Wakulla Wastewater Woes: Residents, commission split on how to best go about new wastewater property

Published: Jan. 19, 2021 at 5:48 PM EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - A plan to expand wastewater flow in Wakulla County is sparking push back, as some residents are concerned about the impact on Wakulla Springs.

The county commission voted this month to buy new property with plans for releasing clean wastewater into the aquifer that feeds the springs.

People on both sides agree that something has to be done to keep up with the county’s growth. They just disagree on whether this is the best way to do it.

Sue Damon has been a resident in Wakulla County for 26 years, “If you care about your grandkids growing up in this county, if you care about your drinking water, you are going to stop this.”

Damon is passionate about keeping her beloved springs clean. She believes this move will affect tourism and wildlife, by allowing treated wastewater to flow into the springs and cloud the water.

“We really need to respect it and treat it right,” expressed Damon, “Our county is growing and the more it continues to grow, we are going to be having more septic tanks and we really don’t need this extra wastewater going into a place that is going into Wakulla Springs.”

Right now, the county treats wastewater in Sopchoppy and then sprays it into a sprayfield, where the water goes into the OtterCreek drainage basin. That facility can treat up to 1.2 million gallons of water, but right now, City Commissioner Chuck Hess shares it is only treating about 600,000 gallons.

Three months ago, County Advisor David Edwards says the commission initiated an engineering study of their current wastewater treatment system. It found that soon, they will need more capacity, as the current nitrogen levels are not meeting the regulations required by the FDEP and Northwest Water Management Division.

Two weeks ago at a commission meeting, after a 4 to 1 vote, the commission came to the conclusion they would purchase a new parcel of land, that would be home to a new drainage basin, called a Rapid Infiltration Basin, that would put the clean wastewater back into the aquifer, some of it potentially flowing into Wakulla springs.

“This is well south of the spring,” shared Edwards, “And also 75% of the time the water flows out towards the Gulf and only 25% of the time does it flow from spring creek to the spring. But we don’t even know the amount we will be putting there, but at the most this is just a drop in the bucket into the overall size of the basin. Also it’s clean effluent water.”

The 106-acre property, priced at half a million, can be found on the Wakulla County Property Appraiser website. You can see the parcel purchased by the county, belonged to former county commissioner Jerry Moore. Edwards, says they spent a year and a half looking at possible locations for this drainage basin, and found this one reaped the most benefits, including a water table of about 14 feet.

However one commissioner, Chuck Hess of District 5, is not sold, “You know they say this is clean water, well it’s three times as much nitrogen as what is in rainwater.”

Hess is not troubled by where the water will go, his concern lies with the water quality, as high nitrogen in the water, clouds the springs, “You could create an artificial wetland that would take out nitrogen before it goes into the infiltration basin, those are steps you can do. But if you try to do it as cheaply as possible, that might not be the best thing to do for Wakulla County, or Wakulla Springs.”

Wakulla County is named a B-Map, which requires the county to be under regulations that have the water meet certain criteria for nitrogen, no matter where it is dispersed. Edwards says there is still a long way to go with this project, as they could run into further push back with this criteria.

Edwards says they want to still protect the springs with this project. Both Hess and Damon believe other location options should still be looked at. Hess suggested the golf course, as it would be both beneficial for the golf course, to have a way to keep their grass green, and assist the county in trying to keep their nitrogen levels low.

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