December 23, 2012


FLORIDAN AQUIFER: Recharge option eyed

SRWMD may start pumping water underground






White Springs once saw U.S. presidents bathe in the sulfur-rich waters that gave the town its name. Where the spring used to be, now  there’s nothing -- not even a trickle. A new study detailing ways to put water back into the ground aims at preventing that same fate for springs throughout North Central Florida.


A technical memorandum, completed by Atkins North America Inc., presents a number of aquifer recharge concepts to help decide the best ways to artificially put water back into the aquifer.


The study looks at direct and indirect injection of water into the massive limestone formation that holds the drinking water of the state. One of the concepts calls for direct injection of reclaimed water from wastewater treatment facilities.


That option won’t be used in Suwannee River Water Management District. The SRWMD stretches from Jefferson County in the west, then snakes down the coast as far south as Levy County and as far west as Bradford County.


 Direct injection of reclaimed water isn’t possible here because the study recommends the capacity of a wastewater treatment facility be greater than 10 million gallons per day. Treatment facilities in the district don’t produce that much wastewater, according to the study.


“Due to high cost of transmission piping installation, any potential recharge project should focus on maximizing the quantity of wastewater/reclaimed water in the closest proximity to the potential recharge area,” the study said.


While direct injection of reclaimed water isn’t an option for SRWMD, the St. Johns River Water Management District does have large enough facilities.


Any water that enters into the aquifer will spread to the other water districts.


The Floridan aquifer allows farms to flourish, cities to grow and industry to thrive. It’s life itself. The human body is made mostly of water.


Robert L. Knight is the director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute, and someone who has studied the springs and water treatment systems for 30 years. He has a doctorate in systems ecology from the University of Florida, department of environmental engineering and center for wetlands.


He founded and is president of Wetland Solutions, and has professional experience with more than 200 projects assessing environmental impacts of human activities and designing solutions, and has written more than 100 technical reports on wetland permitting, design and operation, according to an online resume.


He said the recharge concepts now under consideration by the districts are expensive and don’t deal with nearly enough water to have a noticeable effect.


“That’s like trying to use a rocket ship to carry toys to Orlando ...,” he said of the cost effectiveness of the project. “There’s a wetland alternative that’s better than all the concepts (studied in the memo).”


Knight develops wetlands to be used as recharge areas for wastewater for municipalities. He said the direct and indirect injection methods studied in the memo do not remove enough nitrates from the water, either.


He said his method of indirectly putting water back into the Floridan does. Wetlands act as a filter for all types of pollutants, he said.


But even that method, while better, doesn’t address the real problem -- more water is leaving than returning to the system.


“The cheapest way to recharge the aquifer is to stop pumping so much,” Knight said.


Suwannee River Water Management District permits 300 million gallons a day to be pumped out and used by farms, cities and industry, Knight said.


An additional 100 millions gallons a day has been redirected into the St. Johns River Water Management District by over-pumping and permitting by that district’s management, Knight said.


With the recent bad press the water management districts have received over declining ground water levels, algae-clogged rivers and a 155 million gallon a day consumptive use permit, Knight said the aquifer recharge concepts studied in the Atkins memo amount to a public relations campaign.


“That’s trying to put a Band-Aid on (the problem),” he said.


While calling for a halt to pumping more water may seem like an easy answer to some, the problem with that is water fuels the economy.


From cooling turbines in a power plant to growing green beans on a farm, a healthy supply of water allows communities to thrive.


The number one use of water in the SRWMD is for agriculture, Knight said.


District 1 County Commissioner and Chairman of Florida Leaders Organized for Water Ron Williams said he understands that there’s a balance between growth and conservation.


“You have to find that happy medium,” he said.


Carlos Herd, SRWMD water supply division director, said the Atkins memo was just one of more than 40 concepts and projects water management is either implementing or studying to help improve the water supply.


“We don’t have all our eggs in one basket...,” he said. “There’s a lot of other options out there.”


Herd said the public has a perception that reclaimed waste water goes “from toilet to tap.” He pointed out that all water on the planet has been reused. Plus, he said the state requires that water injected into the aquifer be of the same quality as what’s already there.


Besides, the ideas  presented in the Atkins memo are far from ready to be implemented, he said. Minimum flow rates for the Suwannee river need to be completed, and a cost estimate for the concepts will have to be completed.


There’s a finite amount of water and there isn’t any more being produced, he said.


“Every drop of water we take out of the ground has been used (at some point in the past)...,” Herd said. “People do not like to think they are drinking reused water.”


Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson, president of Our Santa Fe River, said she has issues with the injection of reclaimed wastewater into the aquifer.


“They cannot remove all the chemicals well enough to be putting (water back) into our aquifer,” she said. “That’s my biggest concern that they can not remove the pharmaceuticals.”


She said nitrates, caffeine, sucrose and endocrine disrupters aren’t removed.


She also worries about the effect the water would have on the limestone. At the most basic level, the Floridan Aquifer is an underground limestone formation that holds fresh water.


Limestone can be dissolved by water with high concentrations of dissolved oxygen. When the limestone is eaten away by the dissolved oxygen, it releases radioactive elements and arsenic, which would be carried into the drinking water, she said.


At the last SRWMD governing board meeting, Malwitz-Jipson mentioned her worries about the effects of dissolved oxygen on limestone.


Water management told her that dissolved oxygen wasn’t as much of a problem as she believed.


“I didn’t feel satisfied with that answer,” Malwitz-Jipson said, “because everything that I’ve read says it’s very hard to (remove the dissolved oxygen from the water).”


Malwitz-Jipson said she would like to see fewer permits issued and the aquifer recharge itself.


“Our position is conservation,” she said. “Stop issuing so many permits. That’s what I would like to see.”