NEWBERRY – Sewage goes in, useful water comes out.
The City of Newberry had a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening of its newly renovated water reclamation facility on Thursday, Feb. 13.
“This is a very important project for the City of Newberry,” said Mayor Bill Conrad.
The upgrades expand the facility’s physical capacity from being able to treat 350,000 gallons per day to around 560,000 gallons per day, said John Horvath, the project design manager. Though the maximum physical capacity is 560,000 gallons, the complex will operate at about 495,000 gallons to keep the cost down. Water treatment plants shouldn’t operate at full capacity, Horvath said. When a facility is within five years of approaching its maximum capacity, it is required to start the planning process for expansion.
The project has been several years in the making and was completed for less than the city had budgeted.
City officials and employees of the engineering firm responsible for the endeavor, Jones Edmunds, gathered at Newberry City Hall before the ribbon-cutting at the treatment plant.
Mayor Conrad said the city was ahead of the curve in wastewater treatment.
“We’re leading the pack in cleaning up our wastewater,” he said.
The total budget was around $2.8 million, but the city ended up spending around $80,000 to $100,000 less than that, Horvath said.
“At the end of the day, we had to borrow less than we expected,” Mayor Conrad said.
Newberry got a Community Budget Issue Request grant from the state for $400,000, as well as a $2.4 million State Revolving Fund loan to finance the upgrades.
A new treatment plant was added to the facility, and two old plants were upgraded, Horvath said. New generators were installed, in case the facility loses power. Another 14.5 acres were added to the spray-fields, where the treated water is sprayed, allowing it to soak through the ground back into the aquifer. About 23 acres were gained to be used for the disposal of biosolids, organic materials that are a byproduct of the treatment process that can be recycled as fertilizer.
Wastewater treatment is vital for healthy economic development, though it’s invisible to most citizens, said Terri Lowery, vice president at Jones Edmunds.
“People see roads,” she said. “When was the last time you toured a wastewater facility?” she asked.
The upgraded facility puts the city in a position to grow by allowing the city to accommodate the utility and sewage needs of more and larger businesses, Mayor Conrad said.
“Sewage is something that’s very difficult for small towns to deal with,” he said. Conrad pointed to the difficulties High Springs has had pursuing a sewer system. By having better infrastructure and services, Newberry can appeal more to businesses, he added.
The extra capacity for the water treatment plant will also help keep nitrates and other pollutants out of Newberry’s drinking water, he said.
Chris Bird, director of the Alachua County Environmental Protection Department, agreed.
“Most of the benefit is going to be in terms of protecting water quality,” he said.
There is growing concern about how the springs in the area are going to be affected by nitrogen pollution, Bird said. Even Newberry, though it isn’t as close to a spring or river as some other communities in the county, has an impact, he added.
“We are finding out collectively we’re going to have to do a much better job of keeping the nitrogen out of the aquifer,” he said. “What Newberry has done is they’ve got a head start.”
Over the next few years, as the state and federal government re-evaluates its water standards, there is going to be increased competition for small towns to get funding for projects like the one Newberry has completed, Bird said. Most of the money will probably go to towns closer to springs or rivers, so it’s good Newberry thought ahead, he said.
“They understand that they’ve got some responsibility,” Bird said. When the city got started on the project, the concern for springs was not as big as it is today, and it’s going to get bigger, he added.
Newberry has planned for growth, but is doing so in a responsible way, allowing them to be in a better position to be a part of the solution for protecting the springs, he said.
Though Newberry has created a good foundation, there is still a question of what to do with the treated wastewater, Bird said.
“In my opinion, the highest and best use we’re seeing locally is really what Alachua is doing,” he said.
The City of Alachua pumps treated wastewater to Gainesville Regional Utilities so that it doesn’t have to draw as much from the aquifer.
Power plants, whether they are using coal, fossil fuel or nuclear power, require substantial amounts of water to operate, Bird said. Every gallon GRU gets from the City of Alachua’s treated water is one less gallon they have to take out of the aquifer.
The project to expand Newberry’s water treatment facility that started eight years ago represents a major milestone for the city, said the construction project manager, Troy Hays.
“It was great foresight by the city management,” he said.
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