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Palmer: Keep an eye on local water issues

When I began covering water issues 40 years ago, the conventional wisdom in Polk County was that someday Tampa would launch a “water raid” on Polk County.

It wasn’t irrational. Utilities in the Tampa Bay area had already done that in Pasco County and had dibs on water from springs farther north as they engaged in lengthy legal battles among themselves over water allocations.

Tampa Bay utilities finally worked out their differences and later backed off from a plan to develop a giant wellfield at the edge of Polk County, which threatened to diminish Polk’s well system.

Then came the Orlando area with a proposed well permit that potentially could cause the same effect on the other side of Polk County.

Polk officials were ready to go to court to challenge the permit.

Gov. Jeb Bush stepped in and stopped another regional water war before it got started. Instead, he told everyone to work together.

That eventually resulted in the Central Florida Water Initiative (CFWI), an organized plan to figure out how much water was left, how much everyone needed, and how to come up with a plan to make up the projected deficits everyone faced unless they decide to slow down the development wave that created the demand for more water.

Now comes the conflict with the Peace River Manasota Water Supply Authority (PRMWSA).

The regional utility applied for a permit last fall to double the amount of water it could pump from the Peace River, the culmination of its own regional water planning efforts to deal with projected growth in Charlotte, DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties while avoiding impacts on the already stressed aquifer.

Somehow the folks at the Polk Regional Water Supply Authority, which also were working on their own plan as an outgrowth of the CFWI project, didn’t know about the downstream permit request until a few months ago.