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Peace River Panel Goal Is to Lessen Damage

Published By: The Ledger

By Tom Palmer

BARTOW | Polk County Commission Chairman Bob English and Winter Haven environmentalist Marian Ryan are among those who will serve on a proposed 25-member Peace River Basin Management Advisory Committee.

The committee is being organized by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

"We believe that the Peace River is an important natural system and recreational source deserving of the highest levels of protection," wrote DEP Secretary Mike Sole in a letter inviting participation from representatives from a six-county area within the basin and various interest groups.

The formation of the committee, which will be chaired by DEP Deputy Secretary Mimi Drew, follows the release earlier this year of the Peace River Cumulative Impact Study, which outlined the historic impacts of mining, development and agriculture within the basin.

The committee's goal, according to Sole, is to find ways to minimize and mitigate damage to the basin as outlined in the Peace River Basin Resource Management Plan the DEP released in March.

Ryan, who chairs the Polk Water Resource Advisory Committee, said a key issue will be to set up "inviolate" areas along the river and its tributaries that would be free from development and other impacts, such as heavy livestock use.

There may be other Polk County representatives on the committee.

Invitations were also sent to the Central Florida Regional Planning Council, the Florida Institute for Phosphate Research and Clear Springs Land Co. in Bartow.

The Peace River begins in Polk County and flows 103 miles to Charlotte Harbor.

In the upper reaches of the river in Polk, one of the major issues has been to restore base flow, which was lowered by excessive groundwater pumping over the past 75 years.

That resulted in the death of Kissingen Spring near Bartow in 1950, and since the 1980s the river has occasionally ceased flowing between Bartow and Fort Meade during dry periods.

Efforts are under way to store more water upstream from the river to provide supplemental water to maintain the river's flow during dry periods.

In addition, thousands of acres of wetlands have been destroyed since the 1940s by mining and other land uses, according to a state report issued earlier this year.

Part of the plan will involve exploring ways to restore some of the lost environmental resources of the river, which also provides a crucial regional wildlife corridor.

Ryan said she was pleased DEP officials decided to convene a committee.

"It was a little up in the air at one point, so I'm tickled,'' she said.

Quarterly meetings of the advisory committee are planned.

The date of the first meeting has not been announced.

[ Tom Palmer can be reached at 863-802-7535 or tom.palmer@theledger.com. His blog on the environment is at environment.theledger.com.]

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