Palm Beach officials say they want the safest and cleanest water source possible for the town after its supply agreement with West Palm Beach expires in 2029.
That source could turn out to be the City of Lake Worth Beach, whose water treatment plant is equipped with reverse osmosis, a state-of-the-art, high-pressure membrane system that strips contaminants from the water.
On Feb. 9, Brian Shields, Lake Worth Beach’s utility director, led Town Councilwoman Bobbie Lindsay and members of the Palm Beach Civic Association’s Water Committee and on a tour of the city’s plant, just east of Interstate 95 near the Sixth Avenue exit.
Shields said the city built its plant with expansion in mind and is interested in becoming Palm Beach’s water supplier.
The plant produces between 5 and 7 million gallons of treated water each day but has a treatment capacity of 17.5 million gallons daily, Shields said.
“This system was set up to be a regional provider,” he said. The city has supply agreements with Lantana, Lake Clarke Shores and parts of unincorporated Palm Beach County.
Palm Beach’s Town Council appears to have narrowed its future supply options to two possibilities. One is to enter a water purchase agreement with Lake Worth Beach. The other is to continue buying water from West Palm Beach.
At least some of the council members have said that the town’s future water supply must be treated through a membrane filtration system so residents have the purest water possible running through their taps.
Shields said Lake Worth Beach could supply the town with 100 percent membrane-filtered water in 2029, if the Town Council were to select Lake Worth Beach as its future supplier by the end of this year.
West Palm Beach’s water treatment plant does not use membrane filtration. If West Palm Beach were to renovate its plant to provide that technology, the new system would not be operational before 2034, according to Kimley-Horn and Associates, the consultant assisting Palm Beach in exploring its options for a future water source.
West Palm Beach
West Palm Beach relies on surface water that is drawn from Lake Okeechobee and the Grassy Waters Preserve and then treated at its plant on Banyan Boulevard. That plant uses traditional methods including lime softening and ultraviolet and chlorination disinfection methods.
Surface water, unlike water that is drawn from underground aquifers, can be vulnerable to cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae contamination. Unlike traditional treatment methods, a membrane filtration system is completely reliable at removing cyanobacteria/blue green algae from the water, according to John Potts, a water quality expert with Kimley-Horn.
Membrane filtration capability would enable West Palm Beach to avoid a repeat of the blue-green algae outbreak that temporarily contaminated its treated water supply in May 2021. The city, which supplies water to 120,000 customers in West Palm Beach, Palm Beach and South Palm Beach, was forced to issue a weeklong health advisory cautioning that vulnerable members of the population, including young children, pregnant women and the elderly, should not drink the water.
Authorities say membrane filtration is also far more effective than traditional treatment methods at removing “emerging contaminants” – the plastic components, fragrances, flame retardants, pesticides, medication and other pollutants that are increasingly finding their way into drinking water sources across the nation.
Lake Worth Beach
Unlike West Palm Beach, Lake Worth Beach does not rely on surface water, Shields said. It draws its water from two sources. One is groundwater, also referred to as the shallow or surficial aquifer. The other is the deep Floridan aquifer, a brackish water that requires reverse osmosis treatment to be potable.
Lake Worth Beach’s water treatment plant dates to the 1950s but was expanded in 2012. The older part of the plant uses traditional lime-softening to treat the surficial, or groundwater, supply. The newer part of the plant is a reverse osmosis facility that cleanses the salty water from the Floridan aquifer.
“We take brackish water, which is not quite as salty as seawater, and we pump it through cylindrical vessels,” Shields said. “Those vessels have membranes within them which separate the salt from the water due to high pressure … what comes out is almost ultra-pure water.”
The salt is pumped down a deep injection well 3,000 feet below grade.
Cyanobacteria primarily grows in freshwater environments, but not in the surficial or Floridan aquifers, so it is not a threat to Lake Worth Beach’s water supply, Shields said.
Lake Worth Beach’s 16 surficial wells draw water from an average depth of 175 feet, Shields said. Its three Floridan aquifer wells are 1,500 feet deep.
If Palm Beach were to choose to buy water from it, Lake Worth Beach already has permits to dig 10 additional wells to tap into the Floridan aquifer, Shields said. The city would expand an existing well field at John Prince Park upon passing a final approval process by the South Florida Water Management District, Shields said.
West Palm Beach has expressed interest in obtaining permits from the water district to tap into the Floridan Aquifer. But as of now those permits have not been approved.
Lake Worth Beach recognizes Palm Beach’s desire for water that is 100 percent membrane treated, Shields said. To accommodate that, Lake Worth Beach would convert the older part of its plant from traditional water treatment to nanofiltration, he said. Nanofiltration is a lower-pressure form of membrane treatment than reverse osmosis; the latter is more expensive but necessary to remove the salt from the brackish water drawn from Floridan aquifer.
To meet Palm Beach’s demand of 10 million gallons of water per day, the expanded and renovated Lake Worth Beach water system would produce 13.5 million gallons of water treated through reverse osmosis and 5 million gallons of surficial water treated with nanofiltration, all of which would be blended into one final product, Shields said.
Shields said Lake Worth Beach proposes pumping the water into Palm Beach under the Intracoastal Waterway through two 24-inch subaqueous pipe crossings, which would be constructed just south of the Lake Worth Bridge and near the C-51 canal, not far from Sloan’s Curve.
Palm Beach to take a closer look at Lake Worth Beach option
At Tuesday’s Town Council meeting, Lindsay spoke enthusiastically of the tour, noting that the Lake Worth Beach plant has plenty of room to expand so it could provide 100 percent membrane-treated water to Palm Beach.
She also noted that Lake Worth Beach does not draw on surface water as a source for its water supply, and that it has 10 permits approved by the water district to allow it to draw more water from the Floridan aquifer.
The plant sits at an elevation of 21 feet above sea level, which is the highest elevation in Lake Worth Beach. It is adjacent to the city’s power plant and has two back-up generators, each of which is large enough to power the water plant for a week, Lindsay said.
She encouraged her fellow council members to tour the plant.
The council and Mayor Danielle Moore agreed that Kimley-Horn and town staff should undertake a deeper analysis of the Lake Worth Beach option and report back to the council as early as next month.
Council President Margaret Zeidman said she has scheduled a March 2 tour of the Lake Worth Beach water plant and will be accompanied by Deputy Town Manager Bob Miracle and by Jason Lee and John Potts, both of whom are engineers with Kimley-Horn.
In response to a question from Zeidman, town staff said the town has so far spent about $500,000 for Kimley-Horn to study all long-term water supply alternatives available to the town.
“It’s well worth it,” Zeidman said. “This is for the next 30 years or longer. We have to know that the decision we make is the right decision.”
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