After nearly seven years of planning and environmental approvals, millions of gallons of reclaimed water will soon flow from Bay County to Gulf Power’s Plant Smith, solidifying a partnership that is bringing cleaner water to Northwest Florida.

Once approved, Gulf Power’s Plant Smith in Panama City will receive up to five million gallons of reclaimed wastewater per day. The reclaimed water will be used as a cooling water supply for the plant’s natural gas generating unit. The project will greatly reduce the amount of water Gulf Power currently uses from St. Andrews Bay as well as the wastewater being discharged by other entities.

According to Mike Markey, Gulf Power Director of Environmental Affairs, the project is a result of a partnership between Gulf Power, the legislature and several state agencies to bring the project to fruition.

“The project in Bay County would not have been possible without the teamwork of many state and county officials,” said Markey. “This is a real win for water quality in Bay County. The citizens of Bay County can be proud of this monumental project because it means cleaner water for everyone.”

As a part of the $2.5 million budget approved by Gov. Rick Scott for Bay County projects on March 17, $1.5 million has been earmarked for three water projects, with most going to rerouting treated wastewater to Plant Smith.

According to County Manager, Bob Majka, the county’s wastewater now is discharged into rapid infiltration basins and eventually filters through the soil and makes its way into St. Andrew Bay. As the amount of wastewater increases, Majka added, the county would need to build more basins.

“This was a public-private partnership between the county and Gulf Power. It also has the opportunity going forward to have additional partners,” said Majka, who added that Lynn Haven or Panama City could tie into the system and begin to reroute their wastewater.

The project would also mean a large reduction in what the plant currently draws from the bay.

“We’re creating a beneficial use for this reclaimed water while conserving a valuable natural resource,” said Rick DelaHaya, Gulf Power spokesperson. “We’ve had an identical project in Pensacola, at Plant Crist, that’s used over the 10-billion-gallon milestone, which has won several environmental awards. It’s exciting that we’re helping take water conservation to the next level in Bay County.”

According to DelaHaya, the Plant Smith project will involve using reclaimed water in the cooling tower for the natural gas generating unit instead of recycling saltwater from the North Bay.

“That’s up to five million gallons of water per day we will no longer draw from the bay,” added DelaHaya. “The project, when completed, will also greatly reduce the amount of wastewater that flows into the bay as well as protect our groundwater resources. We’re excited to duplicate this project in Bay County.”

Gulf Power has been using reclaimed water at its Plant Crist  (WATCH video above) in Pensacola since 2010 on an almost identical project. There the utility has been using water from the regional advanced wastewater treatment facility and using it for its cooling towers and scrubber.

The partnership with the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority’s Central Water Reclamation Facility has won numerous awards including the Sustainable Florida Award in 2010, the industry Excellence Award from the Southeastern Electric Exchange in 2011, and the York Reuse Award from the Florida Water Environment Association in 2012.

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