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The Progression of Potable Reuse in Florida and the Impact of WateReuse Florida

Date: November 01, 2022

by Lynn Spivey, City of Plant City
Past President of WateReuse Florida

Most states across our great nation are feeling the population spike associated with rapid growth in our cities and counties. With a current population of 22.25 million, Florida is the third most populous state behind California and Texas. Florida grows by roughly the population of Orlando each year. New estimates pace the annual growth at 294,756 net new residents in the next five years, or 808 per day. The Florida Chamber of Commerce predicts Florida’s population will hit 26 million by 2030, with a projected water use of 7.7 billion gallons of water per day. That is 1.7 billion gallons per day more than current use.  

Yes, 1.7 billion gallons of water per day – MORE. Approximately 90% of the state’s drinking water comes from Florida’s aquifers, with the current population drawing approximately 7 billion gallons of water each day. Now let’s turn to some global statistics – most of the water on our blue green planet is salt water, while less than 3% of our planet is freshwater. So, less than 3% of all the planet’s water is freshwater, and approximately 90% of Florida’s water comes from our freshwater aquifers. And not all groundwater is fresh. Get the picture? It’s alarming! It should be no surprise that we are seeing saltwater contamination in our Florida aquifers due to over pumping. Yet, we are still questioning potable reuse. But the tides are turning.  

Florida’s journey to adding potable reuse to the “beneficial use toolbox” changed to the fast lane back in 2014 with the passing of Senate Bill 536, which was approved by the Governor in June 2014. This bill directed the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to produce a report on how to expand the beneficial use of reclaimed water and reads: “An act relating to reclaimed water; requiring the Department of Environmental Protection to conduct a study in coordination with the stakeholders on the expansion of the beneficial use of reclaimed water…” The FDEP held numerous workshops, received as much input as possible, and in December 2015 produced the SB 536 report, which still sits on most of our shelves. 

Fast forward four tumultuous years later and 2019 brought two giant steps for recycled water: 

  1. Executive Order 19-12 signed by Governor DeSantis, directing the FDEP to “Engage local governments, industry universities and water management districts to identify and research all viable alternative water supply sources and provide an assessment of funding needs critical to supporting Florida’s growing economy.” The water community seized the moment and in stepped Florida’s Potable Reuse Commission. 
  1. Requested by WateReuse Florida, the Florida Senate provided the FDEP $250,000 in funds for a public education campaign to promote potable reuse and help educate and evolve the perspectives of Floridians on recycled water and the One Water movement. The funds were distributed to the Southwest Florida Water Management District, to utilize their communication expertise to lead this charge in collaboration with the state’s water management districts and FDEP. This effort produced great information including a statewide survey, educational graphics and videos and creation of the One Water Florida logo. Off we went! 

Those who attended the numerous SB 536 public workshops gained the understanding that a more prescribed effort might be needed to gain consensus on how to move forward with readying our state for potable reuse. The WateReuse Florida section had seen other WateReuse state sections using Technical Advisory Committees to advance potable reuse in states like Arizona and California, but they were closed to the public, which did not seem to be a good fit for Florida. In 2018, WateReuse Florida reached out to both the Florida Water Environment Association Utility Council and Florida Section of the American Water Works Water Utility Council and created the Florida Potable Reuse Commission (PRC). The PRC was composed of two utilities representatives from each association, and then included representatives from agriculture, environmental, industry, public health/academia, and department of health, for a total of 11 commission members. Besides the 11 commission members, the FDEP and Florida water management districts were ex officio members and participated in meetings and three formal workshops. The PRC operated on a consensus basis, and from the 18 months of meetings/workshops, and in collaboration with the Water Research Foundation, published “The Framework for the Implementation for Potable Reuse in Florida” in January 2020. 

2020 also gave us SB 712 – The Clean Waterways Act, which required the FDEP to initiate rulemaking for potable reuse based on the recommendations of the PRC Framework. Persistence and determination do pay off! This was a giant step forward for Florida and recycled water.  

As FDEP moved to revise Florida Administrative Code rule chapters to include potable reuse, Florida passed another bill related to recycled water. 2021 Florida SB 64 – titled an Act Related to Reclaimed Water, challenged the state to eliminate non-beneficial surface water discharges by 2032. The bill became law in June 2021 and included the main objectives of elimination of non-beneficial surface water discharges and encouraging the use of potable reuse. The law (Chapter 2021-168) required municipalities with permitted surface water discharges to submit a Plan by Nov. 1, 2021, to eliminate surface water discharge by 2032. Additionally, the FDEP is required to provide a report annually to the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives. The report provides: the average gallons per day of surface water discharges that will continue in accordance with the alternatives provides in the law; the level of treatment that the effluent will receive before being discharged into a surface water by each alternative and facility; and any modified or new plans submitted by a facility since the last report. The first report, titled “Surface Water Discharge Elimination Report,” was submitted Dec. 30, 2021. A brief summary of the report has the following information: 

Letters sent from FDEP to Florida WW Facilities 167 
Plans Submitted by Facilities by Nov. 1, 2021 166 
Plans Submitted by Facilities after Nov. 1, 2021 7 
Plans not submitted out of 167 (Rice Creek WWTF, Hillsborough County) 1 
Facilities claiming exemption from requirements from Chapter 2021-168 law 32 
Facilities that plan to eliminate discharge by 1/1/32 (469 mgd) 64 
Facilities that will allow for the continuation of beneficial SWD (548 mgd) 101 

What are the next steps in this journey? Currently three of Florida’s rules are in revision from Florida Administrative Code (FAC), Chapter 62, which is Department of Environmental Protection. Rule 62-610 FAC Reuse of Reclaimed Water and Land Application, rule 62-555 FAC Permitting, Construction, Operation, and maintenance of Public Water Systems, and 62-550 FAC Drinking Water Standards, Monitoring and Reporting. The revisions are in collaboration with WateReuse Florida, and the FWEA and FSAWWA Utilities’ Councils.  

Florida’s rule revisions are the last important step before we boldly secure our water future by securing the safe use of recycled water. There are 10 active potable reuse pilots/studies currently on going, hoping to be ready to meet the SB 64 challenge by 2032. Wish us luck and stay tuned to Florida’s recycled water journey. 

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