Our Town with William Kelly: Town eyes next steps for water study

William Kelly  |  Our Council  |  Our Town  |  May 11, 2022

Town officials are sketching a path and timeline for the next steps in their effort to determine a long-term future water supply for Palm Beach.

Now that a consultant’s report is in its hands, the Town Council decided Tuesday to refer a study of its water source alternatives to its Public Works Committee on May 24.

The committee is chaired by Councilwoman Bobbie Lindsay. Its other member is council President Margaret Zeidman. The committee will ask specific questions to gain a deeper understanding of the alternatives, Zeidman said. Its decisions are recommendations to the full council.

The town hired engineering consultant Kimley-Horn & Associates in December 2019 to help it identify the best options for its water source after its supply agreement with West Palm Beach expires in 2029. Kimley-Horn delivered the report, which cost the town $416,380, last month.

The town must notify the City of West Palm Beach of its intentions by 2027, Zeidman said.

Public Works Director Paul Brazil said staff will develop a report addressing the milestones and timelines for each alternative and present it to the council in June.

The options, Brazil said, are for the town to renew its agreement to buy water from West Palm Beach, on either a retail or wholesale basis; to purchase water from another utility, such as Palm Beach County or Lake Worth Beach; or to develop a town-owned water source and treatment plant.

Another option, for the town to enter a partnership with a private water provider, has been discarded because there was no interest, Brazil said.

The staff report also will examine how the South Florida Water Management District would be able to regulate the town’s water use in any of the alternatives being considered, he said.

Once the council receives the staff report and has heard from its Public Works Committee, it may want to schedule a public workshop to focus entirely on the water issue, Brazil said.

Once the town zeroes in on one or two of the best alternatives, it will begin a deeper examination of the costs, Zeidman said.

“It’s a good start that you are suggesting,” Zeidman told Brazil.

Zeidman said the town is getting advice from the Palm Beach Civic Association’s nine-member Water Committee, co-chaired by Michael Pucillo, who is a former president of the Town Council, and by Leo Vecellio.

Lindsay expressed confidence in the process. “We have very fine minds looking into these things,” she said. “We need to turn over every stone.”

The town began the study years before its water agreement with the city expires in 2029 because some of the alternatives would take years to design and build. Some would be hugely expensive, reaching into the hundreds of millions of dollars while requiring streets in town or in West Palm Beach to be torn open for the installation of new distribution pipes, according to the report from Kimley-Horn & Associates.

The town wants a water source that would be less vulnerable to toxins such as the cyanobacteria that last spring briefly contaminated the city’s treated water supply. Cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, can appear in surface water supplies but is not typically found in groundwater such as the Floridan aquifer.

The City of West Palm Beach relies on surface water that comes partly from heavily polluted Lake Okeechobee and travels through canals into the Grassy Waters Preserve, where it is filtered before being drawn into Clear Lake and processed in the city’s water treatment plant.


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