Clay County’s water utility is starting work on a test project to recycle rainwater running off the First Coast Expressway to nurture lawns in neighborhoods growing fast around the highway.
Our Florida Times-Union news partner reports the pilot project in “stormwater mining” will test an idea the utility has talked about since 2012, which has been used in a sprinkling of places around the state, including Nocatee at the Duval-St. Johns county line.
Details like soil conditions and project design will matter a lot to the outcome, but Clay County might eventually learn ways to recycle perhaps 6 million gallons daily, said Jeremy Johnston, chief operating officer for the Clay County Utility Authority.
The lessons will come just as the county is looking for new water supplies to continue its heady growth.
“The First Coast Expressway is going to go right through the heart of all our new development,” said Johnston, whose agency expects the county’s population to double within 20 years.
The highway, long planned as the region’s outer beltway, will loop from Jacksonville’s Westside through Clay County to Green Cove Springs and across the St. Johns River to Interstate 95 in St. Johns County. Two new legs of the expressway that will reach from Blanding Boulevard in Middleburg to east of County Road 209 around Green Cove Springs are scheduled to start construction over the next two months. One will be finished in 2025, the second in 2026.
While the expressway is being built, engineers will be designing a pipeline to move water from a stormwater holding pond near the expressway to a connection to the county’s “reuse water” system, which pumps cleaned water from wastewater treatment plants to the pipes that supply water for lawn-watering at thousands of houses.
Keeping those lawn-watering pipes filled can mean drawing water from the aquifer during hot months when there’s a lot of demand, so taking water instead from ponds that aren’t being touched can help protect the underground water that’s Florida’s main source of drinking water.
The underground pipeline, technically a horizontal well able to move 700,000 gallons of water daily, will be built at a pond next to an older leg of the expressway, close to Oakleaf Plantation Parkway.
The St. Johns River Water Management District agreed last month to pay half of the project’s budgeted $609,000 construction cost.
Reusing stormwater can matter as a way to protect drinking water supplies or to reduce pollution in rainwater reaching creeks and rivers, St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman said.
“Ideally, this project can do both,” Rinaman said, but added the quality of water collected from the pond will have to be checked carefully to be sure it’s fit to use.