Reclaimed water: small city makes big investment
Nettie Draughon, city manager of Plant City, Fla., has been a forward-looking municipal official since July 1, 1940 – her first day on the city payroll.
“Back in the days when [nearby] Tampa and Lakeland were bragging about their new convention centers and showing them off to anyone who walked by, we were every bit as proud to show off our state-of-the-art waste-water treatment plant,” Draughon says. “Without it, we wouldn’t have the new jobs coming into town that we do today. We definitely have the capacity for water and sewer, and these are two major items that industrial prospects are always looking for.”
The wastewater treatment plant has undergone many changes over the years. The first facility was built soon after World War II and upgraded in 1959, 1967 and 1972.
Today, Plant City is again facing a wastewater challenge, and the solution – the development of a water reuse program – has not been without its headaches.
Since mid-1993, the city has been under a Consent Order from the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission (HCEPC) to stop the plants effluent into Westside Canal. Via a series of creeks and other canals, Westside eventually flows into Lake Thonotosassa, the county’s largest lake and a state-designated Surface Water Improvement and Management Act (SWIM) body with documented pollution problems.
Disagreement over the source of this pollution has put the city at loggerheads with county, state and federal agencies, which claim that Plant City’s discharge is the largest contributor to the lake’s degeneration. “We do not feel we are polluting that lake,” Draughon says, noting that there are several dairy farms, agricultural operations and residential septic tanks dotting the banks of the 819-acre body of water and that all these sources generate nutrient-rich runoff or seepage that ultimately end up in the lake. “But the consent order says `zero discharge’ into Westside, and we are mandated to do just that.”
Compared to the $4 million it took to build the town’s first treatment plant, the price tag on the reuse project is a staggering $15 million. The Southwest Florida Water Management District has agreed to pay $4 million in support of the water conservation aspects of the program, but the balance has come from a city water/sewer revenue bond issue.
The environmental benefits of this solution are twofold: It will aid in the cleanup of polluted surface waters and simultaneously preserve a significant number of gallons of pristine aquifer water now being used and discarded by local industriest. In the first phase of the project, the current waste-water treatment process is being upgraded so that the effluent will receive further treatment to meet public access reclaimed water standards. In the second part of the project, a high-service pump station and pipeline distribution system will be constructed to deliver the reclaimed water to the industrial customers.
The pipeline – which will supply users north of the city limits – will be 11 miles long and consist of 30-inch and 24-inch ductile iron pipe
If all goes according to plan, the reclaimed water system will be in use by the beginning of next year. Its very existence puts Plant City at the cutting edge of the environmental stewardship movement. But it is a change that has come with a high price tag.