High Springs residents make switch from septic to sewer

LIVE OAK, FLA.—Residents of High Springs know their local springs are not only some of Florida’s greatest natural resources but are also vital to the local community. That’s why the community is working to move away from using septic systems. 

“We need to leave a good legacy for our children,” said Byran Williams, former mayor of the City of High Springs. “We need to make sure our springs are in great shape and that our next generation has safe water to enjoy and to drink.”

Williams explained that for years most High Springs residents had been using septic systems, which were increasing the levels of nitrogen in local springs and rivers. The “karst” geography of the area is part of what makes it special, but it also means nitrogen in the groundwater easily impacts nearby water sources. Existing local septic systems, built over sensitive springsheds, were aging and often failing.

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With more than 4,200 citizens in High Springs on septic systems in 2000, the city began planning for a wastewater treatment plant and centralized sewer system. The facilities would be constructed in phases to properly treat wastewater. 

By removing 216 septic tanks and the package plant, a pre-manufactured treatment facility used to treat wastewater, the estimated nitrogen reduction to the groundwater is 2,387 pounds per year. Each project, from design phase to final construction, takes around three years to complete.

The effort to help residents switch from septic to city sewer began with the Hornsby Springs project, taking neighbors off their private septic systems. There are now several projects within the initiative, in partnership with the Suwannee River Water Management District. All projects share the common goal of reducing nitrogen in the groundwater within the Santa Fe River Basin Management Action Plan Area, which includes Poe Springs and the Santa Fe River.

“I would like for future generations, for my grandson’s grandchildren, to be able to enjoy a resource that’s clean and abundant,” said Hugh Thomas, executive director of the Suwannee River Water Management District. “That’s my personal goal, in this role at the district.”

Joel DeCoursey Jr., former city manager of High Springs, said these projects will be beneficial to the future of the city’s growth.

“It’s long overdue and something we really needed to sustain the ability to live in this community,” DeCoursey Jr. said. “It’s a great improvement to our infrastructure, and it means less maintenance for citizens and cleaner water for everyone.”

Kris Eskelin, senior project manager at the Suwannee River Water Management District, oversaw the effort. She lives along the Santa Fe River and said the project was personal.

“The one reason I wanted to work at the Suwannee River Water Management District was to help protect the springs and the rivers around here,” Eskelin said. “I care so much about them, and I wanted to help remove some of the nutrients that are coming into our springshed.”

Kris Eskelin

Jennifer Stull, finance director for the City of High Springs, explained the initiative to help convert more residents to sewer will continue to be a multi-year process. She said the city is currently serving roughly 1,700 connections on sewer, but the goal is to serve all 2,800 residents in future stages.

“As we grow—not too quickly—this helps new residents connect systems in a healthy way,” Stull said. “We all live close to the springs and want to do things right. We want to protect the water. The more people we convert to the sewer system the better off our water will be.”

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