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Large water pump located in Lake Wales

April is Water Conservation Month, which makes it a good time to talk about Polk County’s water forecast and the Polk Regional Water Cooperative (PRWC). A regional agency comprised of Polk County and 15 municipal governments, the PRWC was created in 2016 to plan, develop, and deliver a future high-quality drinking water supply for Polk County’s residents. Primarily, the PRWC is working to find alternative water sources.

Why Worry About Where the Water Will Come From?
You might ask why we need alternative water sources. After all, it seems like there’s plenty of water to go around. It’s always easy to get a drink of water, right?

Did you know, though, that Polk County is the fastest growing county in the U.S.? Approximately 90 people per day are moving here and the county could need an additional 32 million gallons per day in “alternative” water supplies to meet 2045 demands.

As it stands now, the Upper Florida Aquifer, which currently provides Polk County with the majority of its water, is in danger of being overused. In addition to water shortages for residents, this can have adverse impacts to lakes, wetlands and natural systems.

What is the Polk Regional Water Cooperative?
The PRWC is a non-profit, special district of the State of Florida. It has been tasked with ensuring Polk County residents have access to clean, safe water for decades to come.

Recently, the PRWC shared with the Board of County Commissioners that two of its projects (the Southeast Wellfield and the West Polk Wellfield) are on track to provide the county with an additional 24 million gallons of water per day by 2045.

How Will the PRWC Secure Additional Water, and at What Cost?
Extracting useable water from these two projects requires tapping the Lower Floridan Aquifer, which requires digging significantly deeper into the earth than the county has traditionally had to do. Drills at these sites go as deep as 2,000 feet below the earth’s surface, as opposed to the several hundred feet required by the Upper Floridan Aquifer.

By the time the projects are completed in 2029, design and construction is expected to cost about $650 million. A large portion of the funding is coming from state and federal grants. The process of drawing and treating water from the Lower Floridan Aquifer is more complex, though, so water from these wells will ultimately cost customers more.

Preparing For Polk’s Future Water Needs

Polk County TAG Member with binoculars scouting land

Polk County Technical Assessment Group (TAG) posing for photo on trail with trucksMembers of Polk County’s Technical Assessment Group (TAG) recently spent about 12 hours trekking through thousands of acres of land in Lake Wales, Fort Meade and Poinciana. They were exploring properties that Polk County could potentially acquire through the Environmental Lands Program, so they climbed hills, bushwacked on overgrown trails, examined plants and bugs, and took notes and photos.

How does the acquisition process work?
If a landowner expresses an interest in negotiating with Polk County and TAG deems the land a good fit, there are two acquisition options. Both of the following scenarios depend on the seller’s desires:

1. Polk County could pursue an outright purchase.
2. Polk County could buy a conservation easement, allowing the owner to continue using the land but restricting any intense, future development.

What is the Technical Assessment Group?
TAG is made up of volunteers with wildlife, water resources, natural communities, plant identification and forestry backgrounds. As a group of technical experts, TAG’s members rate properties on water resources, natural communities and landscape, plants and animals, human value and management potential.

Polk County Technical Assessment Group Members reading documents in camping chairsHow are properties rated, and what happens next?
For example, they count the number of bird species at each site, they look for invasive plants and they consider how the land fits into the wildlife corridor.

At the end of the day, each TAG member grades the land according to very specific guidelines. Polk County’s Conservation Land Acquisition Selection Advisory Committee then reviews the findings and makes a recommendation to the Board of County Commissioners. The Board decides whether or not to pursue acquisition.

Where does the money for acquisitions come from?
Polk County voters approved a ballot referendum in 2022 that created a property tax to fund land conservation for 20 years.

A similar program, which concluded in 2015, led to the acquisition of the Circle B Bar Reserve. Formerly a cattle ranch, the county and the Southwest Florida Water Management District purchased and restored its wetlands. It is now a world-renowned bird-watching site.

The Work Behind the Scenes to Protect Polk County’s Natural Assets

parents standing together holding infant

infant laying on a playmat

Becoming a parent is a remarkable journey—one filled with joy, challenges and countless moments of growth. As parents, we strive to provide the best possible environment for our children to thrive. Parenting classes can offer valuable insights, practical strategies, and a supportive community to help you navigate this rewarding yet sometimes daunting role.

Parenting classes offered by Healthy Families Polk cover a range of topics. Whether you’re a new parent or simply want to be a better parent, these classes provide valuable tools for your parenting journey.

How can Parenting Classes help?

Learning Best Practices

In parenting workshops, you’ll discover evidence-based practices that promote healthy child development. You will gain practical tools to create a loving and supportive home environment. Remember, even seasoned parents can benefit from refreshing their parenting skills!

