Water-Related News

Polk County is experiencing a water supply challenge as irrigation demands double

POLK COUNTY – Spring can be a difficult time for irrigation water levels in Central Florida.

“My grass is usually green as a football field, that it looks like artificial turf. Now it has dry spots,” said Kirk Vandervall.

Vandervall said his lawn has been brown for a couple of months, and he’s had to get creative to keep his plants hydrated.

“I have a bucket that I fill with water, and I set my plants in it and let them absorb that water. Then I let the water drain back in, then I put them out here,” Vandervall said.

According to Polk County Utilities Division, irrigation demands nearly doubled during April and May, but many residents are not getting the level of water pressure they’re used to.

Hotter weather, little rainfall, and the boom in population have left the county’s irrigation water delivery systems and water supplies strained.

Decades-old maps don’t fully capture Central Florida’s flooding risk

Flooding can be tough to predict. For Central Florida communities relying on official flood maps that are almost 20 years old, it can be even more difficult.

A lot has changed in two decades, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) flood maps don’t fully account for all those changes: like development, stormwater infrastructure, and climate change.

But importantly, the scope of FEMA flood maps is limited to begin with. The maps are designed primarily to illustrate where one, specific type of flood is most likely to occur: the 100-year flood.

Also called a Special Flood Hazard Area or SFHA, the 100-year floodplain is an area with at least a 1% chance of flooding each year. But it’s a bit of a deceptive term, according to Seminole County Public Works Project Manager Jeff Sloman.

“What's called a 100-year flood, is defined as a storm event that, statistically, has a 1% chance of occurring every year. It's not a storm that occurs every hundred years,” Sloman said.

In fact, in the last five years alone, nearly half of U.S. counties experienced a flood event, according to FEMA. And nationally, 40% of flood insurance claims come from outside the 100-year floodplain.

“Binary views, the ‘in or out’ of a flood zone, can lead to the misconception that properties outside of the FEMA flood zone are safe from flooding,” a FEMA spokesperson wrote in an email to Central Florida Public Media. “There is no such thing as a ‘no-risk zone.’”

Experiencing low water pressure? Check out these tips from Polk County’s utilities division

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BARTOW – As some Polk County residents are currently finding out, spring in Central Florida can be a difficult time for irrigation water levels. The temperatures are rising, but the rains have not yet returned, so the county’s irrigation water delivery systems and water supplies are strained.

Irrigation demands nearly double during April and May, and many residents are not getting the level of water pressure they’re used to. However, Polk County’s Utilities Division has suggestions on how residents can be part of the solution during this seasonal supply challenge:

  • Change the time your irrigation system is activate. Many people irrigate at 2 a.m., but you may have better results by setting your system to activate earlier, such as 10 p.m., or later, such as 4 a.m.
  • Instead of using an irrigation system, hand water spots in your lawn that just need a touch of water.
  • Plant a Florida-friendly landscape. If you are interested in learning more about Florida-friendly landscapes, contact the Polk County Utilities Division at (863) 298-4100.
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US Circuit Court of Appeals nixes Florida’s request for a stay in a wetlands permitting fight

Rejecting arguments by Florida and business groups, an appeals court Monday refused to put on hold a U.S. district judge’s ruling in a battle about permitting authority for projects that affect wetlands.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued an order that said Florida “has not satisfied the stringent requirements for a stay” while an appeal of U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss’ ruling plays out. The order did not provide further explanation.

The case, which is closely watched by business and environmental groups, stems from a 2020 decision by the federal government to shift permitting authority to the state for projects that affect wetlands. Moss in February ruled that actions by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in approving the shift violated the federal Endangered Species Act.

DOH-Polk issues Blue-Green Algae Health Alerts for multiple lakes In Polk County

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POLK COUNTY – The Florida Department of Health in Polk County (DOH-Polk) has issued health alerts for the presence of harmful blue-green algae toxins in Lake Conine - Boat Ramp, Lake Van, Lake Gibson - West, Scott Lake - West, and Lake Hancock - South Central. The alerts are in response to water samples taken on May 6, 2024. The public should exercise caution in and around Lake Conine - Boat Ramp, Lake Van, Lake Gibson - West, Scott Lake - West, and Lake Hancock - South Central.

DOH-Polk advises residents and visitors to take the following precautions:

  • Do not drink, swim, wade, use personal watercrafts, or come into contact with waters where there is a visible bloom.
  • Wash your skin and clothing with soap and water if you have any contact with algae, or discolored or water that smells unpleasant.
  • Keep pets and livestock away from the area to avoid any contact with water. Waters where algae blooms are present are not safe for animals. Pets and livestock should use an alternative source of water when algae blooms are present.
  • Do not cook or clean dishes with water contaminated by algae blooms. Boiling the water will not eliminate toxins.
  • Eating fillets from healthy fish caught in freshwater lakes experiencing blooms is safe. Rinse fish fillets with tap or bottled water, throw out the guts, and cook fish thoroughly.
  • Do not eat shellfish in waters with algae blooms.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and partners collect algae samples (link opens in new window) from reported bloom locations. After samples are analyzed at their laboratory, the toxin results can be viewed on the Protecting Florida Together (link opens in new window) or on DEP’s Algal Bloom Dashboard (link opens in new window).

Florida's outdated urban drainage systems cause more flooding, but there' a natural solution

In the 1900s, swamps and low-lying areas were drained to create more space for development and farming.

Florida has a lot of altered drainage networks, like ditches and canals, but at a recent resiliency summit in Clearwater, it became clear that these are increasingly becoming obsolete and can actually make flooding worse.

