New plants could ward off water shortage, county officials say
By Eric Kalis
Miami-Dade County officials have identified several possible alternative water sources to head off a supply crisis that could result in a building stoppage.
John Renfrow, director of the county's water and sewer department, said at a Sept. 27 Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce subcommittee meeting that building reverse osmosis plants in Hialeah and South Miami Heights would be significant strides toward increasing the water supply enough to accommodate population growth in the county.
Ocean-water desalination is another option, he said.
Ultimately, a substantial hike in monthly water and sewer bills is needed to help cover the estimated $4 billion to $5 billion cost of enhancing the county's supply, Mr. Renfrow said.
"My goal for the next budget cycle is to have a palatable rate increase to get us out of this hole," he said.
As part of a deal with the South Florida Water Management District, county officials must present a detailed plan for alternative water sources by May. If they don't, district officials will freeze the county's daily water capacity at the current 413 million gallons a day, which could threaten development. The goal is to obtain a 20-year permit to access the Floridan aquifer, Mr. Renfrow said.
Building plants in Hialeah and South Miami Heights would take at least five years and have a combined cost of $200 million, he said. With the Everglades drying out, the county cannot continue to rely on the Biscayne aquifer to meet the current demand of 347 million gallons a day, which is expected to rise to 417 million by 2025.
Department officials left a reuse conference in Southern California recently with confidence that the Hialeah and South Miami Heights plants would be feasible, said deputy director Douglas Yoder.
The county can make significant strides by reusing more water, Mr. Renfrow said, citing a study that recommended the county implement 25% reuse, which would cost $608 million to $1 billion and take 10 years to implement.
"Our message is that we have to look at other forms of water sources, and reuse is one of those means," Mr. Renfrow said. "It will take a lot of money. We need industry support. If we do not have alternatives, the feared "m' word, moratorium, could come into play."
A building stoppage could be possible if the water supply is not increased, said Jose Fuentes, director of the water-management district, but the threat is not imminent.
"The biggest obstacle is identifying what projects to begin working aggressively on," Mr. Fuentes said. "The "m' word is not as big of an issue right now because we are meeting our capital-improvement objectives."
Roman Gastesi, chairman of the chamber's natural-resources committee, said the panel will draft a position paper on the issue this month to present to county officials.
"We will tell the county commission that the chamber wants to help," Mr. Gastesi said. "We are looking at the spring budget process as a chance to do so."