A Safe Space to Ask Questions

Parenting classes offer a judgment-free zone where you can ask questions openly. Trained facilitators and fellow parents share their experiences, providing valuable insights.

Connecting with Other Parents

Attending classes allows you to connect with other parents who understand your journey and you’ll gain access to the collective sum of their experience and knowledge.

Boosting Confidence

As you learn and practice new skills, your confidence grows. You’ll feel better equipped to handle challenging situations, make informed decisions and foster a positive parent-child relationship.

Learn more and connect with Healthy Families Polk by visiting www.polk-county.net/services/healthy-families.

The Importance of Parenting Classes: Nurturing Stronger Families

vehicles driving on road

Polk Transportation Planning Organization

The Polk Transportation Planning Organization (TPO), established in 1977, is the lead transportation planning agency for Polk County. It works with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and local agencies to plan and make decisions about transportation investments to provide safe, reliable travel.

What does TPO do?

Transportation collage of people boarding a bus, walking across the street, riding bikes and driving

Polk’s TPO:

  • Adopts and maintains a long-range, multi-modal transportation plan that includes highway, public transportation, pedestrian, bicycle and multi-use trail network improvements;
  • Establishes local priorities for the use of federal and state funds on transportation projects; and
  • Adopts a Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) that includes FDOT’s five-year work program and implements the long-range plan.

TPO Governing Board

The TPO governing Board is comprised of elected officials, including commissioners from Polk County and the municipalities. They build consensus among member governments and provide input with regard to how Federal and State transportation funds are spent. FDOT is represented as a non-voting member as well as representatives from local transit agencies.
Several committees provide input to guide the TPO Board. They include the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), Joint Airport Zoning Board (JAZB) and the Transportation Disadvantaged Local Coordinating Board (TDLCB).

Your Voice Can Be Heard

Polk TPO seeks the public’s participation in the planning and decision-making process through public outreach efforts.
You can stay current with TPO’s ongoing planning process by joining the Transportation Adviser Network. The network, about 250 members strong, is a mechanism for resident involvement, especially by members of minority and low-income households. Formed through the TPO’s community outreach efforts, the Adviser Network provides a less formal, more extensive structure for soliciting public participation and comment.

You can learn more about Polk TPO’s current and future projects, and view planning documents, by visiting PolkTPO.com.

Ensuring Safe and Efficient Travel

Shady Oaks Gardens Cemetery

Shady Oaks Gardens Cemtery heritage site marker

Shady Oaks Gardens Cemetery was recently designated as a Polk County Heritage Site, which aids the county in efforts to preserve and promote the cemetery’s history.

History of Shady Oaks Gardens

Shady Oaks Gardens Cemetery is located along Old Homeland Road in Bartow, and it has long served as a peaceful, final resting place for some of Polk County’s indigent population. Shady Oaks Gardens has been known as the county’s primary “pauper” cemetery since 1963, and 862 people are currently buried there. As the name of the 2.8-acre site implies, the graves lie under the shade of oak trees. While there has not been a burial at Shady Oaks Gardens since 2012, there are still hundreds of plots available.

A “pauper’s grave”

Historically, “pauper” refers to a recipient of government relief or public charity, which is why the cemetery fall under the responsibility of the county. Some of the people interred at Shady Oaks Gardens have been identified, likely those that were known but whose families did not have money to pay for a burial. Those who did not have families remained unnamed; older grave markers or records may include where or how they died in place of their name.

Everyone has a story

While it’s impossible to know the story of everyone buried at Shady Oaks Gardens, it’s certain everyone had one. The oldest documented death located at Shady Oaks Gardens dates back to 1918. Rosamond Younger, who was born in 1898 in Georgia, succumbed to bronchial pneumonia on Nov. 8, 1918. Younger’s body was moved from the nearby community of Philippi in 1963. Philippi’s cemetery was relocated to accommodate phosphate mining.

Moses Williams grave marker

Musician Moses Williams (1919-1988) is also among those buried at Shady Oaks Gardens. Williams moved to Florida from Mississippi when he was 11, and he worked in show business and as an itinerant farm worker. He played a one-string guitar, known as the “didley bow,” using music as a side hustle. Williams was one of many African Americans who moved to Florida between 1910 and 1930 in pursuit of the opportunities a cash economy could provide.

In an effort to properly honor the deceased, Polk County divisions have worked together to find, catalog and compile a database of the people buried at the cemetery. The searchable online database is expected in 2024.

 

Visitors are welcome at Shady Oaks Gardens Cemetery. It is located at 3927 Old Homeland Rd. in Bartow. Also, to learn more about Polk County’s Heritage Sites, contact the History Center at (863) 534-4386.

