KEY WEST, Florida Keys -- "No Swimming" health advisories, posted often at many Key West beaches mostly during summer months, should be history now that the city's new $67.3 million wastewater collection system, featuring Advanced Wastewater Treatment (AWT), is completed.
Local and state government leaders and representatives from tourism and environmental groups snipped a ribbon to ceremoniously open the new AWT facility Friday.
Not only does a 3,280-foot-deep injection well enable the city to cease disposal of treated wastewater into the Atlantic Ocean, the effluent will now be processed to advanced standards, following a sewage treatment plant overhaul just completed, according to Greg Smith, of Operations Management International, the contractor that operates the facility for the city.
Because of beach health advisories, warning of high levels of fecal bacteria that resulted from old, leaky public and private sewer lines, Key West accelerated the planned seven-year construction program to a three-year schedule to eliminate contamination risks said Key West Mayor Jimmy Weekley.
"The project was undertaken with a sense of urgency with full support of Key Westers and 84 percent voting to tax themselves to pay for these improvements," Weekley said. "The combination of Advanced Wastewater Treatment and deep well disposal puts Key West at the forefront of environmental protection in Florida and now operating nine years ahead of the state's 2010 compliance deadline."
The program replaced the subtropical island's 46 miles of mainline and 27 miles of lateral sewage collection pipelines with new PVC pipe. Some of the iron, steel and clay pipes dated to the 1800s, said David Fernandez, the city's utilities director.
Fernandez also said that almost all Key West septic tanks and cesspits have been eliminated. He added that AWT improves the biological sewage treatment process by adding filtration to remove nutrients that can be harmful to the area coral reefs.
"This is the most important step that the city could take to improve the water quality to protect our fragile coral reefs," said DeeVon Quirolo of Reef Relief, a Key West-based conservation organization. "The is a great gift for our coral reefs which need clean water to thrive."
According to Fernandez, there are still some lateral lines -- sewer lines that run from mains to private properties -- that are being replaced.
"Fourteen thousand lines have been tested and re-tested," he said. "Some 6,000 lines required remedial action, and now close to 4,000 of those are in compliance."
Greg Smith inspects a pump at the Advance Wastewater Treatment facility. Photo by Andy Newman/Florida Keys TDC
Key West's sewage treatment plant now features an Advance Wastewater Treatment facility (foreground) providing the island state-of-the-art waste management. Photo by Andy Newman/Florida Keys TDC
Gerald Boyce monitors a pressure guauge at the Advance Wastewater Treatment facility. Photo by Andy Newman/Florida Keys TDC