The quest for alternative water sources includes looking at more efficient ways of using—or reusing—Polk County’s available water supply is taking a new turn.
Winter Haven officials recently received funding from the Southwest Florida Water Management District for a $200,000 feasibility study to explore turning the 4 million gallons a day of treated sewage the city discharges into a tributary of the Peace River into drinking water.
Most of the other major sewer plants in Polk County eliminated surface discharges long ago. That water, referred to by the sanitized term “reclaimed” water, has been committed to lawn irrigation or power plant cooling.
An important aspect of these studies will involve examining water quality issues. In addition to existing standards for contaminants such as bacteria and metals, the study is supposed to look at what are known as contaminants of emerging concern. This refers to chemicals found in pharmaceuticals, personal care products, household products, pesticides and other synthetic chemicals. Some are suspected of being endocrine disrupters, which can cause cancer and birth defects.
Detection of these chemicals is not part of typical drinking water analyses. They are an issue in treated sewage because people flush unused pills and other items down toilets to dispose of them. Sewer lines are also subject to infiltration of groundwater contaminants because, unlike water lines, they are not pressurized.
The study could point to the need to conduct additional treatment of this wastewater to make it suitable for human consumption.
The study is part of a larger effort to meet future water demand in response to projected population growth in Florida.
Other local projects being considered by the Polk Regional Water Cooperative include two Lower Florida Aquifer well complexes at the edge of the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern in northwest Polk and the Lake Walkinwater area in southeastern Polk, development of a reservoir somewhere along the Peace River and water storage in wetlands along the Peace Creek Drainage Canal.