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DEP decision to save city $42 million

By Staff | Jun 26, 2015

Cape Coral just found out that it will not have to spend an estimated additional $42 million on future pumping stations serving the city’s irrigation system.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection agreed with the city’s position that a Florida Administrative Code rule requiring treatment of surface water prior to blending it with reclaimed water does not apply to the Cape. The city sent a letter about a month ago to the DEP asking for the official determination that the rule did not apply.

“Cape Coral’s irrigation master plan calls for seven additional pump stations for build-out of our irrigation system,” said Utilities Director Jeff Pearson. “If the city had to comply with this rule and add mini-wastewater treatment plants to each future pump station the cost for the pump station would increase from $6 million to $12 million. We also would need to hire additional licensed wastewater operators to run the pump stations.”

One of the largest in the country, Cape Coral’s irrigation system, referred to as “pioneering” by the DEP, actually works opposite of the rule. Reclaimed water already is the supplement to the freshwater supply.

“The rule did not make sense to us so we talked to the DEP locally first,” said Pearson. “The rule said surface water had to receive a higher level of treatment. Surface water from our canal system is screened when it comes to the plant where we treat it with chlorine.

“This decision sets a precedent statewide,” he added. “They agreed that it did not apply to our system which is served by surface water.”

Freshwater canals are the primary source of irrigation water providing between 1 billion and 2 billion gallons of water for irrigation use during the dry season.

“We remotely control five pumping stations now,” said Pearson. “The seven future stations are north of Pine Island Road for build-out. Our engineering consultant gave us the rough estimate of the cost. It’s good news for our rate payers and shows one more positive way the staff has been able to find ways to keep the rates affordable. We are trying to be good stewards of taxpayer money.”

The city operates two reclamation plants to collect and treat wastewater which is stored and pumped back to homes and businesses for landscape irrigation. The city will save the cost of future staffing and construction cost avoidance for those seven new stations.