By Jane Smith
Delray Beach has now spent more than $1 million to fix its botched reclaimed water system, the city’s new utilities director said.
Hassan Hadjimiry, who gave a presentation at the Aug. 11 City Commission meeting, broke down the expense into three categories: $254,876.13 for materials, including backflow preventers; $558,647.14 for contractors; and $228,845.83 for staff overtime.
Hadjimiry emphasized that the current $1,042,369 cost would likely rise in the coming months.
As of Aug. 11, he said 530 of the 589 individual reclaimed water accounts had their service restored.
He also said 55 of the 59 offline accounts had switched to drinking water for irrigation. Most of the switched accounts sit along South Ocean Boulevard.
“The properties there are complex. They are large, 2 to 3 acres, with lots of concrete,” Hadjimiry said. “It’s too hard to bring them into compliance.”
The estates also sit below 800 S. Ocean Blvd. where a resident called the Florida Department of Health on Jan. 2 to say she was not adequately informed of a crossed connection issue in December 2018.
Some of the South Ocean residents told a city utilities inspector they were getting sick from drinking the contaminated water between October and December 2018. Their illnesses were not reported by the Utilities Department director to the Health Department as required.
That investigation led to notes compiled by Christine Ferrigan, a Utilities Department inspector who was hired in June 2017 and claimed whistleblower status in early January.
On Feb. 3, the Health Department told Delray Beach to issue a citywide boil water order. The city instead offered to shut down its entire reclaimed water program, which was accomplished on the evening of Feb. 4.
George Gretsas, who started Jan. 6, inherited the reclaimed water debacle from previous administrations. Before he was suspended on June 24, he hired Hadjimiry to be the new Utilities director. Hadjimiry started June 2.
The city is restoring the reclaimed water service in phases with the approval of the Health Department.
Another 130 water customers were never connected to the reclaimed water program despite a city rule that mandates connection if reclaimed lines exist in front of the homes. Most sit on the barrier island, Hadjimiry said. No records exist to explain why.
The 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 4.6 million gallons a day by 2025, according to the settlement. Its current level is 2.6 million gallons a day, which can fluctuate depending on the rainwater received, Hadjimiry said.
Most of the water customers on the barrier island have reclaimed water service for lawn irrigation. The golf courses, city parks and facilities, and master-metered communities west of the interstate also use reclaimed water.
A crossed connection happens when reclaimed water pipes are mistakenly connected to the drinking water line. Reclaimed water can be used only for irrigation, not for watering flowering and vegetable plants, to fill pools or to connect with outside showers.
Backflow preventers stop the reclaimed water from mixing with the drinking water supply.
Delray Beach hired a forensics firm in April to investigate the reclaimed water system since its start, Hadjimiry said. That report will determine responsibility of the system — including construction and afterwards. It will be ready in late September, he said.
But Mayor Shelly Petrolia wanted the report sooner. “Why is it taking so long?” she asked.