A Historical Resting Place

Polk County Florida sprinkler irrigation on lawn

It’s safe to say that water conservation will continue to be a topic in 2024 with Florida water shortages. If you have been keeping up with the water shortage concerns in Central Florida, you probably know that the Southwest Florida Water Management District issued a Modified Phase 1 water shortage order on Nov. 21, 2023, effective through July 1, 2024, for counties within their service area, including Polk County.

Why did the district issue a Water Shortage Order?

freshwater wetlands at Circle B Bar Reserve in Polk County Florida

The reason behind the Modified Phase 1 water shortage order – lack of rainfall. Compared to the average 12-month total, Central and South Florida counties within the district received lower than normal rainfall during the summer rainy season and have suffered almost a 13-inch rainfall deficit.

Without consistent rainfall, deficits lead to declining water levels in our streams, rivers, lakes and aquifers. We rely on rainfall to help “recharge” or replenish the aquifers and maintain our natural bodies of water such as the Circle B Bar Reserve.

What is an aquifer?

An aquifer is a body of porous rock and sediment that holds water. Essentially, groundwater percolates through the layers of earth and collects in the empty spaces within the aquifer, which is where most of our drinking water is pumped. A lack of rain means that there is less water available to draw from the aquifer. The Floridan Aquifer supplies most of the water in Central Florida.

How does the water shortage in Florida impact me?

Banana Lake Boat Ramp and Dock in Polk County

The water shortage in Florida impacts our community. The order placed restrictions on irrigation schedules in some counties within the district’s area of service to conserve water and preserve natural resources. Polk County residents will not have to change their irrigation schedule at this time, unlike neighboring counties that were limited to watering once per week under the order as of Dec. 1, 2023.

For FAQs about the Water Shortage Order from Southwest Florida Water Management District, please visit their website here.

View Polk County’s water restrictions and irrigation schedule.

Do your part to conserve water where you can, visit the Programs and Rebates page for incentives and ways to save.

Understanding the Florida Water Shortage Order and Its Impact on Polk Residents

cutdown Christmas tree

The holiday season is over and it’s time to put away your decorations. You’ve taken down the lights, packed up the ornaments and deflated the snowman on your lawn. So far, so good.

But what do you do with your Christmas tree?

Preparing Your Tree for Recycling

First, remove all the decorations from your tree, including ornaments, lights, garlands, stands, etc. Once the tree is bare, there are several options for recycling:

  • Chip and mulch – You can rent or buy a woodchipper and process the tree. Store the mulch for a year to let it age.
  • Help the birds – You can place the tree in your backyard, giving birds a new place to nest and feed.
  • Feed the fish – If you have a pond on your property, you can submerge the tree in the water. Once submerged, discarded Christmas trees can provide shelter for small insects, snails, etc. This, in turn, draws insect-loving fish to the area.

Preparing Your Tree for Disposal

If you live in unincorporated Polk County and you prefer disposal over recycling, you have options:

  • If it’s a natural tree, once you’ve removed all the decorations, you can place the tree curbside along with the rest of your yard waste on your collection day. (To find your collection day, go to www.polkwastewise.net. If the tree is taller than six feet, cut it in half.
  • If it’s an artificial tree, you can set it out on your Furniture & Appliance collection day. Or you can disassemble the tree and place it in your garbage bin.

Why Should I Recycle My Christmas Tree?

When you recycle your Christmas tree or dispose of it properly, you are giving back to the environment by creating a new use for the tree or by keeping it from clogging the landfill. By doing your part, you’re helping to make the end of the holiday season merry and bright.

If you have any questions about what to do with your tree, contact us at (863) 284-4319.

Source: How to recycle | National Christmas Tree Association (realchristmastrees.org)

What Do I Do with That Dead Christmas Tree?

illegal tire dumping in Polk County

Illegal dumping is one of the biggest obstacles in the effort to “Keep Polk County Beautiful” … Through the Waste and Recycling division, the county provides residents with reasonable options to get rid of residential and commercial waste. Despite this, some people choose to illegally dump their trash on roadsides, other people’s property or on Polk County’s natural lands.

What is Illegal Dumping?

Illegal dumping can be anything from regular trash to much more hazardous waste materials. Our county is often littered with things like unwanted tires, old appliances, dangerous chemicals and construction debris. You name it, and you can likely find it where it’s not supposed to be in Polk County.

If you need to find hazardous waste disposal near me, you can visit www.polk-county.net/services/waste-and-recycling/household-hazardous-waste/

Trash by the road from illegal dumping in Polk County Florida

Why Is It Important to Curb Illegal Dumping?

