Water treated for golf course use and lawn irrigation
Just after 10 a.m. on Aug. 22, Sarasota County Public Utilities Department staff reported to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) that a total of 42.813 million gallons of reclaimed water had been discharged since the morning of Aug. 15 from the storage pond at the county’s Bee Ridge Water Reclamation Facility.
The official FDEP report cited “continuous rains and flooding conditions in the area” as the reasons for the overflow of water “through the emergency spillway.”
The storage pond has been designed to hold 145.2 million gallons, according to FDEP and county documents. The water is used primarily for golf course and residential irrigation.
A little more than two hours later, the County Commission agreed to an estimated $158-million proposal to upgrade the Bee Ridge facility, which is located at 5550 Lorraine Road in Sarasota.
The Aug. 21 Public Utilities report to the state pointed out, “Reclaimed water in the pond is water that has been fully treated [and] meets all public access reuse standards … Staff has begun sampling at the pond and downstream to monitor the effects of the emergency discharge. Staff will continue to monitor the situation and make every effort to minimize the volume and duration of the event.”
The report added, “We will monitor the water flowing from our reuse holding pond to Philippi Creek, and take samples Monday, Wednesday, and Friday until such time that the demand for reuse increases, and the spill ceases.”
In a video county staff produced Aug. 20, Mike Mylett, interim director of the Public Utilities Department, explained that the average discharge from the pond as a result of the rainfall was 3 million to 5 million gallons a day. On a normal day, he continued, North County customers would use 7 million to 8 million gallons of the reclaimed water.
In April, three nonprofit organizations — the Suncoast Waterkeeper, Our Children’s Earth Foundation and the Ecological Rights Foundation — filed a federal lawsuit against the county, arguing multiple violations of the U.S. Clean Water Act. Their primary focus was the Bee Ridge Water Reclamation Facility, which they alleged had discharged close to 1 billion gallons from the storage pond into the watershed since September 2015.
Additionally, on Aug. 27, the County Commission is scheduled to address a Consent Order with FDEP that provides deadlines for both short-term and long-term measures to prevent future spills from the Bee Ridge complex.
One step the county already is pursuing is the construction of two aquifer recharge wells, which should be completed in June 2023. Excess reclaimed water would be transferred into them, Mylett noted during the County Commission’s Aug. 21 budget workshop. (See the related articles in this issue.)
During the board’s March 29 budget workshop, Scott Schroyer, then the Public Utilities Department director, pointed out that the aquifer recharge wells would be designed to handle 18 million gallons per day. The cost of that project was $14.2 million, he added, and it was fully funded at that point.
In the Aug. 20 video, Mylett pointed out that staff also was working to improve the piping between the Been Ridge facility and the Central County Water Reclamation Facility, near Palmer Ranch, so more of the flow could be transferred from the Bee Ridge site to the deep injection wells the county has on the Central County facility property.
Further, he said, staff was working to expand the booster pump capabilities along that pipeline.