Fix for Hernando wells tainted with arsenic would cost $15 million

BROOKSVILLE — The only way to solve the problem of high levels of arsenic in homeowners' wells here, the state says, would be to hook the homes to a central water system.

It's not a cheap fix. The cost of a centralized water system for roughly 200 homes in southeast Hernando County would be about $15 million, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Based on the county's median income, however, Hernando could qualify for 85 percent of the cost to be covered with grants and 15 percent through low-interest loans, the DEP told the county in a letter this week.

The DEP also indicates that millions of dollars in federal stimulus funds could be available as well.

How much of that financial help Hernando County might be able to snag is unclear, according to a memo from utilities director Joe Stapf that county commissioners will discuss at their meeting Tuesday.

The problem of arsenic-tainted wells goes back several years and is attributed to naturally occurring arsenic, pesticides that were used by ranchers and arsenic that was used years ago to rid cattle of ticks. For two years, the state has been providing residents in the affected areas with bottled water and water-filteration systems.

In mid March, at the state's request, county officials requested state grants. This week's letter was the state's response.

Stapf outlined steps Hernando will have to take to pursue federal economic stimulus funds for the project, starting with submitting a planning document. He said this is the same process the department is already using to get stimulus dollars for wastewater projects, and the county already has retained a firm to assist with that process.

"A significant concern … is the long-term effect of extending public water supply infrastructure into this area,'' which the county intends to keep rural, Stapf noted. "The concern is how to not encourage sprawl development yet still address the identified public health concern.''

The county must also design a model for a central water service in the area, something that could be done through an engineer already approved by the county.

And the county would have to put out a request for proposals for a consulting engineer for the overall project.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

Fix for Hernando wells tainted with arsenic would cost $15 million 04/23/09 [Last modified: Thursday, April 23, 2009 8:12pm]

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