join us for our February Podcast as we discuss “Direct Potable Reuse” in Polk County. Our guest is Polk County Utilities Director Tamara Richardson. Ms. Richardson is a Professional Engineer and has served as Director of Polk County Utilities since December 2017.  As director, She and her team are responsible for all functions of the Utilities Division, including water production and distribution, wastewater collection and treatment, reclaimed water production and distribution, compliance and capacity, capital investments, maintenance and repairs, customer service and billing, and the financial management of these efforts.

Before coming to Polk County, Ms. Richardson served as the City Engineer and Utilities Director for a medium-sized Central Florida city with similar utility services for 15 years.  Prior to that, she was a consulting engineer for a design firm specializing in municipal water and wastewater infrastructure. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Central Florida with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Engineering.

This is a fascinating conversation about Direct Potable Reuse and for more information, check out the links below.




Polk County Utilities

Department of Environmental Protection, “One Water Florida”



Thank you Florida’s Horizon and the “Off-Bryan Studios” for your generous support!


Join Us on May 14, 2022 for the Lakeland Cardboard Boat Challenge & Lakeshore Festival

  • On-Site Built Registration 8 A.M. – 8:30 A.M.
  • Cardboard Boat Building On-site 8:30 A.M. – 10:00 A.M.
  • Pre-Built Registration 9:00 A.M. – 9:30 A.M.
  • Race Starts at 10:00 am

Purchase Entries Here

This event helps raise awareness about our water resources and how we all must play a role in protecting them. People can reduce their impact on the environment through the lifestyle choices they make every day. Celebrate our lakes and join the fun!

To reinforce the reason behind this event the theme of your cardboard boats need to have a “Lakes” awareness theme. Each team must name their boat with a Lakes awareness theme, and turn in a short bio explaining the name choice to be announced prior to launch. Register your team, create a boat out of cardboard and duct tape, and race to the finish line. Environmental Exhibitors will provide children’s activities, information on ways to protect our lakes, water ways and other environmental fun facts.


To build a boat out of cardboard and duct tape, and then put 2 people inside to race around a course, be the first to make it across the finish line without sinking.


On-Site Built Groups: Cardboard boats are built on site, the morning of the event, and all supplies are provided.

Race teams will be in the following divisions:

  • Community/Corporate: Both paddlers must be 18 years of age or older to paddle the boat.
  • Youth: Must be elementary/middle/high school age youth to build or paddle the boat. Both paddlers will need to be under 18 years of age. Teams must have an adult to supervise construction and handling of knives.
  • Family Team: Must have at least one child between the ages of five and 18 paddling and an adult supervising the construction and handling of knives. The second paddler is over the age of 18.

Pre-Built Groups: Cardboard boats are built before the event, and teams must provide their own supplies.

Race teams will be in the following divisions:

  • Community/Corporate: Both paddlers must be 18 years of age or older to paddle the boat.
  • Youth: Must be elementary/middle/high school age youth to build or paddle the boat. Both paddlers will need to be under 18 years of age. Teams must have an adult to supervise construction and handling of knives.
  • Family Team: Must have at least one child between the ages of five and 18 paddling and an adult supervising the construction and handling of knives. The second paddler is over the age of 18.

Cardboard Boat Challenge Rules:

The Challenge: To design, construct and race a boat made of cardboard across a body of water.

Objectives: The boat should float, carry lots of weight, go fast and Raise Lake Awareness.

Team Guidelines:

  1. Minimum of four and maximum of 10 people. Only two members will set sail in the boat.
  2. Race teams will be in the following divisions, (these apply to both Pre-built and On-site Built Boats):
  • Community/Corporate: Must be 18 years of age or older to build and/or paddle the boat.
  • Youth: Must be elementary/middle/high school age youth to build or paddle the boat. Teams must have an adult to supervise construction and handling of knives.
  • Family Team: Must have at least one child between the ages of five and 18 paddling and an adult supervising the construction and handling of knives.
  1. Each team must designate a team captain and provide a boat name (with a lakes awareness theme). Team captains will be the only ones allowed to sign the team in the day of the race.
  2. Teams are encouraged to have a cheering squad of friends, family and associates supporting them at the challenge event. Supporters are encouraged to bring banners and mascots to cheer on the teams.
  3. Two team members will power your team’s boat. While aboard your boat, each sailor must wear an approved life jacket (provided for you or you may bring your own).
  4. Your team will be given two oars to propel your boat. Team members cannot place their hands or feet in the water to steer or navigate. This will result in disqualification.
  5. The committee reserves the right to disqualify teams that are deemed inappropriate for a family event.
  6. The committee reserves the right to adjust team category as necessary.


