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JUPITER, Fla. — With a golf course and resort on almost any corner of South Florida, you can imagine how much water it takes to keep the grass and trees nice and green. But why use perfectly good drinking water when you can recycle water to use for places like golf courses, stadiums and landscaping?
That’s exactly what the Loxahatchee River District works hard to do every day.
“We take our role in protecting paradise very seriously,” said Dr. Albrey Arrington, Loxahatchee River District executive director.
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They recycle about 2 billion gallons of wastewater every year.
“So you think about that. That is all recycled water that we are not pulling out of the ground. We are taking that from the community, recycling it and having beneficial use for it,” said Arrington.
That means the water you flush down your toilet or kitchen drain can be reused to water golf courses, landscaping and even stadiums.
“Taking high quality drinking water and using that to do landscape irrigation? It doesn’t make lot of sense to us,” said Arrington. “Because you’ve spent so much money and so much energy and so much greenhouse gas emissions to get that water to drinking quality why would you then go spray it on the ground?”
Tony Campbell, operations director at the water recycling plant, took WPTV on a tour of the plant to see how recycling water works, starting with the smelliest part.
“We get 7.3 millions gallons a day, which comes from Jupiter, Tequesta and Juno Beach,” said Campbell, pointing to large set of filters at the top of one of the buildings on site.
Campbell said they see everything imaginable come through the filters, from plastic tampons to food waste from restaurants.
“There’s big screens that continuously move and what that is doing is pulling all of the plastics, the trash, the grease - anything that’s not supposed to be in the waste stream,” he said. “We cannot biologically treat plastics or anything that’s course or inorganic in our system.”
Campbell said the screens show just how much people are throwing in their toilets. Baby wipes, thick paper towels and wrappers from feminine products travel through the pipes and get sifted out with their rake-like filters.
The plant removes about a ten-yard dumpsters of trash every ten days.
“It does go somewhere, it doesn’t magically disappear,” said Campbell. “Your toilet is not a trashcan, because it does eventually come here.”
It’s all gravity from here. The water then moves through a series of buildings on the site which contain more filters, clarifiers and settling tanks to remove sand and other materials.
“We remove the contaminants, remove the pathogens,” said Campbell.
The biological treatment is the next, if not one of the most important steps. That’s where microgranisms are put to work.
During this process, scientists on site create a perfect environment for microorganisms to thrive. Think of the organisms as cows and the water treatment operators as farmers. The microorganisms “graze” through the materials still present in the wastewater to further clean it.
“They consume the organics that are in the wastewater,” explained Campbell.
Scientists take water samples every day through this process, carefully monitoring the organisms they need to clean the water.
As the microorganisms eat the organic matter, they convert it intro micro biomass which then gets turned into fertilizer and collected for landscaping use.
Arrington explained that the river district has conducted a lot of research and monitoring to make sure the nitrates in this water don’t cause any issues. Too much nitrogen can contribute to algae formations if it enters storm runoff and mixes into the Intracoastal waters.
“We’re meeting about 25 percent of the recommended daily allowance of the nitrogen that the turf grasses on a golf course or a front yard need,” he said.
After the biological treatment, the water goes into storage in 200 million gallon capacity lakes on site. It’s pumped underground to the places that need it for irrigation and landscaping in various neighborhoods and golf courses across north county.
“We have 11 golf courses, we also send to Abacoa and Roger Dean Stadium as well,” said Campbell.
With 2 billion gallons processed last year, that’s the equivalent of 40 million bathtubs.
“5,000 gallons a minute, is what’s coming into this facility,” said Campbell.
If you walk around the storage lakes, you can see countless birds and alligators thriving around the water. Arrington said it’s a sign that the water is clean and ready.
“We’re actually benefiting the environment recycling the water the way that we do,” he said. “What we do, day in and day out is focused on protecting paradise.”