TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources heard testimony March 2 on plans for Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) wells which are planned as part of the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Plan (LOWRP),
Senate Bill 94, under consideration during this legislative session, would require the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to request that the United States Army Corps of Engineers seek congressional approval of a project implementation report for the LOWRP by a specified date and requiring the district, in partnership with the corps, to expedite the development and implementation of ASR wells.
David Pyne, president of ASR Systems in Gainesville and a member of the Florida Engineering Society, said ASR is “storing water at times when water is available and recovering the water when it is needed.”
He said there is a lot of misinformation about ASR in the news. ASR is not deep well injection, he said. It does not involve wastewater. ASR is not new. It is a proven technology which has been used in Florida for more than 40 years. While arsenic was a concern in Florida in the past, “we know from experience we can control arsenic,” he added.
Florida leads the world in ASR, he said. ASR started in Florida around 1980. Florida has 51 well fields and 123 ASR wells currently in operation. More than half of the states in the USA use ASR wells. Other countries, including Australia, Canada, England, Spain, Israel and India, are also using ASR wells to store water, he added.
“Florida’s ASR regulations are among the most stringent in the country,” Mark McNeil, geologist, told the senate committee. “The Underground Injection Control (UIC) program regulates the design, the construction and the operation of these ASR systems,” he explained. The UIC is administered by the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation. It is more stringent than the Federal UIC program which was implemented under the Safe Drinking Water Act and is one of the most protective regulatory programs nationwide, he continued. Regulations do not allow for any ASR activities to cause a violation of a primary drinking water standard within the aquifer.
ASR wells are already providing storage in other parts of Florida, he said. About 15% of Tampa’s water supply comes from ASRs. The Peace River ASR system has 21 wells and has been in operation for more than 35 years. It allows them the ability to store 21 million gallons of water per day going into the ground when excess water is available and to pump out about 21 million gallons of water per day in dry times when more water supply is needed, he explained.
“It is a very robust system,” he said. Currently they have the capacity to store about 9 billion gallons of water below ground. He said they could store even more water if they went to the next lower zone in the aquifer.
The City of West Palm Beach has the largest known ASR well with a capacity to store 8 million gallons a day, he explained.
Pyne said LOWRP includes ten ASR clusters which would each have eight ASR wells for a total of 80 wells. This gives water managers the opportunity to build the project in phases. Each cluster would have its own water treatment system to treat water to drinking water standards before it is pumped into the aquifer.
He said the wells need a relatively small footprint and most can be built on land the state already owns. The corps estimates it will cost about $400 million for 80 ASR wells.
Comparing the cost to other water storage projects:
• The C-43 reservoir will cost about $19,250 per acre foot of water storage;
• The EAA reservoir will cost about $14,000 per acre foot of water storage;
• ASR north of the lake will cost about $2,680 per acre foot of water storage.
ASR is a proven technology, widely used in Florida, the United States and increasingly globally, said Pyne. “We store water during wet periods and floods and recover that water during dry periods and droughts,” he said.
“We’re not limited to 80 wells,” he added. “The plan, size and scale of ASR is not really extraordinary. This is a huge area north of the lake.
“ASR is safe for the environment,” said Pyne. Not only will the water be treated to primary drinking water standards, processes that occur underground provide added benefits. “We anticipate the water recovered from ASR storage will be depleted of phosphorus and nitrogen by 90% or more,” he said. “We have seen this now for 30-40 years,” he added. Pyne said they have proven technology to control arsenic. ASR wells also inactivate bacteria, viruses and protoza.
“What we want to do is slow the flow and achieve Everglades restoration,” said Pyne. Storage projects around the lake, including LOWRP, the Everglades Agricultural Reservoir (EAA) and the C-43 reservoir will provide nearly 1 million acre feet of water storage, he said.
“If we do this, within about 10 years, we could reduce the harmful discharges to tide by about 80%,” he said.
Asked if deep well injection, which sends water to the Boulder Zone – essentially sending it to tide by going through the earth – could provide any benefits, Pyne said deep wells could be used when a hurricane comes across the state and they need to get rid of it quickly to alleviate flooding. However, with deep water injection, the water cannot be recovered. LOWRP does not include any deep injection wells.
South Florida Water Management District Executive Director Drew Bartlett told the committee they are moving forward with ASR wells in a plan that follows the phased approach recommended by the National Academy of Sciences.
“The ASR well pushes the water down and stores it in an aquifer zone,” he said. In South Florida, the Upper Floridan Aquifer Zone and the Middle Floridan Aquifer Zone could be used for ASR. “When you pump it in, it stays within this zone. When you draw it out, it comes from this zone,” said Bartlett.
The ASR sites are all sitting on canals the state already owns, he explained. “It’s all about capturing water before it gets to Lake Okeechobee or when it’s in Lake Okeechobee,” he said.
The Wetland Attenuation Feature (WAF) which is a component of LOWRP is controversial, said Bartlett. He said the WAF would be a large shallow impoundment with water up to 4 feet deep. The property owners in the area, local governments and the Seminole Tribe of Florida have voice opposition to the WAF. “Just last week, the corps asked us to look at the plan without the WAF,” said Bartlett.
“It’s important we turn this around quickly,” he said. “We need to strive towards Congressional Authorization on this project. It’s important this plan not languish. It needs to be authorized.”
Bartlett said the State of Florida has appropriated $100 million so far to accelerate the ASR component of LOWRP. SFWMD signed an agreement with the corps to preserve the credit for the state’s portion of the costs. Like all Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) projects, LOWRP has a 50-50 cost share between the federal and state governments.
Bartlett said SFWMD is using state funds to evaluate potential ASR sites and extract cores which are examined by geologists. The holes left by extracting the cores will be used for monitoring wells. The next step is exploratory test well drilling.
Bartlett said they will award a contract next week for exploratory wells on “sites where we have good data from the coring.”
The exploratory wells will be pumped and tested to determine how permeable the aquifer is and how much water can be pumped into the aquifer at that area without affecting other wells. If the tests go well, the exploratory well can be turned into an ASR well.
SFWMD is also studying water treatment systems. “Once we start building out wells, we will be able to stagger the treatment with the wells,” he said.