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Winter Springs eyes major wastewater overhaul

Winter Springs may be getting new water treatment plants amid a potential $60 million overhaul to the city’s aging wastewater system.

“I think I’m comfortable in saying this will be the single biggest capital expenditure that this city will enter into (with one project) for the next 40 or 50 years,” City Commissioner Kevin Cannon said. “So we’ve got to get this right.”

City engineers discovered this summer that storage tanks inside the city’s current system had rusted far more than anticipated, leading to a hurried effort to save the system. City officials launched a search for an outside firm to help redesign and modernize Winter Springs’ wastewater treatment, choosing Carollo Engineers, Inc., which specializes in water and wastewater systems.

“The city is in serious need of replacing (its) water treatment plants,” Mayor Kevin McCann said. “We’ve brought in nationally and internationally recognized consultants to help in the selection process.”

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At Monday’s Winter Springs City Commission meeting, two of Carollo’s engineers talked about the future of the city’s wastewater system while taking questions from the Commission.

The conversation centered on whether the city would pursue a more expensive Advanced Wastewater Treatment system, which cuts down on harmful discharges into the groundwater in the area.

Advanced Wastewater Treatment or AWT is a legal definition for a higher level wastewater treatment system in Florida, said Brian Graham, a vice president with Carollo.

An AWT system isn’t legally required in Winter Springs, but that may be a question of when, rather than if, the city will eventually be required to comply with that standard, Graham said.

“It came about in the ”80s when the state was looking to protect the Tampa Bay area, but it’s evolved to be pretty much statewide,” he said. “We expect that pretty soon it will be the de-facto standard for Florida.”

Part of the AWT system proposed Monday would include a biological system that breaks down nitrogen and phosphorus so that it’s not introduced into groundwater.

“This is a living and breathing biological process that’s used in systems all over the world,” Carollo infrastructure design manager Scott Richards said.

“Essentially it just means it’s very high-quality water,” Graham said. “These standards are for mainly protecting the environment, so we don’t impact the groundwater, springs, streams, rivers in Florida.”

At least one of the systems discussed would require use of a proprietary biological process that includes the city having to regularly purchase specialized bacteria from The Netherlands or elsewhere. That prospect raised some eyebrows on the Commission.

“So you’re saying we’d have to buy those bags of bugs, that technology, over the life of these plants,” McCann said.

That would add to the cost but also improve the quality of the water being discharged from Winter Springs.

The city has dealt with discharge issues of its own over the past eight months, with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection confirming that the city had spilled more than 2,000 gallons of partially treated or untreated wastewater during the spring and summer.

Those spills may have been the result of neglected maintenance, which city commissioners and staff have said occurred over the last more than a decade as the city’s aging facilities have been “crumbling” internally.

“I’m guessing that if we had done this 10 years ago it would have been significantly cheaper,” Commissioner Rob Elliott mused to Richards.

“With the cost of materials, yes,” he said.

The project will reach its next phase in March, according to Public Works Director Jason Nordberg, at which point the city will have a narrowed-down list of two wastewater system options to choose from.

At the soonest, “if we’re pushing the gas pedal to the floor,” Richards said, the project would take three years to complete.

 

 

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