Jacksonville's main utility provider is apparently close to launching a project to divert sewer wastewater away from rivers and into use irrigating farmed trees.
The change, if implemented on a large scale, could noticeably reduce levels of chemical nutrients in the St. Johns River that feed thick summer algae blooms.
Large blooms of potentially toxic algae last year were suspected of causing deaths of several thousand fish by depleting the river's oxygen. The blooms also harm underwater grasses, where fish live.
As an initial pilot project, the JEA wants to pump water from a treatment plant in North Jacksonville onto an adjacent 18-acre tract, where the utility would raise fast-growing poplar and cottonwood trees bred to absorb large amounts of water.
A deal to purchase the property could be finalized in three or four weeks, said Tim Perkins, a JEA vice president responsible for wastewater. The agency has bought several thousand saplings to plant.
Wastewater from JEA plants is already cleaned extensively, making it harmless to people. The project on the eastern edge of the Imeson International Industrial Park would use no more than 100,000 gallons daily, a minor amount compared to the tens of millions of gallons of wastewater the river receives daily.
But if the project works as expected, a tree farm of up to 2,000 acres could be launched elsewhere, using up to 7 million gallons of water per day, Perkins said. …