Water Officials Offer Reprieve If County Shows Progress
By Dan Dolan
South Florida Water Management District officials have a regulatory gun to Miami-Dade’s head. But they vow not to pull the trigger and impose a building ban as long as the county government pushes forward with plans for new brackish water wells and a $1.1 billion treatment plant.
"It’s certainly not our desire or intention to have a building moratorium imposed in the county," said Josè Keichi Fuentes, director of the water district’s Miami-Dade Regional Service Center. "Whether or not there is a moratorium depends on the county’s actions and how quickly projects become a reality."
Even if the county falls behind schedule for meeting state-ordered water-use goals, Mr. Fuentes said, his agency won’t take aggressive action as long as Miami-Dade has made progress and demonstrated a "sincere" commitment to planning.
"There’s still a bit of a cushion and still time for planning," Mr. Fuentes said. "The county needs to identify how they want to come up with 100 million more gallons of water that will be needed every day to support growth over the next 20 years."
At least part of that will be supplied by a $1.1 billion two-stage wastewater-treatment project in Goulds-Perrine in the design phase. The first $550 million step includes a well super-cleaner and a new chlorine factory. This would be completed by 2011, two years later than a court-imposed deadline.
The second $550 million phase calls for adding a second treatment facility to further purify and reuse wastewater at the same site. No firm start or completion date has been set for the project, and county officials are worried they won’t be able to afford it.
But Mr. Fuentes said the water-management district and the state Department of Environmental Protection are committed to providing money for the job. He said his agency put aside $5 million for Miami-Dade capital improvement projects last year while the state earmarked at least another $100 million for water treatment.
Water treatment is the key to the county’s future growth, said Audrey Ordenes, the district’s government relations specialist. She said Miami-Dade can’t take more water from the environmentally sensitive Biscayne Aquifer and has to start drawing more from the brackish Floridan Aquifer.
If Miami-Dade keeps pulling from the Biscayne Aquifer, salt water will gradually seep into the Everglades, destroying the environment and the drinking supply, district officials said.
"This isn’t an us-against-them issue," Mr. Fuentes said. "Miami-Dade and the South Florida Water Management District are working together to create innovative solutions to a regional problem. As long as that continues, there won’t be a building moratorium."
County Commissioner Katy Sorenson isn’t convinced Miami-Dade won’t face a building ban at some point. During a recent commission meeting, Ms. Sorenson said the county will eventually run out of water even if it meets the state-ordered goals and implements its 20-year water-use plan. That, she said, will lead to a ban on new construction. However, Ms. Sorenson did not indicate when she expects that would occur.