In response to the Sun Coast Water Keepers suit for violating the terms of the Clean Water Act and the large public turnout at the June 5th Water Summit, it was very encouraging to see the Sarasota County Public Utilities Department’s Water Quality Improvement Plan that was revealed at the June 19 Budget Workshop. The plan was presented to the Commission by Interim Public Works Director, Mike Mylett with a focus on upgrading the Bee Ridge wastewater facility, a major source of some of the spill and discharge incidents in Sarasota Bay. The proposed plan calls for the upgrade of the Bee Ridge plant from its current Advanced Secondary Wastewater Treatment level to the preferred Advanced Wastewater Treatment standard or AWT. The difference between the two operating levels is significant with AWT producing no more than 3 milligrams of nitrogen per liter of processed water vs the current secondary level that in 2018 produced an average of over 18 milligrams of nitrogen per liter. The expected reduction in nitrogen with the AWT process is between 80-90%.
The Commissioners unanimously endorsed further exploration for the process to move the Bee Ridge plant to AWT along with the option to increase the operating capacity of the plant by 50% from 12 million gallons of water a day to 18 million gallons a day. The cost to expand and upgrade to AWT was roughly estimated by staff to be between $65 million and $100 million. It was agreed that the staff will fine tune their estimate for the August meeting.
The Public Utilities Department also reported that it is exploring State funding options to allow the continued conversion of waterside septic systems.
The Sarasota County Commission should be acknowledged for its decisive action and substantial public investment to reduce excess nitrogen that feed algal blooms like red tide.
The above picture is of a generic wastewater plant.