Emergency backup water source planned for islanders

An emergency backup source of water for most of North Hutchinson Island is expected to be established by next spring.

Utilities officials in Vero Beach and St. Lucie County are negotiating to connect their barrier island water mains, which end at the county line on opposite sides of State Road A1A.

Interconnecting the water systems would give both utilities a backup source on the island in case of a water main break or a pressure loss, officials said. It also sets the stage for a bulk water sales agreement. “You never know when you might have some natural or manmade calamity that might take your system out,” said Vero Beach City Manager Monte Falls. “With an emergency connection, then you would have a backup source to feed your customers and keep them with potable water.”

The two utilities anticipate splitting the costs to design, permit and construct the project, but an estimate has not yet been calculated, officials said. The project involves boring beneath the highway and installing a pipe, valves and meters.

Vero Beach utilities serves water customers on the barrier island from north of John’s Island south to the St. Lucie County line. St. Lucie County serves 3,700 customers on North Hutchinson Island with bulk water purchased from Fort Pierce Utilities Authority.

The water line connection talks are one of the recent accomplishments of St. Lucie County’s revamped Utilities Department, George Landry, solid waste director, told county commissioners Oct. 8.

“In case we have an issue coming from FPUA, we can then switch to Vero,” Landry told commissioners.

The project is expected to be completed in four-to-six months, Landry said.

“This is a plan we started talking to the Vero Beach folks about a year or so ago,” Landry said in an interview after the meeting. “We finally got to the part where we can go ahead and get into design and permitting. We’re making sure both utilities are in sync and do that together.”

A valve and a metering system would be installed at the end of each system’s water main to control and monitor any water provided to the other, Landry said.

“If we were to have an issue and we were to start receiving water, then we would meter and pay for the use of the water,” Landry said. “And vice versa.”

But Falls said the proposed barrier island water main interconnection is not a done deal.

“We’re talking to them on a staff level,” Falls said. “When both of our staffs are comfortable with it, we can both take it to our respective boards.”

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