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By Jane Smith
Delray Beach's reclaimed water program was mismanaged from its start in 2006, City Manager George Gretsas told city commissioners on May 5.
“There was negligence and a lot of things that should not have happened,” Gretsas said. “The mismanagement is very clear. There was a decade of it … lack of contractor oversight. No records were kept. It was a real problem for us as we’re trying to fix it.”
He graded the reclaimed water program a D-minus. The system has been shut down since Feb. 4.
The city is turning on the reclaimed water in phases with approval from the Florida Department of Health. Of 613 reclaimed water customers, 46% have that service restored, Gretsas said. The remaining 54% are waiting.
Reclaimed water lines provide partly treated wastewater meant solely for lawn watering. 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 reuse 3.85 million gallons a day by 2025, according to the settlement. Its current level is 2.85 million gallons a day.
Most of the city’s water customers on the barrier island have reclaimed water service for lawn irrigation. Golf courses, city parks and facilities, and master-metered communities west of Interstate 95 also use reclaimed water.
Gretsas, who started on Jan. 6, received a letter on Feb. 4 requiring the city to issue a boil water order citywide. The state Department of Health had received a complaint about cross-connections between the city’s drinking water and reclaimed water systems. He was able to get agency officials to agree that the city would shut off its reclaimed water system to investigate. Gretsas wanted to avoid a citywide boil-water order that would have affected the hospital and restaurants.
Delray Beach had to hire a contractor to create a geographic information system database showing the locations of the drinking water and reclaimed water meters and the backflow preventers and types on the drinking water systems.
“We were not doing the types of things that need to be done in asset management,” Gretsas said. “We just didn’t know where the devices were.”
In addition, Delray Beach went with backflow preventers that have only a five-year lifespan because they were cheaper, Gretsas said city staffers told him.
But that should change soon with new management, he said. Hassan Hadjimiry will start June 2 as the city’s water utilities director.
Gretsas said he did a national search and found the perfect candidate nearby. Hadjimiry retired May 5 from Palm Beach County as its deputy director of water utilities.
Hadjimiry, who started with the county in 1982, was the statewide Water Reuse Person of the Year in 2009. At the May 5 County Commission meeting, Hadjimiry received a standing ovation, Gretsas said.
After he comes on board, Delray Beach city commissioners will have options, according to Gretsas. They can select the types of backflow preventers installed, institute an inspection and replacement program or, if they prefer, go to injecting the reclaimed water underground, which would be more costly.
To the city’s reclaimed water customers, Gretsas said, “I’m sorry this happened to them and sorry it went on for a decade.”