By Mike S Payton, Contributing Reporter
DELRAY BEACH, FLORIDA – At the City Commission Meeting yesterday, August 11th, the Utilities Director for Delray Beach, Hassan Hadjimiry gave a presentation on the Reclaimed Water program and emphasized that the water is safe. This comes in response to allegations by the suspended City Manager that the water is unsuitable to drink.
The presentation, which has been made available online, is regarding the status of the Reclaimed Water program, the corrective actions taken and the status of an investigation of past events. The reclaimed water program started in 2005 but has been an issue since late 2018, as reported by the Coastal Star.
The topic has erupted since July 31st, when suspended city manager, George Gretsas’ claims in a twelve page letter there has been ‘significant unethical and illegal conduct within the government’. Included in the letter are four issues, the most significant is the reclaimed water investigation.
Earlier, in May, Gretsas provided a report to the City Commission, stating “gross mismanagement and violations of law that put public safety at risk and likely made people ill.” In July, after being suspended, he went on to write “I had witnessed with my own eyes the most scandalous condition of a City drinking water system since Flint Michigan.”
Naturally alarm bells rang, but Mr. Hussan Hadjimiry reassured the Commission and the public yesterday that all is well. The presentation shows that since the issue was realized, there have been; individual site inspections, the elimination of any cross-connections, 806 backflow preventers installed and inspection reports created.
The progress has been shared with the Florida Department of Health (FDOC) and upon their approval the reclaimed water service has been resumed, and all of this at the expense of $1,042,369 and counting to the taxpayers.
Also in May, the City retained the services of Public Utility Management and Planning Services to perform forensic evaluation of the events in order find out who is to blame for the situation. The conclusion of the report is not expected until September, however the commission asked if that can be accelerated.
Mr. Hadjimiry said, “we produce sixteen million gallons per day of portable [safe drinking water] across to every single home in the City of these water leads and exceed, all the requirements. All the requirements that is set by the EPA, as part of the Safe Drinking Water standard.”
The City realized they needed to get the message out so a text was sent to a number of residents. “Hello, this is a public advisory to inform all Delray Beach residents that, despite misinformation being circulated on social media, the drinking water in the city is safe to drink and meets all water quality standards set by the Florida Department of Health (FDOH).”
“Additionally, City of Delray Beach drinking water and reclaimed water meet all quality standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP). If you have any comments or concerns please contact our Utilities Department at (561) 243-7312. Thank you and have a good day.”
Another claim in the July 31st Gretsas letter about the water management in Delray Beach was that the City had not been cleaning the storage tanks that hold the drinking water which goes directly into people’s homes and businesses for 38 years, even though the law states they must be cleaned every five years.
This morning the City put out a statement, “Despite misinformation posted on social media, Delray Beach’s elevated storage tank is inspected every year & cleaned once every five years. On 5/22/2019, the elevated tank was cleaned, inspected, signed & sealed by an engineer per Florida Administrative Code FAC 62-555.350(2).”
Never-the-less, many residents are still not satisfied, and are looking for improvement from the City. A resident wrote, “I would rather hear from the EPA than the Town accused of wrong doing and see how it compares with other cities.” Another said, “I’ll believe it when I see an independent test done by a third party.”
A report by local CBS 12 News also raised alarm for the public, followed by scores of residents commiserating on social media. One wrote, “The toilet always looks like the last person didn’t flush…..NO WAY would I drink Delray’s water!”
Mr. Hadjimiry has over 38 years of management and engineering experience in the water utilities industry. He began his career as staff engineer at the Palm Beach County Water Utilities Department in early 1982 and progressed to the Deputy Director for the third largest water utility in the State of Florida.
He holds a Master of Science in Water Resources Engineering from FAU, is a recipient of the 2009 David York’s Water Reuse Person of the Year in the State of Florida and a five-time winner of Palm Beach County Administrator’s annual ‘Golden Palm Awards’.
Just on Monday, The ASCE Florida Section awarded Hadjimiry the 2020 ASCE Florida Section Government Engineer of the Year Award in its Awards & Installation. The irony is that it was Mr. Gretsas who had pushed to hire him in May.
Prior to coming to Delray Beach, Gretsas was city manager in Homestead for a nine-year tenure, and before then was city manager of Fort Lauderdale for six years.