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Septic to sewer project will cost each affected property owner thousands of dollars

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By LISA MACNEIL

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Hernando Sun Reporter

The Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) voted unanimously at the regular meeting on September 24, 2019 to approve the applications to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Springs Fund and Southwest Florida Water Management District’s (SWFWMD) Cooperative Funding Initiative to obtain grants to go forward with the Septic to Sewer (S2S) Conversion project that was developed by the Hernando County Utility Department (HCUD) in 2016. The Septic to Sewer conversion will cost 450 property owners within the project area $6000 each, or cumulatively $2.7 million on top of the county’s share and grant monies. 

In order to understand the following grant applications, it’s necessary to know and understand key terms like Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) and Priority Focus Area (PFA).

In 2016, the Florida Legislature passed the Florida Springs Protection Act. The act called for the creation of Basin Management Action Plans for major springshed systems in the state. Each BMAP is created by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection with input from local governments. The purpose of the BMAP is to create a roadmap for “Total Maximum Daily Load” or TMDL pollutant reduction. The main pollutant of concern for the Weeki Wachee Springshed is nitrates and one of the major sources they found to contribute to groundwater nitrates is septic systems, although there are numerous ways to reduce nitrogen in the groundwater.

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The Weeki Wachee BMAP was finalized in 2018 and our local governments have already completed projects on the BMAP.  There are Priority Focus Areas (PFA) within the Weeki Wachee BMAP, which have been deemed to be critical areas for nitrogen reduction projects.

The application also included requests for four other water projects:

1. Airport Water Reclamation Facility (WRF) Recharge Basins

According to county documentation, “This project includes construction of additional aquifer recharge basins to increase WRF capacity and facilitate reuse of reclaimed water through returning highly treated water to the Floridan aquifer. The total project cost is $7,800,000.  HCUD is requesting $3,900,000 in Cooperative Funding Initiative from SWFWMD in 2021.”

2.  Glen Water Reclamation Facility Denitrification

County documentation states, “This project will design, permit, and construct necessary upgrades to the Glen WRF with the treatment processes necessary to achieve the effluent limit of 3mg/l total nitrogen required by the Basin Management Action Plan. The total cost of required improvements is anticipated to be $5,000,000.  Hernando County Utilities Department is seeking $3,700,000 from FDEP Springs funding to assist with compliance.”

3. Airport Water Reclamation Facility Full Expansion

This project is the expansion of the Airport WRF from a permitted capacity of 3.5 million gallons per day (MGD) to 6 million MGD.  The expansion is needed in order to close the Spring Hill (Osowaw) wastewater treatment plant (WWTP). “The Spring Hill WWTP has out-of-date technology that does not nitrify nor denitrify wastewater,” according to the county.  “Effluent from Spring Hill WWTP currently discharges to groundwater in the Weeki Wachee PFA. This project consists of design, permitting, and construction of aeration basins, anoxic basins, filters and other assets necessary to expand the WRF and to meet all applicable FDEP standards,” states county documentation.

Hernando County Cost (2021):  $21,000,000

FDEP Springs Funding (2021):   $5,000,000

Total Cost (2021):  $26,000,000

4.    Airport Water Reclamation Facility Total Nitrogen Reduction

This water reclamation facility is located in the Priority Focus Area of the Weeki Wachee BMAP.  The goal of the project is to achieve Advanced Wastewater Treatment (AWT) standards of 3 mg/l total nitrogen.  Funding is requested for only the nutrient reduction portion of the project which includes the construction of anoxic basins, aerobic basins, and supplemental carbon feed will need to be constructed in order to achieve this. 

Hernando County Cost (2021):  $2,500,000

FDEP Springs Funding (2021): $7,500,000

Total Cost (2021): $10,000,000

The fifth project is the septic to sewer conversion project which will affect roughly half or approximately 450 properties in an irregularly shaped area north of Elgin Blvd. and south of Cortez Blvd. The westernmost border of the area is between 1000-2000 feet just east of Commercial Way, and continues eastward until undeveloped land is reached.  This section is referred to as district A of the Weeki Wachee Springshed.

The removal of septic tanks will require the design and construction of gravity sewers, pumping stations, and force mains.

The impetus for the conversions is the Weeki Wachee Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP), set forth by the state, which identifies septic tanks as a major contributor of excess nitrogen to groundwater.  Removal of septic tanks and drain fields is expected to reduce the excess nitrogen.  

According to the BMAP, the county is required to reduce the discharged nitrogen by 195,200 pounds per year within 20 years of June 2018.

Government agency costs for the conversion of 450 properties:

Hernando County Cost (2021)   $4,125,000

FDEP Springs Funding (2021) $8,250,000

SWFWMD CFI  (Cooperative Funding Initiative)  Cost (2021) $4,125,000

Total Cost (2021) $16,500,000

According to Gordon Onderdonk, Utilities Director, there is a 20% funding gap that would have to be paid for by the residents.

“These projects initially started out at about $25,000 per house. It looks like it will be upwards of $30,000 per house. So I want to let you know that 20% is about $6000 that the resident will be responsible for, even though we would be providing 80% of the funding through these other agencies and the utility. That’s… the recipe we would submit as part of this application. ”

The county is currently working on a mandatory connection ordinance for sanitary sewer, which is under legal review.  The projected completion date is Oct. 8, 2019, according to the County Administrator’s Board Directives plan.

To be clear, half of district A is a very small sliver of properties that fall within the Primary Focus Area of the BMAP.   One of the completed projects listed on the BMAP for the Weeki Wachee Springshed is the $240,000 Septic to Sewer conversion study. The study by Coastal Engineering, looks at the feasibility of converting 32,000 properties within the Weeki Wachee Springshed BMAP from septic to sewer in 19 districts (A-S). The total price of doing so, was estimated at the time of the study to be around $700 million. 

 District A and B septic to sewer conversions from the conversion study appear on the June 2018 list of stakeholder projects to reduce nitrogen sources. Districts A and B are located just north of Weeki Wachee Springs. The price for completing both conversions was estimated to be $48 million in 2018, but that has already increased with the current anticipated cost for phase 1 District A project.  

Including the $2.7 million cost which 450 property owners of District A will have to bear, the project cost is $9.2 million over the $10 million estimate provided in 2018.

 There are 900 septic systems to convert in District A and 1,310 septic systems to convert in District B.

 

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