  • Preparation – It is recommended to dedicate time for designing the boat before the day of the race, but you can “wing it” and still make it just fine!
  • On-Site Cardboard Boat Building – Approximately 1 ½ hours to build the boat.
  • Racing – Approximately 1.5 hours to race the boats in heats of teams. We will end with a “survivors” race. (Depending on the number of teams in each division, multiple heats may be necessary and winner will be determined by best time in overall division.)
  • Awards and Cleanup – Thirty minutes for awards and final cleanup. Each team is to place boat and remnants in dumpster.

Overall Judging is based on: Speed – how you place in the race.

Specialty Awards: Design and construction ― be creative and have a blast!

  • LE/AD’er in Lakes Awareness – The boat and team that does the best job in promoting Lake Awareness
  • Spirit Award – given to the team that shows the most spirit
  • Survivor Award – This is the winner of the final Survivors Race (if there are multiple heats the 1st & 2nd place winners will be invited to the final showdown for the Survivors Award.)
  • Titanic Award – the team that has the best sinking boat!
  • People’s Choice (Pre-built boats only) – Be creative and attract the votes of the crowd.

On-Site Boat Building Rules

  1. Only those tools and materials we provide may be used, and you cannot exchange supplies with other teams!
  2. Teams that do not return all construction tools (utility knives, yardsticks, pencils, markers) will be eliminated from the challenge.

Tools and Materials (All tools and materials will be provided to you on race day.):

8 sheets cardboard 2 utility knives

2 yardsticks 2 pencils

1 pack of markers to decorate boat 2 life jackets

3 rolls duct tape 2 oars

* No other tools or equipment may be used during the construction or racing of the boat.

Pre-Built Boat Building Rules

  1. The boat may be no more than four (4) meters long.
  2. Participants must procure their own building materials and supplies.
  3. The boat must be made entirely of corrugated cardboard. This includes the hull, superstructure, seats or any other functional part of the boat. You may add items that are not made from corrugated cardboard for decorative purposes only; provided any such items otherwise comply with these rules and are environmentally friendly.
  4. You may use only corrugated cardboard for any functional part of the boat. Any thickness is permitted. You may not use any type of cardboard other than corrugated cardboard (e.g., carpet tubes, spools, composite papers, etc.), unless such use is strictly decorative.
  5. You may use water-soluble single-part glue.
  6. You may use latex (water based) paints, caulks or sealers.
  7. Any glue, paints, caulks or sealers used on the boat must be environmentally friendly and dry as of the start of the race.
  8. The boat must be free of any sharp edges, pointed objects, or any other material that could cause injury, either to the occupants of the boat, or other participants.
  9. You absolutely may not use any tar based substances, two-part varnishes, two-part epoxies, fiberglass resin, or any other two-part or catalyzed substance, or any corrugated cardboard that is bonded to any material other than more corrugated cardboard.
  10. All boats must be propelled only by the passengers, using paddles. Paddles will be available at the race, or you may bring your own paddles. All paddles must be hand held and not affixed to the boat in any way. No oar locks or other fixed-fulcrum paddles! No motors of any type!
  11. The organizers have the right to disqualify, or require modification of, any boat at anytime if the organizers decide, in their sole discretion: (i) that any part of a boat violates the rules set forth above, (ii) any boat or portion thereof otherwise poses a safety risk; (iii) that the boat is composed of any non-environmentally friendly material; or (iv) that any part of the boat is in bad taste or offensive in any manner.

Re-Blogged from the University of Florida

If you have not heard about these suspicious seed packets, visit this blog post for the full story. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) believes that the seeds may be part of a brushing scam. A brushing scam is when unsolicited items are sent to people to get false reviews and boost sales/product ratings.

What is in these seed packets?

Photo of package of suspicious seeds

Suspicious seed package received by FL resident.

The USDA has been collecting seed packets and testing their contents. As of August 12th, the USDA has not found any significant threats in the seed packets. Although only a small number of seeds have been tested, most packets have contained ordinary vegetable, fruit and flower seeds. So far, no invasive plant species or plant pathogens of concern have been identified in the samples.

What should you do if you received suspicious seeds in the mail?

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) is now recommending two options:

  1. You can report the seeds and submit them for testing.
  2. You can properly dispose of the seeds.

What if I planted the seeds?

You can still report the planted seeds and submit any seeds/plant material for testing. You can also dispose of the plant materials as described below.

How do I report the seeds?

  • You can drop off the seeds at select local UF/IFAS Extension Offices. Please contact your local extension office for more information.
  • You can mail the seeds/plant material to the USDA. First, fill out this reporting form. Then, place the seeds and packing materials into a sealable plastic bag. Next, place the plastic bag along with a piece of paper with your name, address, and phone number into an envelope or small box. Mail the seeds to: USDA APHIS PPQ, 3951 Centerport St, Orlando, FL 32827.

