The Natural Resources Division is located within the City’s Community Services Department (along with the Library, Leisure Services and Public Services) and is responsible for ensuring Winter Haven’s natural resources are clean and healthy. This division has three employees and is funded through the stormwater quality utility. One of the primary division functions is to protect water resources, including water quality and quantity for lakes and natural systems.
Winter Haven is at the headwaters of both the Peace River watershed and the Floridan Aquifer. This means that the only water available for both public water supply and lakes comes from rainfall. Because the lakes are interconnected with the aquifer, the health of groundwater resources and lakes is of paramount concern. The past 100 years has focused on water as a waste product, but now we realize that water resources are interconnected and all aspects of water have to be managed as one system.
There are 50 lakes that either touch or located within the City of Winter Haven that cover an estimated 5,200 acres. There are two chains of lakes…the Northern Chain has 8 interconnected lakes and the Southern Chain has 16 lakes all connected at the same elevation. Most of the lakes in Winter Haven are called ‘solution lakes’, which means that they formed in the same manner as sinkholes form – through the dissolution of limestone and the eventual collapse of the overlying land surface. The City owns or manages approximately 2.4 miles of shoreline, most of which is available for public use.
The City Commission appoints the Lakes Advisory Committee which includes citizens interested in providing input from the community perspective. This well informed committee directs staff in writing an annual report which is submitted to the City Commission regarding the status of lakes management efforts for the future. Staff also supports the Urban Forestry Advisory Board which ensures that the City’s trees and forest areas are well managed.
Areas of Specific Interest:
Stormwater Management: Polluted stormwater is a significant source of pollution for area lakes. Not only does it contain pollution that runs off the land, but it also represents water that should be recharging aquifers. The City has constructed several stormwater treatment projects, including two "stormwater nature parks" that also provide rec recreational opportunities. Long term plans include the construction of 100's of raingarden and percolation projects to begin the process of recharging aquifers and storing precious rain water. also, a new stormwater nature park on the south side of Lake Conine is in the process of design and permitting. The Southwest Florida Water Management District and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection have been great partners in these efforts. An annual report on efforts to manage stormwater is developed for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which is called the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System Permit (NPDES).
Water Resource Sustainability: The City Commission has adopted a long-range plan to begin the process of ensuring water for both people and the environment. Winter Haven has a special relationship with water for both economic growth and the environment. Staff is constantly working to shape the future of water resources and to encourage a long-term approach that will improve water resources as we grow and prosper.
Water Quality Improvement: Each of the 50 lakes within the City is different and each has special management concerns. Staff reviews water quality and hydrologic information to evaluate the health of lakes. The Chain of Lakes Water Quality Management Plan directs efforts to improve water quality in both the northern and southern chain of lakes. Staff also manages water quality to meet state water quality standards, including the new numeric nutrient criteria. One of the projects in the development stage is to either remove or treat an estimated 9 million cubic feet of organic sediment (commonly referred to 'muck') from Lakes May, Shipp and Lulu to improve water quality. The SWFWMD has been a great partner in this effort.
Natural Resource Education: One of the Division's high profile programs is the use of 12 City kayaks to provide first hand opportunities for the public to experience the lakes. Regular events take place where the public can try out kayaks and learn about the lakes. Staff also makes frequent presentations to both community and professional groups. Special events such as the 'Winter Haven Forever Blue' event (fall, 2012) are scheduled periodically.
The Vision by Design process initiated in the year 2000 by the Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce stated that "Water Benefits All Aspects of our Economy, Culture and Environment". Shortly thereafter, the City's slogan changed to 'The Chain of Lakes City'. Ensuring healthy lakes in Winter Haven protects our quality of life and requires the full support of the community. The Natural Resources Division is committed to work with the community to ensure that the lakes and water resources are properly managed for years to come. Together, we will make a difference.
Water Resource Sustainability Plan:
The Water Resource Sustainability Plan takes a long-term approach to planning for water resource management, including water supply, water quality, flooding and natural systems, including lakes. The plan was developed with significant input from the public. One of the primary considerations of the Water Resource Sustainability Plan is that the area has been subject to nearly a century of drainage practices which have allowed water resources to be discharged during times of need. Many of the lakes within the watershed have been below normal levels for a number of years. Because of changes in how water moves to the lakes, water quality has suffered. Recharge to the Floridan aquifer has declined. One of the founding principles behind the plan is that with proper planning, enough water is available for all uses, including people, industry, agriculture and the environment.
The plan is primarily focused on Winter Haven, but incorporates all of the Peace Creek Watershed, which also includes all or parts of Auburndale, Lake Alfred, Haines City, Lake Hamilton, Dundee, Lake Wales, Alturas, Wahneta, Bartow, Eagle Lake and unincorporated Polk County. The Peace Creek Watershed is approximately 150,000 acres and is at the headwaters of the Peace River which begins at the outflow of the Peace Creek near Bartow and travels to Charlotte Harbor before entering the Gulf of Mexico.