Understanding the value of water
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In this issue
Innovative techniques are adding up to water conservation on a grand scale.
Residents, agencies and Legislature join together to dredge muck, improve water quality in Brevard County waterway.
Site of former school becomes a native plant nursery, learning center.
Removing rough fish from Lake George improves water quality.
Additions of the round tanks, red roofed building and white silos in this aerial photo of Palm Coast’s wastewater treatment plant No. 2 show the new facilities to integrate a Zero Liquid Discharge process into an existing nanofiltration water treatment facility.
Water conservation on a grand scale
Utilities, industry and other large water users dial back consumption.
As Florida grows, so does the demand for potable water. Call it a mantra, a maxim or just plain logic.
Every day, people move to one of the 18 counties encompassing the St. Johns River Water Management District, a region already home to nearly 5 million people. Between 2010 and 2035, that number is expected to swell by another 1.8 million people. Will the demand for water rise at the same rate?
Maybe not — if additional water conservation measures are implemented.
Water consumers throughout the District — including commercial retailers, manufacturing plants, the agricultural community, public utilities and even entire cities — have adopted innovative water conservation strategies that have literally slashed their collective potable water use by billions of gallons annually.
Rob Bolton, utilities director for the city of Vero Beach, visits a canal used to supplement the city’s reclaimed water reserves during peak demand periods. The storm water pumped from the canal helps reduce stormwater flows to the Indian River Lagoon.
At the District’s southern reaches, the city of Vero Beach has turned back the clock on water consumption. The city’s secret? Reclaimed water — highly treated wastewater that is nearly drinking water quality.
“Twenty five years ago, we were providing 9.14 million gallons of drinking water a day to 33,000 customers,” says John Ten Eyck, assistant director of Vero Beach’s water and sewer administration. “Today, we’re serving 37,835 people. We do that with 5.25 million gallons a day from our plant. That’s a 42.6 percent reduction in potable water use.”
Vero Beach officials had the foresight in 1989 to begin designing a reclaimed water treatment system. By 1992, the system was operational. Not only did potable water use plummet as customers switched to reclaimed water for lawn irrigation, but discharges of treated wastewater into the Indian River Lagoon eventually plunged from 939 million gallons a year to zero. That translated to a reduction of 125,000 pounds of nitrogen and 37,000 pounds of phosphorus from reaching the lagoon.
“The District’s watering restrictions and the new construction standards helped reduce water use over the years, but our reclaimed water system has definitely had the biggest impact.”
— John Ten Eyck,
Assistant director of the Vero Beach
water and sewer administration
During peak demand periods, the utility supplements its reclaimed water reserves with storm water pumped from a large canal that flows into the lagoon, providing a benefit by reducing stormwater flow into the waterway.
“The District’s watering restrictions and the new construction standards helped reduce water use over the years, but our reclaimed water system has definitely had the biggest impact,” Ten Eyck says. “I have a waiting list (of potential customers) that goes back to 1998. I don’t have enough reclaimed water to meet the requests. I think it illustrates that the citizens of our county are interested in conserving water.”
Further north, the city of Palm Coast is growing to become a paragon of sustainability by offering a Green Building Development Program that includes financial incentives for builders and property owners who meet green building certification standards. It also incorporates the District’s Florida Water StarSM Program, a water conservation certification program for new and existing homes and commercial developments. The Palm Coast Public Works Department offers a $410 “plant capacity fee” reimbursement, representing a 20 percent fee reduction to applicants who meet Florida Water StarSM certification on new construction. Also, the city’s Building Permit Division offers an impact fee reduction of $300 for residential and $1,000 for commercial participants.
“We offer an array of unique programs that encourage water conservation,” says Denise Bevan, Palm Coast administration coordinator. “Our city council and our staff have a genuine focus on encouraging reduction because they realize these efforts help extend our long-term plant capacity.”
The city of Palm Coast has installed signs indicating where reclaimed water is used to irrigate.
Like many progressive communities in Florida, Palm Coast takes advantage of reclaimed water to lessen demands on potable water for irrigation. But the city is also incorporating new innovations to squeeze every drop it can from its utility system. Case in point: a new “Zero Liquid Discharge” facility that, when completed, will add up to 1.2 million gallons of water a day to the city’s water supply.
To understand why this is a big deal, consider the art of removing minerals and salt from brackish groundwater through a reverse osmosis process. This process produces a concentrate byproduct consisting of various dissolved solids that is currently discharged into a surface water canal and returned to nature. The “Zero Liquid Discharge” process will enable the utility to treat its concentrate to safe drinking water standards so that it is distributed as potable water into the system. This innovation will boost water production efficiency from 80 percent to 98 percent at one of the utility’s treatment plants, says Brian Matthews, Palm Coast Utility’s environmental specialist.
