Billion Dollar Water? Polk Regional Water Cooperative to Host Public Hearing

Project May Eventually Cost a Billion Dollars

 

Last updated 2/28/2023 at 4:17pm

Courtesy Polk Water Cooperative

A much-simplified graphic depicting some of the stacked aquifer system that supplies wells across central Florida. The "surficial" and intermediate layers are stacked above the Floridan, which provides the best drinking water, but studies say it is insufficient for long-term needs. The Polk Cooperative proposes to draw water from a brackish, "Sub-Floridan" layer, remove salts, and inject them back into the ground. The costly process is expected to dramatically raise the cost of water across the region.

A pair of public hearings are planned to allow area residents to learn more and speak about the proposed Polk Regional Water Cooperative (PRWC). The hearings will address a planned Southeast Wellfield & Water Supply Facility project proposed near Lake Wales.

The project would draw water from the "sub-Floridan" aquifer to supply cities across Polk County using a new network of huge pipelines. The project has anticipated costs that could approach or exceed a billion dollars before completion.

The planned public hearings will take place Monday, February 27 in Lake Hamilton, and on Tuesday February 28 in Bartow.

Both public hearings are planned to run from 6:00 to 8:00 pm. Click here to register for an online option, which is available beginning at 6:30 each evening.

A phone in option (listen only) is available by dialing (877) 568-4108 and entering the passcode 612-312-695 when prompted.

The in-person events will happen at the Lake Hamilton Town Hall, 100 Smith Avenue, and at the FDOT District One Headquarters at 801 N. Broadway Avenue in Bartow.

According to an announcement about the hearings, "PRWC's role is to proactively identify alternative water resources and projects that ensure the future sustainability of our regional water supply."

There are 16 cities included in the overall program, but not all are deeply engaged. The City of Lake Wales, which supplies water to a large area surrounding the city limits, has thus far not committed to joining the pipeline effort, and remains in an "observer" status.

Most of the water supply in Polk County is provided by the Floridan Aquifer System (FAS), a semi-confined aquifer composed of layers of limestone and dolomite. The Upper FAS can produce large amounts of fresh water and has traditionally been the primary source of water throughout the region, but that supply is limited and demand is increasing.

The lowest level contains briny water that is being considered as a potential source of future drinking water. That would require that the salt be removed through a costly process. The waste would then have to be disposed of through very deep injection wells to avoid contaminating the upper aquifers.

News file photo

Drinking water is being rapidly consumed for lawn irrigation, leading to shortages expected to drive the cost of water sharply higher. Conservation efforts could stall that result, but much water is wasted.

Water withdrawal from the aquifer is governed by the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the South Florida Water Management District. Each county and municipal water supply utility has been issued a permit by a Water Management District that allocates how much water from the Upper FAS can be withdrawn for the communities they serve.

The PRWC conducted aquifer performance testing in 2019, and results indicated that the deep wells could deliver the 12.5 million gallons a day (MGD). Final design of a system is underway, and the Cooperative anticipates that construction could begin in 2024, with drinking water delivery will begin in 2027.

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