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STATE-Y2K: Notes from Florida re: Water and Wastewater Industry


From: Steve Davis
Date: Fri, 2 Apr



"This past week the Florida Public Service Commission held an informal Y2K workshop with the water and wastewater industry. We had representatives there from a large municipally owned system, medium sized systems, very small systems, our Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Water Works Association, and the Florida Rural Water Association. The conversations we had were very informative for all of us.

In Florida any water system that serves 350 or more connections must have electric back up systems in the event of a power failure. However, that same requirement is not true of the wastewater systems. The vast majority of our wastewater systems do not back up electrical generation at the pumping station. Which means that if the pumps do not work they will have to stop the drinking water too to keep the sewage from backing up. In Florida most municipal power systems have reciprocal agreements with other municipals to back them up in the event of an electrical power problem. However, that reciprocal agreement does not apply to water. Florida has consumptive use limitations to preserve the aquifer, thus the utilities hoard their resources. We had a representative from the Governor's office there and he said he would be looking into that. Our Florida Rural Water Works Association maintains a mutual aide book. In that book it lists what type of portable equipment each utility has and the amount capacity it has, for example a 7,000 kW generator. In the event of an extended power outage in a particular area they can call around and borrow the needed equipment. However, it is critical that the utilities that need assistance have equipment that allow for quick connects. In some instances that is not available and the utility would have to have retrofitted its facility to allow for a generator to be attached. I specifically asked if the mutual aide book was Florida specific or if that is done nationally and the director said it was Florida specific and originally developed to provide for hurricane assistance. Sounded like a national best practice to me.

Uniformly the utilities are saying their number one Y2K concern is electricity and their number two Y2K concern is Public Relations. Yet, for most utilities they are doing nothing to calm their customers' fears and get out factual information on their preparedness. Part of this problem is that many water and waste water utilities are so small with gross revenues of $50,000 annually they just can not afford to spend a couple of thousand on bill stuffers without having to raise local rates.

The Florida Rural Water Association Director said his membership was concerned about whether the backup generators they have contain embedded chips. He said manufacturers have been unwilling to provide that information. Commissioner Jacobs asked him to provide us with a list of who those manufacturers are.

Our Florida Department of Environmental Protection retains the only database in the state with information on all the water and wastewater utilities and the type and amount of equipment (level of sophistication) that each plant uses. They are our key to reaching all the water and wastewater companies in each state.

The state environmental folks also pointed out to us that besides the 3,000 waste water treatment facilities they regulate in Florida there is also 1500 industrial waste water dischargers. We need to make certain that our industrial waste dischargers do not have a shut down that could end up in our water system.

While these observations are Florida specific I would imagine that this same information is applicable to every other state as well. I hope you found this information useful."