Work on the water pipelines continues in the Florida Keys

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 pipeline project continues to move forward.

Veliz said, “We did our first tie in of the Islamorada phase of the project. So that’s our first tie in. I think it’s one of six that we’re going to have to do and then we’ll be able to bring that pipe up online. We’ve done our subaqueous crossings at both bridges at Whale Harbor and Tea Table. Yesterday we broke ground on Windley Key, which is the next phase. So that project is moving along nicely. We’re about to bid the third leg of that which will be then Plantation. We haven’t tied it in yet. But all the pipe is laid, everything’s welded. It’s all put together.”

Where will the Windley Key pipe go to and from?

Veliz said, “It’s going to go from I believe Whale Harbor to Plantation Key. What had happened was that when we originally planned it, we figured out the worst two spots were Plantation and Islamorada. So then there was this little one and three quarter mile span in between. So we just decided, let’s pick that up and then we’ll have one continuous span of good pipe going for 12 miles, and then we can pick up one end to the other and keep going from there.”

How long will it be until this phase is completed?

Veliz said, “This phase here will probably be towards the end of next year by the time we get it tied in and everything and then we’ll move right into Plantation, which is being bid now.”

Did this phase go well?

Veliz said, “It went better than we could have ever imagined. Thus far, knock on wood, everything has gone ahead of schedule and we’re tying in far sooner than we had anticipated.”

When was the last time this pipe was actually replaced?

Veliz said, “There was some done in the 80s. There’s different ages of pipe as you go up and down the Keys.”

Will there be traffic delays?

Veliz said, “I’m not anticipating anything worse than what we’ve seen thus far. That’s been pretty seamless. We had, I mean, a lot of horror stories in here in the beginning as to how it could possibly go. And none of that has transpired. So that’s good. We’re hoping that that’s going to continue and you won’t see anything worse than you’ve seen thus far.”

Chemicals in the water have been discussed recently, specifically PFAS.

Veliz said, “They are truly prevalent in our system currently. Now as to how concerned you should be. Let me tell you, there’s no change in your water now from what you were drinking six months ago from a year ago. This is something that has been in the water for a while. I think the EPA has just figured out now that we need to put some type of regulation on it and it’s going to be massive as far as the amount of people that are going to have to change the way they do business, Florida Keys Aqueduct being one of them. The cost to us for and we’re not a huge utility is $100 million. So imagine you’re going along and you’ve got your five year plan and you’ve got your transmission line and you’ve got all these things going on and then all of a sudden $100 million. Unbudgeted. Somewhat foreseen, but not budgeted. Certainly not budgeted.”

What will the time period be to get that $100 million?

Veliz said, “It’s going to be over the next five years, because it’s got to be done in the next five years. So what we had to do was a lot of juggling. Now, what we’re hoping as is that, either at the federal level or at the state level, someone’s going to realize at some point that there are people that just can’t afford that. Now, we don’t want to sit around and wait for money to start the work. So we’ll start the work, jockey some of our jobs around, try to move some things so that we can afford this in the next five years, and then whatever we kick out, or whatever we move around, we’ll have to pick up off of some kind of funding in the future.”

Could there be funding to help defray that cost?

Veliz said, “We’re certainly hoping so. Fortunately, we got a good jump on this. We’ve got consultants in place, we’re having plans redone already, which we almost through the environmental segment of the expansion that’s going to have to happen in Florida City. So we’ve been working in this direction already. So we feel pretty good. What we don’t want to do is sit down and not make the deadline based on money.”

What is the technology that will be implemented to remove these chemicals?

Veliz said, “We’re going to move towards reverse osmosis and use more of that, which helps now that we’ve got two brand new plants going on, one in Marathon and one in Stock Island. So our ability to create 8 million more gallons of clean, forever chemical free water, which takes everything out, will be great on that, and we’ll be able to have that down further. At one point that was only going to be emergency type water. But I think now we’re going to lean on that a little bit more. We’ll also be doing a new water plant up in Florida City, which will be cleaning what’s coming out of the aquifer. And then some carbon filtration also.”

What are the health risks?

Veliz said, “There obviously are risks. We’re being told that there’s risks, unfortunately, we’ve seemed to have a higher rate, the further down south you go, the redder the concentration gets. I’m telling everyone to act accordingly on what their concern level is. If you feel as though you need to go drinking bottled water and you need to move to some kind of filtration system, that’s certainly up to you. I’m going to continue to drink the water we’ve been drinking but I don’t ask anyone to follow that.”

It’s the Environmental Protection Agency, so it’s nationwide.

“It is,” Veliz confirmed. “Every day is something new. That’s what keeps it interesting.”

What’s the biggest user of water?

Veliz said, “Lately with as dry and as hot as it’s been, our biggest user of water is irrigation. A lot of what we burn is irrigation. So when it gets hot and it gets dry, people tend to run their irrigation more and we see the numbers go up.”