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September 25, 2007

Project will help meet minimum flows in the Upper Peace River

The Southwest Florida Water Management District’s Governing Board Tuesday authorized the implementation of the Lake Hancock Lake Level Modification Project.

The project will raise the lake’s water level by raising the control elevation of the existing outflow structure to store additional water that later can be released into the Upper Peace River during dry periods. The project is a critical component of the District’s recovery strategy for meeting the minimum flows in the Upper Peace River.

Over the last 150 years, land use changes and water withdrawals have significantly altered the Peace River watershed. These activities have resulted in a reduction in the watershed’s ability to store and recharge rainfall, which has led to lowered groundwater levels, extended periods of low or no flows in the Upper Peace River, poor water quality and altered ecosystems.

The District is required by state law to set minimum flows and levels for priority water bodies. A minimum flow or level is the limit at which further withdrawals will cause significant harm to the water resources and the related natural environment. The District has set minimum flows for the Upper Peace River from Bartow to Zolfo Springs, but the river has been failing to meet these flows about 30 percent of the time over the last 30 years.

The District is also required to develop recovery plans for water bodies failing to meet their minimum flows or levels. The District has investigated a variety of options for the Upper Peace River recovery. Staff has found that meeting the minimum flows solely by reducing groundwater withdrawals would require cutbacks of 70 to 80 percent, which would devastate Polk County’s economy. The Lake Hancock Lake Level Modification Project is expected to recover up to 50 percent of the minimum flows for the Upper Peace River.

The higher water levels will inundate some private property on or near the lake. The District has already acquired 6,424 acres of property around the lake as part of the Upper Peace River to Tenorac (Green Swamp) Greenway Corridor. This project will require the additional acquisition of approximately 2,000 acres, which includes 64 parcels and 33 homes, through the eminent domain process.

District staff has held multiple public and individual meetings with property owners affected by the project to explain how their property will be affected and the acquisition process. District staff will attempt to negotiate the purchase of as many parcels as possible through voluntary acquisitions. However, if staff determines an agreement cannot be reached with a property owner, a condemnation lawsuit will be initiated.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection issued a conceptual environmental resource permit to the District in June to raise the control elevation of the outflow structure from 98.7 feet above sea level to the lake’s historic level of 100.0 feet.

Implementation of the project is expected to take approximately three years, which will include land acquisition as well as the final design, permitting and construction.

Lake Hancock is a 4,500-acre lake in the headwaters of the Peace River watershed, which extends 120 miles downstream to Charlotte Harbor, an estuary of national significance.

Lake Hancock Lake Level Modification Project Fact Sheet

The Lake Hancock Lake Level Modification Project will raise the lake’s water level by raising the control elevation of the existing outflow structure to store additional water that later can be released into the Upper Peace River during dry periods.

Primary Benefits:

Serve as a critical element of the Southern Water Use Caution Area (SWUCA) recovery strategy.

Allow the continued withdrawals of approximately 600 million gallons per day of groundwater in the SWUCA.

Provide approximately 50 percent of the Upper Peace River minimum flow requirements for a 20-mile-portion of the river from Bartow to Zolfo Springs.

Provide up to 25 cubic feet per second of aquifer recharge through sinks in the Upper Peace River.

Secondary Benefits:

Preserve approximately 4,800 acres of floodplain.

Restore the historic levels of Lake Hancock from 98.7 feet to 100.0 feet above sea level.

Improve approximately 1,000 acres of wetlands around the lake.

Complete the Lake Hancock section of the Upper Peace River to Tenoroc (Green Swamp) Greenway Corridor by authorizing the acquisition of approximately 7,000 to 8,400 acres around Lake Hancock.

Provide land for a 1,000-acre wetland treatment system that will reduce nitrogen loading by 27% and improve water quality throughout the Peace River and Charlotte Harbor.

Recreation partnership opportunities with the city of Bartow and Polk County.

Restoration and/or mitigation opportunities on previously altered mined lands.

 
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