The Key West Aqueduct Authority works with the schools to help people with their future careers

Greg Veliz, executive director for the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about their projects.

The aqueduct authority has education programs underway at the moment.

Veliz said, “We got together with the high schools of Monroe County Schools and wanted to put some kids to work, hopefully get them involved in the aqueduct and make that a destination. We’ve got about 10 kids working and this year, I think we ended up hiring two or three of them at graduation. We’d like to continue that trend. If we can get people from here and get them locally and get them trained before they even graduate, that helps us. They need certain hours to get licensing thresholds to meet licensing thresholds. So they get those while they’re still in school. We’ve also extended it to within the company so we’re making sure we’re giving opportunities to people to get into training programs within the company. We’ve actually rented ourselves a place up in in Florida City because that’s our only 24 hour working plant and you need 2,000 hours in a plant to get an operator’s license. So we’re sending guys up there and they’re working in Islamorada so that they can come down and eventually run the RO plant that’s about to open on Stock Island. So it helps us. Everyone’s running into these labor issues. So we’re trying to solve them at our level.”

Are people taking advantage of that also within the company?

“They are,” Veliz confirmed. “It’s working out really, really well. We’ve got two people about to leave Florida City with their 2,000 hours, and two more about to start. So that helps us a great deal. We’re also doing it on the wastewater side. It’s very tough to find wastewater mechanics or water mechanics with licenses. So we’re going to try to get them those licenses while they’re here.”

How many employees does the aqueduct authority have?

Veliz said, “We’ve just got north of 300 employees. We’ve also added several, just because we’ve got these RO plants and things of that nature coming online. We’ve increased our capacity at our wastewater plant in Big Coppitt, by tying to the city and working with the city of Key West and using some of their excess capacity to then expand the expect capacity for our plant, trying to cut down on some of these, when we have high rain events, have some of the problems that we’ve had. We’ve got some water issues. We’ve made a commitment to do a lot of capital improvements. You see it up and down the Keys every day. There’s some of it you don’t see. But we’ve been hit with this forever chemical modification that we have to make to the plant. So that’s another 100 million dollar project that we weren’t anticipating. So there’s some things out there that we weren’t anticipating that are coming down the pipe, but we’re doing our best to keep up.”

How did the aqueduct authority make out with the governor’s budget?

Veliz said, “We did fine. We were also on that chopping block for a moment, things got really nervous there for a while. But we actually got our $5 million dollars, which helps us start, continue on with that reverse osmosis plant that we’re now doing in Marathon, which will give us another 4 million gallons more south, and the more water that we can generate south makes us in a better situation should we have what will eventually be another leak. I mean, you can’t have 130 miles of pipe and not expect it to leak once in a while. So when we’re able to produce water south, that’s a good thing.”

With hurricane season upon us, it’s important to remain vigilant.

Veliz said, “We’re not as susceptible to damages as some of the other utilities. Obviously electric is very much at risk during that. There’s a lot of cleanup for the municipalities, but most of our pipe is buried so we fare pretty well. Where we get in trouble is on private property. People evacuate, docks get washed out, lines break, and then you start bleeding by a million paper cuts and then that’s more difficult because now you’ve got most of your issues occurring on private property and you have to shut down neighborhoods. That’s tough.”

Did the rains from the last few weeks cause any problems?

Veliz said, “It does on the wastewater side, it helps us on the water side, because what most of our consumption is, is irrigation. A lot of these irrigation systems have sensors, so when it’s wet, they don’t come on, that saves us because our biggest usage times are at around 4:30, 5:30 in the morning, oddly enough, that’s when the irrigation systems kick on. So whenever rain comes and those don’t kick on that helps us maintain and keep the level in our tanks high.”

The forever chemical modifications are required to be finished in five years, which is not a long time.

“It is not,” Veliz confirmed. “Luckily, we got to jump on it. We’ve been working on it for the last couple of years. We’ve already done our study, we know the route we’re taking to remediate our situation. We have a cost. We have already started design. So I hope what’s going to happen is, these parts that are used to remediate some of this stuff aren’t exactly available at Home Depot. So they’re going to be supply line issues that we want to be at the front of the line when that happens.”

Will that affect any of the ongoing capital improvement projects that were already on the table?

Veliz said, “It will, but we’re trying to find alternative means of funding. We beefed up our grant department, triple. Now that’s the only three people but we’re making a commitment. We’ve hired an outside firm to chase these grants, because if we’re going to spend money, we might as well get double what it’s worth. So we were looking for grants for every project we can possibly find. We’re working hard as a team. We’ve got a really, really good team, and they know the system and they know how to get water to the people and then that comes in really valuable.”