POLK COUNTY – To those who enjoy a thick, green, regularly irrigated lawn, consider yourself warned.
A new Florida Department of Environmental Protection rule change may be in effect by the end of the year, one which would limit municipal water use permits to the equivalent of 100 gallons per person per day.
The rule change would affect every single water use permit — both new and existing permits — within the Central Florida Water Initiative region. The CFWI region encompasses all of Polk, Osceola, Orange and Seminole Counties, along with southern Lake County.
There are two key takeaways about the rule change: first, that households using more than 100 gallons per day will likely start seeing higher water bills to discourage such behavior; and second, that all future growth will be fueled with alternative water supplies — meaning water that is not removed from the Upper Floridan Aquifer via wells.
FDEP staff and many other experts say 100 gallons per person per day is about the limit that can be withdrawn from the UFA using wells before area lakes and streams start drying up. Some existing permits exceed the estimate of sustainability.
Public water supply providers will have from early 2021 until December of 2023 to get in compliance.
FDEP staff hosted a webinar on the subject July 9. City of Winter Haven Assistant Utility Services Department Director Mike Britt was one of several Polk County officials to pose questions during public comment. Britt told the Sun that the average Winter Haven utility customer uses around 115 gallons per day.
“It's hovered there for about five years,” Britt said. “We've got lots of work to get it trending downward as we move forward.”
Assistant County Manager and Polk Regional Water Cooperative Executive Director Ryan Taylor said that, of the six different service areas in Polk County, only one service area exceeded the 100 gallon per day threshold – facilities serving the southeast quadrant of the county.
The northeast area of Polk County is using around 93 gallons per person per day, in part because there are also multiple reclaimed water lines that help offset per capita usage. That said, officials also say the Four Corners area is very limited in terms of alternative water supply options to fuel future growth.
Alternative water supply options include: using surface water such as rivers for supply, harvesting and storing summer stormwater in reservoirs or reusing treated wastewater.
The rule changes also seem to provide offsets for aquifer and wetlands recharge projects.