Something pretty significant happened at the end of the Lee County Board of County Commissioners’ (BoCC) meeting on Tuesday. In a 4-0 vote (Kiker absent due to medical reasons), they agreed to spend $998,729 on a study to evaluate and create a preliminary design of a Reclaimed Water Aquifer Storage and Recovery System for the Fort Myers Beach and Fiesta Village Wastewater Treatment Plants (WWTP’s).
What’s significant about this is that – should the project continue to move forward, it will reduce the amount of reclaimed water the county releases into the Caloosahatchee River each year and provide a source for irrigation needs during the dry season.
“This is an environmentally-driven project,” County Manager Roger Desjarlais said at the meeting on Tuesday morning. “Several years ago, this Board decided to look at ways to reduce our own releases into the river. This will authorize hiring a consultant to investigate the construction of an ASR well.”
Natural Resources Director Roland Ottolini explained that this would eliminate over 2,000 pounds of nitrogen currently being discharged into the river on an annual basis.
“Benefits of the reclaimed water ASR system include a total maximum daily loading (TMDL) credit for the nutrient reduction to the river of approximately 2,480/pounds per year of total nitrogen, additional revenue from sale of the stored reclaimed water of approximately $96,250 annually and conservation of approximately 250 million gallons of groundwater resources annually,” he said.
According to county documents, reclaimed water from both the Fort Myers Beach and Fiesta Village’s WWTP’s exceeds supply during the dry season yet declines during the wet season to the point of requiring disposal of approximately 850 million gallons of reclaimed water annually. The Fort Myers Beach WWTP is located on Pine Ridge south of Summerlin. Fiesta Village is located in the south Fort Myers area, near Cypress Lake High School.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Commission Chair Frank Mann applauded staff’s efforts but noted the ASR system comes with a pretty hefty price tag.
“This is going to cost nearly a million just to get us moving, and nearly $7 million to complete, but it’s not time sensitive, and as a long-term policy we should as a county try to wean ourselves from releasing into the river,” he said.
County staff also reported that the Waterway Estates WWTP was decommissioned in October of 2012, thus eliminating .14 million gallons of treated river discharge, modified operating protocols to increase the transfer of reclaimed water from the Fiesta Village WWTP to the Fort Myers Beach WWTP – reduction of 660/pounds per year of nitrogen and completed the evaluation and engineering design for the conversion of the Fort Myers Beach WWTP’s percolation ponds into seasonal reclaimed storage ponds.
Though not present at Tuesday’s meeting, Commissioner Larry Kiker said he supports the ASR program – saying that while he supports sending Lake Okeechobee water south, everything that local governments can do to help the nutrient-pollution problem is a step in the right direction.
“We need to look at all solutions, and implement them when it’s appropriate,” he said.
Both the South Florida Water Management District and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) encourage conservation of groundwater withdrawals and the benefits of using treated effluent rather than disposing of it, and these facilities are not new – they have been used in Florida and throughout the United States for nearly 40 years.
Last summer, the Sand Paper reported that the Army Corps of Engineers completed an 11-year study to determine whether or not ASR’s are feasible and whether or not they should be included in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). The study revealed that nothing was found that would degrade the quality of stored water once it was recovered, and water recovered from ASR facilities was found to be free of any “acute or chronic toxicological effects.”
Keri Hendry Weeg