The Palm Beach County Commission gave the go-ahead Tuesday to a plan to take reclaimed water from Broward County that Palm Beach County Water Utilities Department experts say will help control rates for all county water users.
PBCWUD Deputy Director Brian Shields said the project is both innovative and regional in nature. Broward County never initiated a reclaimed water program, which Palm Beach County did 25 years ago.
“We’ve been working with Broward County for quite a while now, and this really benefits the citizens of south Palm Beach County,” he said. “We have an extensive reclaimed water program in place since the early ’90s. We serve quite a few golf courses and [homeowners’ associations] with that system, and it has a really positive impact on the environment in that we reduce the amount of water that is used off the surficial aquifer by providing reclaimed water from our wastewater treatment plant for irrigation.”
In 2012, the utility saved more than 6.2 billion gallons of water that would otherwise have been taken from potable water sources by serving several golf courses and 26 residential developments in the central and southern portions of the county. The Green Cay and Wakodahatchee wetlands take reclaimed water, which helps recharge the water tables in those areas.
Florida Power & Light’s West County Energy Center also uses reclaimed water to cool its generators.
Shields said other developments are under construction that have agreements to get reclaimed water, and there are several parks that could take reclaimed water, although the county already uses all the reclaimed water it has available.
“Our system is maxed out,” Shields said. “We don’t have any more reclaimed water to provide to our customers in south county, and with these communities coming on board, we will really stretch our system to the limit. During the dry season, we use every drop of water that comes into the wastewater treatment plant. We get up to 22 million gallons per day.”
Shields said Palm Beach County is the leader in reclaimed water across all of southeast Florida.
“This is a truly regional project in that it would be a partnership between Palm Beach and Broward counties,” Shields said. “Broward County is under the gun due to the ocean outfall legislation, and the real environmental benefit of this project would be reducing those flows and nutrient loads to the coral reefs. That was the intent of the outfall legislation, and they are required to implement reuse, up to 60 percent of their flow by 2018, and essentially eliminate any use of that outfall by 2025.”
Shields said Broward County has a very limited reclaimed-water demand.
“Their service areas are urbanized, and it would be very expensive to run pipelines through Pompano Beach and Fort Lauderdale. We provide the demand that they don’t have.”
He added that the South Florida Water Management District is in full support of the project. “We can eliminate up to 28 million gallons of water per day of groundwater irrigation that would otherwise come out of the Biscayne Aquifer,” Shields said.
The intent is to run a pipeline to take reclaimed water from Broward County’s treatment plant up Powerline Road to Palm Beach County for distribution.
PBCWUD Director Bevin Beaudet said there are several economic advantages for Palm Beach County.
“They are going to take out a large bond that is needed to build the entire pipeline, including that portion in Palm Beach County, as well as the treatment facilities that are needed at their plant to produce reclaimed water,” Beaudet said. “Although we are going to build and construct that portion in Palm Beach County, they are going to pay for it with their bond.”
Beaudet sees few negatives in the entire project for Palm Beach County.
“We also negotiated very favorable terms in the cost of the water,” he said. “That water is going to cost us 5 cents per thousand gallons, and we currently charge 21 cents per thousand gallons. So, we will charge the going rate, and they will charge us 5 cents per thousand gallons.”
The order of priority of payback, which Beaudet said is also favorable, is that Palm Beach County will first pay the 5 cents per thousand gallons, then a share of the operation and maintenance cost, then for removal and replacement, and if anything is left, Palm Beach County will help pay a portion of the bond interest. Broward would own the line in Palm Beach County until the bond is paid off, at which time Palm Beach County would take ownership.
“We think that’s a favorable situation,” Beaudet said. “They are the ones that need to get rid of this water, so we are going to be able to take it, help them out and provide for this very large demand… for reclaimed water.”
Beaudet pointed out that one golf course looking to get in the plan had to pay $5 million to replace grass it lost during the last drought.
“They are very interested in talking to us about reclaimed water, for which there are no restrictions during a drought,” Beaudet said, adding that reclaimed water is currently subsidized by wastewater customers but is slowly moving toward a non-subsidized rate.
Commissioner Mary Lou Berger made a motion to move ahead with the water plan, which carried 7-0.