As Palm Beach County's population continues to swell, that
will mean higher demands on our primary freshwater source —
the Biscayne Aquifer — which is "recharged" by
rainfall and water from the regional Everglades ecosystem.
This source, which Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade
counties share, may not alone be able to meet water needs. An
effective way to address this challenge is to reduce
dependency on the aquifer and the Everglades through
diversification and development of alternatives, including
reusing treated wastewater, using brackish water sources and
underground storage for water. Palm Beach County is doing just
that — well ahead of new laws requiring that growth be
directly linked to the ability to sustain water supplies
(including alternative water supplies), water resources and
related natural systems.
Palm Beach County's 11 treatment facilities already
collectively reuse an impressive 30 percent of wastewater,
which is highly treated and reused for irrigation and to
support wetlands. This is much higher than counties to the
south that reuse less than 7 percent of their wastewater — a
key reason that Miami-Dade's request for a new permit adding
100 million gallons per day to its allotment was held up last
month until the county fulfills South Florida Water Management
Of the approximately 119 million gallons of wastewater
generated per day in Palm Beach County, more than 35 million
gallons are reused. Reclaimed water is used for golf course
and lawn irrigation. In fact, 35 golf courses and 6,484
residences use reclaimed water to keep fairways and lawns
green. Utilities employing reuse include Loxahatchee River
District in Jupiter, Seacoast Utilities, West Palm Beach,
Wellington, Boynton/Delray Beach and Boca Raton.
The Palm Beach County Water Utilities Department alone, for
example, recycles 50 percent of its wastewater — and not all
for watering lawns or golf courses. Some of this "created
water" has innovative uses: 175 acres in Boynton Beach
and Delray Beach have been transformed into the Wakodahatchee
and Green Cay wetlands ecosystems using reclaimed water. These
wetlands, home to a host of flora, fish, birds and other
wildlife, are open to the public and attract thousands of
outdoor enthusiasts a year.
West Palm Beach's innovative Wetlands Based Water
Reclamation Project involves building an indirect potable
reuse plant — the first of its kind in Florida — providing
advanced treatment of reclaimed water from the East Central
Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant. This facility will begin
operation in the spring and will create 10 million gallons of
alternative water per day.
In addition to using reclaimed water, utilities have tapped
the brackish Floridan Aquifer — using reverse osmosis to
remove the salts to make drinkable water. For more than 16
years, Jupiter has been using this technology — to create an
alternative water source capable of generating 14 million
gallons per day. Other utilities tapping (or under
construction for) the Floridan Aquifer include Tequesta, Lake
Worth, Manalapan and the Lake Region.
Aquifer storage and recovery is another alternative source
used by local utilities. ASR stores water in an acceptable
aquifer during times when water is available and later
recovers this water during times when it is needed. West Palm
Beach, Boynton Beach and Palm Beach County have incorporated
As part of our mission to manage and protect water
resources, the Water district offers grants to those entities
willing to develop cost-effective, safe and appropriate
alternative water supplies. Since the program's inception in
1996, the Alternative Water Supply Grant Program has awarded
approximately $77 million to help finance 250 alternative
water supply projects throughout the district's 16-county
region, resulting in 249 million gallons of alternative water
created a day.
By building and operating alternative water supply
projects, communities can reduce vastly their draw on
traditional freshwater sources. This means greater
availability of fresh water for the environment and other
uses, both for today and for the future.
For Palm Beach County, the future is a lot closer.
Kevin McCarty is chairman of the South Florida Water
Management District Governing Board.