By Jane Smith

Four city commissioners agreed to pay $1 million to resolve complaints by the Florida Department of Health over Delray Beach’s botched reclaimed water program.

They also agreed to pay the county branch of the Health Department $21,193.90 for costs and expenses of its investigation.

Commissioner Juli Casale was absent.

The Health Department had wanted to fine the city $1.8 million in June. A representative of the department could not be reached immediately. 

At an 8-minute special meeting Nov. 9 the commissioners were again reminded that the following violations occurred during installation of the city’s reclaimed water project: failure to inspect its reclaimed water system; no dedicated employee conducting initial and follow-up testing and investigating customer complaints; failure to make sure each property had a backflow preventer installed; failure to evaluate each location for cross-connections and adequate backflow prevention, and failure to conduct periodic inspections.

Delray Beach also failed to have backflow preventers at 609 locations, to color code the drinking and reclaimed water pipes as required, to keep records and reports of the program, to educate the public about using reclaimed water and to report the cross connections and notify the public about them.

Reclaimed water is highly treated wastewater that is suitable only for lawn irrigation, not for human and pet consumption. Backflow devices are required at each location to stop the reclaimed water from flowing back into the drinking water. Cross-connections happen when reclaimed water pipes are hooked up wrongly to the drinking water pipes.

“I’m confident we have the people and systems in place to meet the Health Department’s requirements,” Mayor Shelly Petrolia said. “If we don’t, we will have to pay penalties of $5,000 a day.”

Petrolia also said the problems appear to date to 2007 when the program was started. “I am extremely disappointed that the city’s current taxpayers will pay for the deficiencies,” she said.

City Attorney Lynn Gelin said she contacted the city insurer about covering the loss over $200,000 and will know in the next week whether it will. The $1 million will come from the insurance line item in the city’s budget.

The city has agreed to fix its reclaimed water system within this time frame:

  • Within 30 days of the signed order, submit a public notice about its failure to implement a cross-connection/backflow prevention program.
  • Within 10 days of the public notice, submit a certificate of delivery of publication to the Health Department.
  • Within 180 days, complete or begin the installation at seven properties that still need backflow devices. Five are on the barrier island.
  • Within three years, ensure all reclaimed water customers comply with the rules and provide the Health Department quarterly progress reports.
  • Make sure all violations are published in the 2021 Consumer Confidence Report.
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