Polk County is one of 100 borrowers selected by the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program. While Polk’s original project description listed a loan amount of $235 million, representatives from WIFIA presented the Polk Regional Water Cooperative with a total loan amount of $305 million on Wednesday, July 26.
The funding will support two deep-drilling projects into the Floridan Aquifer. Supplemental funding in the form of a $293 million grant from the Southwest Florida Water Management District brings the county’s bottom line to $598 million for the following projects:
- The West Polk Wellfield in Lakeland, which will produce 10 million gallons of drinking water each day
- The Southeast Wellfield north of Frostproof, which will produce 12.5 million gallons of drinking water each day
- A water treatment facility to make the mineralized, brackish water drinkable
Crews began making preparations for the Southeast Wellfield in the fall of 2022; construction on Lakeland’s West Polk Wellfield is slated to begin in 2025. If all goes to plan, these wells will pump water from the lower aquifers through Polk pipes by 2027.
If you’re scratching your head wondering why a deeper well is needed, here’s what you need to know in layman’s terms: Most of Florida’s drinking water is pulled from the Upper Floridan Aquifer, but that won’t be an option for much longer without damaging the aquifer. Now, the Lower Floridan Aquifer is Florida’s best bet, and that requires new (and deeper) wells.
The deep drilling project is a first for the Tampa Bay area. The new wells will be as deep as 2,000 ft, compared to the existing 300-ft-deep Upper Floridan Aquifers. Once completed, 61 miles of piping will connect water from the wellfields to local utilities.