We all want clean drinking water. In fact, Central Florida issued water restrictions years ago in an attempt to conserve this most precious resource. Proposed billion dollar water treatment plants and local officials mandating that residents cut back on watering lawns, were efforts implemented to ensure that our thirsts were quenched. With the joint water conservation efforts, it is surprising to learn that one utility company has been dumping millions of gallons of water every year into a local subdivision.
Located on Narcoosee Road, the Eagle Creek community began development in 2001. The scope of the project includes a golf course and close to 3,000 homes. Since there wasn’t an adequate water source near the community, the Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC) extended large pipes to feed the future homes. Unfortunately, not enough homes were completed to use the amount of water pumped in, so the water sits in the pipes. Over time, the chlorine begins to break down rendering the water unsafe to drink. In order to maintain a healthy level of chlorine, the pipelines need to be flushed on a somewhat regular basis. So, since 2003, a deluge of drinking water, roughly 76 million gallons per year, is dumped into storm drains.
“I think it is outrageous given the fact that we are almost out of the safe limits for withdrawals from the aquifer and are now looking to ‘alternatives’ that are very damaging to the environment,” says Barbara Eagan, an environmental advocate. “I also think it represents the absurdity of our government permitting development in far-flung places when we have not built out the Urban Service Area (USA) to the detriment of the long term sustainability of our state. As a [fourth generation] Florida native, this makes me furious and very sad.”
Authorities estimate that the peak amount of water dumped in Eagle Creek is 600,000 gallons each day. “In truth, this is probably a small portion of the water that OUC ‘flushes’ throughout their distribution system to maintain water quality,” states Pat DiVecchio, retired, after 35 years as Water Production Section Manager for Orange County Utilities. “It is normal practice for utilities to flush ‘low flow’ areas of their systems to maintain water quality.”
Some fear is that the dumped water is either flowing from the marshes into nearby Lake Whippoorwill or Lake Hart. “Although the water being ‘wasted’ may be unacceptable for human consumption, I don’t believe it would adversely affect the water quality in either of the lakes,” says DiVecchio.
Solving the problem of excess water dumping will however take some time. OUC once considered re-circulating the water in the pipes or boosting chlorine levels whereas other solutions involve adding water sources as the need arises.
There has also been talk of the two utilities, OUC and Orange County, consolidating. The hope is that with the two working together, water waste could be curtailed, if not completely eliminated. As DiVecchio points out, “I believe there are many advantages to consolidation, but unfortunately it will probably not happen anytime soon. Water is power and control, and it appears that no one wants to give up any power or control even if it is in the overall best interest of the community. I believe that consolidation would definitely help alleviate this problem. Water could be provided through combined resources (treatment plants and pipe lines) that would result in less water having to be wasted.”
When this OUC news came to light, concern arose regarding water supply plans for future development in the Boggy Creek area. DiVecchio has confidence that the communities of the future will be supplied: “I’m not sure what OUC’s water plan is for this area, but if water is necessary to continue growth, the developers will find a way to supply it whether it is from OUC or another utility.”
Article by Johnny Duncan