back in June of 2018.

Littrell explained that he does not believe the SWFWMD water use permit that was recently approved will meet city demand in the near future.

“I'm not sure any of us are comfortable with the number that we ended up with from the district, as far as the amount, because the growth in Davenport is extraordinary,” Littrell said.

Davenport Vice Mayor Brynn Summerlin asked how long it would be before the city would have to go through the water use permit application process again, with Littrell explaining that it is a five year permit.

“There is a good chance that we will be looking at more water prior to five years,” Littrell said. “We got all that we can get for now. You are going to be seeing things on conservation and alternative water supply, which everyone knows we are going to have to deal with.”

Water challenges will persist

Alternative water supply refers to any source of water other than from the Upper Floridan Aquifer, which is where most Polk County residents, businesses and industry get their water now. Experts say that supply is exhausted.

This is a problem throughout Central Florida, and is even more pronounced in areas such as Four Corners because alternative water supply options are limited according to a June 2015 SWFWMD report.

In places such as Key West and Miami, where fresh water sources are also limited, salt water from the Lower Floridan Aquifer — or LFA — is used as an alternative water source. SWFWMD staff decided to try that idea in the Four Corners area.

SWFWMD owns a 130-acre parcel of land adjacent to the Lake Marion Creek Wildlife Management Area, east of Davenport, near the Kissimmee River. Experts decided to study the feasibility of building a LFA wellfield on the property back in 2003.

According to the June 2015 report, the Lower Floridan aquifer extends from 1,250 to approximately 2,587 feet under the Davenport area.

In 2003, a well called “ROMP 74X – Davenport” reached the upper portion of the LFA, but the water there could not be feasibly treated and converted into drinking water.

“Four additional groundwater samples were collected from the Lower Floridan aquifer while core drilling between 1,427 and 2,777 feet,” the 2015 report states. “The results of the laboratory analyses showed most of the groundwater samples collected exceed the secondary drinking water standards.”

In other words, drilling deeper for water may not be a viable solution for the Four Corners area.

Beginning around 2008, experts began similar tests on an LFA wellfield near Walk-In-Water Road, east of Lake Wales. In 2017, experts started to study a LFA wellfield in Lakeland.

In 2019, proposed LFA wellfields near Lake Wales and Lakeland were determined to be feasible. The Polk Regional Water Cooperative website states the local cost share to build the two desalination — not including pipes connecting all of the county municipalities or other AWS options — would be around $320 million.

State taxpayers would be paying for the other half of the cost if the desalination plants are built as proposed. Given how the Davenport water use permit application went, one or both desalination plants will likely be built.

The $320 million must be borrowed. The PRWC has proposed to borrow $250 million from the federal government and pay the remaining amount using state revolving-fund loans and possibly even private loans.

Those living in the unincorporated Four Corners area outside any city limits in Polk County would be responsible for borrowing 7.29 percent of the local cost share, or around $23 million. Polk County Northeast Utility Service Area bills would likely increase over the next decade to offset those costs.

Davenport residents would be responsible to borrow .92 percent of the local cost share according to PRWC documents, or roughly $3.2 million.

Haines City residents would be responsible to borrow 5.14 percent of the local cost share, or more than $16 million.