Protecting Our Resources

February 4, 2009

I’m excited to report on a planning effort that is producing visible and very positive results.

Because of the importance of the Peace River to Southwest Florida’s economy and ecology, the 2003 Florida Legislature directed the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and others to develop a management plan to minimize or compensate for negative impacts that have occurred over the years.

The resulting Peace River Basin Resource Management Plan was published in March 2007.

The Peace River is a dominant ecological feature in Southwest Florida, flowing from Saddle and Peace Creeks in Polk County on its way south through agricultural and mining areas to Charlotte Harbor.
It establishes much of the area’s natural character, provides extraordinary recreational opportunities, and drives the local economy.

One successful consequence of implementing the plan is the cooperative effort developed between DEP and the Clear Springs Land Company, which recently resulted in common-sense limitations on future urban development in the upper Peace River basin. In November, the Department of Community Affairs approved the City of Bartow’s comprehensive plan amendment creating Clear Springs Conservation – a land use category to protect the river’s wetlands and floodplains.

Clear Springs owns nearly 18,000 acres annexed by Bartow.

The Peace River and a major tributary, Peace Creek Canal, traverse the property.

Along with its other virtues, the river is a source of drinking water for central and south Florida.

The new conservation designation will buffer the main stem of the river and include a 700-acre basin along the canal to protect water quality and serve as a surface water storage area.

The company’s original development plans could have allowed industrial, commercial and high density residential development in the wetlands and floodplain areas.

But, after consultation with DEP staff, Clear Springs chose to modify the original plan in order to safeguard the river, canal and floodplain.

Stakeholder cooperation works and, when it works, everyone benefits.

The Peace River Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority is another example of cooperation and progress. Charlotte, DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties work collectively to provide an average of 18 million gallons of high quality water every day for some 750,000 area residents.

The Authority draws water from the Peace River only when flows are adequate, treats it and stores it underground until needed, thus preserving the river and generating an alternative source of water that also conserves area ground water.

The most recent Peace River Basin Management Advisory Committee meeting took place January 15 in Sarasota and focused on the progress agriculture is making in protecting the basin.

This is largely being achieved through the implementation of agricultural best management practices for citrus, row crops, cow/calf operations, and sod farms.

These practices involve careful fertilizer use and judicious water management, among other things, to maximize crop production while minimizing environmental impact.

We encourage you to join us in protecting and restoring the river. The task before us will take commitment and resolve from committee members and everyone living in the area.

If you want to help develop and guide the actions to improve and preserve the Peace River Basin, I invite you to participate. Information is available at http://www.dep. state.fl.us/water/mines/prbmac.htm.

Mimi Drew is Deputy Secretary for Regulatory Programs for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

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