LARGO — A bill expected to be signed into law soon requires local wastewater utilities to eliminate “nonbeneficial” surface water discharges by 2032.
In the case of Largo, that means the city is now looking for a home for the 6 million gallons its wastewater plant discharges into Feather Sound each day.
“This bill is intended to get the most reuse out of excess water in each community to make sure that Florida basically has a sustainable water supply as our state continues to grow,” Jerald Woloszynski, director of Engineering Services, told city commissioners June 8 during a work session.
Senate Bill 64, which passed the House and Senate with unanimous bipartisan support, also requires municipalities to submit a plan to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection by November on how they will stop discharging effluent, reclaimed water, or reuse water into surface waters, such as rivers, lakes, canals, or estuaries.
So, what will Largo’s plan look like?
“Our plan will look exactly like many other municipalities,” Woloszynski said. “It will talk in generalities without a lot of depth to it.”
That is because there are still too many unanswered questions, such as what disposal techniques will be allowed and how they will be funded, he said.
And for a city that currently has an open loan with the FDEP for $53 million to upgrade its plant, funding is a big concern. But, because the legislation hits the entire state at once, Largo won’t be alone in seeking answers.
“There’s going to be hundreds of municipalities around the state that are going to have to do the exact same thing that we’re having a discussion on in the next couple months,” Vice Mayor Jamie Robinson.
The scramble for funding means there will likely only be two ways to finance these big-money projects, Woloszynski said.
“On the backs of ratepayers coming out of a COVID-19 scenario or through alternate loan processes,” he said, adding that projects deemed more beneficial could receive grant funding from the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
Money aside, Woloszynski said the city is exploring three approaches to eliminating the discharge that are considered beneficial. They include reducing the amount of groundwater or stormwater that enters the sewer system, expanding the reclaimed water system, and pumping the reclaimed water underground to aquifer storage and recovery wells.
Inflow and infiltration
The first approach, cutting down on the water that enters the collection system by repairing pipes and identifying leaks, has been ongoing since 2016.
“Of course, if we reduce what’s coming into the plant to treat, we’re reducing what has to go out,” said Shelby Beauchemin, assistant director of Environmental Services.
The city has had four to six contractors working four years straight on the program that will continue through 2028, and Woloszynski said they hope the efforts will reduce flow by 450 million gallons each year and even more as improvements continue.
Reclaimed water system
Beauchemin said the city’s reclaimed water system is 30-plus years old, and about 5.4 million gallons on average are used by customers each day.
In order to get more use out of the system, staff is examining expanding the watering schedules and extending it to more streets and large parcels in an effort to attract more customers.
More than 1,000 letters were sent out to property owners about two weeks ago to educate them about potential savings of offsetting their potable water bill by providing them with reclaimed water, Beauchemin said.
If 500 people signed up and half of them watered on schedule, that could equal 225,000 gallons each day.
Staff has also identified 20 streets as reclaimed-ready, but 65% of the residents would have to agree and it would cost about $13 million to connect them.
“All options are on the table,” Woloszynski said. “We are leaving no stone unturned by looking at where those extensions are, looking at who would desire them.”
Another option the city is exploring is a partnership with the town of Belleair, which has its own potable water plant that draws water out of the aquifer. However, each year that aquifer gets more saltwater intrusion, and now the town must decide on building a costly reverse osmosis plant or agreeing to a deal with Pinellas County for water usage.
If they do decide on a reverse osmosis plant, Woloszynski said supplying the town with Largo’s excess water could improve their water quality and decrease their cost to treat the water.
“We would be remiss if we didn’t look at this opportunity just to see if there’s a win-win in this for both communities,” he said.
They are also looking into supplying the town’s golf courses — the Belleair Country Club and Pelican Golf Club —- with Largo’s reclaimed water because the water provided by the city of Clearwater is lower quality, he said.
He added that the city has also spoken with officials from the Tampa Water Authority about it using some of Largo’s excess water. However, he said its current focus is south Hillsborough County.
While still exploring all of the options, Woloszynski said the staff’s next step would be to evaluate the reclaimed water system to find out what remaining capacity exists and what improvements are needed to store and distribute the excess 6 million gallons per day.