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John’s Island well a game-changer?

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER, (Week of August 11, 2011)
Photo of a drilling rig sinking an irrigation well just off the John’s Island north golf course.

If the well John’s Island Water Management is sinking off A1A is successful and gets a final permit, it could be a game-changer in terms of irrigation supply for Indian River Shores’ largest community.

Public records of the St. Johns River Water Management District show that engineer David Knight of the beachside firm Knight McGuire and Associates applied for a 20-year permit for the well on April 5.  The well is located at the north end of the north golf course west of A1A.

A permit is required for any facility with the capacity of pulling 1 million gallons or more per day out of the ground. On the application, Knight estimated the John’s Island well would draw 1.89 million gallons per day at full capacity. The total requested in the permit is 689 million gallons per year.

Knight states in the application as part of justification for the permit that “the applicant is using the maximum amount of reclaimed water that is currently available to them.”

Currently, Indian River County officials say the county sells John’s Island roughly 1 million gallons per day of reuse water and the City of Vero Beach provides about that same amount. That irrigation water currently costs between $1,000 and $2,000 per day.

Depending on how much it would cost to operate the new well and to treat and transport the irrigation water – and provided the project is successful and gets permitted – the well could save John’s Island residents hundreds of thousands of dollars per year if it is used to replace water being purchased from Vero and the county.

If the well water would only supplement the current supply, it could help buffer John’s Island somewhat from soaring reuse rates.

Should John’s Island no longer need all of its allotment of reuse water, it could also make greater quantities of reuse water from the county and Vero available to other neighborhoods who are on the waiting list for reuse.

The massive amounts of reuse water the City of Vero Beach is sending to outside-the-city customers on the barrier island -- when communities like Vero Isles inside the city are on a waiting list -- has become a bone of contention at recent city Utility Advisory Committee meetings.

According to the permit, John’s Island already has four wells – including two on Gem Island – with the collective capacity of pumping 2,175 gallons per minute. The wells range in depth from 515 to 817 feet and were built in 1991 and 1992. Those wells draw from the Upper Floridan Aquifer.

The new well would be deeper, in the neighborhood of 1,200 feet deep, and draw from the Lower Floridan Aquifer. That water would be brackish – a mix of saltwater and fresh water – and would need to be treated.

John’s Island is proposing a reverse osmosis process to turn the brackish water into usable irrigation water.

On May 26, Knight submitted a detailed test plan showing procedures John’s Island is using to determine whether or not reverse osmosis is an option in treating the water drawn out of the well. Public records show “samples would be collected for laboratory analysis for the following parameters: chloride, sodium, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, total alkalinity, total hardness, carbonate and bicarbonates, specific conductance, total dissolved solids and pH.”

Should the reverse osmosis treatment option be deemed appropriate for this well, the water would need to be treated and a substantial amount of brine material – the saltwater and waste – would need to be disposed of properly.

The status of the permit is listed as “pending” by St. John’s River Water Management District. A recommendation for approval is also listed as “pending.” It is not clear from the documents when the new well and reverse osmosis system are proposed to be operational and operating at full capacity.

The permit and all related correspondence can be viewed on the district website at under Permitting.   Select “Find permits and applications” from the menu and search for John’s Island.