Florida Water Resources Journal — August 2013 - Conservation and Reuse
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City Of Tavares Funding For A Public-Access Reclaimed Water Distribution Project
Brad Hayes And Alexis Stewart

The City of Tavares (City) is located in Lake County in central Florida, surrounded by Lake Harris, Lake Dora, and Lake Eustis. The City, with a population of approximately 13,000, is the governing seat of Lake County, which has a population of approximately 287,000.

The City owns and operates the Woodlea Road Water Reclamation Facility (WRF). This WRF was constructed in 2006 and is an activated Sludge wastewater reclamation facility, including a partial denitrification process with a design capacity of 3 mil gal per day (mgd).The plant provides tertiary treatment with high-level disinfection. The WRF is permitted to convey up to 1.08 mgd of treated effluent to reclaimed users, as well as up to 2 mgd to the on-site rapid infiltration basins (RIBs). The City’s goal is to maximize reclaimed water use as beneficial reuse for irrigation due to limited water resources of the surrounding area and increased regulatory requirements.

The City has limited availability of groundwater and the surrounding area does not provide available surface water resources. Regional alternative water supply projects are too remote to feasibly contribute to the City’s growing water demands. Without a reclaimed water distribution system in place, the City was limited to sending the entire treated effluent flow to three existing RIBs for percolation into the ground. While this reclaimed water management practice is considered beneficial reuse by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD), the City is developing a reclaimed water irrigation system.

The City’s approach is to implement a reclaimed water system through available funding sources, meeting all funding agency guidelines and deadlines and providing financial feasibility assessments. The key to meeting the City’s vision was by providing both technical and funding expertise.

Regulatory Direction and City Initiative

As Florida’s population continues to increase, the need to find alternative sources of water to supplement traditional groundwater supplies becomes more critical. One of the more readily available and cost-effective alternative sources is reclaimed water. Implementation of a public-access reclaimed water distribution system is a condition of the City’s existing consumptive use permit (CUP) issued from SJRWMD. The SJRWMD-required implementation of an alternative water supply (AWS) due to limited groundwater resources in the central Florida area, and the City’s location, make partnering with one of the regional alternative water projects financially impractical.

The City commissioned a study to evaluate the use of local surface water as an AWS. The City is ideally located to take advantage of surface water, as it is positioned around three large lakes; however, the study is consistent with SJRWMD findings that indicate surface water use is not technologically or environmentally feasible due to the poor annual average rainfall and poorer dry-season water availability from these lakes. Based on the results of the study and the impracticality of partnering with a regional project, the City has implemented a reclaimed water distribution system that provides public-access and reusequality reclaimed water to customers and conVeys effluent away from the WRF rapid infiltration basins now used to dispose of excess wastewater effluent. The shift from potable water to reclaimed water for irrigation reduces future potable water demands and protects the quality of the City’s potable water source and the Upper Floridan aquifer, and meets the SJRWMD condition requiring an alternative water source.

The City had committed to implementing the reclaimed water system; however, additional funding was required to design and construct a new system to tie into the existing WRF effluent system and distribute public-access reclaimed water throughout the City.

Funding

In 2008, the City pursued funding for the reclaimed water system and secured a community issue budget request (CIBR) grant from the state of Florida. The CIBR grant is a legislative appropriation available to counties, municipalities, water management districts, and special districts with legal responsibility for: water quality improvement; management of water, wastewater, or stormwater; lake and river restoration; and drinking water projects. This legislative appropriation funds construction projects, as well as regional plans related to water quality improvement and restoration That protect the public health or environment. This grant was secured by the City and was used to prepare its reclaimed water facilities plan for the purpose of securing additional funding sources.

The plan was a required planning document developed to support future funding applications. It evaluated three alternative approaches to address alternative water supply, supported with a financial feasibility analysis.

The selected alternative in the plan included a phased approach designed to enable the City to reach its goal of meeting the permitted allowance of 1.08 mgd for public-access reuse, and the flexibility to construct as funding allowed. The estimated cost in 2008 of implementing the City’s public-access reclaimed system was estimated at $17.8 million and phased as follows:

Phase 1 – Distribution system pipeline and a 5-mil-gal (MG) ground storage tank ($4.4 million)

Phase 2 – Woodlea Road WRF improvements ($2.1 million)

Phase 3 – Administration and maintenance buildings ($4.4 million)

Phase 4 – Transmission system improvements and distribution system expansion ($6.9 million)

Illustrated in Figure 1 is the proposed reclaimed water system.

