Pressed by state mandates, the Volusia County Council March 15 approved a series of measures aimed at restoring DeLeon Spring to its once-pristine condition, including introducing sewer service to the rural community.
“We’ll be able to put the infrastructure in place,” Volusia County Utilities Director Michael Ulrich said.
The County Council adopted four proposals intended to make the groundwater flowing into DeLeon Spring cleaner and clearer, by reducing the quantity of nutrients — mainly nitrogen — finding their way into the water as it travels to the spring vent.
After careful and sometimes vigorous debate, the elected body made several decisions.
The County Council accepted the feasibility analysis report on wastewater treatment in the DeLeon Spring basin, or springshed. That report was prepared by Jones Edmunds & Associates Inc., a Gainesville environmental engineering firm. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection paid Jones Edmunds $250,000 for the study.
The report concluded nitrogen from septic tanks is one of the contributing factors in the decline of the quality of the water flowing into DeLeon Spring.
The program, known as the Basin Management Action Plan and drafted in 2018, defines the DeLeon Spring area replenished by rainfall and served by underground flows of water. Within the springshed is the Priority Focus Area, the portion of the spring basin often closest to the spring itself and believed to be the most sensitive to contamination.
Under the program now in place, the owners of businesses and homes on lots less than an acre in the priority area will be required to connect to DeLand municipal utilities, once they become available. There are approximately 2,500 parcels of less than an acre within the priority area.
Support from business owners along U.S. Highway 17 with septic tanks in the affected zone for switching to centralized sewer service is strong, a member of the consulting team said.
“This is what we heard from the residents,” Jones Edmunds Senior Vice President Terri Lowery told the County Council.
The Jones Edmunds report concluded septic tanks are responsible for 22 percent of the nitrogen loading into DeLeon Spring.
Other causes of nitrogen contamination, according to the report, are fertilizers. Farm fertilizers contribute about 52 percent of the nitrogen, while lawn fertilizers contribute approximately 19 percent.
Under the Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act passed by the Legislature and signed by then-Gov. Rick Scott, DeLeon Spring is designated as one of 30 outstanding Florida springs and is worthy of special attention to reduce their impairment.
The Volusia County Council accepted a $3.9 million grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for the capital costs of extending sewer service from DeLand to DeLeon Springs.
The project also includes installing DeLand’s municipal potable-water lines to DeLeon Springs. The grant will be combined with other funds to pay an estimated $10.4 million to install 3 miles of utility lines and a force main along U.S. Highway 17 northwestward from State Road 15A to McInnis Elementary School. The cost also includes building a lift station.
“This is needed by our business community on [U.S.] 17,” County Chair Jeff Brower said.
The addition of municipal water brings with it the installation of fire hydrants along U.S. 17.
The project has been a long time in coming. The county received a $2.5 million grant from the FDEP in 2020 to design a sewer extension from DeLand.
“I hope for our downtown to thrive again,” DeLeon Springs Community Association President Amy Munizzi said.
A county memorandum noted the design of the sewer system’s extension is nearly complete, and construction may begin later in the spring.
To handle the construction, the County Council awarded the $10.4 million contract to Wharton-Smith Inc., a Sanford company. The contract provides for the completion of the project within 511 calendar days after the work begins. If construction starts this spring, the utilities expansion should be finished and in operation in the late summer or early fall of 2023.
Once the urban-style utilities become available, what are the chances DeLeon Springs will lose its country charm? Will more businesses and more of the outlying Greater Orlando population come to change the community into something different?
“I hope that’s not true,” Brower said.
Regardless, the construction is a preemptive move, Ulrich said.
“Far better to put this infrastructure in now than to have to remediate a bigger pollution problem later,” he said. “It’s more cost-effective now.”
As one who lives in DeLeon Springs, Brower added, “septic-to-sewer programs often lead to more development.”
Yet another action taken by the County Council was the application for a $1.1 million grant from the FDEP to subsidize installation of advanced residential septic systems in a PFA where central sewer service is not available or imminent.
The state agency would provide to the county funds that may be used to encourage homeowners to replace conventional septic tanks with the upgraded on-site systems that reduce the amount of nitrogen going into the soil.
Under this program, the county will pay an eligible homeowner up to $7,000 to convert to a more advanced septic system. The cost of these newer systems may range between $10,000 and $15,000.
The memorandum on the grant program included a promise that county officials “will conduct an outreach program to inform the eligible homeowners in the DeLeon Springs PFA that these grant funds are available.”
The county intends to offer the grant aid to qualified applicants beginning in April and continuing through December 2023.