By Jane Smith
A long-awaited forensic study of the reclaimed water system in Delray Beach was not turned in as expected on Sept. 30. The new target date has not been set.
"As a result of difficulties we have encountered with obtaining the email files, the report will take me a little longer to complete," wrote Fred Bloetscher in a Sept. 30 email to the city's Public Works director. "I estimate I will need about 10 days after I get the emails to complete the report."
In late April the city hired Public Utility Management Planning Services Inc. of Hollywood for $20,000. Missie Barletto, the Public Works Director, is assigned to monitor the contract.
The Public Utility Management firm is run by Fred Bloetscher, an associate dean at Florida Atlantic University's College of Engineering in Boca Raton. Bloetscher did not return phone calls or texts seeking comment on where his company was in the process of the forensic review.
The firm requested many documents that Delray Beach held on its more-than-a-decade-long reclaimed water program. The requests included: complete list of the backflow devices with columns of each address, photo, size and age; who did the work, whether an outside contractor was hired; who inspected the work; names of city employees involved in the project; and any emails between city staff and the contractors that may shed light on why were so many reclaimed water installations missing backflow preventers.
Public Utility Management “will attempt to engage in a conversation with the Florida Department of Health administrator for Palm Beach County to seek an acceptable solution,” Bloetscher wrote in the firm’s scope of services.
The Department of Health became involved on Jan. 2 when a South Ocean Boulevard resident called in to say she was not adequately informed of a cross-connection issue in December 2018. Cross connections happen when reclaimed water pipes are mistakenly connected to drinking water pipes.
That phone complaint led to the city shutting down its entire reclaimed water system on Feb. 4 to avoid a citywide boil water order. The city staff and outside contractors have visited each reclaimed water installation to verify that it has a backflow preventer device. Backflow preventers are a stopgap to prevent the drinking water from mixing with the reclaimed water.
The Department of Health sent the city a list of 13 possible violations in a July 1 warning letter. On July 22, city leaders including the new utilities director and the interim city manager met with Department of Health staff to review the possible violations and Delray Beach’s response.
The city is still waiting to hear from the state agency.
Reclaimed water is treated wastewater that is suitable only for lawn irrigation. Most residents of the barrier island, city parks, golf courses and master-planned communities west of the interstate use reclaimed water.
The lines were installed as part of a settlement that Delray Beach reached with state and federal regulators to stop sending raw sewage into the ocean. The city must stop its ocean discharges by the end of 2025.