Water on Tap for Mega Site

By JAMIE WACHTER / December 15, 2021

Let it flow, let it flow, let it flow. The Suwannee River Water Management District’s governing board unanimously approved a water use permit request by Columbia County for the North Florida Mega Industrial Park during its meeting Tuesday morning.

The permit will allow the county to draw up to 2.16 million gallons of water a day from two 18-inch wells to cover the demand of at least three industrial users within the 2,622-acre service area of the industrial park.

“It’s a pivotal moment for Columbia County in terms of ensuring our future growth and our ability to provide economic development and job opportunities for all of our citizens of the region, not just Columbia County but all the surrounding counties,” County Manager David Kraus said during the meeting.

“It is critical and pivotal for our growth and sustaining our families for the future.” Currently, the park has one confirmed tenant after the Columbia County Board of County Commissioners approved an economic development deal last month with Project Wave. That tenant, which is purchasing up to 30 acres from Weyerhaeuser, will have a capital investment between $12 million and $14 million and is expected to bring 50-100 new jobs to the county.

According to the county’s initial permit request filed in January — it was later withdrawn before resubmitted in April — industrial users at the park were described as a plastic recycling manufacturer and a personal protective equipment manufacturer. Kraus said last week that the PPE provider is no longer a possible tenant at the mega site. In addition to Project Wave, he said the county is still working on two to three other projects that are “strong prospects.”

A strong component to the county’s request for the water use was its plans to offset the effects of the proposed groundwater withdrawals. That plan includes a reclamation facility at the industrial park to treat wastewater from the site for reuse as a lower-quality water source or for aquifer recharge as well as drainage wells on Lake Harris on the western side of the county.

“A new use has to offset its entire impact,” said Warren Zwanka, the director of the district’s Division of Resource Management, when asked by the board about minimum flows and levels moving forward. “By our numbers, the supplemental recharge that you get at the Lake Harris recharge wells…more than offset the proposed withdrawals.”

Kraus said that aspect was something the county takes seriously.

“We’re actively committed to recharge,” he said. “We think that’s a very important aspect and want to continue working with the district on recharge projects as we move forward.”