NAVARRE BEACH — For 45 years, a wastewater treatment plant here has discharged treated wastewater into Santa Rosa Sound.
One day in the future, Dave Piech said he hopes to see the wastewater finally get spread over more than 200 acres on Eglin Air Force Base land.
“I think it will be fantastic,” said Piech, who represents the area on the Santa Rosa County Commission. “It has been a long process. I’m hoping we will get it out there (to Eglin) as soon as possible so we can turn the valve off and stop discharging effluent into the Sound.”
Meanwhile, in the next few weeks the Florida Department of Environmental Protection plans to renew a five-year permit to allow the Navarre Beach plant to dispose up to 900,000 gallons of treated wastewater a day into the Sound, said Brandy Smith, DEP’s Northwest District spokeswoman. The plant discharges on average about 320,000 gallons per day.
“Navarre Beach meets all of our (federal and state) water quality standards,” said Smith, who added that 173 utilities across Florida discharge effluent into waterways.
The Santa Rosa County Department of Health, under Florida's Healthy Beaches program, monitors water quality. It takes samples every two weeks for enterococci bacteria, an indicator of fecal pollution. High concentrations that are ingested or come in contact with cuts or sores may cause disease, infections or rashes to people, according to the health department.
Water samples taken from the Sound at Juana’s Beach, Navarre Beach West and Navarre Park on U.S. Highway 98 have consistently been rated “Good.” Results also can be Moderate or Poor. However, the latest water sample taken Monday at Juana’s Beach turned up Moderate after receiving Good results since at least June 27, 2016, according to the Florida Healthy Beaches Program website. It is the closest of the three testing sites to the Navarre Beach treatment plant.
Nancy Forester has lived on the Sound in Navarre for more than 20 years. She said she opposes the treated wastewater going into the Sound, and so do 1,665 others who have signed her petition so far on Change.org. She claimed household cleaners, pesticides and other pollutants pass through the wastewater treatment process.
“We don’t swim in the Sound and we don’t recommend to our visitors that they swim in the Sound, either,” Forester said. “(County officials) are making some progress. I would like to see this done in my lifetime.”
Environmental activists are demanding a date when the Navarre Beach plant’s effluent will stop flowing into the Sound.
Santa Rosa County Engineer Roger Blaylock said the date is unknown. The county first broached the estimated $20 million-$30 million project with Eglin in 2001 after considering other alternatives as far back as the late 1990s.
The project includes a circuitous 9-mile pipeline from Navarre Beach to the undeveloped Eglin property northwest of the Holley community and south of Choctaw Field Road. The effluent would be disposed in a rapid infiltration basin system, or RIBS.
Blaylock said several steps remain, including a draft lease agreement that must undergo review and signatures from county, Eglin and Pentagon leaders that may be completed in the next 60 days.
Also, federal, state and local funding must be found. The county plans a utility rate study for Navarre Beach residents for that.
Fortunately, Blaylock said the county already gained hard-earned approvals from DEP and the Eglin Encroachment Committee.
Blaylock said a wastewater treatment project of this magnitude takes years.
“It has been our goal to take our effluent out of the Sound,” he said. “We are confident we will remove it. It doesn’t have to happen today.”