The Wellfield property is referred to as "The City Forest" because of its large areas of conservation land, timber, habitat for endangered species of plants and animals and reclaimed water lakes.
Several of the Port Orange City Council candidates for District 1 attended a meeting about the city's public works process at the the Dorothy L. Hukill Annex on Wednesday, March 20.
Candidates Savannah Weaver, Marilyn Ford, Paul Rozar and Lee Barreiro participated in the orientation, which consisted of a video about the reclaimed water lakes. Candidate Jonathan Foley had his on a different day. After the video, Public Utilities and Works Director Lynn Stevens gave an overview of how and where Port Orange residents get their water, as well as, how the waste water treatment system works, especially as it relates to reclaimed water.
The candidates asked questions about the future of water and water treatment for the city. Stevens said that the city is looking at the master plan to determine where to install a second wastewater plant for Port Orange. The current plant is in the process of being updated. To move the plant, with the existing infrastructure that is in place would be a “Herculean task,” Stevens said.
“In the future, at some point in time, we will need a second waste water plant,” Stevens said. “As far as the water plant goes, the water plant currently is at about 50% capacity, so we’re really happy with that.”
Following the presentation, candidates visited the Wellfield property, a reclaimed water facility that is off Tomoka Farms Road. Ford was unable to go to the Wellfield property. The remainder of the group saw how wastewater was treated and returned to the city as reclaimed water to be used for irrigation.
“Port Orange is very concerned about the environment,” City Manager Jake Johansson said.
The Wellfield property is 12,000 acres of conservation land that is south of the landfill and borders Route 4 to the west. It is home to 27 water production wells, a solar panel field that provides power to the wells, the reclaimed water lakes, wetlands, forest and a conservation area for the protection of the gopher tortoise, an endangered species.
Port Orange owns 8,026 acres and shares the rest of the property with Volusia County. It is often referred to as “The City Forest.”
Another endangered species found in the area is called Rugel’s Pawpaw. It is a rare species of flowering plant that has been identified as growing only in Eastern Volusia County in the Port Orange forest and New Smyrna Beach. It thrives in soil that has been burned. City Council passed a resolution that protects this plant now and in its future.
With over 5,000 acres of wetlands, The City Forest has wildlife and conservation value. These wetlands are also used as mitigation credits for developers.
City Council approved an ordinance that says mitigation credits can only be sold for impacts by developments or building within the city limits or city use. The conservation area can never be cleared or developed.
At times, controlled burning of the forests occur as mandated by the state to help preserve the health of the forest.
There are 725 acres of uplands slated as relocation homes for the gopher tortoise. Only so many tortoises are allowed to be in one area. Once the “turtle hotel” is full, another area is opened.
Ironically, controlled burns of the forests help preserve habitat for the tortoises, which burrow 6 to 8 feet underground and provide homes to over 360 other species of animals.
The area also contains several species of wild boar, deer, bear and turkey which have to be managed to prevent overcrowding, sickness and starvation of the animals. The city leases part of the land to a hunt club which helps to keep the population of animals under control.
The reclaimed water lakes are two separate lakes. One is 100 acres, while the other is 75 acres. Wastewater goes into the lakes where 11 solar bees (machines that treat solid particles) work to break up matter. Once changed, the water goes through a special filtration system, and is then stored in a tank that holds millions of gallons of reclaimed water. The water is distributed to various places around the city where it irrigates specific sites.
The Wellfield property is a restricted area. It is meant to be to protect the tortoise habitat, wetlands, uplands, reclaimed water lakes and the wells.