Miami-Dade wants to defer $1 billion-plus in water and sewer projects but still plans to issue $600 million in bonds
By Risa Polansky
With water consumption below projections, Miami-Dade hopes to defer more than $1 billion in planned water and sewer projects.
At the same time, the county is gearing up to issue $600 million in bonds to finance water projects that officials say still must be done.
The South Florida Water Management District in 2007 issued the county a 20-year water use permit after warnings that continuing current water consumption practices could eventually lead to a building moratorium.
The permit allows Miami-Dade Water and Sewer to continue drawing daily 347 million gallons from the Biscayne Aquifer but requires the county to come up with water supply alternatives, including conservation programs and new treatment facilities.
Since then, the county has made major strides in conservation, and water use is below projections.
"So do we have to make these huge infrastructure improvements?" Commissioner Carlos Gimenez asked at a Government Operations Committee meeting Tuesday morning.
Officials hope not.
"Because of the very good job that we've done in water conservation, the demands for water have gone down," Water and Sewer Department Director John Renfrow told commissioners.
The department is looking to defer more than $1 billion in projects "because, frankly, the demand isn't there at this moment in time," he said.
Mr. Renfrow said he planned to make the same case at a South Florida Water Management District meeting today (1/14).
From there, district officials would need to formally decide whether to allow the county to delay the projects.
Commissioners got behind the move with constituents' water bills in mind.
In part to fund the department's capital program, the commission agreed last year to a 6% fee increase in October, with another 6% hike to kick in this coming April.
In considering projects and fee hikes in the past, "some of us held our noses" and voted in support because of the water-management mandates — but in the end it's about residents' wallets, Commissioner José "Pepe" Diaz said.
Still, the plan to hold off on some projects doesn't mean a pause on the capital program altogether.
Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Renfrow asked the Budget, Planning and Sustainability Committee to sign off on a planned $600 million bond issuance.
Having attended the morning meeting, Commissioner Joe Martinez questioned the need for the massive issuance given the plan to defer projects.
"There's no connection with this" and the $1 billion's worth of projects the department hopes to defer, Mr. Renfrow explained.
There are necessary projects upcoming, he said, including relocating lines under Government Cut to make way for channel dredging for the Port of Miami to handle larger vessels and building a new water plant in the south part of the county to consolidate existing treatment plants.
"So these are things that we have to do."
The bonds are to also repay a $100 million line of credit used as interim financing for some capital projects.