Winter Springs sets plan for future of shrinking drinking water

Winter Springs has water plans that are “adequate through 2029,” after finalizing their plan for potable and reclaimed water on June 13. Now that plan is set to be added to the city’s comprehensive plan, more than a year ahead of deadline, as cities across Central Florida race to head off a water shortage.

“The Central Florida area is growing incredibly rapidly,” said engineer Mary Thomas, representing Carollo Engineers, which drew up the city’s water plans. “It’s growing at a pace that outpaces the nation by four times. That’s incredible. You all have seen it with home prices, home demand, and it also equates to an increased demand on our resources, particularly our water resources.”

The upper Floridan aquifer, which supplies every municipal water supplier in Central Florida, is expected to hit its sustainable yield at 760 million gallons per day in the year 2025, she said. Beyond that level of flow, other sources of water for municipalities will need to be found.

“If the population grows at the pace anticipated, there will be challenges, and other water supplies will need to be sought.”

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Winter Springs’ current population, as of the Central Florida Water Initiative’s (CFWI) 2020 estimates, is 38,136. It’s expected to grow to 42,032 by 2040.

The city currently is allowed by the St. Johns River Water Management District to pump 4.15 million gallons of potable drinking water per day. That will drop to 4.14 million gallons per day from 2023 until Jan. 12, 2030. The city is also allowed to draw reclaimed water for irrigation from Lake Jesup and other groundwater sources up to 2.23 million gallons per day until April 10, 2027. The last time the city revised its water supply plan was 2017.

The city’s current potable water pumping capacity is more than double what it is allowed, and the city has been pushing initiatives to reduce consumption by residents and businesses, though research raised some eyebrows about who is using most of the city’s water.

The average resident in the city uses 104 gallons of water per day, edging under the 115-gallon standard set by the CFWI. But a small percentage of residents are significantly exceeding that average number.

City Manager Shawn Boyle said that when the city looked into people’s water bills they noticed an alarming trend.

“We discovered that 10% of the customers were using roughly half the water,” he said.

“The problem is our high users are consistently high users,” he added.

To combat the city being close to its potable usage limits, the city expects to offset 50 million gallons per year of potable water used for irrigation within a year by adding in more neighborhoods connected to the city’s reclaimed water lines. Meanwhile, the city is looking for other possible water sources.

The ghost of an out-of-control ground water leak that’s dumping an estimated 333,000 gallons of water per day into Lake Jesup took up another nearly 15 minutes of discussion as the city and engineers talked about the potential of the artesian well in the Parkstone neighborhood. An unconfirmed source of water flowing into a small pond there spills into Seminole County’s second largest lake.Winter Springs Public Works and Utilities Director Jason Norberg said the leaking water is likely originating from the same North Floridan Aquifer that supplies the drinking water throughout Central Florida.

“If there is an ability to control and contain it then that allows them to stop this potential problem that the community has, along with the potential to save that water from running off into the river,” Scott Richards of Carollo Engineers said.

Boyle said the city has a permit to use the water from that natural well, if it’s determined to be possible, until 2027.

He said he’s been in contact with representatives from the gated neighborhood about investigating the well, but that cooperation has soured recently. “I’ve subsequently received concerning emails saying ‘we will trespass you if you ever come on the property.’ I sent them an email saying, and I wasn’t being silly, ‘I guess this means no.’”

“I was hoping we could get some cooperation on this so we could get some definitive answers,” Deputy Mayor Kevin Cannon said. “Maybe we give them a drop-dead deadline.”

“I did, a couple times,” Boyle said. “They’ve just ignored them.”

With the city planning to extend reclaimed water lines to new neighborhoods and with other plans in the works to reduce the city’s reliance on the aquifer, Thomas said the city is in good shape to handle future use concerns.

“Winter Springs is doing an excellent job,” she said. “I will say that every municipality is unique and faces its own challenges. Every customer base is different. To be able to say to your customers ‘We have a plan in place and furthermore we have the infrastructure underway and the sources established’ is an amazing feat. There are many communities right now that are working with the water management districts, working with partners to figure out ‘Can we access surface water? Can we get to the St. Johns? Can we get deeper, can we drill to 2,000 feet and get brackish groundwater?’ So given the circumstances you’re in, you’re very blessed. You’re in very good shape. You’ve done a great job of planning.”

The plan was adopted by a unanimous vote.

Listen to the full June 13 meeting

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