The Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority works hard to make sure everyone has water

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 with water.

Greater tourism and high temperatures can affect the water supply.

Veliz said, “We’re using more water. Now, this week has died down a little bit, which has helped us a little bit because we’ve been able to restock all our supplies and get all the water levels up to where we need them. But we’ve been consuming at a pretty good rate.”

The peak for water consumption is usually during high visitor times.

Veliz said, “As far as consumption times, you would think that people would consume obviously, in the morning, at the evening, and then it would die down during the middle of the day and during the night, but our highest consumption time as far as an hour happens to be around 4:30, 5 o’clock in the morning, because that’s when every irrigation system in the Florida Keys kicks on. I was very surprised to find out that five o’clock is our highest consumption rate.”

The aqueduct authority has a number of capital projects underway – in fact the one in Islamorada is actually ahead of schedule.

Veliz said, “Obviously, saving time and saving money. So both of those are helping us a great deal. An extra added bonus the traffic has not been as bad as we had anticipated being prior to the project. Things seem to be rolling very well, from a traffic standpoint. We say we’re two months ahead, we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves and claim victory, but I can tell you that we have had to expedite the order of the pipe, and the bidding process for the next section, just because of the fact that we don’t want to have to demobilize and re mobilize and try to save those dollars. So we’ve had to move everything forward just to try to keep up with the fact that we’re going to finish early, and we’re going to have to roll right into the next section.”

There is 130 miles of transmission main for water.

Veliz explained, “Some of it is aged. There’s some varying ages involved, but a large portion of it was replaced in the 80s. Back then, what was sold to us as the latest and greatest product, didn’t rival the old fashioned US steel. It just didn’t hold up as well as they had sold it back then. So we’re replacing what we know to be problem areas. Right now fully funded, we have right around I think it’s 12 miles fully funded, and at $8 to $10 million a mile, that gets to be pretty considerable. Also, the magnitude of the project in its proximity to US 1, make it increasingly difficult. We’ve been working with DEP and we’ve given them a 10 year plan. We’re hoping that in replacing everything and getting everything that needs to be replaced replaced, we’re going to be ahead of schedule on that ultimately, too. We had originally talked about maybe 30 years and I think we might be able to come in under that.”

With the breaks that happened recently with the line, it’s easy to see why it needs to be replaced.

Veliz said, “Every water company in America has breaks. I’m looking at a pretty good situation here. There were plans, well-oiled plans that are now leading to well-oiled projects that are giving us early completion dates. And funding sources are starting to come to light. Due to the to the successes that we’ve had thus far, some of the state agencies, some of the federal agencies are starting to invest in us because we have a proven track record. It goes back to the fact that we’ve been in business a long time. And in all those years, we probably lost water, we lost it during Irma. We may have lost it back in the we lost the German aroma. We may have lost it back in the 60s for a slight amount of time and we lost water in those breaks for 12 hours. Well in 80 years of existence, those two breaks are a pretty good track record. Unfortunately, they’re fresh in everyone’s mind. But any other industry or any other company that has that type of success rate is trumpeting that, and yet, we spent a lot of time defending ourselves.”

Mike Stapleford of KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM pointed out, “You don’t get enough credit for all the good that happens every single day, with the exception of a couple of unfortunate incidences that were really unavoidable, and we’re making great strides in the long term viability of a very, very complex system.”

How is the funding going?

Veliz said, “Better than I could have ever anticipated. The legislature has been very, very good to us. We go to Tallahassee, we spend a lot of time there, we spend a lot of effort there, and it has come to fruition and they have come forward for us. We have two projects in the list of, let’s say, a dozen projects, and we’re ranked number one and two. So we’re expecting some type of success there tomorrow. That’s another source of funding. But we can’t do it all with free money either. We’re having to go to the market. There’s a lot of infrastructure money that’s available at low interest that we’re capitalizing in, and we’re constantly moving and refinancing and doing things that are advantageous to us saving the most money, knowing that we do have to borrow to get to our ultimate goal.”

There is a meeting tomorrow in Tallahassee where $3 to $5 million will be discussed for the aqueduct authority.

Veliz said, “I will be on that meeting because it’s a big meeting as far as we’re concerned. We’re hoping to walk out of there with a with a considerable amount of funding, which will then translate into a new project and a new section of pipe that will be done. So every piece of funding that we get is earmarked for something.”

That money will be federal money that will filter down through the state and eventually the county.

Veliz said, “There’s a group of county entities whether it be Monroe County itself or other entities that are in the grading process. We’ve been fortunate enough to rank in the top two. So we’re expecting to get our share of that money.”

Wastewater is also part of the aqueduct authority and there are some projects there, as well.

Veliz said, “Water has gotten most of the press lately. So obviously, that’s attracted a lot of money. So I’ve instructed staff here, there’s a lot of resiliency dollars out there, there’s a lot of hazard mitigation money out there, that’s available. Our water supply is seldom affected by, thankfully, by hazards. Only in Irma, and that was mostly damage to private properties. But our wastewater is very susceptible to both king tide, heavy rain events. So, those fit the criteria for hazard mitigation and resiliency dollars. So, we’ve instructed staff to focus their efforts as those type of funding sources come available to earmark them for wastewater projects, because we really want to get in compliance. We have a couple of issues with the approval, we’re under consent orders, and we want to get those get taken care of and get out of those so that we’re able to work without having the spills that we have experienced from time to time.”

Because this hurricane season has been relatively slow (knock on wood), it has helped keep the projects on track.

Veliz said, “We have natural blackout dates, based on tourism events and heavy traffic flows. So anything unexpected, like a hurricane, or any type of weather that would cause to slow us down, would add to the cost and of course add to the time, and that’s not something we’re excited about doing right now.”

Projects to create more clean water are continuing as well. Veliz said, “We’re about 80 percent on Stock Island on the one we’re building there. Upon completion in the middle of next year, we’ll be able to generate four million gallons a day in conjunction with the two million that we’re currently producing in Stock Island, which gives us a lot of flexibility should something happen, and we need a backup water supply. We took that idea to Tallahassee this year, and they were very receptive. So the $10 million that we received yesterday is earmarked for another carbon copy of that in the Marathon area. So that will give us $8 million, which we’ve identified the Islamorada/Plantation Key as our most susceptible part of pipe and that’ll give us the capability to produce about 10 million gallons south of that particular area. Should anything happen, we’ll be able to produce 10 million gallons, which will keep everybody in water. We pride ourselves in putting out a very good product and giving it on a very dependable basis. So we’re pretty proud of what we do here. We want any type of doubt that was cast in any minds out there during the recent events, we want to re-instill in everyone that you have a very good water supply.”