A 60-acre borrow pit near Blue Spring could become a wetland recharge area, if the stars continue to align for the St. Johns River Water Management District and West Volusia Water Suppliers.
Water Suppliers is a joint effort of Volusia County government, along with the cities of DeLand, Deltona and Orange City.
Borrow pits are sites where the ground material has been evacuated for use and sale at other locations. The pit in question, at 1800 W. French Ave., about a half-mile from Blue Spring, is now roughly 45 feet deep.
Blue Spring, one of 30 in the state designated as an “Outstanding Florida Spring,” discharges some 102 million gallons of water a day. The watershed that feeds the spring is the groundwater source for most of West Volusia, serving some 180,000 residents. The spring is considered a critical water resource to West Volusia Water Suppliers.
The plan is to morph the borrow pit to an aquifer recharge area, thus improving the water flow at Blue Spring. The pit would become a large wetland area, with the ability to recharge between 1 million and 2 million gallons of water a day back into the aquifer.
The need is imminent, water officials said, especially in light of continued growth.
“We’re not talking about water flow being impaired in the future — it’s impaired now. We’re seeing diminished flow now,” Volusia County Water Resources and Utilities Director Michael Ulrich said at a July 31 informational meeting.
And, he added, “Everybody’s gonna keep coming.”
To continue to meet the minimum flow levels at the spring and ensure water quality while the population of West Volusia continues to rise and uses evermore water, the pit project was identified as one of the most feasible, and cost-effective, projects, officials said.
At the July 31 meeting at the Sanborn Activity Center in DeLand, which had a reggaeton soundtrack from an adjacent Zumba class, officials shared this information and solicited public input.
“We urge you to stay engaged — together we can make a project that is functional and community-driven,” SJRWMD Regional Water Supply Planning Coordinator Lou Donnangelo said.
The importance of community input was clear when a resident spoke up during a presentation by Alan Foley of Jones Edmunds, an engineering firm that recently completed a geo-technical investigation of the pit.
“I have a 225-feet-deep well on my property, and sometimes it still has sand particles in the water,” longtime Orange City resident Bob Mccray said. “That tells me that the solid limestone lid over the aquifer may have cracked.”
“I am glad you came tonight,” Foley said.
Many of the residents in the audience live along French Avenue, and some of them remember when Blue Spring was privately owned. Some know the current owners of the pit, who may be available to give historical data to inform the technical investigations.
“We have some pretty cheap consultants in the audience,” Ulrich said.
Local knowledge, like Mccray’s, can vastly improve projects like this one, Ulrich said.
The next step is a load-bearing test.
Similar recharge projects across the state, with their communities’ input, have shown success, officials said. They include a recharge area in Lake City, the wetland area in the city of Ocala, and even Sweetwater Wetlands Park in Gainesville, which recharges Paynes Prairie.
If the project continues to pass the tests in the planning phases, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the SJRWMD will foot half of the estimated $10 million to $12 million price tag. The rest will be split among the county and three cities based on current water usage.
Deltona will be asked to cover at least $2 million of the remaining cost.
“[Deltona] is withdrawing more water, and has the largest customer base,” Ulrich said.
But, if the plan moves past the first phase of investigation and planning, the land itself, currently privately owned and in unincorporated Volusia County, will be purchased by the Water Management District, which has negotiated acquisition rights, for $650,000.
The district will then give the land to Volusia County at no cost.
“We talk a lot about the cost of water,” Ulrich said. “I hope in the future we instead talk about the value of it.”
The initial agreements and resolutions are being considered by the city commissions and city councils of the affected areas this month.
The DeLand City Commission approved the plan Aug. 5, Orange City will consider it Aug. 13, and the Deltona City Commission will consider it Aug. 19.
The Volusia County Council will then vote on the plan Aug. 20.