BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County took an important step toward becoming greener earlier this month — and actually more purple as well.
When county commissioners approved a contractor and a funding source for improving the Glen wastewater treatment plant off Hexam Road, they also put in motion the next phase of water reuse for the county.
When the treatment plant expansion and other utility projects are completed in about two years, the county Utilities Department will have added the capacity to provide another million gallons of reclaimed water per day. That's a 37 percent increase over what is available now.
As with other utility lines, reclaimed water pipes are color coded, and their assigned color is purple.
The additional reclaimed water is likely bound for area golf courses such as those at Glen Lakes and the Heather, at least that's the hope of county utilities director Joe Stapf, who has been talking with potential customers.
While expanding the availability of reclaimed water is something Stapf said people should support because it helps the planet, it's also something that is strongly encouraged by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, also known as Swiftmud. The agency issues the water-use permits the county needs to withdraw groundwater.
When Swiftmud consolidated and renewed five water-use permits for the county's utility system in January, it granted the county permission to pump an additional 2.8 million gallons of water a day, bringing the total to 24.4 million gallons a day.
Special reporting and monitoring requirements were part of the agreement. Hernando County was also required to complete a reclaimed water feasibility study and implement a water conservation plan.
"Reclaimed water is a vital water resource,'' said Anthony Andrade, a senior analyst for Swiftmud. "We look at it not only as a help to meet our needs, it's critical to meet our needs.''
For every gallon of reclaimed water a golf course uses for irrigation, a gallon of drinking water does not have to be pumped.
Throughout Swiftmud's region, more than 180 golf courses, seven power plants and 9,000 acres of crops use reclaimed water, Andrade said.
Because the agency wants to convey the importance of reclaimed water, Swiftmud uses its regulatory authority to encourage the development of reclaimed water systems, but it also offers a carrot. Each year, Swiftmud makes funds available for a variety of projects.
This year, $20 million is available districtwide, and the Hernando County Commission approved its wish list for projects to be considered this month. Among them are three projects related to the county's water reuse plans costing $8.5 million.
For the projects the water management district board approves each year, Swiftmud funds 50 percent, with the county financing the other half.
Hernando County is using the state's revolving loan program to pay the cost of the improvements to the Glen wastewater treatment plant. Some of those dollars are federal stimulus funds.
Commissioners approved the $13.64 million bid for the work from Encore Construction Co. When completed, the plant will increase in capacity from 750,000 gallons of wastewater to 3 million. In the short term, when the county closes the Berkeley Manor and Weeki Wachee plants and reverts that wastewater to the Glen plant, it will process approximately 1 million gallons per day, Stapf said.
Reclaimed water must be treated to a greater degree than standard wastewater plant effluent, which in Hernando County is disposed of by pumping it into special sand basins that allow the water to percolate into the ground and be gradually filtered.
Among the county's utilities, currently only the Spring Hill wastewater treatment plant off Osowaw Boulevard can treat wastewater to the level necessary to be reused. The 1.7 million gallons per day from that plant are used by Timber Pines for irrigation.
That arrangement was struck years ago, before the county took over the utility and, even though the plan is to eventually close that plant, Stapf said the county will continue to provide reuse water for Timber Pines. The cost for the water is 25 cents per thousand gallons, about a quarter of what residential customers pay for drinking water.
The only other major reclaimed water operation in the county is that of the city of Brooksville, which provides reused water for lime rock mining.
The county also has plans for providing reclaimed water from an expanded treatment plant at the county airport that is currently under design. County utilities will also be obligated to provide reused water from the Ridge Manor plant when the Hickory Hill development gets under way as part of the county's agreement with the developer.
Residents of Silverthorn have also expressed some interest in reclaimed water in the past, and Stapf said he hopes that will become a reality.
One idea not in the county's plan is to provide reclaimed water for residential use. That would be an expensive process requiring a duplication of the same infrastructure used for potable water, and, after paying for those pipes and meters, the cost to customers would make it unattractive, Stapf said.
Currently, Swiftmud figures show that 5 million gallons of wastewater are treated every day in Hernando County, and 2.14 million gallons are reused. Other communities have a much higher percentage, Stapf said.
The ultimate plan would be to find a way to use every drop of the county's treated wastewater to offset the need for groundwater, but Hernando County is many years and millions of dollars away from reaching that goal.
Stapf said the county has to start somewhere, however, and that it is clear that regulations that encourage communities to use reclaimed water will not get any less stringent in the future.
"The time is now to move forward with this,'' he said.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.