Why JEA believes your sewer bill will go up next year

New state rules to keep wastewater out of river could cost $1 billion

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – That water you just flushed down the toilet will likely cost more on your sewer bill next year.

The majority of Jacksonville’s wastewater currently ends up in the St Johns River. It’s been treated -- it’s not raw sewage -- but that’s where most of it goes.

JEA is going to look at different ways to discharge the water in anticipation of new state regulations that could be approved next year. The new rules would divert wastewater to irrigate for your lawn or even into the underground aquifer, where, eventually, we could drink it.

Betty Nixson, who lives near the Buckman Water Reclamation Facility in Talleyrand, said she’ll never get used to the bad smell. She’s relieved to hear some changes in the treatment process may be coming.

“Of course, there’s always room for improvement and I would certainly appreciate it,” Nixson said.

But that relief could be costly, according to interim JEA Chief Executive Officer Paul McElroy.

“It will cause a challenge for JEA. We are the largest wastewater system with respect to centralized plants and the largest amount of discharge to the water bodies in the state,” McElroy said.

Currently, 80% of JEA’s treated water goes back into the St. Johns River. The rest is used for irrigation through special water lines used for lawns and golf courses around Jacksonville. It’s water you can’t drink.

That program would have to be expanded as well as developing new methods so some of the treated water could be used to replenish the aquifer -- the source of all of our drinking water.

If rules requiring this are approved in the next legislative session, the changes would need to made quickly.

The JEA estimates it could cost $1 billion, which would be impact its customers.

“It is extraordinarily difficult to think that we would have $1 billion capital investment plan in a five-year period and it not having an impact on rates.,” McElroy said.

St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman, who keeps a close watch on all river projects, said there would have to be more management, possibly more regulations and oversight to make sure the river will be protected. Because even if the wastewater isn’t coming directly from the JEA, it could come from other sources, such as runoff from our lawns.

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