The nonprofit Safe Water for Walton organization and many local elected officials oppose Waste Management’s proposed deep injection well that would send hazardous landfill wastewater deep underground.
Opponents are concerned that the well could impact the Floridan Aquifer, which is the main source of drinking water for Walton, Okaloosa and other counties.
If Waste Management obtains a permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection, it reportedly would dig an exploratory well before putting in the deep injection well at the Springhill Regional Landfill near Cambellton in Jackson County.
The possible Class I industrial wastewater deep injection well would be sunk more than 4,000 feet into the ground to dispose of the wastewater, called “leachate,” according to news reports.
Leachate is formed when rainwater filters through wastes placed in a landfill. When the water comes in contact with buried wastes, it leaches, or draws out, chemicals or constituents from those wastes, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Safe Water for Walton’s mission includes studying and educating the public about the health of and any threats to water sources across the watershed for Walton, Okaloosa, Bay, Jackson, Washington and Holmes counties, according to the group’s website.
It states that the county commissions in Walton and Jackson counties, as well as elected officials in all three municipalities in Walton County — Freeport, Paxton and DeFuniak Springs — passed resolutions last year opposing the issuance of permits for the exploratory and deep injection wells.
Waste Management currently collects wastewater at the Springhill Landfill in holding tanks, then takes it to wastewater treatment facilities in Sneads, Marianna and Okaloosa County for treatment and release to sprayfields or other endpoints, according to a story in the Dothan Eagle newspaper.
Waste Management officials say they are considering the deep injection well because of the cost of transporting wastewater and a concern that, in the face of increasingly strict regulations, municipalities could stop accepting the leachate.
The idea of using deep injection wells for industrial wastewater is not new to the Panhandle.
Currently, Gulf Power has three industrial wastewater deep injection wells in Bay County and two under construction at the Lansing Smith coal plant, according to Florida DEP. The power company also has four wells in Pensacola, two that were installed in 2009.
Joseph Haberfeld, who represented the DEP’s underground injection control program, said in 2013 that the Bay County wells would be monitored 24 hours a day. He also noted only small amounts of coal ash would be injected into the wastewater wells.
A handful of environmental groups, including Clean Water Action, Earthjustice, Sierra Club and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, objected to using wastewater injection wells at the Lansing Smith Plant.
Earthjustice attorney Bradley Marshall issued a statement in 2013 refuting DEP’s assessment of the situation.
“Regardless of how it is classified by the DEP, the coal ash waste Gulf Power plans to inject right below the aquifer contains high levels of toxics and is hazardous to human health,” Marshall said.
Haberfeld said the assertion the wastewater is toxic is not true. The DEP said wastewater would not be able to travel up into the aquifer. Even if the water did get into the aquifer, Haberfeld said, any toxins in the water would be diluted to a negligible level.
Daily News Digital Editor Nick Tomecek and the Panama City News Herald contributed to this report.