The Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority works hard to keep the water flowing

Greg Veliz, the 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 with the water.

Projects in the Upper Keys are actually ahead of schedule.

Veliz said, “We’re somewhere around 80 percent complete with laying the pipe. We still have some connections and stuff to do and some tie up work. But the laying of the pipe was our biggest concern along with traffic impacts, and both have gone extremely well. We can’t be any happier. We’re going to have a long discussion today at our meeting with our ability to move forward on the next phase and how do we do that? Do we go out for a new crew? There’s going to be a lot of discussion today as to what we’re going to do moving forward. But we’re really pleased.”

Funding is always underway.

Veliz said, “We’ve already got all of our funding identified, whether it’s through borrowed funds, whether it’s through fees collected, whatever it happens to be. Then on top of that, we’re constantly pursuing new funding sources, whether it be in Tallahassee or through grants and 50 percent match grants, and at the federal level. So we every time we get an additional funding source, it takes the place of a conventional borrowed money fund, which allows us to go and do more projects. So it’s a constant cycle of getting money replacing money and then moving forward with more projects. We’ve got more than enough projects to throw to throw money at and all of them are essential in keeping the system running, and whether it’s through the wastewater side, or the water side, we’ve got an abundance of projects. So when we sit on calls, and people say, well, we don’t have projects, we have made an effort to have shovel ready projects to throw money at, which is usually an attracting factor when you’re out there getting money.”

Wastewater also falls under the aqueduct authority.

Veliz said, “We handle a large portion of the wastewater for the Florida Keys. When water leaks, it’s bad. But when wastewater leaks, it’s worse. Then you start talking about contamination of near shore waters and things of that nature. We want to eliminate that. What happens now is during a high tide event or high rain event, we get intrusion, which we can handle the normal flows of sewer and sewage that are being produced, but when that gets full of water, and you’re pumping three times the amount, that’s why we try to tell people don’t open up your cleanouts to drain your yard, because all of that goes into our system and our system is not designed to handle two and three and four times the volume that a heavy rain event will bring. So we’re looking at some areas and trying to get some retention to get us through the heavy periods. We’ve established an agreement with Key West where we’re going to pump some of our flow down there, which will increase our capacity. We’re doing a lot of things on that side of the house now. Water because of the leaks and all of the attention it got, got a lot of attention for about a year. But now it’s time to turn our attention to where our real Achilles heel is, is in the wastewater side.”

The desalination plants are also moving forward.

Veliz said, “We have the one that’s almost complete on Stock Island, which we plan on going online somewhere in the middle of next year. Then we have the one that we’re just now starting up in Marathon, which is going to be a carbon copy, both of which have the ability to put out 4 million gallons a day. Then we have the retrofit of the existing plant, which will give us an additional 2 million. So from Marathon, south, we will be able to generate eight, 10 million gallons a day, which will more than cover all of the needs, south of Marathon. It protects us against any future leaks. And there will be leaks. I’m not going to sit there and tell you that we’ve found an answer and we’re going to cure every leak because every water company in America has leaks. Just with the linear design of our system, where we run on a single pipeline from Florida City to Key West, a leak for us, we don’t have any options. We can’t go and just cut off that part and use another option to get around. So we have to produce or have stored everything south of the leak and that’s unique to our system. I don’t believe that there’s any other system that has 130 miles of linear transmission line, anywhere in the country. I haven’t been able to find a comparable. So every time we have a problem like that, we’re finding a solution to something that hasn’t happened before.”

The board meeting today will cover a lot of topics.

Veliz said, “We’re going to be talking about future projects and the direction the board would like to see me take. But I’m going to say, despite some of the heat we took early on this year, this company, Florida Keys Aqueduct, it’s exciting here. There’s a lot of stuff going on and I really enjoy doing projects. I like building things and creating things for the future. This company has the ability to do that long into the future. It has the financial wherewithal, it has the right people in place. I mean, this company is in a really good position right now, which I found ironic, you know, when we took so much heat, I’m looking at a company that’s really, really solvent, and doing really well and yet taking a lot of heat early on. But it’s exciting times at the aqueduct. I was really fortunate to inherit a staff that has not only the institutional knowledge, but the commitment to the company. That’s irreplaceable. Not a lot of people have that and I’ve been very fortunate to inherit that.”