Jim Gammon keeps a filled bucket in his bathroom so he can flush in the mornings, when water pressure is worst. Gammon lives on the top floor of the four-story Gulfstream Shores condomium building (below right). Photos by Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star
By Rich Pollack
Jim Gammon keeps a bucket full of water in the bathroom of his fourth-floor apartment so he can flush the toilet when the water stops flowing through the pipes at Gulfstream Shores condominium.
His wife, Margo Stahl-Gammon, fills a pitcher of water each night before they go to bed to have enough to make coffee in the morning.
Not too long ago, Jim Gammon left the apartment in the wee hours, went to the ground-level hose spigot and, armed with a flashlight, put a couple of gallons in a bucket.
“I was able to get enough water so Margo could take a sponge bath,” he said, explaining that his wife was preparing for an early-morning doctor’s visit.
Since late March the Gammons and the other residents of the 54-unit oceanfront community have been struggling to get by without running water or with just a trickle coming out of the faucets almost every day — primarily between 4 a.m. until about 6 a.m.
The inability to take a shower, flush the toilet or even wash hands has become a source of frustration for residents and something that stumps Gulf Stream town officials as well as those in Delray Beach, which provides water to the town.
“This is not a good way to live,” says Harvey Baumgarten, a member of the board of the Gulfstream Shores Owners Association. “We have got to get it resolved.”
Finding the source of the problem and fixing it have been elusive but not because of a lack of trying.
Residents have been working with Town Manager Greg Dunham and Water Maintenance Supervisor Anthony Beltran, who have spent hours trying to figure out what’s causing the low pressure.
“It’s a mystery to us and we’re trying to get to the bottom of it,” Dunham said. “We’re taking this seriously.”
The town, he said, is using the process of elimination to determine what is causing the problem and has reached out to its engineering consultants, who are investigating.
Also involved are the interim city manager and utilities director from Delray Beach, which sends drinking water to Gulf Stream through two interconnects but is not responsible for the pipes inside town limits.
At the same time, the residents of Gulfstream Shores are exploring the possibility of spending more than $40,000 on booster pumps to increase their water pressure.
“We have an obligation to the people in the building that they should be able to get water,” Baumgarten said.
Questions that have town officials scratching their heads include why the problem is limited primarily to Gulfstream Shores and why it occurs at almost the same time every day.
Although the town has received a few complaints about water pressure from some of the residents in single-family homes, officials say the three other multistory residential buildings in town are not seeing a problem.
One theory for low water pressure that residents suggested was that perhaps Delray Beach reduces water pressure coming out of the plant early in the morning. Delray officials say that’s not the case.
Instead they think increased usage caused by early-morning irrigation could be the culprit.
In a written response to questions from The Coastal Star, the city pointed out that water use at one of the two interconnects has risen dramatically.
“Water usage for the Town of Gulf Stream has increased significantly, doubling or tripling at times, when comparing the months of January through April 2021 to the same period in 2020,” the city wrote.
Delray Beach said it is working closely with Gulf Stream to look at irrigation schedules and to determine if the increase in demand has put a strain on the town’s water mains and thus reduced pressure.
One suggestion from Delray Beach is to consider implementing an alternating schedule based on odd or even addresses, but Dunham says Gulf Stream already has those restrictions in place.
The increase in water usage, he says, could be the result of a recent upgrade in which the town increased its water mains from 6 inches to 12 inches, thus requiring more water in the system.
Although the town has not ruled out irrigation as a cause of low water pressure, Dunham says that the two golf courses in town — high-volume users — do not use potable water for irrigation.
For its part, Gulfstream Shores runs its irrigation system between midnight and 2 a.m., prior to the arrival of the low pressure.
The possibility that leaks in the Gulf Stream system are causing the problem is also something town officials are skeptical about.
“There’s no way a leak would cause problems only four hours a day,” Beltran said.
Dunham says the town worked with Gulfstream Shores in the past to help with water pressure issues that were not quite as severe.
In the past, the town replaced one service line off the main going into two lines at Gulfstream Shores with two lines directly off the mains.
That helped residents like the Gammons until late March, when the pressure fell again.
Baumgarten says that most of the residents of the small condo units — valued at between $400,000 and $500,000 — have gone north for the summer but that a sense of urgency still exists to get the problem fixed.
“We want to get it remedied before people come back in October and November,” he said.