CLERMONT – Officials in Clermont are hoping that the second time's a charm for their Lower Floridan well project.

 

The project, which is intended to tap the deep Florida aquifer to determine if it can be used as a plentiful source of fresh water for decades to come, hit a snag in September when the drilling company hit a snag about 65 feet beneath the surface.

A.C. Schultes of Florida was trying to pound 48-inch casings down 180 feet to the clay pan. They got as far as 65 feet and couldn't go any further because the pounding had compacted and strengthened the soil to the extent that the pounder was no longer effective. 

Now, workers on Monday will commence drilling in hopes of reaching their desired depth.

As Clermont Environmental Services Director Paul Roy put it, "The plan is to utilize a larger drill machine and insert a slightly smaller 44-inch pipe inside the first pipe down to the clay pan."

If all goes as officials hope, the City of Clermont gets a sustainable, high-quality source of water with minimal impact on surface lakes and wetlands. In that case, according to Assistant City Manager James Kinzler, the city will be able to take some of the wells off line that are currently drawing water from the Upper Floridan Aquifer.

Much is riding on the project because experts believe the Upper Florida Aquifer from which Central Florida gets most of its water cannot sustain the region for much longer and that at some point lakes and other bodies of water will begin to dry up as water is pumped from underground.

The Lower Aquifer, which is a massive basin of water far below the surface of Florida, is largely unexplored as a source of fresh water.

The well is expected to draw water from a depth of 1,600 feet. A 12-inch pilot hole will go all the way to 1,800 feet as an exploratory measure, just in case it is necessary to draw from further down. Experts believe the upper limit of the Lower Floridan "production zone," or the area where they can reliably draw fresh water, is 1,250 feet below the surface.

When drilling is completed, a "step drawdown test" will be run on the well to determine if it is a sustainable source of water.. Water will be drawn at a specified rate, then they will let the aquifer rest for an hour, then repeat the process several times at progressively greater rates of wthdrawal.

For the project to be a success, the Lower Floridan in that location has to be sufficiently isolated hydrologically from the Upper Aquifer.

The drilling is taking place at the city's Sunburst Water Treatment Plant facility. There will be a 7-day continuous pumping test on the completed completed Lower Floridan well, with a withdrawal rate will be 2,500 gallons per minute. Because the Sunburst site already has Upper Floridan production wells, it will be possible not only to monitor the new Lower Floridan well, but to monitor the Upper Floridan Aquifer levels via the more shallow wells. The water being withdrawn from the exploratory well will then be pumped into one of the city's rapid infiltration basins, where staffers will measure the rate of percolation.

"It's an ideal setup," Reed observed. "This is fun."

If the first well works out as hoped,Schultes will drill a second well. For both wells, officials are hoping for what they are referring to as "high quality" water. In essence, they want water that tastes good.

The Sunburst project comes with construction budget of $5.94 million, which is partially being paid for by the St. Johns River Water Management District and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.