An effort to create a new model for water protection in Polk County got an enthusiastic approval Monday from the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.
Committee Substitute for House Bill 573, sponsored by state Rep. Colleen Burton would create a regional authority aiming to coordinate water projects in the critical Green Swamp region in Polk County. All 17 Polk cities, the county and the Southwest Florida Water Management District would have to work together on any water, wastewater, storm water, flood control, or environmental restoration projects to vet and coordinate regional priorities.
Burton, a Republican from Lakeland, presented the “Heartland Headwaters Protection and Sustainability Act” as a new form of regional planning modeled after regional transportation metropolitan planning organizations.
At stake, is an area water supply that creates the sensitive Green Swamp that spans Polk and Lake Counties, and fees the headwaters of six South Florida river systems, the Alafia, Hillsborough, Kissimmee, Ocklawaha, Peace, and Withlacoochee, which supply water to 32 counties.
“What you have before you today is a bill that does what I would like to see us do all across the state as relates to water, regional cooperation,” Burton said. “We keep talking about finding a better way to build a water model. This again looks at the transportation model to do this work.”
The committee approved the bill unanimously and all who spoke offered enthusiasm for a new model to address water issues more regionally, though a couple of members provided cautions.
Republican State Rep. Tom Goodson of Merritt Island wished Polk County luck in its expectation that the cities will allocate property taxes to support the cooperative, saying his Brevard County “would run you out on a rail.” Republican state Rep. Charlie Stone of Ocala cautioned that regional cooperatives can create infighting in which the bigger entities, declaring, “It’s always the big dog that carries home the biggest meal.”
Yet Chairman Ben Albritton, a Republican from Wauchula, praised the model for getting everyone in the same room, even if the ensuing efforts are not going to be simple or easy.
“If we don’t have this… we will have territorialism. That is certain,” Albritton said.