Polk County has many beautiful natural resources and parks, so when people leave trash and other debris, it impacts the natural beauty of Polk County. And, if one person dumps and it’s not immediately reported and cleaned up, more people will illegally dump waste where it doesn’t belong. This decreases property value and sometimes attracts crime. Illegal dumping also presents a health risk, as it becomes a breeding ground for insects and draws in disease-transmitting animals such as rats.

Polk County natural resources can also be directly affected. These environmental impacts include soil and water contamination. In a place like Polk County, where we take great pride in our lakes and protected environmental lands, this should concern every one of us. The animals and the birds, the trees and bodies of water we love so much depend on us to do the right thing.

What Can Be Done About Illegal Dumping?

First, don’t do it. Don’t be a part of the problem. And if you see illegal dumping, report it immediately at www.polk-county.net/public-safety/code-enforcement/ or (863) 534-6054.

Volunteers cleaning up trash from illegal dumping in Polk County

You also can get involved with the county-funded Keep Polk County Beautiful, Inc. (KPCB) program. KPCB is a non-profit organization that works with groups across the county to improve the aesthetic and ecological value of Polk through litter control and prevention, beautification, waste reduction, recycling and proper handling and disposal of solid waste. KPCB has recruited tens of thousands of volunteers and collected hundreds of thousands of pounds of litter and illegally dumped items through tire collection events, Adopt-a-Road programs, community and waterway cleanups, and more.

Visit keeppolkcountybeautiful.org/ or call (863) 875-8911 to learn more.

Illegal Dumping is a Significant Problem in Polk County

Polk County Commissioners Chairman Bill Braswell

As chairman of the Polk County Board of County Commissioners, I’m inviting you to connect with your commissioners. After all, as residents, you elected us to represent you. So, it only makes sense that we’d want to hear from you on important issues, right?

Is There a Better Way?

You may already attend the bi-monthly county commission meetings in Bartow and address commissioners about issues that concern you. That’s a great start.

I’d suggest, though, that there’s an even better way to do things; a way that will be more helpful to you, the commissioners and our community.

What Happens at a Board Meeting?

When you show up to speak at a board meeting, you are limited to three minutes at a podium. You can certainly speak your mind, but there’s no back and forth between you and the commissioners. The structure of the meeting does not allow for any kind of question-and-answer session.

Simply put, if your first time speaking about an issue is at the board meeting, it can be a little late in the game.

Bill Braswell

The Best Time to Get Involved

Why not, instead, reach out to the commissioners earlier in the process? For example, if you see a land use notice that may impact you, or if there’s an upcoming agenda item that effects your community, that’s the best time to get involved.

I’m not suggesting that residents stop coming to board meetings. I’m saying that by also initiating a conversation earlier, your perspective can be part of the information-gathering process.

This may not necessarily sway things toward the outcome you want, but your voice will be heard.

So, I’d love to connect with you if there’s something county-related on your mind. Call my office at (863) 534-6050 to set up an appointment.

Connect With the Board of County Commissioners

Polk County land development and planning

It’s no secret that Polk County is growing. The question is how does Polk County Land Development manage that growth? How do we make sure it’s done in a way that is beneficial to residents? The Office of Planning and Development manages community development and helps to maintain growth through land development regulations and construction codes.

 

Planning and development tools Polk County, Florida
Photo by Pedro Miranda on Unsplash

Planning and Development Tools for Managing Polk County, Florida Growth

Planning for future Polk County growth all starts with a document known as the Comprehensive Plan. The Comprehensive Plan combines multiple plans to address everything the community needs to thrive, from affordable housing to a sustainable water supply. For more information about Polk County’s Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code, you can view the Municipality Library.

 

The Plan guides Polk County’s growth and change by establishing goals, objectives and policies that are tailored to our physical characteristics and development for the betterment of our communities. Developing a comprehensive plan is a complex process, but the idea behind it is simple: Create a guide to orderly development Polk County.

Construction workers in Polk County Florida
Photo by Fox 13 Tampa Bay

 

With cooperation from other county agencies, Polk County Land Development staff implements the comprehensive plan by reviewing all proposed development, ensuring it will grow the community within the plan’s guidance. But the comprehensive plan is about to change.

Help Shape the Future of Polk County

Polk County has grown and changed significantly since the original plan was created in 1991. We are embarking on a new journey to evolve the plan for a new future. We hope you will participate as we reimagine our plan over the next year and a half.

 

 

Staff hopes to welcome public participation in Spring 2024. Please check https://www.polk-county.net/government/planning-and-development/land-development/ for further information, or call Chanda Bennett at (863) 534-6484.

Planning for Our Future: Polk County Land Development

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