Residents in the Keys may need to get used to lower water pressure since the water main break

It has certainly been an interesting time – to say the least – for the Florida Aqueduct Authority. Since the numerous water main breaks last week, the aqueduct authority has been working on getting everything back to normal.

Greg Veliz, executive director of the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about what’s been going on.

People have been asked to conserve water.

Veliz said, “Over the years everyone’s heard the conservation, don’t leave the shower running, don’t water your lawns as much. We’re in that situation now. I always hesitate to use conservation because people confuse conservation with rationing. That’s not something we want to happen right now. You don’t have to fill your bathtub. This is not a hurricane. There’s a lot of water being produced and we’re getting it to our customers right now.”

While people may be experiencing some lower water pressure in their homes, that’s actually by design.

Veliz said, “We’ve cut back some of our pressures. We’re pumping less water out of Florida City than we have in the recent last couple of years. Our system is susceptible to large power surges. We’re about to start a project that will be ongoing where we’re replacing a lot of pipe. We’re replacing it for a reason because it’s getting close to the end of its useful life.”

Irrigation really affects the authority.

Veliz said, “If you can cut down your irrigation, that would help us a great deal.”

Washing boats and cars is another way to conserve.

Veliz said, “No effort is too small. We’re just asking people to be cognizant of what’s going on and make those adjustments.”

A boil advisory has been extended to Wednesday at 5 p.m.

Veliz said, “Once we drop below certain pressure levels or certain flow levels in our system, that triggers boil water notices automatically. We personally right now do not feel that we have any problem with our water system and our testing has proven that. We’ve been testing all along, ever since the leak and we have not had any bad tests yet. However, we are mandated once we drop below a certain level to institute these boil water notices. People shouldn’t panic. If they feel comfortable boiling the water and that makes them feel better about drinking the water, then by all means, boil the water. The Veliz family is not boiling water, but that’s choice and right now precautionary is basically that – you do what you choose to do. We’re not putting those boil water notices because we suspect that the water is bad. We’re putting those boil water notices in place because that is what is mandated to us by our industry.”

The authority is getting ready to begin a year-long project to upgrade piping.

The breaks from last week were caused by a number of issues.

Veliz said, “The increased demand and the high volumes that we’re pumping out of Florida City leaves very little room for error. What causes leaks ordinarily are fluctuations in flow and in pressure. For instance, the very last week, we had a power surge at one of our pump stations. That means it went down and it cranked back up 20-something seconds later. When it cranked back up, it sent a surge through the system. That surge is going to find the weakest spot and unfortunately, especially right there in that little area where we’re about to fix and some north of that, there are weak areas and when that surge finds that area, you’re going to have a leak.”

A number of efforts have been undertaken to help the situation.

Veliz said, “We’ve reduced pressures to people’s residence. We’ve reduced the flow out of Florida City. More importantly and most importantly, we are expediting not only the project we currently have, but the next project and the project following that. If we’re successful in our efforts, this project in the Keys is going to extend way past the next year and perhaps the next ten years. It’s going to be an inconvenience and I’m going to warn people now it’s not going to be pleasant with the traffic on the Keys with the work we’re about to do, but if you see us working, understand that your susceptibility to leaks is going to decrease every day that we’re out there.”

Keeping the pipes healthy will continue for years and years.

Veliz said, “What we should be doing is as soon as we finish this first little five-mile stretch, we should be putting out a 100-year plan or a 50-year plan. We can’t just drop that into the ground and worry about it 50 years from now. There’s going to come a point in time where we’re going to have to do a systematic rebuild constantly of this system.”

The authority is in the process of building a desalination plant in Stock Island. Discussions have also been had about replicating that same facility in Marathon or Key Largo.

Veliz said, “Understanding that we have a unique system – nobody that I have found so far runs 130 miles of pipe, one water source, all the way down for 130 continuous miles. That leaves you vulnerable. Vulnerable to accidents. Vulnerable to aging. Vulnerable to many, many things. If I can produce water, you would see a huge difference here. So we need to not only maintain our pipes coming from Florida City because that will forever be our main source of water, but we need to establish back-up sources.”

The lower water pressure in some places may be a regular thing.

Veliz said, “This might be, for a longer period of time, this may be a new reality. We are going to have to pay attention, it’s not a set it and forget it. We’re going to have babysit this pipe. We’re going to have to baby it through. It’s going to be constant monitoring and you may see a difference out of the tap, but our goal is to keep you with water. Even if it’s at a lower pressure, we’re going to keep water to your house. That’s the goal. I want to thank everybody for being so patient with us. Sometimes in the mad rush of what we do to get everything back online, we may not reach out as often as we would like to. We’re working on that because I know people are out there starving for not only water, but for information. We’re going to get better at that, but we thank you for being so patient. I know it’s uncomfortable, but we’re doing the best we can to keep you in water. And good water.”

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