By Estella Fullmer Brown
For Hometown News
Every day the New Smyrna Beach Utilities Commission Water Reclamation Facility processes 3.5 to 4 million gallons of sewage to turn it into usable water for irrigation of the city's golf courses, parks, new developments and resident's lawns.
The entire process not only helps the environment, but ultimately saves UC customers money.
The more water that can be reclaimed for irrigation purposes, the less water pumped from the Floridan Aquifer. Treating and pumping water from the aquifer is more costly than processing used water through the Water Reclamation Facility.
"We try to be good stewards of your money," said Miguel Rodriguez, UC director of electric operations.
There also is a limit as to how many gallons per day the city is allowed to pump from the Floridan Aquifer. "That's why it is important for residents to follow the guidelines we set for watering your lawns," said Mr. Rodriguez.
When water is drawn too quickly from the aquifer, saltwater intrudes into it and the water table lowers. Sometimes this can result in sinkholes developing as the ground above the water becomes unsupported. Because New Smyrna Beach is largely only 5-10 feet above sea level, it is more subject to saltwater intrusion into this area of the aquifer. For this reason, the city has built wells further inland from which it pumps its water for drinking.
"The Water Treatment Plant, which processes well-water into drinking water is different from the Water Reclamation Facility," explained Mr. Rodriguez.
The WTP takes water from the aquifer and removes lime and sulfur deposits and some other heavy metals and treats the water for microbes and bacteria harmful to humans, preparing it for consumption.
The WRF takes used city water (everything that goes down your drains or down your toilet) and puts it through a five-stage Bardenpho Biological Nutrient Removal Activated Sludge process to remove nitrogen, phosphorus and some harmful bacteria from the water to make it safe for irrigation purposes.
"It is just two steps short of making it safe to drink," said Ellen Fisher, UC information quality assurance manager. "You don't want to drink the reclaimed water because we haven't treated it for viruses and other microbes, but it is safe for your lawn and garden."
Bob Bigus, supervisor of the WRF said, "It is coming in the future. Some places in California are already processing some of their sewer water in 7 or 8 stages to make it safe to drink and introducing a percentage of it back into the drinking water. It won't be here for years most likely, but as our ground water is depleted we are going to have to go this route."
"The Utilities Commission sees water conservation and re-use as important components of its alternative water supply. Through public information on water saving devices and lawn irrigation rules, customers have cut back on wasteful water use. Through expansion of water re-use facilities, non-potable water can be used for irrigation thus cutting back on the need for potable water," according to the city's comprehensive plan.
In the first stage of the process, the city sewer main pumps water into a huge holding tank 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The WRF has the capacity to average 7 million gallons a day. As it enters the facility, the water is forced through barscreens that catch large solids and shunt them into a grinder and then into solid waste holding tanks. The water still has solids in it at this point, however, so it is put into a primary settling tank where the solids have time to settle to the bottom or float to the top. Skimmers at the top and bottom of the tank remove the solids and send them to the solid waste holding tank.
Stage two is the biological treatment where microorganisms are introduced to the water. They feed off the nitrogen and phosphorus and other nutrients in the "sludge" while the water is aerated to supply oxygen so the bugs can process the harmful nutrients, create CO2 and reproduce, thus cleaning up the water.
Then the water is pumped into another settling tank at Stage 3. At this point the water looks fairly clear but the process is not finished yet. The microorganisms settle to the bottom, along with any remaining particles suspended in the water. Some of the microbes are diverted back to go through the process again, while others are killed off.
Stage 4 is the Tertiary Treatment where the water is run through sand to filter off all remaining solids and pumped into holding tanks. The water in these tanks is almost completely clear.
The final stage is a chlorine bath that disinfects the water to decrease risks associated with human pathogens and protects the natural waterways should any of the treated water be discharged into the Indian River Lagoon.
The reclaimed water is then pumped to a central pumping station and distributed to specific retaining ponds throughout the city, such as Turnbull Estates, Venetian Bay, New Smyrna Golf Course and others that irrigate parks and residential yards.
The solid waste that was removed from the water is called sludge and it is processed with rotary drum thickeners and lime to reduce pathogens and is then trucked to different sod farms in Florida to be used as fertilizer. The facility processes about 2.68 dry tons of sludge per day.
The WRF is working at about 47 percent capacity and has more than 23,000 water customers in New Smyrna Beach and Volusia County. The goal is to have zero discharge into the river within five years, but right now they are discharging about 15 to 20 percent of treated water because they don't have the storage tanks and retaining ponds to hold everything, especially during the wet season.
Mr. Rodriquez urged county and city residents to follow the recommended guidelines for watering lawns and, where possible, use reclaimed water. "It's important for the environment and good for your checkbook," he said.
Ms. Fisher also urged people to stop dumping greases and other food debris into garbage disposals. "Everything you put into the system has to be removed and that ultimately costs you, the consumer, more money," she said.
Besides the cost, she also pointed out that over time the grease will clog your drain and lead to costly repairs. "Generally where it clogs will be between the meter and your house and you, the home owner, is responsible for that, not the UC," she said.