Pasco County wants to take a dry ranch and turn it into wetlands.
Part of it, anyway.
The county's utilities services is working to build 200 acres of wetlands on 4G Ranch in central Pasco to disperse up to 5 million gallons a day of treated wastewater.
When completed, the wetlands will aid existing natural habitats and help replenish the aquifer during the dry season, said Michael Carballa, engineering director for the county's utilities division.
The water, known as reclaimed water, usually is sprayed on golf courses and in some residential neighborhoods for landscape irrigation. To store the reclaimed water for use in the dry season, the county has a reservoir in Land O'Lakes and is building a 500 million gallon reservoir at Boyette and Overpass roads in Wesley Chapel.
The dilemma is getting rid of the surplus during the summer rainy season when demand for reclaimed water is reduced. On average, the county's homes and businesses produce 24 million gallons a day of wastewater, all of which is treated and reused.
A key attribute of 4G Ranch, north of State Road 52 and east of U.S. 41, is its proximity between the county's regional treatment plants in Wesley Chapel and in Shady Hills. The ranch also sits between the Cross Bar and Cypress Creek well fields, which supply a significant portion of the region's drinking water and is an area "that has experienced some environmental consequences from operation of those two main well fields,'' said Bruce Kennedy, Pasco's assistant county administrator for utilities.
It's a reminder of the dry lakes and shriveling wetlands that inspired the 1990s-era water wars, which finally ended with the formation of the regional water utility, Tampa Bay Water, and the mandate to reduce groundwater pumping in Pasco County.
The plan now is to build up to 200 acres of new wetlands, divided among 15 basins ranging in size from 5 to 15 acres. The reclaimed water will be delivered from a 2-mile pipe tapping into the county's current utility line that runs along SR 52 between the Shady Hills and Wesley Chapel treatment plants.
Commissioners retained CH2M Hill engineers to complete the project design and permitting work under a $532,000 contract, with the Southwest Florida Water Management District also kicking in dollars.
Construction is expected to begin after the first of the year, and the county still must finalize an agreement with the 4G Ranch owners. The estimated total cost is $13.6 million, with the county again seeking partial funding from the water management district. Kennedy said if the project is a success, the county will consider duplicating it elsewhere around Pasco.
Separately, the county also wants to replenish Crews Lake with reclaimed water. But that requires a local legislative bill in Tallahassee because of previous legislation limiting sewage treatment discharges in the county.
A bill sponsored by Rep. Amanda Murphy, D-New Port Richey, died in committee during the legislative session ending in April. Rep. Danny Burgess, R-San Antonio, is sponsoring the bill in the 2016 session.