Communication Builds Our Community

City Explores Options to Ensure Future Water Supply

Rapid Development of New Homes Shortens Solution Timeline

Lake Wales will need to have an alternative water source in place sooner than experts had anticipated, according to a consultant hired by the city to explore its future utility options.

Dave Edson, from Hoyle Tanner and Associates, said the city will need to have a new water supply in place as early as 2027 because of projected growth in the coming years.

Lake Wales is expecting slightly more than $7 million in federal American Rescue Plan funding, and city leaders are looking at using those funds to address the long-term issue of creating an alternative water supply (AWS) for Lake Wales. Making necessary investments in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure is one of the approved ways a municipality can spend the federal dollars, according to City Manager James Slaton.

The city has recently contracted Government Services Group to review all proposed spending under the American Rescue Plan to ensure eligibility.

Edson said there are two driving forces behind the need to address the situation as soon as possible.

"One is that the city is experiencing what I would call a tsunami of residential development, just a huge amount," Edson noted in a draft report to city commissioners on June 30. "And secondly, additional supply, above and beyond the permit level, isn't going to come from the Upper Floridan for Lake Wales or anybody else. The Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) is done with it as far as additional supplies."

According to Edson's report, over 8,300 new housing units are being planned over the next decade in Lake Wales. Currently, the city's water system services about 22,600 people, including about 9,400 residences.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District currently permits the city to draw about 3.9 million gallons of water daily from the Upper Floridan aquifer, the primary drinking water source for most municipalities in the state. Currently, the city's average withdrawal is about 2.7 million gallons a day (MGD), although on "peak" days, that number can rise to as much as 4.2 MGD.

"Prior to the pandemic, it looked like the city was in pretty good shape, supply-wise. It had a lot of breathing room, and time to figure out how things go," Edson added. "Now, we don't have much time. We only have a five-year window. That's not a very long time. We usually think in terms of five to 10 years. We will hit the permit limit roughly around 2027, based on this projection."

The city has two viable options, Edson said. One is drilling its own deep-well into the Lower Floridan aquifer and using its available existing treatment capabilities to produce its own AWS. The second is joining the Polk Regional Water Cooperative (PRWC), which is also planning a regional deep-well project to tap into the Lower Floridan.

Doing it alone is possible – and potentially preferable – because the city already has capacity to treat the water. Its Market Street plant operates at only about two percent capacity at the moment, Slaton indicated. Additionally, the city would be able to use its current water lines. The PRWC deep-well plan would make the city pay its share of costs for new treatment plants and transmission lines.

Edson said that uncertainties that still surround the PRWC plan would be reasons for the city to take on an AWS project itself.

"To date it's very conceptual. It's very much a work in progress," he said of the PRWC plan. "Lake Wales has elected to take a wait and see approach which we think is the right approach. There really isn't enough information available that would justify a commitment by the city for us to make a recommendation that 'yes, you should be part of this, this will solve your long-term problem'".

Edson estimated that the city's cost for drawing and treating water from the Lower Floridan would be around $2.80 per 1,000 gallons of drinking water. The same process with water from the Upper Floridan currently in place is about 40 cents. He estimated the PRWC deep-well cost would be over $3 per 1,000 gallons.

"We don't know how much water the city will get, we don't know when we'll get it, we don't know how much it will cost," Edson said when referencing the PRWC option. "Those are pretty important pieces of information."

In a presentation to city leaders earlier this year, PRWC officials said once the well is drilled, transmission pipelines are in place, and additional treatment plants are constructed, the entire project carries a current price tag of approximately $313 million.

The group is ready to move forward with design plans for the project, and is asking the city for $660,000, which would cover 60 percent of the city's expected payment for this initial phase. At that point, the city could use an "off ramp" to get out of the project for whatever reason it wants.

In April, commissioners voted to change the city's status in the PRWC from "participant" to "associate" while it studies creating its own AWS.

Edson said the city would still need the green light from both SWFWMD and PRWC to do its own project.

"In theory, SWFWMD is out to promote AWS development. But they've made a big commitment to PRWC. That's going to be a process. We need to have discussions with both SWFWMD and PRWC," he said. "If they're going to throw up roadblocks, we need to know about that and we need to address it. My guess is most of the cities in Polk County are struggling with the same issue, and now the need for water is on our doorstep."

Edson indicated that the overall price tag for Lake Wales to develop its own AWS would be around $9 million total.

"There does need to be more of a financial analysis performed so you can see what this really means to the city in terms of money," he added.

Should the city ultimately decide to join the PRWC deep-well project instead, the estimated cost to Lake Wales over the next 20 years would be just under $10 million, according to the cooperative, which was formed in 2016. The city could spread those payments out over 40 years, meaning annual payments of approximately $247,000 for the next four decades to have an alternative water source.

The cost of the needed transmission infrastructure to get the water from the conceptual PRWC plant is still unknown at this time, however, and will be in addition to the $10 million estimate, according to city officials.

"If we've got a short term water need, potentially 2027, I think we can address those needs a lot quicker than the PRWC. We don't have any time to waste," Slaton said.

Moving forward to drill a test deep well, perhaps using one of the city's seven existing wells, would be the next step in the process.

"You're probably looking at a year of testing, about another year to year and a half for permitting and design, and a construction period of two to two and one half years" Edson concluded. "It's a doable schedule, but there's no time to waste."


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