The implementation of the four phases of the system was complicated by the nationwide downturn in housing development, where the state of Florida was especially hard hit.The City requires new housing developments to include reclaimed water irrigation systems; however, many housing developments designed with reclaimed irrigation systems slated for construction have been indefinitely delayed. This has required the City to evaluate expansion to existing neighborhoods and supply to local orange grove owners.

In 2009, a second CIBR grant was secured with the assistance of Malcolm Pirnie. This second CIBR grant funded the preliminary design memorandum and the 60-percent design of Phase 1 identified in the reclaimed water facilities plan, and was used to pursue additional funding sources.

The City and Malcolm Pirnie continued to explore funding opportunities with the use of the CIBR grants. The consulting firm assembled a team of engineers and financial consultants to partner with the City to research funding alternatives and prepare the funding application submittals. The firm also researched various state and federal funding sources, and with the City, made the decision to pursue the State ReVolving Fund (SRF) loan from FDEP and costsharing with SJRWMD.

The City and members of the consulting firm team met with FDEP staff to discuss the project and determine the feasibility of obtaining SRF funding for this project. In addition, the City attended the annual SRF conference to further discuss the project with regulatory staff.

The SRF loan program was established in 1987 as an amendment of the federal Clean Water Act and is funded through federal grants and state bonds. This loan program provides financial assistance for projects that address water quality problems and prevent pollution of the waters of a state. Eligible projects include, but are not limited to: design and construction of facilities; program development, including best management practices; and land purchase. For local governments, this program offers 20-year repayment terms or for the useful life of the project, whichever is less. Projects are selected from a priority list to receive funding.The City’s application for SRF funding was submitted to FDEP in 2010.

In addition, the City and Malcolm Pirnie pursued the water conservation cost-sharing program through the SJRWMD. This program allows for up to 50 percent cost-share for water conservation projects. Recipients of this project are required to demonstrate a commitment to water conservation prior to the receipt of the funds. The City and members of the consultant team met with SJRWMD staff to discuss cost-sharing of this project prior to application submittal. The application for the water conservation cost-sharing program was submitted to SJRWMD in 2010.

Through this effort, the City secured two CIBR grants totaling $500,000, a $1.1 million grant through a SJRWMD cost-sharing program, and a SRF loan for the remaining construction cost. A financial risk assessment was performed to determine whether the City could afford to accept the funding from FDEP and SJRWMD and still meet or exceed its annual debt service coverage and reserve requirements. It was determined that the City could accept this funding and meet all financial requirements.

The advance planning and preparation of the reclaimed water facilities plan was crucial to the success of the second CIBR grant and the SRF loan. The availability of this document allowed the assembly of the application package to meet the tight schedule dictated by the conditions of the CUP. With previous experience with the SRF funding process, Malcolm Pirnie was able to provide all of the application requirements to FDEP within the required time frame. In addition, the application process was facilitated by open communication with FDEP.

The FDEP is committed to seeing communities succeed and has streamlined the funding application process for the SRF.

At the conclusion of the funding process, it was confirmed that having a competent, experienced team and coordination with the client were the key elements to the success of this endeavor.

Summary

The City has successfully reached a goal to implement reclaimed water infrastructure, through progressive City leadership, persistent exploration of funding opportunities, and partnership with a consultant that shares the City’s goal.

Ultimately, the City maintained its vision for Phase 1, constructing 33,000 lin ft of reclaimed water main, and a 5-MG ground storage tank. This new system ties into the existing WRF effluent system to distribute public-access reclaimed water throughout the City. Phases 2 and 3 began construction in 2012. The timeline for construction of Phase 4 is currently set for 2015, and the City will be ready for further expansion when needed.

Brad Hayes is utility director with City of Tavares and Alexis Stewart, P.E., is client manager with Malcolm Pirnie in Tavares.
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