Punta Gorda puts off new water plant
PUNTA GORDA — The
City Council on Wednesday postponed making a decision on whether to construct a
$28 million reverse-osmosis water plant in order to survey all its customers about whether the cost would be worth the benefit of getting “softer” water.
The council directed Tom Jackson, utility director, to include in an annual water quality notice that gets mailed to customers a survey querying them about their support for the proposed water plant.
The delay nixes the city’s chance to apply for a 25 percent grant from the Southwest Florida Water Management District, at least this year. The district recently moved a deadline for the grant applications up from December to Oct. 5.
However, the district has enough funds in reserve to continue funding such water projects for the next couple of years, so the city shouldn’t be worried the grant funding won’t be available in the future, according to Steve Fabian, a city utility advisory board member
who looked into district funding.
The survey should provide city water customers with both the total cost and the amount rates would be hiked to pay for the project over the next 20 years, said Councilman Harvey Goldberg.
“We do not have a demand issue with the quantity of water,” he said. “The demand we’ve been hearing is for an improvement to water quality.”
At least one resident, Bob Whittaker, said he fills up a tank of city water before embarking on sailing voyages. After three days, “it smells like south Georgia,” he said. He called for the city to “not blow off” the water project.
The project would produce 3 million gallons of purified well water per day so it could be blended with water from the city’s reservoir. The intent would be to lower the level of Total Dissolved Solids, or minerals, to within state standards.
Exceeding the TDS standard poses no health risk, but, such water is more likely to leave spots on glassware.
Although the city’s water currently meets the state standards for TDS during rainy seasons, the levels rise above the standard during dry seasons. That’s due to increased agricultural pumping from wells. Some of that water leeches into Shell and Prairie creeks, the city’s current water supply.
The reverse-osmosis project was first proposed several years ago to meet population growth projections. However, the council postponed it indefinitely because revised projections showed the extra wouldn’t be needed for at least 10 years. Also, the city won a five-year waiver to the state TDS standard.
Mayor Bill Albers in June asked staff to dust off the option to address the water quality concern. That triggered a review by the utility advisory committee Monday.
John Dauster, committee chairman, said committee members recommended the survey instead. He noted that to some customers in the city’s water service area, the extra cost may not be worth the improvement. He also said city staffers are unable to say whether the improved blend would eliminate spots on glassware.
“That’s the reason we thought why not get input from throughout the whole community,” he said.
“I think (UAB committee members) made a lot of viable points,” said Albers. “I don’t have anywhere near enough public input to make that decision.”