The City of Tallahassee Friday announced its intention to seek a remand of the pending application for wastewater treatment and disposal back into the hands of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). In the past few months the City has been engaged in researching flows from the Southeast Farm sprayfield, in the hopes of understanding the environmental impact of the wastewater treatment facility. As a result of preliminary findings, City officials today announced a bold step forward.
“We have stated, from day one, that we will be responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars and of the environmentally fragile watershed,” said Mayor John Marks. “We have consistently said that we will follow good science, and today we are here to tell you ‘we meant it!’ The science we have reviewed up to this point leads us to believe we can do better. And as such, we will do better.”
Mayor Marks was joined by City Manager Anita Favors Thompson and other officials for the announcement at City Hall.
The City has been seeking to renew its operating permit for the sprayfield, while at the same time conducting scientific research into how groundwater travels away from the sprayfield. This research is being conducted as part of a larger project to determine the causes of water quality concerns at Wakulla Springs State Park. Recent studies undertaken both prior to and during the course of permitting and the challenge to the permit have given City officials enough concern to warrant this new direction.
Mayor Marks added, “preliminary research findings indicate water from the sprayfield to Wakulla Springs is moving faster than was originally estimated. As long-standing stewards of the environment, we don’t need to hear much more than that. We don’t have all the answers right now but believe that it is now time to focus on solutions. We will seek additional information and then develop more advanced systems to remediate any negative impacts our operations may have.”
City Manager Anita Favors Thompson said both the City and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection recognize that more time is needed to accurately determine the level of remediation to be taken, by the City and other responsible parties. “For the overall benefit of all the stakeholders in this important issue, the City must change its focus to move from discussion of mediation to solutions, both by the City and other responsible parties,” said Favors Thompson. The City Manager also expressed her appreciation to DEP Secretary Colleen Castille for the cooperative relationship shared between the City and DEP regarding the sprayfield. “We’re partners in ensuring the preservation of our beautiful natural environment here in Tallahassee, as well as our neighboring communities, and I’m pleased that Secretary Castille and her staff are working closely with us on this process” said Favors Thompson.
The Southeast Farm sprayfield is an award-winning, internationally recognized wastewater recycling facility. Wastewater is treated and then pumped to the farm, where it is then sprayed on crops grown year-round by an agricultural company contracted by the City. In recent years the City has made substantial improvements to the sprayfield operations, including reducing land application of biosolids, removing cattle from the facility, and before the end of the year will begin construction on a water reuse plant that will use treated wastewater for irrigation on the SouthWood Golf Course, the State Office Complex, and landscaped roadway medians in the area.
Work continues on a scientific survey being conducted by the United States Geological Society (USGS) to track where water from the farm flows. Complete survey results are due from the USGS sometime this fall.