The Palm Beach County Commission agreed Tuesday to move forward with the long-planned C-51 Reservoir Project north of 20-Mile Bend, even though the project will primarily benefit Broward County, which is in desperate need of potable water.
Palm Beach County Water Utilities Director Bevin Beaudet said the C-51 Reservoir Project is designed to capture and use water that would otherwise go to tide and be wasted. It uses rock pits owned by Palm Beach Aggregates.
The project started in November 2006 when the utilities department and other entities began a study, Beaudet said, explaining that the South Florida Water Management District has been heavily involved.
“The phase one feasibility study was completed in October 2008, and we workshopped that study with the board in September 2009,” Beaudet said.
The second phase was completed in February 2010, with the Palm Beach County Water Resources Task Force endorsing the reservoir concept that fall. In October 2011, the county commission signed a memorandum of understanding to continue to work with others in developing the project.
Last July, utility staff started working on a preliminary design report finished in February, with the task force approving a draft resolution last month. Beaudet asked the commissioners to approve that resolution.
“The project has changed in that it is now phased to meet the immediate needs in Broward County and other utilities,” Beaudet said. “This is a big change in the project. Rather than have one huge reservoir, which would be very expensive and won’t be needed by many people for 20 or 30 years, a decision was made in this final report to phase the project.”
The rock pits needed for the first phase will be available soon. “Phase one is almost complete at this time because they [Palm Beach Aggregates] have been mining that under permit and will be able to deliver that final product in about two and a half years,” Beaudet said.
The SFWMD will actually operate the reservoir, pending approval of that board. Phase one will offer about 10,000 acre-feet of storage.
“There are a number of utilities interested in participating in phase one,” Beaudet said. “Palm Beach County does not need the water. We would not be a participant in phase one of the project, but we are interested in seeing the project move forward.”
Construction on two additional phases will depend on the demand for additional water supply in the future, he said.
The project is also designed to mitigate damage to the Lake Worth Lagoon, which has suffered from excessive freshwater discharge, and will help the region adapt to rising sea level.
“Keeping the dynamic head in the canals with this water would be an excellent adaptation to sea level and the possible pollution of wells,” Beaudet said.
He said the resolution does not commit Palm Beach County to any specific course of action. “Again, we do not need the water for phase one, and I’m not recommending that the board provide any kind of expenditure whatsoever,” Beaudet said, explaining that any expenditures by the county would be brought back to the commission for approval.
Beaudet strongly recommended that the commissioners give the plan their blessing. “I think it sends a strong message that this reservoir is important to the future of Southeast Florida,” he said.
Commissioner Priscilla Taylor agreed with the concept of the reservoir, even though the county does not have immediate need of the water. She asked if the county would be able to reap water benefits in the future.
“It probably could in a future phase,” Beaudet said. “But I think it’s important that Palm Beach County lend support to the overall project.”
Commissioner Mary Lou Berger said she was not excited when she was appointed to the Water Resources Task Force but became fascinated with the concept after she sat through the presentation.
“I’ve taken a helicopter tour over the area, and I think this is a really great project,” Berger said.
But Commissioner Paulette Burdick was concerned about the cost.
“I support the concept,” she said. “My issue here is I’d like to have a workshop to have better information on those costs. In the report it was $755 million, but we have heard from entities that I met with earlier in the year that we’re really looking at a billion dollars of investment on this project.”
Burdick pointed out that the L-8 Canal project, which utilizes a reservoir at Palm Beach Aggregates, is still not usable due to salinity.
“I would like to see that particular project be successful first,” Burdick said. “I can’t support this before us. I do value the quality of drinking water. I do think we should be working collaboratively with all the entities on a regional basis.”
Commissioner Hal Valeche asked about the salinity issues at the L-8 Reservoir, and Palm Beach County Water Resources Manager Ken Todd said it is gradually decreasing as the reservoir is recharged.
“We know from past studies that when the path is exercised and fresh water is brought in, it is diluted and it is not a problem,” Todd said. “When it sits for a long period of time, because the pit is not totally impervious, there is some inflow, although it is very minimal. It’s not that it’s super-salty, it just doesn’t meet the criteria for water supply.”
Commissioner Jess Santamaria said that because of past negative experiences related to the L-8 project, the participants in the project would need to exert a special effort to back up its findings. “You’re going to be under a lot of public scrutiny this time around, and just be aware that it’s coming,” he said.
Mayor Steven Abrams said he expected other entities needing the water to finance the project. “Mention was made of Broward County,” Abrams said. “Broward and others in South Florida that are desirous of seeing this project go forward I assume will pay in spades for the benefit that this will bring them.”
Taylor made a motion to approve the resolution, which carried 6-1 with Burdick dissenting.
ABOVE: The Palm Beach County Commission.