By Jane Smith
Delray Beach still needs to provide answers to the county Department of Health to close out the investigation of the city’s reclaimed water system, according to late November emails.
“The Department has requested and is waiting for more information from the City before a final determination is made,” Alexander Shaw, the county DOH spokesman, wrote in a Nov. 19 email to The Coastal Star.
Specifically, the county DOH is seeking the number of reclaimed water connections that did not have a backflow preventer and confirmation that one was installed; the exact number of physical cross connections found; and whether any resident became ill when the cross connection was discovered at 801 S. Ocean Blvd. in December 2018.
The former utilities director did not report any illnesses from that event. Most of the residents who live along South Ocean told a city utilities inspector they were sick at the time.
“Please provide the information above so that we may complete our investigation,” Steven Garcia, a DOH environmental supervisor, wrote in a Nov. 18 email to Victor Majtenyi, deputy utilities director in Delray Beach.
The county DOH became involved in inspecting the city’s reclaimed water system on Jan. 2 when a resident who lives at 801 S. Ocean called to say she did not understand the December 2018 cross connection that occurred at her house.
Cross connections happen when the drinking water pipes are mistakenly connected to the reclaimed water lines. Reclaimed water is highly treated wastewater that is suitable only for lawn irrigation.
In February, Delray Beach shut down the reclaimed water system citywide to avoid a boil water order.
It hired consultants and contractors to inspect each reclaimed water installation to make sure it was done properly and had the necessary backflow preventer installed. Backflow devices are used to prevent the reclaimed water from mixing with the drinking water.
The city has spent more than $1 million inspecting its reclaimed water system and installing backflow preventers, under the watch of the county DOH. Reclaimed water locations were activated only after the DOH approved.
Delray Beach also is trying to avoid civil fines from DOH, which sent a warning letter on July 1. That letter listed 13 possible violations of the reclaimed water program in Delray Beach.
City leaders met virtually on July 22 with county DOH staff to review the possible violations and Delray Beach’s response.
The city has created a regulatory compliance section with four employees who report directly to Utilities Director Hassan Hadjimiry. They will carry out the city’s cross-connection control program and audit all accounts requiring backflow preventers.
Delray Beach has 600 reclaimed water accounts, according to Hadjimiry. Of the 600, 11 are master reclaimed water service accounts that serve communities and golf courses west of Interstate 95.
The remaining 589 accounts serve individual properties, primarily on the barrier island, Hadjimiry told city commissioners on Aug. 14. Of the 589 accounts, 521 were working and 68 were not.
Fifty-five accounts converted back to potable water for lawn irrigation, despite the city’s 2007 ordinance that makes it mandatory to connect to the reclaimed water system if the lines are installed nearby.
“The city has not granted approval for any site that was previously connected to the reclaimed water system, to disconnect from it and then connect to potable water for irrigation,” Gina Carter, city spokeswoman, wrote in a Nov. 13 email.
An additional 130 city water customers were never connected to the Delray Beach reclaimed water program — most of them on the barrier island, Hadjimiry said. No records exist to explain why.
In the spring, Delray Beach hired an outside consultant, Fred Bloetscher, to review its reclaimed water system. The city paid him $20,000 for the report, which in part was supposed to pinpoint responsibility for installation and inspection of the backflow devices.
He did not find a culprit.
Instead, according to his Oct. 23 report, he found that Delray Beach did not have a point person in charge and lacked “institutional control” over the reclaimed water system.