Pasco County commissioners have approved a $13 million reclaimed water project, with a 25-year lease agreement.
Construction costs for the project will be shared with the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which is providing about $7 million, including an estimated $5 million for construction.
The goals for the project are to provide the county with up to 5 million gallons of reclaimed water a day, restore natural habitats harmed by well field pumping, and to recharge the Floridan aquifer.
Pasco’s residences and golf courses are among targeted beneficiaries of the reclaimed water project.
The new facility will be built on about 237 acres of the 4G Ranch, a working cattle farm of about 2,905 acres, off State Road 52 in Land O’ Lakes.
The total lease costs are estimated at about $2.3 million for 25 years, but the lease can be extended for three 10-year periods.
Lease payments of about $40,000 will be paid in 2016, according to the agreement between Pasco and landowner, William Ted Phillips Sr.
Phillips is also chairman of Phillips & Jordan, the company hired for the project’s construction phase.
Four commissioners voted to support the project and lease agreement, but Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano dissented. He argued that more should be done to review alternate sites for the project, including at least one property in the Hudson area.
Mariano also said leasing land, as opposed to owning it, might not be the best financial choice long-term.
“We need to look at all the options,” he said.
Construction on a series of manmade wetlands is expected to begin in 2016, with initial testing and start date for the system in 2018.
Reclaimed water for the wetlands will be delivered and treated via a network of pipes, a pumping station and an existing reclaimed water main near the 4G Ranch.
The location of the property, between the Cross Bar well fields and the Cypress Creek well fields, is critical, said Michael Carballa, the county’s utilities engineer director.
“For decades, pumping (of water) has caused degradation to surface waters of natural habitat in these lands and areas,” Carballa said.
In some areas, such as Big Fish Lake near Masaryktown, Tampa Bay Water is paying to drill wells to draw water out of the aquifer to augment surface waters, he said. “Projects like this take a product that we essentially don’t use as much as we should and put it to a better use.”
Some concerns were voiced, however.
Owners of the Barthle Brothers Ranch, adjacent to the reclaimed water project, are worried about how reclaimed water operations could affect their land.
Larry Barthle, a third-generation rancher, said the family supports the project and favors reclaimed water, but has some concerns.
The language in the agreement is too vague in describing protections against negative impacts to surrounding lands, including flooding, Barthle said.
“What does adverse water mean?” Barthle said.
Mike Hancock, from Swiftmud’s Water Resources division, told commissioners that additional monitoring wells could be installed on Barthle’s property or “wherever it’s needed.”
With the county’s increasing growth, Pasco County Commissioner Ted Schrader said, “This is a model project. I think it’s a win-win for everybody.”
As the county grows, the project might be expanded.
“If the project were successful, we’d like nothing better than to replicate it,” said Carballa.
Published June 1, 2016