History and Facilities
Bonita Springs Water System, Inc., a member-owned, not-for-profit utility, was established in 1969 by local residents to provide potable water service to a handful of homes. In February 1970, Lee County Commissioners granted a franchise for the original service area in unincorporated Lee County. Six production wells approximately 100 to 120 feet deep, provided the first potable water service in late 1971. Water was drawn from the Lower Tamiami aquifer and treated through a lime softening process. The utility expanded slowly at first to serve additional customers in the Bonita Springs area. In the late 1980s, the company added wells, treatment capacity and infrastructure to accommodate substantial increases in residential and commercial customers. The final expansion of the Lime Softening Water Treatment Plant occurred in 1998, providing production capacity of 7.5 million gallons per day and drawing water from 19 wells in the east and west well fields.
In 2002, with the availability of new technology and a focus on a more sustainable water resource, the company developed a Reverse Osmosis (RO) Water Treatment Facility adjacent to the lime softening plant. Water treated through this new plant is drawn from deeper, brackish water wells approximately 800 to 1,120 feet deep into the Lower Hawthorn formation of the Upper Floridan aquifer system. The RO plant began service in 2004 with a treatment capacity of 6 million gallons per day from eight wells and the ability to expand to a 12-million-gallon–per-day capacity to meet future demand. The utility recently added 3 additional wells, bringing the total number of brackish water wells to eleven.
In 1989, the utility invited eleven volunteers from community and civic organizations to form the Bonita Springs Wastewater Research Committee. With support from the utility and the Lee County Board of County Commissioners, the committee studied the environmental impact of septic tanks and antiquated package sewer treatment plants on groundwater and area waterways, and the feasibility of a central sewer plant in the Bonita Springs area. As a result of the committee’s work, and with funding through the Lee County Industrial Development Authority, the water utility acquired the wastewater treatment plant serving the Bonita Bay development in 1991. With this acquisition, the company was renamed Bonita Springs Utilities, Inc. Following the installation of a backbone force main system, more than forty privately owned, wastewater treatment package plants were taken off line and the homes they had served were connected to the central sewer system.
From 1997 through 2008, BSU undertook its gravity expansion project, eliminating approximately 5,000 septic tanks in the Imperial River watershed and replacing them with central wastewater service. The utility continues to expand the gravity system and eliminate septic tanks wherever possible and financially feasible. To accommodate continuing growth in the area, BSU completed the East Water Reclamation Facility (EWRF) on the east side of Interstate 75 in 2007. This state of the art facility recycles 100% of treated wastewater. Reclaimed water is sold to a local irrigation service company, and the bio-solids are dried and converted to fertilizer pellets that are sold in bulk. Bio-solids from the original West Water Reclamation Facility are also sent to the EWRF for recycling.
A History of Reclaimed Water
Efluent is a byproduct of the wastewater treatment process. Each day, BSU treats millions of gallons of sewage and must dispose of this treated wastewater in a sanitary and cost-effective manner.
In the past, it was common for utilities to pump effluent directly into rivers and oceans. As treatment methods and pollution regulations evolved, the practice of discharging to large bodies of water was replaced with the use of storage ponds where effluent evaporated into the air and seeped into the ground. Some utilities built deep wells to dispose of effluent. Today, advanced methods of treatment have made effluent cleaner and safer. As our fresh water supply dwindles, reclaiming effluent for outdoor irrigation makes sense and helps conserve potable, or drinkable, water.
BSU was founded in 1970 to provide safe and reliable drinking water in Bonita Springs. Twenty years later, the BSU Board of Directors decided to establish a wastewater system to protect the environment, promote economic opportunity and enhance service to its member-customers. BSU acquired a wastewater treatment facility and other infrastructure from Springs Environmental Systems, Inc., which, at that time, only served Bonita Bay. In the years that followed, BSU expanded wastewater capacity and extended service throughout the area. Today, BSU serves more than 40,000 wastewater connections in a 60-square-mile franchise in Bonita Springs and surrounding areas of unincorporated Lee County.
