By Mike S Payton, Contributing Reporter
DELRAY BEACH, FLORIDA – On May 5th, the City of Delray Beach held its first virtual Regular Commission Meeting (due to the Coronavirus), and spent nearly 30 minutes discussing the Reclaimed Water system. The new City Manager George Gretsas provided a presentation that detailed the history, the problem and solution, as well as a status of the progress to resolve.
The Reclaimed Water issue has been thoroughly reported on by the Coastal Star, and alarming revelations of residents getting sick from reclaimed-water lines, which provide partly treated wastewater meant solely for lawn watering. The full extent of the problem is still not known, or a clear picture of who is responsible.
During the May 5th Commission Meeting, which can be watched online, Mr. Gretsas started by reporting that of the 22,000 water customers in Delray Beach, only approximately 1,500 (seven percent) have reclaimed water, made up from around 600 connections.
Gretsas explained that it all started back in 2006 with a conceived reclaimed water program, in response to the pending Florida Statute 403.086 which was adopted in 2008. This required elimination of domestic wastewater disposal through the ocean outfall by 2025. The benefit is the reuse of wastewater for irrigation, and protecting the coastal environment.
The wastewater is treated at the South County Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant which Delray Beach shares with Boyton. The goal of the Reclaimed Master Plan is to utilize irrigation to meet sixty percent reuse of 3.85 MGD (millions of gallons per day) by 2025, and the city currently distributes 2.58 MGD
In the meeting Gretsas said “The first thing that happened was back in ’06 is, they set up this program, and they didn’t set it up very well. It is rife with problems which we’ll get into, but also that it has been serving one function particularly well, that is getting us to that goal of 3.85 [MGD]. The bulk of this is golf corses, city parks and facilities.”
However on February 4th, the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County sent a letter requiring a city-wide boil water notice. According to the Coastal Star, Gretsas responded with a letter saying that instead the city would turn off its reclaimed-water system citywide and inspect for cross-connections and collect and test bacteriological water samples. A week later he wrote saying that the tap water is not contaminated.
Although no cross-connections were found at the time, city staff discovered that 200 to 300 reclaimed-water customers citywide did not have backflow preventers to stop the reclaimed irrigation water from potentially mixing with the drinking water supply. Gretsas said, “The big mystery as we started digging up pipes, and looking at this, is hundreds of customers turned out with no backflow preventers.”
He admitted it was a mystery why there are were many missing backflow preventers, but speculated it was mainly due to the use of independent contractors over a period of more than a decade. Another regulation missed is the rule that backflow preventers can only be in place as long as the manufacturers expiration date, and most of them the recommended limit is five years.
To add to the problem, there are no records of when and where any of these backflow preventors were installed, let alone maintained. Gretsas said, “If you graded this program from A to F, this was like, I would say a ‘D-‘, I wouldn’t grade it an ‘F’ just because we did not have mass contamination. But it is a disgrace truthfully, it’s something that should never happen.”
With the report to the City Commission, the city plans to reevaluate the program, and bring in a new water utility team lead by Hassan Hadjimiry, who has been the Deputy Director of Palm Beach County Water Utilities Department.