All of the potable water for the south end of Santa Rosa County comes from wells in East Milton, which are located in the county’s wellfield protection area. County Commissioners on Thursday evening will vote on a proposed amendment which would reduce restrictions within that area, and it’s causing concern for south Santa Rosa residents and businesses.
“It’s very crucial that we maintain a safe water supply for Santa Rosa County,” said Will Goulet, a Holley-Navarre Water System board member. “A borrow pit in the wellfield protection area could compromise that safety. Any type of pit that isn’t properly and safely maintained could compromise our water.”
Navarre resident and former Director of the Florida Clean Water Network Linda Young described the issue as the most important environmental decision local leaders will make in the foreseeable future.
Young said the wells inside the county’s designated wellfield protection area utilize the sand & gravel aquifer, which is the county’s only source of clean water due to saltwater intrusion in wells in south Santa Rosa and pollution of the North Florida Aquifer from industrial plants in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties.
“If those wells get contaminated, we are screwed,” said Young, pointing out that the next step would be desalinization or reverse osmosis. “That is super, super expensive. Not just expense of building it, those things don’t keep working right.” Young said residents in areas of Florida where desalinization is required see monthly water bills in the $200-$300 dollar range.
Additionally, Young said the desalinization process creates a toxic discharge. “The brine, all that hard, hard salt has to go somewhere, and they dump it into the Gulf or Atlantic. That high concentration of salt and minerals is toxic to anything that gets near it, creating a big environmental problem,” she said. “The smart thing for any community in our situation to do is to protect those wells.”
The Santa Rosa County Zoning Board in a 7-1 vote denied recommending the proposed change. Additionally, District 5 Zoning Board Appointee Margaret Nieman of Gulf Breeze during the zoning board meeting expressed concern over reports of possible illegal dumping in pits and the need for related surveillance in the area.
However, it was the board of county commissioners which initially directed staff on August 26 to move forward with amending the county’s comprehensive plan with the future intent to allow the expansion of existing borrow pits and land clearing debris only reclamation.
But since that time two new commissioners have been seated, including District 5 Commissioner Colten Wright.
“Water is a precious natural resource that must be protected for future generations. The wellfields are also an economic resource that provides our region with stability and potential for future growth,” Wright said. “I will always be cautious when making decisions relating to our environment and natural resources.”
Santa Rosa County Planning Director Shawn Ward on Thursday will present the agenda item, which initially arose during revisions to the county’s Land Development Code.
If commissioners approve the proposed amendment, the state would review it and a required public hearing on the matter would be scheduled for early 2021.
Thursday’s meeting will take place at 6 p.m. at the County Administrative Complex, located at 6495 Caroline Street in Milton. Citizens may contact commissioners regarding the issue via email@example.com.
The meeting will also be streamed live and available for replay via http://santarosa.fl.gov.