Dec 22, 2006

Florida Signs Wastewater Agreement to Protect Wakulla Springs

Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist announced an agreement that calls for the City of Tallahassee, Fla., to invest more than $160 million over the next six years to overhaul two wastewater facilities, reducing the flow of nutrients into Wakulla Springs and significantly improving the quality of reuse water.

The agreement was signed by the City of Tallahassee, Wakulla County, the Florida Wildlife Federation and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

In March, Crist filed a petition to join challenges opposing renewal of a permit for the city’s T.P. Smith Water Reclamation Facility. Wakulla County, the Florida Wildlife Federation and a citizen of the county filed challenges based upon concerns that excessive nitrogen pollution from the city's sprayfields has and will continue to damage the river and the springs.

Under the agreement signed, the city will increase the treatment of wastewater at its Thomas P. Smith and Lake Bradford Road wastewater facilities before reusing the water to irrigate agricultural crops and pasture at the Southeast sprayfield.

“Wakulla Springs is one of our state’s most valued natural treasures and we must protect its beauty for future generations,” said Crist. “I am pleased that our office, the city and the county have reached an agreement to safeguard this pristine attraction.”

The two wastewater facilities serve more than 200,000 county residents and combined treat up to 32 million gallons of wastewater each day. The improvements will reduce levels of nitrogen in the treated wastewater by more than 75 percent over six years. The first reductions should occur within the first six months after a new permit is issued. Previously, a state-funded scientific study determined that nutrients from the city’s sprayfield were leaching through soils into the groundwater and reaching Wakulla Springs, nearly 30 miles away.

One of the largest in the world, Wakulla Springs is a first-magnitude spring that flows from an underground river at more than 400,000 gallons per minute. The springs are the centerpiece of the Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park, which attracts more than 165,000 visitors annually. Changes to the springs over the past decade prompted the local community to seek ways to reduce nutrients and restore and protect water quality in the Wakulla River and Springs. To date, Florida has conserved more than 4,000 acres around Wakulla Springs to safeguard the spring recharge area.

Other highlights of the agreement include:

  • Identifying additional ways to beneficially reuse the highly treated wastewater, such as golf course irrigation.
  • Significantly reducing phosphorus and suspended solids concentrations, in addition to the nitrogen reduction.
  • Within the next three years, upgrading the city’s biosolids treatment processes, allowing for its use as organic, slow-release fertilizer.
  • Develop a new sprayfield management system that focuses on nitrogen removal as opposed to commercial agriculture.
  • Establishing a Wakulla Springs Watershed Protection Committee to review annual environmental reports, work on regional solutions to restore water quality at Wakulla Springs and identify opportunities for state and federal funding for improvement projects.