The Amy H Remley Foundation  

September 20, 2009

Saving our waters is going to take the strength of our collective willpower

by Gary Bartell, District 2 Citrus County Commissioner,
as published in the Citrus County Chronicle, Sunday, September 20, 2009.

If someone would have suggested 15 years ago that the county would by now have a sewer system serving the Halls River, Homosassa River and Chassahowitzka River, the general consensus would have been that it was an unattainable goal.

It seemed such a monumental and grossly expensive thing for a small county to do back then. We all knew it needed to be done and said “one day” we would do it. “One day” we would get those septic tanks off the sensitive waterways because we knew they were a big part of the problem that was fraught with so many obstacles.

Those of us who have been here 20 years or more have seen the alarming degradation of our coastal springs and rivers. We're talking generations of misuse, with leeching septic systems and runoff the biggest contributors. We knew why it was happening. We knew it was bad, but something that expensive seemed almost out of the realm of possibility at the time.

Yet, we did it.

Yes, we grumbled. Yes, there were a few bleak times. Yes, we suffered through some inept handling of one project by what seemed an almost-incompetent contractor. It wasn't easy and it was expensive, but we found a way.

Many town hall meetings were held with the input and suggestions of citizens and the business community being invaluable to building consensus. Together, through the collective will of a determined county commission and staff, the cooperation of those property owners assessed and the aid of legislators in securing state and federal grants to buy down the individual assessment of property owners, we did it.

With many projects finished on the Gulf side of the county, and the city of Crystal River working with its own grant and in cooperation with the county to get more septic systems in its service area offline, we now need to turn our collective will to the Lakes Region of the county.

We know we need to get those septic systems off the waterways. We know we need to deal with runoff. We know we need restoration projects. And, we know it will be expensive. On the other hand, we know we can do it if we have the collective will to get it done. We just need a strategy and the will to get there.

We have embarked on a new era for Citrus County. If we have the will, the projects we accomplish now will undoubtedly be landmarks in the history of our county. When people look back years from now, they will note the first water reuse system that came online. If we do what we know we should now, “one day” reuse will be the norm.

We don't have to be geniuses to know that central water and sewer systems, rather than septic systems and private wells, are the best way to protect and manage our water supplies and our water resources.

“One day” when we have twice the population, we could have water resources that are the envy of other counties with water adequate for both the populace and environment.

The economy will come back and once again grants for these projects will be available. Yes, our portion will be expensive. Yes, there will be resistance to the cost. Nevertheless, we were bold for the critical first stage and must continue to be bold going forward to undo the many years of misuse and abuse of our water resources.

From this commissioner's point of view we really don't have a choice. Through our collective will, we can make the right choice to save our waters.

Gary Bartell is the District 2 Citrus County commissioner and a Homosassa resident.

A comparison of 2000 and 2008 data

Special to the Chronicle

Projects to provide central utility services in the environmentally sensitive coastal regions of the county have been successful in eliminating more than 1,200 private septic tanks and five package sewer plants.

Challenges remain however, as there are still 45 small package sewer plants in the county and an estimated 180 small water systems, many of which are very marginal in providing sustained service to their customers.

The number of customers in the county utility system grew from less than 4,000 to more than 22,000 today. Almost one-third of the county's citizens are now served with either water or sewer or both from the county.

Number of miles of pipes: From just over 100 miles of water mains to over 600 and from less than 50 miles of sewer mains to over 250 miles.

Maximum daily pumping capability for delivering water has grown from less than 10 million gallons per day to 76 million.

Treatment capacity for wastewater has risen from just over 400,000 gallons per day capacity to 2.1 million. And, this will rise another 1.5 million gallons per day this fall with the completion of the Meadowcrest expansion.

Also, the Meadowcrest expansion includes an upgrade to be able to provide reuse water to the Black Diamond golf course. As flows currently going to other wastewater treatment plants are diverted to Meadowcrest, upward of 1.2 million gallons per day of reuse water can be sent to the golf course. This is expected to eliminate over 400 million gallons per year being pulled from our aquifer.

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