Two of the proposed three deep injection wells would be at the city’s Wastewater Reclamation Facility site with a third to be located offsite.

LARGO — After about three years of searching for a home for its wastewater discharges, the city is forging ahead with a roughly $20 million project to construct two deep injection wells.

City commissioners voted 6-1 last month to award a $2.5 million contract to the Tampa-based engineering firm, Hazen and Sawyer, for design and permitting services for the wells at the city’s wastewater plant.

The need for the wells stems from legislation passed in 2021 that requires local wastewater utilities to eliminate surface water discharges by 2032. The law’s passage meant the city had to find another home for the 6 million gallons of treated effluent it discharges to Old Tampa Bay through Feather Sound each day.

Jerald Woloszynski, the city’s Engineering Services director, told Tampa Bay Newspapers the first priority was finding beneficial reuses, such as expanding the reclaimed water system.

Staff also spent more than a year speaking with nearby municipalities, Pinellas County, and Tampa Bay Water.

“Unfortunately, we could not find anyone that needed that amount of water or that we could give that amount of water to,” he said. “So, everyone we talked to said, ‘Hey, great opportunity, sorry not us.’”

The city also explored placing the discharge in the shallow portion of the aquifer and drawing it out again for potable reuse later. However, the city didn’t have any potable reuse customers to provide it to, Woloszynski said, so it wasn’t viable.

Therefore, the deep injection wells were the best option, he said.

The plan calls for the discharge of the treated wastewater in wells 800 to 1,200 feet underground in a permeable zone well below the aquifer for drinking water.

The plan had given some commissioners pause, such as Michael Smith who voted against awarding the contract Nov. 1, but Woloszynski said the wells have a proven track record. 

“DEP (Florida Department of Environmental Protection) looks at deep injection wells very favorably because they are operating in St. Pete and all over the state of Florida successfully,” he said. “But it comes with a permit, it comes with monitoring wells, so we’re not just putting this crystal-clear water 1,200 feet below the surface of the ground and just forgetting about it. We’re actually monitoring it, we’re actually making sure what is going into the well is enhanced, treated effluent. It’s not raw sewage.”

In fact, because of saltwater intrusion, Woloszynski said the treated wastewater might actually be better quality than some of the water in the aquifer now.

He added that the five-year project will have other environmental benefits.

“We’re going to be eliminating 19 tons of nitrogen a year into Tampa Bay. ... So the environment wins, the users of our waterways win, and potentially we’re doing our part to lower the red tide blooms that are regional in nature,” he said.

In the meantime, the city will also be looking for other opportunities to reuse the water.

He said there are about 900 residential properties on streets with reclaimed water, but they aren’t hooked up to it.

“We would be happy to help them get hooked up if they’re not already hooked up and help them see a drop in their water bill,” he said.