“We have a limited supply of freshwater in our region,” Matthews says. “Out of necessity, we’ve been addressing issues related to population, growing water demands and water conservation for many years.”
Palm Coast builders and homeowners aren’t the only ones taking advantage of Florida Water StarSM. The commercial sector is also jumping on board. Gate Petroleum Co. is embracing the program and saving money on water bills. Gate opened its fourth Florida Water StarSM-certified gas station in April 2014. The store, located on Emerson Street, just west of Interstate 95 in Jacksonville, features a water-efficient, Florida-Friendly landscape requiring minimal irrigation. Indoors, the bathrooms feature water-efficient fixtures. Gate is currently constructing two additional gas stations designed to meet Florida Water StarSM criteria.
Randy Strode, left, and Ty Strode of Agri-Starts Inc., are winners of an Agriculture-Environmental Leadership Award for their water-conserving work at their Apopka nursery.
Another way for local governments and public utilities to dial back potable water use is through the District’s cost-share program. The District began cost sharing on water conservation projects in 2010. Since then, the District and its partners have invested more than $7 million in water conservation projects.
Pennbrooke Fairways in Leesburg is an example of a cost-share project that has resulted in huge water use reductions. Upgrading the irrigation controller for the homeowners association’s common areas resulted in up to a 76 percent water savings during the summer months. In July 2012, the community reduced water consumption by more than 3 million gallons compared to the previous July.
Many international companies located in Florida are among the most deliberate stewards of Florida’s water resources. Anheuser-Busch, LLC, in Jacksonville, is on the forefront of water conservation. Since 2009, the company has reduced its water consumption by more than 850 million gallons a year, accomplishing this feat through such innovations as conducting daily water audits and making adjustments where needed, reusing water from bottle rinsing to operate cooling towers, and reusing water onsite for other purposes, such as landscape irrigation.
“Anheuser-Busch has always been one of the most conscientious companies when it comes to water conservation,” says Caroline Silvers, a District supervising hydrologist. “Today, companies are focusing on driving usage down, not worrying about the maximum listed on the permit. They realize that every drop counts.”
Ken Wilkey, senior resident environmental services manager at the Jacksonville brewery, agrees.
“Anheuser-Busch understands the importance of water quality and conservation,” Wilkey says. “By benchmarking different processes and pieces of equipment, we are able to continually set ambitious environmental goals for ourselves by generating new ideas and challenges for our employees.”
Florida has a rich agricultural history spanning generations. The state’s climate is naturally suited to raising cattle, citrus and row crops. After public supply, agricultural irrigation is the second largest use of the state’s water resources. However, many agricultural enterprises are at the forefront of developing and adopting environmentally innovative farming practices that include scaling back water use. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services recognizes environmentally conscious growers with the annual Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award.
One of the 2014 award winners was Bryan Jones, owner of Riverdale Potato Farms in Elkton. Riverdale is a successful family enterprise that has produced hearty potato varieties for almost 30 years.
Jones’ innovative irrigation methods and equipment resulted in significant improvement in irrigation efficiency and reduced fertilizer runoff into the St. Johns River, while reducing operating costs and improving crop yields. The farm uses a subsurface drip irrigation system that allows 90 percent water use efficiency, greatly reducing the amount of surface water discharged from the edge of the field during irrigation and storm events. An added benefit: the farm has reduced fertilizer use between 60 to 75 tons.
Another winner of this year’s award was Randy Strode who with his son, Ty, owns and operates Agri-Starts Inc. in Apopka. This nursery is one of the world’s leading suppliers of tissue culture starter plants. Agri-Starts currently has 452 plant varieties in production and another 104 in research and development. To meet its burgeoning water demands, Strode developed and installed a system of cisterns, which enable the nursery to capture and re-use rainwater for 100 percent of its production needs. To further conserve water, the nursery also uses mist propagation, hand irrigation and wet pads to cool the nursery and provide continuous moisture in its new 90,000-square foot greenhouse. An older greenhouse will be converted in the future.
Strode said he believes that farmers are “some of the best stewards of the planet, but that sometimes we just fail to get that message out” to the public.
“Water is going to continue to become a challenge in a state that receives 55 to 60 inches of rain annually,” says Strode. “I’m trying to prevent problems for my sons and my business in the future. It’s the right thing to do.”
New seedlings get a misting of water during their early growth stage in a mist propagation greenhouse at Agri-Starts Inc. in Apopka.