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Sarasota Thursday, Mar. 12, 2020 2 years ago

Changes at water facility expected to reduce effect on environment

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More than $170 million in changes at the Bee Ridge Water Reclamation Facility are expected to help reduce the level of nutrients in Sarasota County's ecosystem.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

In the past several years, millions of gallons of untreated water have spilled from Sarasota County’s Bee Ridge Water Reclamation Facility, but officials hope improvements to the facility will change that.

A $157 million upgrade from a reclamation facility to an advanced wastewater facility is planned for the site at 4001 Iona Road, which has long been blamed for contributing to the county’s poor water quality.

The transformation, which already has increased unincorporated residents’ water fees, will reduce the level of harmful nutrients in treated water, officials said.

Water undergoes biological treatment at the facility, making it safe to water lawns with, but not to consume.

The Bee Ridge facility is capable  of reducing released nutrient levels to 20 milligrams per liter of nitrogen. Once the upgrade is complete, it will operate to the level of an advanced wastewater facility with the ability to reduce nutrients to 3 milligrams per liter nitrogen and 1 milligrams per liter  or less phosphorus.

“These improvements are dramatically important,” Director of Public Utilities Mike Mylett said. “We all know that we’re trying to reduce the amount of nitrogen that gets in our bays and estuaries. … The more we can do at locations like this, the better.”

Currently, a pilot program for advanced water treatment is being run at the facility. 

The new facility is in its design phase and is expected to be complete by December 2025.

Although changes are on the horizon, addressing the issue won’t be cheap.

Residents living in unincorporated Sarasota County can expect an increase of 5% annually for five years in wastewater fees, plus a monthly water quality fee of $1 per dwelling unit.

Money from the fee, which would bring a typical water bill from $45 to just under $58 in five years, will help pay off the county’s 30-year $170 million bond for the Bee Ridge facility.

“I know that $157 million sounds like an astronomical amount of money,” Mylett said. “But it treats a lot of water and removes a lot of nitrogen from the system in a very economical manner.”

Two aquifer recharge wells are being drilled 1,700 feet deep.

Although plans for the overhaul are still in the design phase, work is already underway on two aquifer recharge wells that are being drilled at the site at a cost of $15.4 million for the purposes of retaining excess water in high-rainfall situations.

The wells inject water into the ground and that water is filtered naturally over time.

The water is then treated enough to safely use for lawn irrigation but not for drinking.

Each aquifer well will be approximately 1,700 feet deep and will be able to handle 18 million gallons of water each day, which would bring the facility’s capacity up from 12 million.

The wells would be used during times of high rain when the facility receives more water than is typical, which will help prevent spills from the facility’s storage pond. 

In summer 2019, Sarasota County received more than 30 inches of rainfall, which caused more than 38 gallons of reclaimed water to spill over the storage pond.

Work on the aquifer wells began in February and is expected to be complete by early 2021. The facility also has the capacity for two aquifer recharge wells to be dug in the future.

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