County approves digging test well
By LISA GREENE, Times Staff Writer
Pinellas County took a step Tuesday toward injecting treated water from Lake Tarpon deep underground, where it could be stored and then later pumped out to water people's lawns.
But Pinellas County commissioners expressed doubts even as they moved ahead.
"I think in spite of the concerns . . . it's probably worth doing," Commissioner Bob Stewart said. "But I think we ought to have our eyes open."
Using aquifer storage and recovery, or ASR, at Lake Tarpon could serve two purposes. First, lowering the lake level sometimes could help make the lake water cleaner, according to a recent environmental study. Second, the water could be saved and used when levels of reclaimed water are low in North Pinellas.
Dave Slonena, county hydrogeology manager, said underground storage has gotten a bad rap.
"There's some education that needs to go on," he said. "It's more a public perception."
But even Pick Talley, the county's utilities director, said he has doubts.
"I'm not convinced myself," he said. "I'd want to be assured there's going to be no environmental or health consequences."
A dozen projects are now under way in southwest Florida to use the ASR wells. Pinellas doesn't have any operating ASR wells; but the cities of St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Largo are working on plans to use such wells to store reclaimed water.
The wells became controversial after the state proposed relaxing the rules for treating the water before pumping it underground. Doing so could have saved $400 million in treatment costs in a plan to use 300 such wells to help clean up the Everglades. But there was so much outcry about the plan that it was abandoned. The wells being discussed in Pinellas would all be treated water.
Commissioners approved digging an exploratory well at the south end of Lake Tarpon. The well would test the water and soil to see whether ASR would work there. An earlier test well elsewhere showed that site wasn't suitable.
Pinellas will split the $300,000 cost with the Southwest Florida Water Management District. If the final well is permitted and built, the total project would cost about $1.6 million, Slonena said.
Four of the five commissioners present voted in favor of the plan. Commission Chairman Barbara Sheen Todd cast the no vote. Todd said there was too much risk injecting the water could pollute groundwater supplies or contribute to sinkholes.
"Aren't we messing with Mother Nature?" she said.
Commissioners Karen Seel and Susan Latvala were absent.
Pinellas would take as much as 90 million gallons of water from Lake Tarpon during the rainy season, disinfect it and inject it 350 to 550 feet underground. Ground water in that area is brackish and not suitable for drinking, Slonena said, so it wouldn't be contaminated.
Then, during the dry season, the county could pump out about a million gallons a day to use for lawn watering. Pinellas already has a program to water lawns with treated waste water.
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