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Agency studies well replenishment

Swiftmud is proposing a $1.2-million study to investigate pouring reclaimed water on well fields.

By JAMES THORNER

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 26, 2001


The Southwest Florida Water Management District wants Clearwater and Largo to create wells to store reclaimed water that could be used during periods of severe drought or pumped to wetlands in south-central Pasco County, a plan that has won support from Pasco officials.

Pasco would use the new supply of treated wastewater to repair wetlands and replenish groundwater at county well fields stressed by years of overpumping.

The proposal comes from the water district's New Water Source Initiative Program.

"The concept is to get the water where it's needed, when it's needed," said Anthony Andrade, project manager for the water district, known as Swiftmud.

Step one is a $1.2-million study to consider storing millions of gallons of excess reclaimed water underground in Largo and Clearwater, a method called aquifer storage recovery.

If the study shows storing decontaminated wastewater in pockets of the aquifer is safe, Swiftmud proposes building a $4-million pipeline to send water north to Pasco. Pasco would cover half the pipeline costs.

"Anything to get more reclaimed water into our system we'd be interested in discussing it," Pasco Utilities Director Bruce Kennedy said. "It's inevitable these reuse systems will be regionally interconnected."

The Swiftmud plan is an echo of the much-more-expensive Pasco Rainbow Wellfield Rehydration Project doomed by Pinellas County opposition in 1996.

The Rainbow project involved pouring excess Pinellas and Pasco reclaimed water on Pasco well fields. Proponents said the water would have rehydrated dried-out wetlands and percolated into the ground to help boost the aquifer.

Although studies showed reclaimed water is non-polluting, Pinellas objected to spilling treated wastewater in well fields that supply most of the county's drinking water.

"Our citizens are not prepared to fund a study that would introduce non-potable water into their public drinking water supplies," then-Pinellas commissioner Charles Rainey said in 1995.

Swiftmud bypassed Pinellas County government with its latest reclaimed water proposal, which would cost $9.5-million. Estimated cost of the Rainbow plan, which involved more pipes and more wastewater treatment plants, was $50-million.

During the rainy season, when demand for reclaimed water is lower, Clearwater and Largo typically dump their excess into Tampa Bay. Pasco, on the other hand, rations reclaimed water in the center of the county.

Water-thirsty lawns in neighborhoods such as Meadow Pointe easily gulp the 1.5-million gallons of reclaimed water produced each day by four treatment plants in eastern Pasco.

West Pasco's five plants produce a daily surplus of more than 1-million gallons of reclaimed water. Little good that does central Pasco: The two systems are not connected, although they will be next year.

The Swiftmud plan suggests spreading some of the Largo and Clearwater water on well fields in south-central Pasco.

The proposal doesn't specify which of Pasco's six well fields could tap the water use, but the Cypress Creek, Starkey, South Pasco and Cypress Bridge well fields roughly fit the geographical description.

Kennedy rejects fears that reclaimed water spilled on the well fields could pollute drinking water. Many of the neighborhoods using reclaimed water are clustered near Cypress Bridge with no ill effects on the aquifer.

Reclaimed water is cleaner than storm water, Kennedy said, and the filtering effect of sand and plants would clean it even further on its trip to the aquifer.

"It's been treated essentially to drinking water," he said.

- Times staff writer Eric Stirgus contributed to this report

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