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The City of Oviedo is looking for alternatives to meet the water demands of a growing population, including digging deeper into the ground to find more of it.
In a plan revealed at the March 27 City Council work session, city officials laid out comprehensive goals for how Oviedo can “achieve a permanent water supply sufficient to meet future capacity,” and how they can solve the disposal of treated wastewater. No official votes can be cast during a work session.
Utilizing the $9.6 million available from the American Rescue Plan Act fund designated for utilities, the proposal would set Oviedo up with ample water supply going forward.
“What we want to do, from a sustainability standpoint, is have enough water for the future,” Public Works Director Bobby Wyatt said. “There’s three steps we’re looking at: system optimization, an alternate water supply and, ultimately, advanced water treatment.”
The existing water supply consumptive use permit, which was approved by the St. Johns River Water Management District in 2008 and expires in 2028, allows the city to pull water from the ground in the Upper Floridan Aquifer at a depth of about 400 feet, capped at 4.674 million gallons per day (MGD) annual average. The permit, however, was based on a population estimate of 38,000 in 2028, whereas Oviedo’s current population already exceeds those numbers, according to the latest U.S. Census estimates.
Currently, the city averages 111 gallons per day (GPD) per person in potable water usage, among the lowest of the 13 localities in the area, which includes Seminole County and parts of Orange County. Only Casselberry (94 GPD), Sanford (101 GPD) and Winter Springs (104 GPD) have lower counts, with the area average at 115 GPD, according to Wyatt.
That means Oviedo is already close to the 2028 maximum, which would be 116 GDP.
With 16% of the city’s water usage caused by regular flushing of lines, a process that helps clean the pipes and prevent excessive water age, Wyatt sees a quick way to lower the GPD even more.
“We’re going to go out and figure out how can we do things better, without making any improvements, just from operation,” he said. “Then [city water consultants are] also going to take and model our system to determine water quality vs. age and find out how is the water proceeding through the system to see where the actual problems are, and what improvements could be made just in the system itself, through infrastructure improvements.”
Reducing the amount of water flushing uses would lower the city’s GPD number, allowing the city to draw back on consumptive water use and utilize it for future development. Wyatt expects these improvements to be made by the end of 2023, and included in the plan’s overall technical designs, which are estimated to cost about $1 million.
After finding ways to reduce the daily water usage, the city then wants to increase the available water supply. Oviedo is part of the Central Florida Water Initiative, “a collaborative water supply planning effort among the state’s three largest water management districts, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) and water utilities, environmental groups, business organizations, agricultural communities and other stakeholders,” according to its website. The CFWI Regional Water Supply Plan calls for a number of restrictions, including capping all water withdrawals from the Upper Floridan Aquifer in 2025.
To mitigate future restrictions, “we’re going to have to go lower,” Wyatt said. About 1,000 feet lower to be exact.
Creating a new well that pulls brackish groundwater – water pulled from a natural environment that contained more saline than freshwater but less than seawater – from more than 1,300 feet into the ground would allow the city to maintain its own controlled water source with a readily available supply for the future by creating an additional supplemental supply of water. City Manager Bryan Cobb said that the existing wells will continue to be used in conjunction with the new, deeper one.
“To me, that’s our most feasible alternative water supply,” Wyatt said. “A big deal is it’s a city-controlled source. We can go get it and it’ll be ours to deal with. We’re not buying water from somebody and subject to agreement, subject to cost controls from somebody else.
“Another good advantage is we can blend some of it with our current process for treatment.”
The ultimate goal would be to create two new wells that are capable of supplying between 1.6 to 2 million gallons of water per day. One would be for regular usage, while the other would be used if the first experiences issues. The initial plan, which would cost about $3 million, would be to create just one well, about 18 inches in diameter, with the designs to be initiated in 2023 and construction anticipated to begin in 2024.
“As time moves on in Florida, water is going to definitely become an issue,” Councilman Bob Pollack said. “So if we have an opportunity to get ahead of that, then by all means, let’s do it.”
Once completed, the well would be used to test the water quality, but it would be able to be used as a production well following testing and having a treatment system added.
While it has a high upfront cost, Wyatt said the future benefits outweigh the price tag.
“It’s a source, it’s available, it’s permittable,” he said. “Yes, it’s expensive, but we’re way ahead of the curve right now to get on it and get after it.”
With the benefits of digging deeper for water comes additional treatment needs because brackish water is salty. Adding an advanced treatment system would not be part of the initial process, but eventually could cost up to $20 million and be ready within five years, but would need to come from other funding.
The city’s plan also calls for about $5.5 million to improve the process for effluent – or treated wastewater – disposal. The current system utilizes the percolation ponds on Mitchell Hammock Road, which have leaky and unreliable pipes – including a current leak that will cost $35,000 to fix – and has sustained multiple failures since the city purchased Alafaya Utilities in 2010, Wyatt said. The lease for the ponds runs through 2034, with annual property taxes of $87,724.
To mitigate the wastewater disposal issues, the plan proposes building a 9,100 linear-foot discharge force main line directly to Orlando’s Iron Bridge Water Pollution Control Facility as a “permanent solution for substandard effluent and wet weather disposal,” and a pump station, according to the plan. Construction would be anticipated to begin in 2024.
“It’s half the price of what we were talking about before, with putting the water on site in tanks,” Mayor Megan Sladek said. “So this is a great deal.”
Putting the plan in place would ideally help Oviedo be set up with its own water source and disposal options before any restrictions or capacity issues affect residents.
“A lot of times I feel like we’re reacting to things,” Wyatt said. “[Here] we’re being proactive to get a chance to get ahead of these things, which you know are coming, and we can address them now and be on the right path.
“So that, to me, is a good thing,” he said.