Project to reduce Doctors Lake algal blooms by converting 79 septic tanks to sewer announced

The St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) Governing Board approved an agreement with the Clay County Utility Authority (CCUA) on Monday to convert up 79 residential septic tanks along Doctors Lake to centralized sewer systems.

The project is expected to reduce nitrogen loading to Doctors Lake by about 1,500 pounds per year.

Karen Minor lives in a home with a septic tank near Doctors Lake. She explained local impacts neighbors see in the lake on an almost yearly basis.

“The fish die, and then folks don’t want to go in there recreationally either,” said Minor.

Minor tells us she may be in favor of the idea if conversion costs are kept to a minimum for homeowners who are given the option.

Local state legislators Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Travis Cummings secured the $1.5 million for the project in a 2018 legislative appropriation.

“We set out two years ago to end the algae blooms in Doctors Lake,” said Sen. Bradley. “This is another important step in the process. I’m proud to work with Rep. Cummings to fund these critical efforts to clean our waterways.”

“Sen. Bradley and I worked tirelessly to secure the funding to empower CCUA and the district to partner and implement this project to help eradicate algae blooms and other troubling issues in Doctor’s Lake and restore health to our waterways so that the residents of Clay County and its visitors may enjoy our precious natural resources for generations to come,” Rep. Cummings said.

According to SJRWMD, Doctors Lake has experienced algal blooms for 33 of the last 35 years.

“The $1.5 million project includes septic tank abandonment, providing sewer infrastructure to the area and connecting participating residences to the CCUA wastewater collection system for greatly improved treatment and beneficial reuse,” said the SJRWMD in a release. “Under the agreement, the district will reimburse CCUA periodically as residents agree to abandon their septic tank and connect to sewer. The project goal is to abandon 79 septic tanks with subsequent connection to central sewer, which is estimated to reduce total nitrogen loading to the lake by approximately 1,500 pounds per year.”

Action News Jax interviewed Jeremy Johnston, COO of the CCUA. He tells us converting 79 homes would not be an ultimate fix, but a step in the right direction. Johnston says the ultimate solution would include converting hundreds of homes near the lake to sewer systems.

“The solution will be long-term fixes for converting those hundreds and lots from septic tanks, to the centralized system, you remove those nutrients, and then over time those algae blooms will subside,” said Johnston.

Johnston tells us this may be feasible should state funding become available in the future.

Shawn Thomas lives in a home near Doctors Lake and tells us his home has an eco-friendly septic tank. Though he’s already taken steps to reduce his home’s impact, he tells us converting local septic tanks could be the solution the community needs.

“It’s a wonderful step. They talk about other things, trying to reduce fertilizers, and stuff in yards, but this is a great step in the right direction,” Thomas said.

Johnston tells us they’re working with Jones Edmunds Environmental and Infrastructure Solutions on next steps. Those steps will include contacting the 79 homeowners who’ve been identified with letters of intent and coordinating public forums in the near future.

The State Department of Environmental Protection has created an online dashboard to help you report and monitor algal blooms. On the online dashboard is an interactive map that shows reports and what investigators found there.

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