A water-sharing proposal between the Indian Trail Improvement District and the City of West Palm Beach could be mutually beneficial, according to a short presentation last week by ITID Engineer Lisa Tropepe and West Palm Beach water consultant Patrick Painter.
Painter and Tropepe spoke at the ITID Board of Supervisors’ agenda review meeting Thursday, Jan. 3. The supervisors expressed an interest in the idea, but postponed further consideration until more information is available on the specifics of the plan.
According to Tropepe, the idea could help keep The Acreage wet in the dry season and flood-free during the rainy season.
“I want to give you an update on board direction that you gave to us for what we call fondly the pilot pump project between our L Canal, which runs north and south, and the M Canal, which is operated and maintained by the City of West Palm Beach,” Tropepe said.
Tropepe handed out pictures taken during the Tropical Storm Isaac flooding of units 4 and 5, in the north-central part of The Acreage. She explained that the area, hit hard by flooding during the storm, currently drains by gravity to the north more than 2 miles to the M-O Canal, then west to the impoundment area. She explained that the M-1 upper basin is pretty much void of moving water. “It’s currently moving by gravity alone,” she said.
To solve this problem, engineering staff re-examined a pilot pump project from the late 1990s.
“There were some smart minds who remembered this project from the past. We dusted off the agreement, and what is in your packet is a revised agreement to not make this a temporary pump station but to make it a permanent pump station,” Tropepe said.
She noted that technology has improved over the past decade and that both she and Painter have worked on similar projects elsewhere.
“This is only conceptual,” Tropepe stressed. “We don’t have all the details, but I wanted you to be aware of some things that we as staff agreed upon conceptually in this draft agreement.”
West Palm Beach and ITID would share the cost of the project and would be joint permitees. The city would be granted access to the L Canal right-of-way in order to construct, repair or maintain the project. ITID and West Palm Beach would be responsible for their own respective telemetry.
Meanwhile, the city would pay for 100 percent of the cost of the pump station, allow ITID drainage access to the M Canal whenever necessary, work with ITID in the design of the pump station and jointly maintain and operate it.
ITID would be responsible for financing all improvements to the L Canal and half of the permitting costs and design cost for the pump station, while operation and maintenance of the pump station would be split.
The original pilot project used a diesel pump that discharged water in only one direction, out of The Acreage. “We are trying to work out a way that in times of drought, we can reverse the flow of water from the M Canal back to the L Canal, because in times of drought, the district really suffers with the need to have more water,” Tropepe said. “So that is going to be different than what we did before with the old pilot pump project.”
She said West Palm Beach staff is working with its elected officials in a similar process and that the draft agreement would be brought to their commission, hopefully to be approved as a memorandum of understanding.
“At this point, what we’re submitting to you is a draft agreement for you all to digest and hopefully to let me know what questions you have so we can have further discussion,” Tropepe said.
Supervisor Michelle Damone said that overflow from the L Canal during Isaac was causing the most flooding in units 4 and 5 and pointed out that right now, the district does not have discharge capability to the M Canal, other than temporary pumps that were set up at the time to help bring down the flooding. “This would give us access to move water east,” Damone said.
The original pilot project gave the district 100 cubic feet per second of discharge, and the proposed project would increase the capacity to 300 cubic feet, Tropepe said.
“The pilot pump project in the past was a very successful project, but in times of drought, the pump basically sat there, so over time it was removed,” Tropepe said. “Now that we have the flexibility in discharge, because we are proposing five pumps with variable discharge rates, and the ability in dry conditions to move water from the M Canal to us, we’ve improved today what we did back then.”
Painter, a Loxahatchee Groves resident since 1982, said he knows the area’s water issues well. “I’m not a hydrologist, I’m actually a biologist; but I look at the overall watershed and how it used to be whole, and how it has become fragmented,” he said. “We’re doing things that are so detrimental to the overall system by the way that we have compartmentalized our whole system to the point where we’re dumping 1.7 billion gallons of water daily on average out to tide.”
Painter explained that before he joined West Palm Beach, he was a consultant and helped work on the original L-8 pilot project. “It was innovative at the time and kind of visionary,” he said.
The South Florida Water Management District put together a technical advisory committee at the time. “It brought Indian Trail, West Palm Beach, the Northern Palm Beach County Improvement District, Palm Beach County and the South Florida Water Management together as a whole,” Painter said. “They evaluated this pilot project for a whole year, and it was so successful, it answered so many problems and so many challenges back then when The Acreage was really not built out, that the final recommendation was to make it permanent.”
Damone and Supervisor Ralph Bair said they were interested in the project, but Supervisor Carol Jacobs said she wanted it discussed at a workshop session before considering a conceptual agreement.
“All this is being thrown at us as a big agreement,” Jacobs said. “I don’t even like it that it’s going to be on the regular agenda. I want it workshopped, I want people from the Acreage Landowners’ Association to get a copy. I want this to be gone over thoroughly.”
Painter said there is no rush and that he was not there to sell the project. “The only thing that may be time-sensitive is it might be nice to have it in before the next rainy season,” he said.
The board agreed to hold a workshop on the topic Wednesday, Feb. 6 at 5 p.m., following their agenda review meeting, a week before February’s regular board meeting.