State Seeks Fine of $1.8 Million for Delray Beach Water Violations

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Delray Beach must pay a $1.8 million fine for drinking water violations and tell residents that the city can’t vouch for the safety of its public water supply over a 13-year period.

Those stipulations are part of a final order from the Palm Beach County Health Department. I reported in January that the department’s draft report recommended a $2.9 million fine. Though the final amount is lower, the indictment of the city’s water department and overall management remains harsh.

The problems stem from the reclaimed water program, which the city began as a conversation measure. Residents who signed up for the program could use partially treated water for irrigation, lowering the demand for potable water. The city, though, was responsible for ensuring that the reclaimed water didn’t enter the drinking water system. Delray Beach failed to do so.

Within 30 days, the city must issue this public notice: “The City of Delray Beach cannot assure utility customers that the drinking water produced and distributed met the standards of the Safe Drinking Water Act for the period from inception of the reclaimed water service beginning in 2007 to the time reclaimed water was deactivated on February 4, 2020.”

The order lists the violations. The city failed to properly implement controls to prevent cross connections. The city failed to tell residents and the health department within 24 hours after hearing complaints of people feeling sick.

In addition to the fine and the public notice, the city must perform several remedies within 30 days. Among other things, the city must install devices that prevent cross contamination and “provide a complete inventory of all properties connected to the potable water distribution system.”

The word “all” is underlined. The department can sue Delray Beach to compel compliance with the order.

The city commission recently pledged to build a new water plant within five years, but there has been no update on a schedule or how to pay for it. This order should give a sense of urgency to the commissioners, who are in their second day of goal-setting meetings.

As I reported five months ago, this type of action against a city for water quality violations is very unusual. Delray Beach still hasn’t undertaken any review of  how these problems happened.

A city representative said, “The City is reviewing the proposed consent order from the DOH and pending the City’s review, negotiations will begin between the City and the DOH to arrive at a fully executed consent order. Money will not change hands until both parties arrive at a fully executed consent order.” 

I’ll have more in my Tuesday post.