At the time BSU acquired the Springs Environmental Systems plant and as a condition of the acquisition, the company delivered effluent to Bonita Bay Properties, Inc., for irrigation within Bonita Bay. BSU recognized this reclaimed water disposal system was the most cost effective and environmentally beneficial method of effluent disposal then available. Other alternatives would have required a considerable financial investment for the acquisition of land and construction of disposal facilities, with resulting rate increases for member-customers.
Over the years, BSU’s wastewater treatment capacity has increased substantially, along with its need for effluent disposal. In cooperation with Resource Conservation Systems, LLC (RCS), the irrigation company established by Bonita Bay Properties, reclaimed water systems have been extended throughout additional master planned communities including The Brooks and Highland Woods; in medians along U.S. 41; and in adjacent areas, all at the developer’s expense.
RCS is required to provide millions of gallons of storage capacity for all reclaimed water produced by BSU on a daily basis, even when wet weather makes irrigation of golf courses and neighborhoods not possible. By requiring RCS to provide this storage, pumping and distribution capacity, BSU has saved its member-customers millions of dollars in costs for alternative and backup disposal systems. In fact, most Florida utilities with reclaimed water systems incur substantial costs to provide backup or secondary disposal alternatives during rainy or wet weather periods.
RCS pays BSU for reclaimed water in 1,000-gallon increments. By contract, RSC pays a rate based on the average for similar services charged by Lee County and Collier County utilities, ensuring that BSU receives the market rate for reclaimed water. It is worth noting that many Florida utilities have long-term contracts to provide effluent for little or no payment, because the supply far exceeded demand when those contracts were negotiated 20 to 30 years ago.
Based on prior master planning, BSU expects to have additional reclaimed water available as Bonita Springs and the surrounding areas experience population growth. Periodically, BSU receives requests to provide reclaimed water to other neighborhoods and properties. To avoid rate increases for member-customers, BSU requires these parties to pay the costs to bring reclaimed water to their properties, store it and install the necessary irrigation systems. To date, no potential reclaimed water customer has made this commitment.
The BSU Board of Directors and staff are committed to providing safe, reliable potable water and wastewater treatment, emphasizing responsible protection of our resources, at the most effective cost to all members. Effluent disposal is one of many aspects of providing such service. BSU will continue to provide reclaimed water cost-effectively, both through the RCS agreement and other economically feasible methods.
The number of employees has increased over the years to accommodate additional services, development in service area and the increase in customers. The company currently employs approximately 130 people.
In 1996, the Administration Building was constructed in front of the water treatment plan on the East Terry Street campus to house the Customer Service Department, Administration and Board Room. As the Operations Department grew, employees were housed where space was available. In 2008, the Operations Service Center was completed to house the Operations administration staff, distribution/collection staff, utility maintenance staff, a fleet of vehicles and heavy equipment used for utility construction and repairs.
In 2017, the utility recently completed construction of a new two-story support staff building adjacent to the Administration Building. The new building houses the Finance, Engineering and Information Technology Departments.
After the new customer service building was completed in 2019, the old support staff building, a part of the original water plant and office, was demolished.
Recent Water Treatment Facilities Awards and Recognitions
- 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2017 Winner of FSAWWA Division, 4 Water Distribution Award for Outstanding Performance.
- 2007 and 2016 Winner of the AWWA Region V Best Tasting Drinking Water Contest
- 2005-2006 SEDA Plant of the Year Award for the RO Plant
Recent Wastewater Facilities Awards & Recognition
2018 1st Place Winner of the FWEA Earle B. Phelps Award for the East Water Reclamation Facility
2018 Leroy H. Scott Award for Jake Hepokoski of the East Water Reclamation Facility
2017 FWEA Biosolids – Residuals Excellence Award for the East Water Reclamation Facility
2016 Domestic Wastewater Plant Operations Excellence Award for the East Water Reclamation Facility
2016 Runner up of the FWEA Earle B. Phelps Award for the East Water Reclamation Facility
2014 1st Place Winner of the FWEA Earle B. Phelps Award for the East Water Reclamation Facility
2014 FWEA Biosolids Awards for Excellence for the EWRF
2014 FWEA Top Ten Safety Award
2012 Winner of FDEP Plant Operations Award for the EWRF
2008 Winner of ASCE- Florida Section Project of the Year for the EWRF
2008 Winner of Design-Build Institute of America National Design-Build Award for the EWRF