Oakland juggles multiple water projects
Special to VoxPopuli
Tuesday, December 13, 2022
Oakland has prioritized several water conservation and wastewater projects to keep pace with population growth.
In late October, the Town of Oakland announced it had received $300,000 in state funding for its water system bypass project intended to provide residents with high quality drinking water in case of a water main break. The grant money will help cover half the construction costs, and the bypass is expected to be completed next summer.
State Sen. Geraldine F. Thompson, who represents District 44, which includes Oakland, helped procure the grant.
“There has been a great deal of growth in Central Florida, including in the Town of Oakland. It is important that elected officials take steps to ensure adequate water in quantity and quality for our growing population.” she wrote in an email to VoxPopuli.
Oakland is a local water supplier, which means the town pumps, treats and distributes water to its customers. Over the last several years, the town has planned and prioritized numerous water-related initiatives, including water conservation and wastewater projects, so it can keep pace with a significant rise of its residential population. In 2021, the population jumped by nearly 40 percent to 3,815 from a decade earlier.
The town also heavily relies on drinking water from Florida’s aquifer for irrigation — not an uncommon practice, but one that isn’t ideal — and town officials want to cut back on irrigation as well as using drinking water for that particular use. With such challenges, Oakland is currently involved in four water-related projects that address some of them.
Water system bypass
Oakland Public Works Director Mike Parker, who helped to bring the water system bypass project to fruition, said it has been in the works for a decade and it will provide a more reliable water system west of the Florida Turnpike and State Road 50.
“Right now we have plenty of connection that goes across the turnpike, and this will add a second one,” he said. “If we should have some damage to the primary one, this one will pick up the load so our residents out west will not see any difference in their water. If anything it will just allow the comfort of knowing that there is a backup. It is a safety net.”
He added that water is already a major concern in Central Florida “and it’s just going to be a larger issue.”
Building additional redundancy into Oakland’s water system is the town’s new third well. At a recent “Coffee with the Town Manager,” held at the Healthy West Orange Arts and Heritage Center, Steve Koontz, the town manager, told residents that the third well was nearly ready to come online to supplement the town’s secondary well in Speer Park.
“If the main well ever went out for any period of time, the well at Speer Park doesn’t have the capacity to keep up with where we're at right now,” Koontz said. “So we've added a third well, in order to have the capacity and capability and reliability for the water system that we need.”
He said that the third well, which was tested and yielded ”excellent” water quality, will be put into service in the coming months.
Septic tank conversion
Oakland is in the midst of transitioning from septic tanks to a sewer system. The change helps reduce the nutrient load on surrounding waterways and preserve the groundwater that flows into Lake Apopka.
Parker said that nearly all new construction is connected to the town’s sewer system and septic tanks are being removed. The St. Johns River Water Management District helped grant $429,800 for the Hull Avenue Septic to Sewer project. It includes construction of 3,800 linear feet of 8-inch gravity sewer, 14 manholes and around 48 lateral sewer connections for 46 residential lots, two commercial lots and three vacant lots.
Another water project that the town is working on would give Oakland access to much-needed reclaimed water (treated or cleaned-up wastewater or sewage) for irrigation. Parker told VoxPopuli in 2021 that the town is under some pressure to stop relying on drinking water for irrigation before its consumptive use permit for the Florida aquifer comes up for renewal in 2037.
This project involves “stormwater harvesting,” collecting water in a stormwater canal by Hull Island. The water would then be treated to make it safe for irrigation use at a water treatment facility the town plans to build across the street. The project is estimated to cost $3.2 million and includes piping for new homes construction. Hull Island, Longleaf, Oakland Trails all have dual water pipes as will the Briley Farms subdivision, Koontz said.
“It’s an expensive endeavor to build a separate water [treatment] plant to then treat that water and then use it in irrigation. We had a legislative request for that project and got beat up,” Koontz said, referring to Gov. Ron DeSantis’s budget veto of the project. He said the town continues to seek partners and grants to fund the project.