Lakeland pilot project aims to meet growing demand for clean drinking water

LAKELAND, Fla. - As Polk County's population grows, so does the demand for clean drinking water, and an innovative pilot project in Lakeland may be a solution to that problem.

The "Direct Potable Reuse" Pilot Facility, adjacent to the Cherry Hill Water Production Facility off Raulerson Road, treats 14,400 gallons per day of reclaimed water from the Northwest Wastewater Treatment Facility and turns it into drinking water.

"We take the highly treated wastewater and treat it even further to meet all the primary and secondary drinking water standards, plus the standards the Department of Environmental Protection [DEP] is considering," said Tamara Richardson, the director of Polk County Utilities.

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It should be noted that water from this pilot isn't currently going into the public water supply, although it could eventually.

"In the meantime, we're putting it back into our reuse system," said County Commissioner George Lindsey. "We currently have a wastewater reuse system that has a separate distribution system available for lawn irrigation and golf courses and open spaces."

This project is developing an alternative water supply for a growing population, therefore decreasing the amount of water pulled from the Upper Floridian aquifer and giving it time to replenish, as it's expected to reach its sustainable limit by 2025.

Polk isn't the only county using such a project.

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"Around the country, there are systems that are full scale systems in place," said Jennette Seachrist, the resource management division director of the Southwest Florida Water Management District. "There are counties in Florida that are doing pilot projects like this one."

This pilot program will run for a year and then the Board of Commissioners will decide if it'll move forward. If so, there will be design, permitting and construction. The aggressive goal would be to have it online in five years.

The $2.59 million pilot project is a cooperative project between the Water Management District and Polk County Utilities.