Volusia elementary school celebrates new water, wastewater services
McInnis Elementary is hosting a “Water Celebration” Friday at 9 a.m. to honor DeLeon Springs’ new access to water and wastewater services.
Community advocates, local and state officials will gather for the celebration, which will feature student presentations of water-related projects, according to Volusia County Schools.
The small, Title I elementary school is the first commercial building along a three-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 17 in DeLeon Springs to connect to DeLand’s water and centralized sewer systems, according to Volusia County.
Although the county managed the project’s development and budget, moving forward, the city of DeLand will take over maintenance duties. That's because DeLand's utility service area includes the unincorporated area of DeLeon Springs, according to Volusia County Water & Utilities Senior Engineer Erin Reed.
“Before, DeLeon Springs did not have centralized sewer, which means there was no piping underground for the wastewater to go and get treated by any sort of advanced wastewater treatment to remove pollutants,” Reed said.
But now there is sewer piping in the ground, large enough to withstand the area’s current and future demand, according to Reed.
“Commercial developments in particular can connect to this wastewater main, so that the wastewater would then be treated, instead of going into the traditional septic system that is characteristic of that area right now,” Reed said.
Although this specific project will only connect utility services to buildings right on U.S. 17’s main drag, Reed says future potential projects could extend those new lines to other parts of DeLeon Springs.
“It’s basically setting that area up so that septic systems can be more of a thing of the past,” Reed said.
Reed says fewer septic systems in the area would translate to fewer pollutants in the DeLeon Spring, one of 24 Outstanding Florida Springs that Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) classifies as “impaired.”
Eligible property owners in DeLeon Springs can offset septic system improvement costs by applying for county-issued rebates of up to $10,000 per upgrade, a program funded by FDEP.
A "watershed moment"
For DeLeon Springs resident and community association president Amy Munizzi, Friday’s celebration at McInnis will have been a long time coming. The DeLeon Springs Community Association was originally a utilities task force, which Munizzi started back in 2010.
“The water and wastewater brings us into the 21st century,” Munizzi said. “It's an amazing thing. It's taking us into a place of hope again, where we have not had hope in this community for a very long time.”
A lifelong Floridian, Munizzi says it was 2006 when she and her husband moved to DeLeon Springs — against some of their friends’ better judgment.
“People had warned us: ‘You don't want to move to DeLeon Springs, you can't do business up there. There's no normal, modern water [or] wastewater infrastructure,’” Munizzi remembers.
Quickly, Munizzi says she started learning for herself how the area's lack of infrastructure impacted residents. For example, DeLeon Springs’ commercial corridor previously lacked fire protection, according to Reed and Munizzi.
“In the past, businesses have just burned to the ground, because there's just not enough water to put the fires out without hydrants,” Munizzi said.
Previously, no pressurized water pipe meant no way to feed fire hydrants with a reliable supply of water, Reed said. But now, a water mainline will provide enough constant pressure for the fire hydrants that Reed says are now installed in the commercial corridor.
Before these new utility connections, McInnis Elementary relied on a well for its drinking water and also had its own wastewater treatment plant. That plant was decommissioned late last summer, according to district officials.
Munizzi said she's spoken to parents who report sometimes McInnis previously notified them of poor water quality at the school, and asked students to bring in their own drinking water. According to Volusia Schools, the most recent boil water notice for McInnis was issued in 2020, and the district provided drinking water fountains and coolers for students.
This week, the school issued a boil water notice for an entirely different reason: the final stage of testing as both brand-new systems come online, according to district officials.
After more than a decade of work — rallying community support, identifying potential loans and even wrangling a free engineering study — Munizzi said she’s ready to celebrate “new life and new hope” for DeLeon Springs.
“In many, many ways, we will be celebrating life [Friday]. We will be celebrating life-giving water that's clean and reliable,” Munizzi said. “It's a celebration for clean water, and safe water for our children … It's a celebration of economic prosperity.”
“We're celebrating a, dare I say, watershed moment in our community's history.”