July 18, 2016

Babcock Ranch designing water stewardship from ground up

By: Vicki Parsons - IT


July 13, 2016

Planners are aiming to make the Babcock Ranch community an oasis of water conservation and stewardship in Florida. At its heart: a new, state-of-the-art water and sewage treatment plant that will align with building, landscaping and at-home practices that minimize water use.

“Hopefully we’re going to be the lowest-consuming per customer or per house in the state,” said Mike Acosta, Babcock’s director of utility operations, “because we have the benefit of starting from scratch and putting all the water conservation methods in at the beginning.”

The plant is now being built on a 63-acre site that includes conservation lands, in the northwest corner of the Babcock property. It will provide hundreds of thousands of gallons of fresh and gray water for residents and businesses every day when Babcock opens next year, and millions of gallons each day in the years to come, when some 50,000 people call Babcock home.

Water will be drawn from wells drilled into the Sandstone Aquifer (a misnomer since it doesn’t actually contain sandstone, Mr. Acosta pointed out) about 100 to 120 feet below the surface. It will be pumped to the new plant and run through nanofiltration membranes that remove naturally occurring calcium ions and softens the water, instead of reverse osmosis.

“If you take a cup of muddy water and you kind of filter it through a sock, the sock catches all the dirt,” Mr. Acosta said. “It’s that kind of process but on a more microscopic level.”

The water is aerated to remove hydrogen sulfide gas and disinfected with chlorine before being stored in a million-gallon storage tank.

From there it will be distributed to businesses and homes in which Babcock planners require the use of WaterSense appliances and fixtures such as toilets, faucets, and dishwashers. To qualify for the WaterSense designation they are built to Environmental Protection Agency guidelines that require them to use 20 percent less water while doing the same job as well or better. WaterSense toilets, for example, use 1.28 gallons per flush, while the federal standard is 1.6 gallons per flush. The EPA estimates that could also save $110 per year in water costs per home. The average house at Babcock Ranch is expected to use roughly 120 to 170 gallons of water per day.

“I think we’ll probably wind up on the lower end of that scale,” Mr. Acosta said, in part depending on how conservation-minded residents are.

That also means mitigating irrigation, one of the prime culprits in depleting one of our most valuable natural resources, by building a reclaimed wastewater system into the new plant. Wastewater from showers, sinks and toilets goes down a gravity sewer to a lift station and is pumped to the treatment plant, where it becomes “effluent” or reclaimed water after being treated with carefully cultivated bacteria, filtered and disinfected with chlorine. The water is then discharged into a closed lake near the utility site and pumped throughout the community for irrigation purposes, instead of wasting potable water.

“Even in Babcock, where irrigation is coming out of that lake, we’re still going to promote wise use of that water because that’s not a limitless resource either,” Mr. Acosta said.

The community will have aggressive water-saving landscaping requirements in common areas and for builders. For instance, the amount of sod is not to exceed 50 percent of a lot (not including the house or structure), with the rest filled by canopy trees or natural vegetation.