Regional solution for reuse irrigation water could become a reality in 2011

INDIAN RIVER SHORES — The City of Vero Beach and Indian River County joining forces to produce an efficient, affordable long-term solution for water, sewer and reuse irrigation water is still little more than a pipe dream, despite more than two years of talk.

But a suggestion has emerged that could be an important step toward actually doing something — unless leaders let the idea die. During a recent Indian River Shores Town Council workshop with Vero Mayor Jay Kramer in attendance, County Utility Director Erik Oslon pitched a cooperative idea to bring a steady stream of treated wastewater to keep lawns and golf courses green all over the barrier island.

“Really a solution for the barrier island is not either-or,” Olson said. “If they (Vero) would be interested in receiving one million gallons per day, we would sell them reuse water.

“What if we could just connect our lines to their (Vero’s) lines?” Olson said. “We could possibly put something in place this year.”

Olson’s proposed solution seems so simple, so non-governmental because it doesn’t require any studies or consultants or huge capital costs, it will be interesting to see if and how the City of Vero Beach will shoot it down.

“I guess reuse is at the top of the list,” Olson said at the Shores workshop.

The question might be whether barrier island residents will be willing to pay 30 percent more to Vero for what is essentially County reuse water, or will there be political pressure to cut out the middle man.

Mayor Kramer, without his utility or finance people in tow, did not comment on Olson’s proposal.

Shores Attorney Chester Clem reminded the Town Council that it’s under a deadline of around Nov. 6 to settle on a utility provider for the next 30 years.

“We have time to negotiate a new franchise before this date, but the five-year notice date will be here before we know it,” he wrote in a memo. “We should also note that much activity and commentary has been going on between the County and the City regarding whether there could be a merger of the County and City systems.”

“To push this matter forward, it is suggested that we focus on the irrigation needs of the community,” Clem wrote.

Irrigation water is not part of the 30-year-franchise, so service areas are a patchwork with parts of John’s Island and the north end of the Town getting water pumped in from the County and communities in the south end of the Town buying irrigation water from Vero.

The rate disparity is 28 cents per 1,000 gallons, with the County charging 60 cents and Vero charging 88 cents for non-pressurized irrigation water. That’s quite a difference, considering the Shores’ massive consumption. John’s Island uses one million gallons per day, Bermuda Bay uses about five million gallons per month and Ocean Colony uses about two million gallons per month.

The problem — some would say the crisis — of reuse irrigation water on the barrier island is access and supply. Residents in the South Beach area can’t universally hook up to reuse water, forcing them to use well water, or to use potable water for irrigation if salt intrusion prohibits the use of well water.

Olson said wastewater from both Vero and the mainland county is needed to meet the demand on the island and especially in the Shores. To that aim, he proposed that the County could simply sell Vero irrigation water, which Vero could combine with its current supply and re-sell to ratepayers.

“I floated the balloon the other day and we’ll see what their answer is,” Olson said.

The idea has not yet been discussed by the Vero Beach City Council.

The Town of Indian River Shores has scheduled a workshop about water utility issues at 8 a.m. Thursday, March 17 in Council Chambers at Town Hall. The Town’s meetings are not televised, but only audio recorded.

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