Unable to stay with the state-approved standard for disposing of treated wastewater by spraying effluent on a golf course or piping it into ponds, Holley Navarre Water System is nearing a deal for a major expansion of disposal capacity.
Mindful that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is well aware of the utility’s continuing infringement on its permitted effluent disposal capacity, HNWS officials are apparently on the home stretch of lengthy negotiations to lease vacant property in the Tiger Point area.
“We’re breaking the rules and we don’t want to do that,” said James Calkins, volunteer vice president of the utility’s board. “If we sit on it for a long time there will be flooding. It’s up to us to act now to prevent a disaster in the future.”
Records provided by the FDEP indicate that during the 12 months ended Sept. 30, the utility exceeded the maximum amount for effluent disposal listed on its current state permit by an average of 67,000 gallons a day—enough to fill several backyard swimming pools, although such use of the treated and recycled wastewater isn’t allowed.
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.
Future flushing demands
“Our community is growing. Every new house means new toilets,” Calkins said. “People want to know they can flush and it’s not going to come out on their lawns.”
The planned additional disposal acreage is owned by the City of Gulf Breeze’s South Santa Rosa Utilities. The land is rural, some of it located near Bergren Road. The talks, slowed in part by lack of an agreement over the proposed lease’s financial terms, are more than a year old.
Gulf Breeze Mayor Matt Dannheisser, responding to a Navarre Press email, said the two utilities are “making inroads toward an arrangement whereby the city will accommodate a significant quantity of Holley Navarre’s treated effluent—perhaps as much as 2 million gallons a day.”
He added “…I anticipate negotiating an agreement soon.”
Such an increase in wastewater disposal capacity would give HNWS the option to reduce spraying at Hidden Creek Golf Club, where it spreads 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 the Holley by the Sea subdivision.
Yet at an HNWS board meeting in April, the utility’s general manager, Paul Gardner, didn’t seem to know what the utility’s permit specifies: “We are permitted to 74,000 in the pond a day.”
But he was corrected by Zachary Lewis, the HNWS wastewater plant manager: “We are permitted to 48,000 a day to the pond.”
Gardner responded: “Oh, is it 48?”
That’s when Phil Phillips, an engineer at the utility, summed up concerns about complying with the effluent disposal guidelines: “There’s two issues with all our sites. It’s what we are allowed to do at those sites and what is done at those sites.”
An agreement could alleviate the controversy over the utility’s recent installation of new effluent sprinklers at the property line of its Hidden Creek golf course and nearby houses. Last month HNWS played defense against a complaint voiced by a neighboring homeowner, Ed Burke, to the golf club staff and the HNWS board of directors. Burke asserted that the new sprinklers affected his health.
Hidden Creek’s manager, Jim Morgan, promised that the new sprinklers would no longer be used.
“We need more places for effluent disposal. Right now, sometimes when it rains, some neighboring yards are flooded,” said Calkins. “Any way to solve that that’s environmentally sound is desirable.”
Adding more effluent acreage could also ease the need for HNWS to build a planned new wastewater treatment plant in the Williams Creek neighborhood to which some residents have voiced environmental concerns.
Calkins added, “It’s in our interests to work out a deal with Gulf Breeze that’s fair to them and to us.”
Meanwhile, the utility tries to accommodate the sometimes conflicting demands of its clientele. For example, although some Holley by the Sea customers worry that too much effluent could cause the ponds at the subdivision’s entrance to overflow, others have complained that the water level has dropped too low—exposing an unattractive muddy shoreline.
And HNWS officials are wary that reductions of spraying effluent at Hidden Creek golf course—which depends on the wastewater for irrigation—could hurt the grass on greens and fairways. Calkins said, “We aren’t going to stop spraying there because we obtain expanded capacity somewhere else.”
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