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ALACHUA ‒ The City of Alachua is celebrating the completion of a long-awaited project to protect the Mill Creek Sink system. The Mill Creek Sink Water Quality Improvement Project began several years ago and the finished natural stormwater management system includes a filtration system that collects and treats runoff from the nearby interstate and existing commercial business drainage structures.

On May 31, City of Alachua commissioners and staff along with representatives from SRWMD gathered with the public to celebrate completion of the project with a ribbon cutting ceremony and tours of the completed wetlands project. Offering comments were Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper, Interim City Manager Mike DaRoza and Alachua Public Services Director Rodolfo Valladares. They were joined by Alachua City Commissioners Ed Potts, Dana Miller, Shirley Green Brown and SRWMD Governing Board Chair Virginia Johns to cut the ribbon and officially open the natural wetlands collection barrier system.

Located behind Sonny's Restaurant on U.S. Highway 44, the Mill Creek Sink system is an algae-covered placid sinkhole that is a virtual open window into the Floridan Aquifer, an 82,000-square-mile reservoir that holds billions of gallons of the state’s fresh drinking water. Mill Creek Sink, downhill from I-75, collects streams of rainfall runoff laden with nitrate-nitrogen pollutants, heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and an array of suspended solids. In addition to runoff from I-75, which accommodates upwards of 65,000 vehicles through the area every day, runoff from nearby commercial business parking lots also drain, unimpeded, into the area leading directly to the sink.

Although the aquifer water lies hundreds of feet below the ground, it is not entirely protected from sources of pollution at the surface, which seep into the water supply through sinks like Mill Creek. Wetlands on the surface help filter the water that will end up in the aquifer and help protect springs and drinking water. Groundwater in the Floridan Aquifer is the source for more than 1,000 springs in North and Central Florida and provides water for over 90 percent of the people who live here.

The Mill Creek Sink Water Quality Improvement Project had its beginnings as City of Alachua officials, County officials, environmental engineers and the team at the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) began formulating a voluntary state-of-the-art avoidance, minimization and mitigation plan. The project’s goal was to create a collection barrier between these contaminants and Mill Creek Sink, providing nature time to do what it does best—slowly filter groundwater by percolating through loose, sandy soils and porous limestone bedrock.

The project provides a natural stormwater management system to create additional treatment for runoff flowing into the Mill Creek Sink system through three lined conveyance swales, two pre-treatment basins and a treatment wetland basin designed to collect and treat runoff from the nearby interstate and existing commercial business drainage structures. Also adding to the filtration system are the 1.2 acres of 15,000 planted native vegetation species to process nutrients as well as provide appropriate habitat for use by wildlife species.

Along the northern limits of the project, three basins provide additional stabilization, surface water containment and access for management activities and public educational and recreational viewing on several trails surrounding the project. The innovative water treatment system provides a natural and low-maintenance process to improve the health of the sink and the water supply

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