There are 80,000 linear miles of stream channels in Florida, and almost two-thirds of those are ditches and canals.

These water systems were originally put in to drain parts of the state for development.

But John Kiefer, an environmental engineer with Black & Veatch who moderated a panel discussion on the subject at the Regional Resiliency Summit, said these are not stable.

"They require perennial maintenance, otherwise they erode — sometimes catastrophically, sometimes chronically," Kiefer told the audience in one of the breakout rooms at the Hilton Clearwater Beach.

He said the eroding sediment could plug up openings, compounding the flooding that's already increasing from climate change.

Along with sea level rise, warmer temperatures cause more water to evaporate from the land and oceans, creating more frequent and heavier rain events.

Kiefer also said altering the landscape causes problems for wildlife, so some fish don't have access to proper water bodies, for instance.

"So, what is the cure? Well, the cure can follow a gradient from near to natural solutions to highly engineered ones," Kiefer said.

These systems can be re-patterned so they process water and sediment more naturally.

Take Sarasota County's Phillippi Creek Watershed, for example.

Kiefer said 95 of the 100 miles of canals there are eligible for this kind of restoration, but a project like this could cost $2 million per mile.

A critical stretch of the Florida Wildlife Corridor is preserved in Polk County

The land will be called the Bellini Preserve, in honor of Tampa-based businessman and environmentalist Arnie Bellini.

A rare stretch of wild land in eastern Polk County has been preserved through a partnership between a conservation group and a Tampa-based philanthropist.

It's 639 acres of hardwood forests, scrublands, freshwater marshlands and swamplands. It includes 3½ miles of shoreline along Lake Marion.

The land was bought by businessman Arnie Bellini when it unexpectedly came on the market in 2020. He held onto it until a financing deal could be worked out with the nonprofit group Conservation Florida.

It will be called the Bellini Preserve.

“The Bellini Family loves the wild places of Florida and wanted to preserve this beautiful and ecologically sensitive land for the citizens of Florida,” Arnie Bellini said in a prepared statement. “Polk County residents deserve to keep this land as part of their heritage and enjoy it forever as a new Polk County park.”

After the deal approval by the Polk County Commission, the land is to become an environmental park for public use and recreation.

Governor announces investments in Wildlife Corridor, red tide mitigation

For the second day in a row, DeSantis focused on environmental investments.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed legislation to boost red tide research and direct funding toward expanding Florida’s Wildlife Corridor.

“With the investments we’re getting, we’re on our way to linking these areas so that we can promote safe and stabilized species movements,” DeSantis said.

The Governor signed the legislation in Naples, a region Senate President Kathleen Passidomo represents. Environmental investments had been chief priorities for Passidomo during the past two Legislative Sessions.

DeSantis at the event stressed the need to preserve Florida’s environment for future generations to enjoy. The announcements Tuesday came a day after DeSantis also promised a $1.5 billion investment in Everglades restoration and other water improvement projects.

In fighting red tide algal blooms, DeSantis signed mitigation legislation (HB 1565) extending a partnership between the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and More Marine Laboratory in Sarasota to study prevention and mitigation technologies.

Polk County Dept. of Health issues Health Alerts for multiple lakes

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April 25, 2024

POLK COUNTY – The Florida Department of Health in Polk County (DOH-Polk) has issued a Health Alert for the presence of harmful blue-green algal toxins in Lake Conine - at Lucerne Park Rd Boat Ramp, Lake Conine – Boat Ramp, Lake Gibson – West, Scott Lake - West, and Tiger Lake - Center.

This is in response to water samples taken on April 2, 2024, April 10, 2024, April 15, 2024, April 16, 2024, and January 24, 2024.

The public should exercise caution in and around Lake Conine - at Lucerne Park Rd Boat Ramp, Lake Conine – Boat Ramp, Lake Gibson – West, Scott Lake - West, and Tiger Lake - Center.

Residents and visitors are advised to take the following precautions:

  • Do not drink, swim, wade, use personal watercraft, water ski or boat in waters where there is a visible bloom.
  • Wash your skin and clothing with soap and water if you have contact with algae or discolored or smelly water.
  • Keep pets away from the area. Waters where there are algae blooms are not safe for animals. Pets and livestock should have a different source of water when algae blooms are present.
  • Do not cook or clean dishes with water contaminated by algae blooms. Boiling the water will not eliminate the toxins.
  • Eating fillets from healthy fish caught in freshwater lakes experiencing blooms is safe. Rinse fish fillets with tap or bottled water, throw out the guts and cook fish to appropriate temperature.
  • Do not eat shellfish in waters with algae blooms.
For updates, please visit the FDEP Algal Bloom Dashboard.

Polk County Health Dept. LIFTS Health Alert for Lake Hancock-South Central

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April 25, 2024

POLK COUNTY – The Florida Department of Health in Polk County (DOH-Polk) has lifted a health alert for the presence of harmful blue-green algal toxins in Lake Hancock – South Central.

A health alert is lifted once follow-up water samples collected by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) do not detect algal toxins or 30 days have elapsed since the last sampling date, indicating the public may resume water-related activities.

It is important that the public exercise caution and good judgement. Blue-green algae blooms can move around or subside and then reappear when conditions are favorable. Residents and visitors are advised to avoid contact with the water if blooms are observed. The latest sample results can be viewed on ProtectingFloridaTogether.gov (link opens in a new window).

Report symptoms from exposure to a harmful algal bloom or any aquatic toxin to the Florida Poison Information Center. Call 1-800-222-1222 to speak to a poison specialist.