By Anne Geggis

A years-long water contamination saga is over after involving sickened people and pets, city denials and a fired whistleblower.

The Florida Health Department in a Feb. 8 letter agreed the city water system doesn’t need further monitoring on deficiencies discovered in 2020, ending monitoring that was supposed to be in place for another 10 months. Delray Beach has complied with the final step in addressing the issue that emerged with an outbreak of sickness in the area from

Casuarina Road south to Linton Boulevard in late 2018.

Following the outbreak, The Coastal Star fought for the release of an inspector’s notes that documented the illness. And those notes contradicted the city Utilities Department report to the state Health Department based in Palm Beach County that acknowledged a cross-connection problem but also said, “No reports of sickness or illness have been received.”

Under the 2021 consent order demanded by the state as the full extent of the problem became undeniable, the city had until Dec. 1 to make sure that all reclaimed water customers had systems that comply with statewide rules,  detailing improvements to the drinking water system the city agreed to make. The Feb. 8 Health Department letter acknowledged that milestone has been reached.

The first step in the agreement occurred three years earlier: The city admitted in print that the system’s water might not have been safe for drinking between 2008 and 2020.

Among the findings the agreed-upon order had sought to correct: 581 customers were not equipped with backflow preventers to keep reclaimed water from flowing into the drinking water supply.

The city had to pay more than $1 million in fines and administrative costs of the case that was based on failures that spanned from 2008, when the city started its reclaimed water program, until 2020, when a whistleblower brought the failures to the state’s attention. Health officials, based in Palm Beach County, found the city had failed to do its required inspections.

Ultimately, the city also had to pay another $818,000 to settle a federal lawsuit that whistleblower Christine Ferrigan brought after she lost her job as an industrial pretreatment inspector with the city.

It’s all in the past, according to a Feb. 1 city letter to Rafael Reyes, environmental health director with the Health Department in Palm Beach County.

“Through the dedicated efforts of our team, along with the cooperation and guidance from the Department of Health, the city has resolved all outstanding matters specified in the Consent Order,” Hassan Hadjimiry, Delray Beach’s utilities director wrote, including a 145-page exhibit. “... Considering the fulfillment of all obligations outlined in the Consent Order, we kindly request the closure of the Consent Order.”

The Health Department agreed.

“We appreciate the effort you have expended to resolve this matter,” Reyes wrote to the city.

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