Let’s review this topic and present a progress report on where we are now and where we are headed.
Our Current SituationThe City’s water utility serves 7.644 customers and pumps over 3 million gallons of water per day. This water comes from deep wells at three City water plants (Market Street, Burns Avenue, and Grove Avenue) that are capable of pumping over 17 million gallons of water per day. However, the amount of water that can be pumped from the aquifer is regulated by the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD). Our current “Consumptive Use Permit” (CUP) for this purpose is capped at 3.86 million gallons per day. While we are not exceeding this limit on an average basis, the demand for water is increasing with growth. For this reason City staff began serious discussions with SWFWMD on this topic over two years ago and then submitted a request to increase the City’s CUP in December of 2006. Since then, the City Commission has taken two actions to strengthen our position to have the CUP approved:
- The City Commission approved a new water rate schedule that increases the price per thousand gallons as more water is used. This schedule, even more than the previous schedule, encourages water conservation; and
- The City Commission approved a contract with SWFWMD that provides matching funds for the construction of the first substantial re-use project (see below). Re-use water is highly treated sewer water that is not at drinking water standards but is used for irrigation, thereby reducing the amount of water pumped by the City wells.
The provision of sewer service is, in many ways, more difficult than water. At present the City operates one sewer plant in the area of US27 and SR 60, with a capacity of 1.9 million gallons per day. It is currently treating 1.2 million gallons per day. The operation of the plant is regulated by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP)
FDEP requires that when the usage of the plant reaches 80% of plant capacity, the plant owner shall begin planning for plant expansion. Currently our plant is at 63% usage, but the City Commission has already taken action and the construction plans for the first phase of plant expansion are nearly complete.
Where We are HeadedIt is not unusual for a city to issue bonds for the expansion of utilities, with the new developments paying the debt service for the bonds; however, in such cases, the existing customers, in effect, “co-sign the note.” In other words, if growth does not occur at the pace predicted, the existing customers are on the hook to pay off the debt.
Our City Commission has directed that, to the greatest extent possible, existing customers shall not be saddled with this expense. Therefore, the Commission approved a system whereby new developments line up in a “queue” and wait until enough developers are ready to commit to utility expansions and guarantee payments.
It is also important to note that some developers have existing commitments for all or some of the unused capacity in both water and wastewater. The City Commission approved the City’s first formal “Concurrency System” for City utilities to track the usage and availability of water and sewer service for new development.
The process for providing water and sewer capacity, along with a well-written Land Development Code, is the key to providing quality development. The City Commission has ensured that these items are now in place without requiring the existing residents to pay the bill.