SARASOTA, Fla — A long-awaited water reclamation project has started taking shape in Sarasota County that would improve water quality.
County leaders broke ground Tuesday on the conversion of the Bee Ridge Water Reclamation Facility into an Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant.
"This project has come from concept to breaking ground in less than three years," said Mike Mylett, director of public Utilities Sarasota.
Once the conversion to an advanced wastewater treatment plant is completed the plant would not only increase its treatment capacity, it would also help reduce the level of phosphorus and nitrogen in reclaimed water and improve water quality especially downstream.
"This is a big deal, this is the biggest single project to help Sarasota Bay improve our pollutants reduction goals in our watershed. There's a lot of other things we need to do, but this is the biggest single thing that needs to be done," said Dr. Dave Tomasko, Sarasota Bay Estuary Program.
The upgrade would increase daily wastewater treatment capacity from 12-million gallons to 18-million gallons to meet growing demand.
Experts said the reduction in pollutants and nutrient loads by anywhere from 50-percent to 90-percent over time is very critical when it comes to spills and overflows like the ones that happened between 2013 and 2019.
"A typical wastewater treatment plant like this might have had a nitrogen concentration of maybe 10 to 20-milligrams per liter, this will have no more than 3-milligrams per liter, and it's probably going to have something more like 2-milligrams per liter," said Tomasko.
County leaders approved $210 million for the project in June 2019 and it's become the single largest capital improvement funding effort in the county's history. They believe the investment would play a huge part in making Sarasota Bay not only cleaner now but in the next couple of decades.
"All the water that comes here from your homes and your toilets and everything else that gets treated, it's going to be purified to a point where we can put it in our waterways, and it does not impact our streams, rivers, our bay and in our gulf," said Christian Zeigler, Sarasota County Board of Commissioners.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also awarded a $105 million loan through the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act to help finance the upgrade.
"When you think of flooding, when you think of infrastructure and how the city is growing, this is an investment that we don't just see you as a conversation for today," said Daniel Blackman, EPA Region 4 administrator.
Experts also say the key is the impact for marine life with helping to mitigate red tide. The project is expected to be completed by 2025.