Tallahassee-Leon County Wakulla Springs Initiative
Onsite Sewage Treatment and Disposal And Management Options - Final Report
In 2009 the City of Tallahassee, Leon County and Wakulla County agreed to jointly fund a study to identify treatment and management alternatives for rural wastewater (septic tanks). The report by Lombardo Associates, Inc., is titled Onsite Sewage Treatment and Disposal And Management Options - Final Report (PDF). This report presents the complex issues that occur in our local, unique groundwater environment and provides considerations and alternatives for rural wastewater treatment, management and costs. The report will be presented first to the Leon County Water Resources and Science Advisory Committees (Dec 2011) and to the City's Environment and Energy Target Issue group (tentatively Jan 2012). After those comments are received, staff will seek approval to conduct a workshop with the each government's Commissions to discuss the report since this report is long and provides a lot of detailed information. Wakulla County Commissioners have also been provided the report and will direct staff on how to proceed. In the interim, if you have any questions please contact Brian Wiebler, Tallahassee-Leon County Planning Department, 891-6416.
Brief History of Wakulla Spring protection from 2002 through Early 2009
Wakulla Spring is a first magnitude spring and is the longest and deepest known submerged freshwater cave system in the world. Located just 14-miles south of downtown Tallahassee and just 5-miles south of the Leon County line, Wakulla Spring is an important part of the regional culture and recreational economy.
The land immediately surrounding the spring is protected as part of Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park. However, the approximately 400,000 gallons per minute of water flowing out of the spring come from the Floridan Aquifer and include contributions from the land surface of four Florida counties and a portion of Georgia. Nitrate concentrations at the spring were relatively stable (0.3 mg/L) until the 1970's when levels began to gradually increase, with the highest concentrations occurring in the early 1990's (1.5 mg/L). As a result of these elevated nitrate concentrations Wakulla Spring has suffered from rapid growth of invasive aquatic plants and nuisance algal mats that smother native plants and disrupt the spring ecosystem.
In 2002 the North West Florida Water Management District identified human sewage as the most significant human introduced source of nitrogen discharged into the Wakulla Springs recharge area. The report specifically identified wastewater treatment facilities, septic systems, commercial fertilizer, and livestock as significant contributions of nitrogen to the spring.
In 2005 the first Wakulla Springs Workshop was organized to review existing scientific data and prepare recommendations to help local government restore the health of Wakulla Spring. In 2006 the Tallahassee Γ?? Leon County Planning Department began the public involvement and issue identification process for what would become the 2007 Evaluation and Appraisal Report (EAR). Through this public process the restoration of Wakulla Spring was identified as one of four community priorities to be addressed in the EAR.
While the EAR process moved forward, the City of Tallahassee began using new information to make improvements at the City owned wastewater treatment facility and associated sprayfield farm. To help reduce nitrogen contributions the City ceased land application of wastewater residuals, prohibited the use of additional fertilizers, and removed all livestock from the sprayfield farm. The City also agreed to a new permit for operation of the wastewater treatment facility that called for upgrading to Advanced Wastewater Treatment standards. The upgrade to the existing facility will cost approximately $220 million and will reduce nitrate concentrations in the treated effluent from approximately 12 mg/L down to 3 mg/L.
The final EAR was adopted in May 2007 and included several recommendations related to Wakulla Spring, most notable was the recommendation to establish a spring protection zone and develop policies to help reduce nitrogen contributions from the identified sources in the zone. While this was a logical recommendation, including it in the EAR was a significant step as State law requires that Comprehensive Plan policies addressing the EAR-based recommendations be developed and adopted within 18-months.
To provide sound scientific information to help delineate a springs protection zone the Planning Department worked with Advanced Geospatial Inc. and an independent technical review team to complete the Leon County Aquifer Vulnerability Assessment (LAVA). The final output of this assessment was a map displaying four zones of relative aquifer vulnerability throughout Leon County. Areas with elevated vulnerability are those areas were pollution introduced to the land surface have a higher probability of entering the Floridan Aquifer and ultimately being discharged at Wakulla Spring.
To develop policies that would help reduce nitrogen contributions in areas of elevated vulnerability, the Planning Department utilized recommendations from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Florida Department of Community Affairs 2002 publication "Protecting Florida's Springs: Land Use Planning Strategies and Best Management Practices. aditionally, the Planning Department reviewed actions taken by other communities with similar problems, gathered input from experts, evaluated recommendations from the 2005 Wakulla Springs Workshop, considered actions already underway at the City wastewater treatment facility, and assessed existing local policies for improvement opportunities. Between September 2007 and February 2008 the Planning Department participated in seventeen public meetings to help develop the draft Comprehensive Plan policies.
The Tallahassee Leon County Planning Department also forged a strong working relationship with the Wakulla County Planning Department to ensure the local governments were communicating and working in a complementary manner to help protect Wakulla Spring. Aquifer vulnerability assessments revealed that the land area of highest water recharge to the spring (and most vulnerable to contamination) is located in northern Wakulla County and the southern portions of Tallahassee and Leon County (Wakulla-Leon Map). In recognition of their joint responsibility to protect Wakulla Springs, the Commissions from all three local governments participated in a workshop on April 10, 2008 to review the issues, discuss the draft Comprehensive Plan policies, and affirm their willingness to work together.
From April 2008 through January 2009 the draft Wakulla Springs protection Comprehensive Plan policies were reviewed and amended by the Local Planning Agency, Leon County Board of County Commissioners, and City of Tallahassee City Commission as part of the formal Comprehensive Plan amendment process. The amendment process included five workshops and four public hearings culminating in the joint adoption of the policies by both Leon County and the City of Tallahassee on January 7, 2009.
To facilitate implementation of the new Comprehensive Plan policies the Planning Department quickly moved forward with four additional public hearings to adopt a Primary Springs Protection Zone (based on the LAVA study) into the County and City Land Development Regulations. Both the City and County ordinances to adopt the zone were approved and became effective on April 10, 2009; the same day the Comprehensive Plan polices became effective.
The adopted Primary Springs Protection Zone and the adopted Comprehensive Plan policies provide a strong foundation to further the regional efforts to restore Wakulla Springs. A short description of the Comprehensive Plan's additional requirements in the Primary Springs Protection Zone is provided below.
- Establish central sewer as the preferred method of sewage treatment in the protection zone inside Woodville Rural Community and the Urban Service Area and alter policies to enhance requirements for connection to central sewer.
- Require performance based septic systems when central sewer is not available.
- Require the use of Low Impact Development land planning and engineering design.
- Develop a Transfer of Development Units system that caps the number of units allowed inside the protection zone based on the current densities allowed on the Future Land Use Map (excluding areas inside the USA) and allows those units to be transferred from sensitive areas to the Woodville Rural Community.
- No new designation of Urban Fringe inside the protection zone.
- In areas designated Urban Fringe inside the protection zone, permit only 1 dwelling unit per 3 acres or Conservation Subdivisions.
- Set fertilizer content and application rates in the protection zone.
- Make protection of environmentally sensitive features in the protection zone a priority for local government.
In June of 2009 the Tallahassee-Leon County Planning Department received the Florida Planning and Zoning Association's Excellence in Environmental Planning Award for the work associated with the Comprehensive Plan policies to protect Wakulla Springs.