HNWS vows crack down on culprits for effluent overage
The failure of Holley-Navarre Water System to stay within its state-approved standard for disposing of treated wastewater is partly the fault of some homeowners who are improperly channeling stormwater into sewers, according to the utility board’s president, Bien May.
In a letter responding to a Navarre Press query, May confirmed the accuracy of this newspaper’s recent report that during the 12 months ended last September 30, HNWS exceeded the maximum amount for effluent disposal by an average of 67,000 gallons a day. That’s enough to fill several backyard swimming pools, although such use of the treated and recycled wastewater isn’t allowed.
But, May—who volunteers at the utility and works in medical equipment repair — said the excess of treated and recycled water that must be either sprayed on a golf course or piped into ponds is due to the “inflow and infiltration” from non- sewer sources such as yards.
“Unfortunately, we have become aware that a significant part of the problem is members of the community treating the wastewater collection system as a stormwater system,” May’s letter asserted.
“We have seen manhole covers opened to drain roadways and swales. We have seen unused laterals (sewer pipes) broken to drain swales and yards. We have even seen homeowners connecting French drains around the house and yard to the sewer laterals,” May stated.
He vowed to crack down on the culprits.
All this is contributing to the utility’s continuing infringement on the effluent disposal capacity under its permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. According to the agency’s records, HNWS exceeded its approved recycling amount by an average of 100,000 gallons a day in April, the most recent month for which figures are available.
FDEP officials say the water recycling amounts listed on the utility’s permit are “not limits,” but essentially a guideline that originates with capacity estimates suggested by the utility itself. In fact, the Tallahassee-based agency relies on Holley Navarre Water’s monthly effluent reuse reports to track how much treated wastewater the utility is disposing of.
That’s so FDEP can monitor the utility’s wastewater recycling out of concerns about possible pollution and contamination of area drinking water sources.
Mindful that the FDEP is monitoring its wastewater disposal, HNWS is on the home stretch of lengthy negotiations to lease vacant property in the Tiger Point area. May said he expects a contract proposal in July from the City of Gulf Breeze’s South Santa Rosa Utility System under which HNWS would pay to use some of that company’s rural land to spray up to 2 million gallons of effluent a day.
Talks between the two utilities have gone on for more than a year and have been slowed by the lack of an agreement over the proposed lease’s financial terms.
Expanding HNWS’s reuse capacity by such an amount would allow it to comply with its water recycling permit.
Further, such an increase in wastewater disposal capacity would give HNWS the option to reduce spraying at Hidden Creek golf course, which the utility owns. That’s where HNWS sprays most of its effluent: about 1.2 million gallons a day on parts of the facility’s 143 acres, according to figures provided by the utility. HNWS is also permitted to pump up to 48,000 gallons of effluent daily into the decorative ponds at the entrance to Holley by the Sea subdivision.
Meanwhile, HNWS shouldn’t characterize its residential customers as wrongdoers in its effluent excesses, according to the utility’s volunteer vice president, Navarre businessman James Calkins.
“The worst thing we can do is blame the customers for the company’s failure to invest in adequate infrastructure,” Calkins said. “Our members are the backbone of our system. We need more places to dispose of effluent. This is a planning problem.”
Yvonne Harper, president of the Holley by the Sea Homeowners Association, agreed with Calkins: “I have no doubt there are residents who commit the actions Mr. May alleges. But to place the blame squarely on them is deflection and part of the problem.”
To be sure, the infiltration of non-sewer water can add to a utility’s task to treat and dispose of wastewater, experts say.
Mike Smallridge, owner of Florida Utility Services in Tarpon Springs, said, “The vast majority of water utilities have probably had some problem with inflow and infiltration” from non-sewer groundwater. Smallridge, whose clients don’t include HNWS, said such penetration of a sewer system can cause increases in the amount of water that makes its way to a utility’s treatment plant and must then be disposed of through the systems it uses to recycle effluent.
Smallridge said that a common source of non-sewer water entering a wastewater utility system is from yards and it’s usually accidental.
But not always, according to an official of the Florida Rural Water Association–a Tallahassee-based utilities trade group—who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It’s just human nature. Someone has a problem with stormwater so they try to get rid of it through the nearest round pipe, which may be a sewer connection.”
Disposing of stormwater through sewer pipes isn’t allowed under the Federal Clean Air Act, according to the association official. “Is it illegal? Well, you can’t get a state or federal permit to do it,” he said.
While neither state nor federal statutes specify fines or other punishment for anyone who taps into sewer lines to drain stormwater, HNWS intends to stop such use of its infrastructure.
“To date we have been lenient on violators, however, we cannot continue to allow these practices,” said May. “It robs the collection system of capacity, it utilizes expensive portions of the wastewater treatment plant and takes up a portion of our reuse system.”
HNWS is currently updating its ability to monitor wastewater flow within its system and “identify where the problems are and who the violators are by utilizing our sewer inspection camera system to inspect the gravity sewer system.” The cameras—which can go inside sewer pipes–are controlled underground by an operator on the surface.
Separately, HNWS on Monday informed customers on its website of another issue—one they may notice without special equipment: “Holley Navarre Water customers may be experiencing some cloudy water today. This is the result of air being introduced into the system during an emergency line repair. We are doing our best to flush air from the system and ask for your patience until the flushing process is completed.”
Further, May asked for help from customers to prevent groundwater from being channeled into sewer lines: “We encourage anyone who suspects that they may have an illegal connection or that knows of an illegal connection to report it to us at this time and we will assist them in the best way to fix the issues without repercussions.”
Calkins said improving the utility’s infrastructure—rather than investigating customers—should be its priority: “We’re not police officers.”
Read the full article in the June 22 issue of Navarre Press. Subscribe online at navarrepress.com for as little as $38 per year.