How do I properly dispose of the seeds?

Do not open the seed packet. Wrap the entire packet with duct tape. Double bag the seed packet in sealable plastic bags. Be sure to squeeze out any air and seal tightly. Cover the plastic bag with duct tape. Discard in the regular trash. Only discard of the seeds in the trash after following these procedures.

How do I properly dispose of planted seeds or plants?

  • If your seeds/plants are in the ground, remove plants and soil at least 3 inches around the plants. Double bag the plants and soil in sealable plastic bags. Do not compost plant materials/soil. Discard in regular trash.
  • If your seeds/plants are in disposable pots, dispose of the plants, soil, and planting containers. Double bag the plants, soil, and planting containers in plastic bags. Discard in regular trash.
  • If your seeds/plants are in pots that you would like to keep, dispose of the plants and soil. Remove as much soil as possible from the planting container with a paper towel. Double bag the plants, soil and paper towel in plastic bags. Discard in regular trash. Wash the planting container with soap and water over a sink. Make sure the wash water goes down the drain or is flushed down a toilet. Soak the planting container in 10% bleach for 30 minutes and then rinse with water.

by Morgan Pinkerton 

Posted: September 2, 2020

The Polk County Parks & Natural Resources Division’s Water Resources section is responsible for managing the water quality of lakes and streams within unincorporated Polk County.   In a county having over 550 named lakes and numerous rivers and streams, the challenges of maintaining water quality can be great, and the day-to-day operations might be considered tedious. However, the water resources team often gets to work on “fun” projects that help meet the objectives and goals for the county. One such project is the Lake Gwyn Wetland Restoration project.

Lake Gwyn West Restoration

Lake Gwyn is a 120-acre water body located east of County Road 655 in Wahneta. It is connected to the Wahneta Farms Drainage Canal which naturally flows to the Peace River.  Historical construction of the canal bisected the lake diagonally from north to south and left behind spoil piles which prevented water in the canal from hydrating the remnant lake bottom on the east and west sides of the canal.  As a result of the sustained lack of hydration, the lake converted to a degraded wetland system overrun with exotic vegetation.

Lake Gwyn Wetland Before Construction

Lake Gwyn Wetland Before Construction


Overview of Lake Gwyn Wetland Project during Construction

Lake Gwyn Wetland During Construction

Lake Gwyn Wetland Project Completed Project

Lake Gwyn Wetland Completed Project










Why Restore Lake Gwyn

Many lakes and surface waters have been degraded due to human influence.  What made Gwyn a candidate for restoration?  As science became more advanced and our understanding of lake systems grew, water quality data showed the Wahneta Farms Canal as an impaired system, and the State of Florida adopted a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for fecal coliform bacteria.   A TMDL is the maximum amount of a pollutant a surface water body can absorb and still meet its intended use.

Land ownership or control is a large and typically expensive component of any project.  In the case of Lake Gwyn, the land needed for the project is owned by the state and no monies needed to be spent for land acquisition, as a long-term lease for the land was awarded to the county by the state.

Lastly, the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) recommended restoration of the lake in the 2005 Wahneta Canal Watershed Management Plan.  Such recommendations by outside entities lend weight to a project. Using this study as a reference, the county was able to obtain additional funding from agencies such as the SWFWMD, Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

Project Details

With funding available to complete only a portion of the project, the county addressed the west side of the lake first and will construct the east side at a later date.  In 2015, the County completed the restoration of the west side of Lake Gwyn.  Construction included diverting the flow of the canal into the excavated west side of the lake; removal of exotic vegetation and replanting of desirable species; diverting the water back to the canal at the south end of the site; and the installation of a walk path, bridge, and dock for public use.  By allowing the water to slowly move through the restored wetland system, the water quality could be improved to help meet the TMDL.    Other benefits are realized as well, such as helping to meet minimum flows and levels in the Peace River, improvement of the wetland habitat, flood storage, and public education.

Current Activities

The county conducts water quality sampling and analysis at this site each month and monitors lake levels continuously.  It’s still too early to quantify the improvements being made from a water quality standpoint, but as time passes and more data is collected, our understanding of how well the system is working will develop.   Annual reports are required to be submitted to the state.

An endangered snail kite foraging above the recreated wetlands at Lake Gwyn.

An endangered snail kite foraging above the recreated wetlands at Lake Gwyn.

From a habitat standpoint, the results have been immediate and very good.  The planted vegetation is thriving and the county removes undesirable species on a regular basis.   Approximately 98 bird species have been identified using the site, including the endangered snail kite.  The FWC is proposing to stock the site with game fish in the near future.

Future Activities

The county is currently seeking funding partners for the restoration of the east side of the lake and will begin project planning in 2017.


Article Provided by Polk County Parks & Natural Resources,

Written by Art Wade