POLK COUNTY – On May 20, the Polk Regional Water Cooperative board is expected to sign off on another step toward borrowing up to $239.1 million from the federal government to partially fund the construction of two desalination plants in Polk County.
Most experts agree that Central Florida is running out of clean, easy to reach water in the Upper Floridan Aquifer. The PRWC board, composed of county mayors and commissioners, is tasked with solving that problem collectively.
As the problem presents itself in Polk County, there are three solutions to the future water supply problem, all of which come at a considerable cost. If the board decides to try and fund all of its priority options, the cost could be in excess of a billion dollars.
The first possible solution is building two desalination plants. While the Upper Floridan Aquifer is running dry, there is plenty of salt water in the Lower Floridan Aquifer to meet future water supply needs. This is the primary way Floridians get fresh tap water in Miami, the Keys and other coastal communities. PRWC advisors say there is suitable land to build one of these plants on the Lake Wales Ridge. A second LFA plant is planned to be built in Lakeland, within eyesight of Interstate 4.
The desalination plants can be costly to build and maintain, and a network of pipes would also have to be installed underground, so water from these plants could reach the 17 county municipalities.
If the board borrows $239.1 million to pay for half the cost of building these two desalination plants in the county, future loan payments would be funded through future increased water rates around the county. The deadline for the PRWC to complete the federal loan application is in October.
A second option is focusing on using summer storm water and highly-treated wastewater to recharge the aquifer. The amount of water that could be harvested in this way would not in itself be enough to meet future water supplies, but could be used in combination with other concepts to offset future demand.
The most recent concept to be prioritized by the PRWC board is a concept put together by the City of Winter Haven. City Manager Mike Herr has been communicating with county staff over the past few months, trying to convince them that land use changes could also be part of the future water supply solution. There has yet to be a formal board presentation on the project.
As an explanative hypothetical, roughly 70 millions of gallons of water per day is removed from the ground in Polk County for phosphate mining. In theory, if no water was used for mining in Polk County, there would be no future water supply demand problem and no need to build any infrastructure.
In other words, if county leaders move forward with desalination plants, water rates will need to increase to repay the loans. If land use transition is the chosen solution, that money may not need to be borrowed from the government for that purpose. Land use transition could become a reality with Florida First and other state grants.
Contact Charles A. Baker III at firstname.lastname@example.org.