Let’s talk about water in the Keys

Greg Veliz, executive director of Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about our water.

The Aqueduct Authority will be active in the upcoming legislative session in Tallahassee.

Veliz said, “We’ve been to Tallahassee a couple of times, met with some key members of the Senate and of the House. We’re just trying to get a couple of things done. Obviously we’ve been up there looking for funding. You have whatever you’d like to get passed and then you do also go looking for the dollars. So it looks like we’re on track for at least what we’re looking for, some legislation that helps us combine our assets when we go out to the market for loans.”

Capital improvement plans for 2024 will come in around $375 million.

Veliz said, “It is. Right now we have that many projects going on right now. Now, obviously, some of them started in 2023. So some of those expenditures were made then. Our spending for the year is going to be more in line with about $100 to $125 million. But the projects that we have going on now, and hopefully that’ll be perpetual, that will go forever, that we’ll be spending money on the system at that rate. Because it’s going to take that to maintain it.”

Some of the construction completion includes finishing Islamorada in 2024.

Veliz said, “We should also be completed the Lewin reverse osmosis plant in Stock Island. Those are big ones. We’d like to at least have plans and get ready to break ground on the new RO plant in Marathon. I think we’d like to start turning dirt there as soon as possible. Then we have the smaller ones where we were replacing, we’re tying in some sewer with the city of Key West and we’re having them as a backup for our plant in Big Coppitt. So we’ve got other things going on too. But those are the big ones.”

What will the reverse osmosis plant do to the water supply and helping sustainability?

Veliz explained, “Number one, we don’t know what our access to the aquifer is going to be like, are we going to get reduced? Will it stay the same? Will it ever increase? We don’t have those answers. So we have to have the ability to produce that water both in Marathon and here. That’s also going to help us obviously, if we sustain a break. The problem with reverse osmosis water is it’s more expensive than what comes out of the pipe. It takes less money to for us to generate the water from the aquifer and send it down the pipe than it does for us to produce it at the RO plant. So, while I don’t think it’ll ever replace it, it’s going to be a really, really good safety net to have.”

What was the feeling overall of 2023?

Veliz said, “I can only speak for myself. I’m extremely pleased with the way things are going. I see us moving forward on a lot of projects. I hope that the board’s happy. I haven’t been given any indication otherwise. I hope that they’re happy with the way things are going. We’re getting a lot more funding than we did. As bad as it sounds to say, we’re spending more money, but that means we’re getting more projects done. I’m really pleased with where we’re at right now. Obviously, there’s room for improvement, always will be, but I’m good with the first year.”

Improvements for the alert system could also be on the horizon.

Veliz said, “We have certain thresholds that we have to meet should we drop in pressure, even for a second. If we even drop in pressure for a second, there are certain notifications that we have to give. We’re mandated by law to make those. We try to exceed that. We want to let everyone in that area know, not just critical facilities, which is what we’re mandated to do. When we did that the first time, it seemed like there were some gaps that we found in our messaging system. We’re looking at alternatives to that. How can we get the message out the fastest to everyone? I don’t think we’re there yet. We took a little bit of heat on that, and deservedly so. But I think we are working on it. Matter of fact, we were in here today, talking with IT, figuring how we can get that message out better, faster, and to more people.”

Regulatory compliance can take quite a bit of time.

Veliz said, “I often joke that so little of my time is spent on actual transference of water, although that’s our main function, sometimes it’ll go a whole day and that word won’t be uttered in this office. Between employee issues and contract issues and projects the word water doesn’t come up a whole lot. But at the end of the day, that’s what we have to do. That’s our job. Everything else are just the trappings that make that happen. So, yeah, we spend a lot of time looking at regulatory issues, and everything else under the sun that walks through the door. The day is seldom planned.”