Polk County Utilities is planning a formal ribbon-cutting at 10 a.m. Thursday at the site of a $2.5 million pilot project to test the feasibility of turning treated sewage into drinking water.
The event, which is open to the public, will occur at the Cherry Hill plant, 3300 Raulerson Road, in the northwest Lakeland suburbs.
The idea, which has been studied and in some cases implemented in other parts of the United State and elsewhere on the planet, is to try to provide another source of drinking water in the face of increasing demand as a result of new development , This is considered a potential alternative water source, which is necessary after recent analyses have concluded that the Upper Floridan Aquifer, the traditional source for drinking water in Polk County, is a largely tapped out.
Polk officials are pursuing other alternative water projects, such as tapping the Lower Florida Aquifer and treating its poorer quality, brackish water with reverse osmosis and piping the treated water to local water plants for distribution to customers.
The Cherry Hill project has been in the planning stages for a couple of years in connection with the construction of a new utility plant.
The vast majority of Polk’s treated sewage is piped to area power plants to supplement their need for cooling water or diverted into water reuse lines for lawn irrigation to reduce stress on traditional well withdrawals, especially in the Four Corners area of northeast Polk County.
The pilot program is expected to last for several years as utility officials test various advanced treatment methods to bring the treated sewage to drinking water standards.
In addition to making sure bacteria and other disease organisms are removed from the water, utility officials are likely to have to deal with what are called contaminants of emerging concern that often are found in sewage. They include chemicals such as pharmaceuticals, hormones and personal care products.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been working with the scientific community to devise drinking water standards for these chemicals.
The other challenge, utility officials acknowledge, is to persuade the public to accept this water source, which has been controversial elsewhere, including in neighboring Hillsborough County.