West Palm Beach needs to think long-term to improve water use and quality

It seems that water supply has become a priority for West Palm Beach – finally. With all the signs that the city is experiencing historic growth, the time is long past for city officials to start paying more attention to this most valuable resource.

Give municipal officials credit for taking steps to better monitor water quality and initiate treatment changes when needed. Recent recommendations from a panel that Mayor Keith James convened last year have produced a roadmap that, if followed, should at least avert future water shortage crises. The key words here remain, “if followed.”

The next steps the city takes to improve its water infrastructure will determine its success as an urban community. Relying solely on surface waters, once cited as a source of pride, is increasingly a problem as Lake Okeechobee, Grassy Waters and Clear Lake are susceptible to algae contamination. Better drinking water requires consideration of alternative sources.

The long-term solutions needed to improve West Palm Beach’s water supply and quality will not be easy or cheap. But now is the time to start evaluating advanced treatment options, new groundwater sources, and seawater desalination as potential solutions.

“Our water customers deserve the cleanest, safest water and we look forward to implementing the panel’s suggestions,” James said during the presentation of the cyanotoxin management summary report from the town. “West Palm Beach has been a longtime leader in ensuring quality drinking water and we plan to continue this trend for generations to come.”

Well, not exactly, on that “longtime leader” part.

Certainly, West Palm Beach is a long way from the days when Henry Flagler drew water from duck ponds. The city now provides drinking water to 130,000 residents of West Palm, Palm Beach and South Palm Beach. But remaining as one of the few remaining communities in Florida that relies heavily on surface water will not meet the needs of the next generation.

The city utility has access to emergency wells. Unfortunately, the last time he asked for permission to draw from these wells, their request was so rushed and incomplete that the South Florida Water Management District politely suggested recommendations and urged the city to be resubmitted after meeting with district staff.

It is difficult to obtain district approval without relevant information, such as population projections and daily water use per capita. The Palm Beach Post ran into a similar problem with the utility last October when the newspaper researched water use data for the three communities served by the city. He is not expected to take legal action for the city to provide easy-to-understand annual and monthly water usage statistics, but to date water officials have not produced the information, which lets ask if they don’t have the expertise to interpret the data. or don’t want to release the numbers because of the critical consumer trends those numbers might reveal. Either way, it’s not pretty.

In the case of the city’s request to the district, city water managers were finally given the go-ahead to tap underground supplies after discovering cylindrospermopsis in the city’s surface waters. The bacteria had overwhelmed the city’s water treatment plant and forced city officials to issue a water advisory.

It’s not like the city hasn’t had a break from water policy. After months of worrying about how much water West Palm Beach would be allocated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the city got help in the form of a state bill. SB 2508 requires the South Florida Water Management District to recommend that the Corps “not decrease the amount of water available to existing legal users.” That potentially means more lake water for the city (and area farmers), though critics say the change will hurt both the lake’s ecology and Everglades restoration.

Any additional lake water the city may receive should not justify the status quo. More surface water is not the answer, as long as it continues to contain the risk of algae contamination. The objective and the challenge is to find alternative sources.

Fortunately, out of a crisis came a plan that will help the city better educate the public about water issues and, more importantly, put it on the right track to develop long-term plans to secure sources. drinking water constants for a growing community.

About Edward Fries

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