In 2016 U.S. Water Services Corporation (U.S. Water) met with a developer that had an opportunity to develop a large tract of land in Seminole County but, was challenged by the lack of utilities in the area. The tract of land was rural and large enough that it was not immediately clear who would have the right to provide utility services to the development. After several meetings, U.S. Water and the developer agreed to create a new utility system to serve the development, the utility would later become known as the Sunbridge Stewardship District.
This project has had as many hurdles to overcome. Since 2016, the development has undergone several name changes. Also, a highway re-alignment caused much of the development, including the water and wastewater treatment plants to be re-designed and relocated. However, in July of 2020, four-years after our initial meetings, the first customer moved into their new home and turned on a tap to receive water from the Sunbridge Stewardship District.
Today U.S. Water provides turnkey utility services to the District, including operations, maintenance, construction inspections, utility specifications, meter reading, customer services, accounting, engineering, and billing for the water, wastewater, and reclaimed water irrigation systems. We are in effect the entire utility department for the district.
For U.S. Water this project was a great fit because we were able to call on all our resources as a firm. The genesis of our project began by first educating the developer on the creation and management of a utility system. This process required U.S. Water to fully explain to someone with no utility background how creating a utility would work, who would own and manage the utility, how the customer rates are established, and how a customer would pay their bill. Once the developer decided this was the way to proceed, we got to work.
U.S. Water provided the initial design of the water and wastewater treatment systems. Our engineers met with the developers on-site to select a location for a test well which would ultimately become a production well. Based on the water quality of the test well, U.S. Water provided a preliminary design for the water treatment system. U.S. Water was in the middle of our design when we were notified that the alignment of a highway would require the relocation of the water and wastewater treatment plants. Basically, we had to scrap the design and start from scratch again. This setback could have caused significant delays in the development progress since there would not be enough time to re-design the water treatment plant and construct new wells and still meet the developer’s schedule. U.S. Water recommended an interconnect with the adjacent municipal water distribution system as a solution. This recommendation was approved, and U.S. Water worked with the City of St Cloud to locate, design, and construct the potable water interconnect. This allowed the development to stay on the original schedule and included the construction of a seven-mile-long, 24-inch water main to connect the two systems together.
Once the District’s water treatment plant is online, the roles will reverse, and the District will be able to provide water to St. Cloud and the Toho Water Authority.
Fortunately, the wastewater treatment design has not been as difficult. The developer was clear from the beginning, they wanted to be a community on the forefront of conservation and reduce waste as much as possible. This meant that the wastewater plant had to be a very reliable treatment process to provide 100% reclaimed water quality effluent. U.S. Water provided an analysis of the different treatment technologies, the land size requirements, and the reliability for each option. Of all the options considered, ultimately, we suggested a membrane bioreactor. This design had several advantages for the developer. The configuration of a membrane plant allows the plant to be built in phases without sacrificing reliability. Since the membranes replace the function of clarifiers and filters, the plant configuration would also require the smallest footprint. The membrane treatment provides a proven, reliable treatment process to produce reclaimed water. Since this project was a true greenfield development, reclaimed water made perfect sense. One of the biggest challenges in bringing reclaimed water to developments is the construction of the reclaimed water distribution system. Reclaimed water meets the conservation goals of the developer and provides efficient effluent disposal options. A separate utility system was created that allowed the developer to sell the reclaimed water for irrigation throughout the community. All the common areas and every home will have reclaimed water irrigation. Creating an irrigation utility allows the developer to recover the costs of constructing and maintaining the reclaimed water system. This utility became Irrigation Systems, LLC.
Fast forward to 2019 and construction finally began. U.S. Water has held countless meetings with the developer, the builders, and engineers. Roads are being built, pipes are going in the ground and homes will be started soon. Our inspectors have been busy inspecting the construction and flushing water mains. The lift stations are being constructed and pumps tested.
COVID hit in March of 2020 and construction slowed down but did not stop. The building continued and in July of 2020, the builder sold the first home to the District’s first customer. The project has finally fully evolved from ideas on paper into providing potable water, wastewater, and reclaimed irrigation services to the District customers. Numerous homes have now been completed and construction continues at a rapid pace.
Four long years in the making but this project exemplifies U.S. Water’s breadth of resources that provided the developer with a turnkey solution to the District. Our engineering department and technical experts provided preliminary designs on the treatment processes; our customer service department created two utilities from nothing, our design team created a customer website, our customer service team created accounts, our operations department inspects the construction of the utilities and manages the daily operations.
Certainly, this project has had its ups and downs, but it is a great example of how diverse our services are in the utility arena. This project has benefited from the full support of U.S. Water from the beginning, but I would like to recognize one individual for his efforts. Jeffrey Martinez was introduced to the project as an operator with U.S. Water. In 2019 he joined the team and has been involved in every step since then. As the primary individual representing U.S. Water in the field every day, Jeffrey reviews and approves utility plans and specifications and inspects the construction of the utilities. As this project continues to evolve, Jeffery will continue to evolve. Eventually, Jeffery will assume the role of the District Utility Manager. This is another great example of the advancement opportunities within U.S. Water.