By Jane Smith
At the end of October, the Florida Department of Health was still waiting for complete information on some barrier island reclaimed water installations in Delray Beach.
More than three months have passed since local DOH environmental leaders met with Delray Beach utilities and legal staff to review 13 possible violations in the city’s reclaimed water program.
“The department expects the report to contain a full accounting/inventory and compliance history of all reclaimed water connections,” wrote Jorge Patino, water and wastewater administrator at the Florida DOH. “Any omissions may be construed as reporting violations.”
That Sept. 21 email to the city Utilities Department director seemed to be about the South Ocean Boulevard customers who were allowed to switch back to potable water for irrigation after having been converted to reclaimed water.
Delray Beach requires its water customers to switch to reclaimed water for irrigation when that service is available in their neighborhood. Reclaimed water is highly treated wastewater that is suitable only for irrigation and not human or pet consumption.
Patino was alerted to the latest issue by Christine Ferrigan, a Delray Beach utilities inspector, who sent a Sept. 15 email to the environmental health director and the local DOH legal director.
Ferrigan was hired in June 2017, six months before the city contracted with Lanzo Construction to install the reclaimed water system in the southeast portion of the barrier island.
Ferrigan had claimed whistleblower status in 2008 after she was fired from Boca Raton’s water department. She sued the city over the firing. Ferrigan and her attorneys received a settlement from the city’s insurance company the day before the trial started. The city did not admit any wrongdoing.
In her email to the DOH, Ferrigan wrote about a Sept. 11 meeting with city Utilities Director Hassan Hadjimiry and the department’s compliance manager, at which she said she was told “to remove all history of several locations that have shown prior reclaimed violations/cross connections.”
Ferrigan explained that the properties were located along South Ocean Boulevard and had converted back to potable water for irrigation.
A cross connection discovered there in December 2018 triggered this year’s review of the citywide reclaimed water program. A woman who lived in that area called the local office of the Florida DOH on Jan. 2 to say she was not adequately informed of the 2018 cross connection. A cross connection happens when drinking water pipes are mistakenly connected to reclaimed water pipes.
In the fall of 2018, many South Ocean property owners said they and their pets were sickened by drinking tainted water.
Hadjimiry, though, saw the Sept. 11 meeting differently.
“Part of the discussion with Ms. Ferrigan was to clarify what information is to be reported on the cross-connection inspection form,” Hadjimiry replied via an Oct. 19 email sent by Gina Carter, city spokeswoman.
Ferrigan was told to list her observations in the field on the day the cross-connection inspections were conducted, including previous inspections, he wrote.
“Any additional information gathered in the field from customers or other sources pertaining to the history of the site’s connection — which was not specifically inspected and verified by Ms. Ferrigan on the date of inspection — should be included as an attachment to the inspection form with a note on the form to see the attachment for additional information,” Hadjimiry wrote.
He declined to give a time when Ferrigan would complete her inspections and write the reports about the properties no longer connected to the reclaimed water service.
“The Utilities Department is working closely with FDOH on completing the required information,” Hadjimiry wrote.
Separately, the South Central Regional Wastewater Treatment plant used the outfall pipe in Delray Beach twice in the first 20 days of October to send treated wastewater into the ocean. Those discharges are allowed under a 2009 administrative order from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
When the plant needs to use the outfall pipe, reclaimed water is not available for Delray Beach water customers who live east of the interstate.
The first occurrence happened on Oct. 1 during heavy rainfall in Boynton Beach and Delray Beach. The reclaimed water system shutdown lasted a week.
The second took place on Oct. 20, and reclaimed water service had not been restored before press time.