A workshop was held on June 5, 2018 for the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) to consider the development of a Reclaimed Water Master Plan (RWMP) and hear updates on the status of the Septic to Sewer (S2S) project. Three members of the board decided to have staff review and revise the RWMP and not support the S2S project due to high cost and uncertain funding. Commissioner Jeff Holcomb was not present at the meeting.
The Reclaimed Water Master Plan project is co-funded by the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD), with the purpose of outlining the policies and objectives for reuse of reclaimed water “in an effort to provide the most ecological benefit and cost-effective use of this product.” During the workshop, the results of the research performed were presented and input was given by the BOCC to re-examine current ordinances and revisions to the master plan.
The Reclaimed Water Master Plan project is a partnership with the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD), with SWFWMD paying 50%. Multiple options for reuse are being considered, according to Hernando County Utility Director Gordon Onderdonk. The county is is looking for the best environmental solution -- with geographical features of the county being considered.
Onderdonk noted that the unique fine sand of the western part of the county, is beneficial because there is a high infiltration rate and water streams underground toward the Gulf of Mexico, versus having the water sit a few feet beneath the surface.
According to Onderdonk, reclaiming water “was almost built out of necessity.” The first responsibility is to get rid of the water and when that can’t happen, it becomes a liability. That’s when the need to shunt water to reclamation areas arises.
There is currently a reclaimed water line that runs the length of US Highway 19 from Glen Lakes to Timber Pines. A $13-million dollar extension would run the length of County Line Road, then northward to the Brooksville Tampa-Bay Regional Airport (BKV).
Other proposed piplines are: a connection from the US 19 pipeline to the planned Spring Center development, at a cost of $25-million, (due to the large number of clients it would serve), a route in Ridge Manor to serve the planned Sunrise development at $1.2-million, and a short route from BKV to Anderson Snow Park $350,000.
Another scenario involves linking all three major areas (Glen Lakes, Timber Pines, BKV) for $36-million.
Commissioner Wayne Dukes asked if a better short term goal would be to prioritize golf courses to receive reclaimed water before developments and communities that haven’t been built yet. Several alternatives are being considered, including recharging the aquifer, residential irrigation and agricultural reuse.
While costs were the most-discussed values, the reclaimed water routes will generate revenue. At present, the Timber Pines operation generates roughly $17,000 per month for 1.7-million gallons of reclaimed water.
Currently in place is a county ordinance that limits the amount of water that can be reclaimed. This ordinance will need to be reviewed, along with planned routes in a regular meeting to be scheduled in August.
In 2016, the Florida Legislature passed the Florida Springs Protection Act. The act called for the creation of Basin Management Action Plans (BMAP) 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.
The BMAP requires reductions of nitrogen deposits into ground water in the Weeki Wachee springshed in designated areas. One of the projects listed on the BMAP for the Weeki Wachee Springshed is the $240,000 Septic to Sewer conversion study- which has been completed. The study by Coastal Engineering, looks at the feasibility of converting 32,000 properties in the Weeki Wachee Springshed from septic to sewer in 19 districts (A-S). The total price of doing so, is estimated around $700 million.
District A and B septic to sewer conversions from the conversion study have made it onto the final BMAP. Districts A and B are located just north of Weeki Wachee Springs. The price for completing both conversions is roughly $50 million. There are 900 septic systems to convert in District A and 1,310 septic systems to convert in District B.
According to Onderdonk, “the Weeki Wachee [river] is impaired.” The condition, known since 2016, sparked the BMAP in order to repair the springs feeding the river to restore the nitrate levels to acceptable levels within twenty years.
Onderdonk remarked that 30% of the nitrogen levels are being contributed by septic systems. Another contributing factor is fertilizer runoff, contributing over 40%.
The proposal is for all properties within the BMAP area (Districts A and B) of one acre or less convert to county sewer service. The area is shown as an irregular mapping, with a northernmost border at Centralia Ave, points west of US Highway 19, and eastward to US Highway 41. It extends south to County Line road, into Pasco county.
The next question is money. While turning existing septic customers over to sewer, the county does gain paying customers, which offsets the cost of the project.
The chart shown depicted credits, rather than actual dollar amounts for several projects that could reduce the nitrate count of the Weeki Wachee. By implementing a certain project, the county is awarded a number of credits by FDEP.
Commissioner John Allocco asked Onderdonk, “Is someone actually measuring that it does what it says, or is it playing a government game … to see who gets the most points?” Onderdonk responded that the resulting metrics are “highly theoretical.”
The actual cost of the conversion project (for distircts A and B) would be $50-million, estimated to cost $22,000 per home. The state of Florida would pay 50%, with Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) paying 25% of the balance. Hernando County would pay the remaining 25%.
“What happens if we don’t do this at all?”
- BOCC Chairman Steve Champion asked. Champion, seeing the project as an expansion of government, reiterated all the positive points cited earlier about Hernando County’s soil, location and natural filtration. He went on to say, “This is not a health concern. There is just some green in the spring.”
State Representative Blaise Ingoglia was at the meeting, and spoke about the legislation at the root of the discussion. According to Ingoglia, the 75% funding available currently may decrease in the future, leaving some taxpayers with a higher assessment than others. Statewide, the conversions are expected to cost up to $1-billion.
“We have to solve this problem. The challenge is that we have a piece of legislation that was written in 2016, with an implementation date of 24 months … it’s causing havoc in the marketplace. It will be a huge, massive tax increase on homeowners throughout the state,” Ingoglia remarked.
Commissioner John Allocco concurred, stating “We need a constitutional amendment against unfunded mandates.” Alloco also said that many “staff hours are wasted in situations where we don’t know what the end-game is.”
Since the meeting was a workshop, and not a regular meeting, no vote was held, but the consensus among the commissioners was to not support the project at this time. Onderdonk and staff will continue to work with the Department of Environmental Protection and other agencies to come to a resolution.