Ft. Laud. Water Crisis Community Forum

"Blue Water" by fox_kiyo is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

City of Ft. Lauderdale seeks to privatize the drinking water of the Central Broward Region to a foreign corporation. The city owns and operates the Fiveash Treatment Plant, serving Ft. Lauderdale, Oakland Park, WIlton Manors, Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, Sea Ranch Lakes, Port Everglades, and portions of Davie and Tamarac. The reason for the proposed public-private partnership (P3) is to build a new treatment plant at the Prospect Wellfield, just west of the Executive Airport, in the flight path at the end of the runway. This will involve replacing a two-mile drain well currently in use at the Prospect site, installing miles of pipes to connect the new location to present infrastructure, plus multiple studies, approvals, and permits required for building a water treatment plant so close to an airport.

What’s not being discussed is that the city’s own report, the 2021 “Riess Pilot Study” determined that refurbishing the existing plant would save $100’s of millions. This would include retrofitting with carbon-based filtration methods which are safer and more effective than current disinfection processes. With this option, the public would retain control and full ownership of its most vital resource. Work would be completed exponentially faster than relocating.

Residents, for years, have complained about yellow and green tap water, that’s likely due to a biofilm caused by the disinfectants’ reaction as it travels through our aging pipe system. The biofilm is “burned off” twice a year for three-week periods. These burnings create highly toxic and carcinogenic compounds such as trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids, but the burns are never scheduled during test periods so the resulting byproducts remain in the water undetected. Even if the city spends a half billion dollars to relocate the treatment plant, the plan is to continue use of ammonia, so water will still be discolored and often unsafe when it finally reaches people’s taps. That would be in 2026 as the absolute earliest if they signed tomorrow.

The secretive deal was set to be decided last month, just before the next commission takes office, but no agreement could be reached by labor nor the city attorney because the terms were too risky. This means a new partner will need to be found and new proposals drafted. If the next contract looks anything like the last, consumers are in trouble. We’re already approved for a 140% rate increase, but that too is a bare minimum.

The previous contract, which was not open for public scrutiny, guaranteed the Project Company supply no less than 17 million gallons per day, or $80,000/day in sales. The city would provide electricity, feedwater, chemicals, and insurance plus 75% of the building costs. So essentially we’d be giving away rights to our water for 30 years, then asking for it to be sold back to us at profit. The big payoff being 25% of startup capital to construct a plant we don’t need. Any residents who are aware of the plan oppose it, along with the city’s Infrastructure Task Force. The vice mayor of one affected city had no idea his constituents' public utility was about to be voted out of their control without notice.

Other atrocious parts of the deal left metering and testing up to the Project Co., without rate caps. This city would only be allowed restricted access to the property with advanced notice and one annual inspection. Compensation for inadequate water quality could only be through reimbursement on future product, yet the Project Co. could claim payment for any number of “Relief Events.” If service were to be interrupted for whatever reason, like an airplane crashing into the facility and knocking out water to seven cities, we would be liable in addition to any repairs or losses. Also, the company would pay no taxes, nor have any responsibility for potential environmental or worker hazards.

Food and Water Watch conducted the most detailed report ever of water service spanning seven years and 500 districts. They found, on average, rates are 59% higher where water is privatized, in some areas up to 89% more expensive. They also found a greater chance of contamination. We are already in a housing crisis, and now suggesting inflating utility costs with a half-baked plan that no one supports other than lobbyists, consultants, and investors. When water rates skyrocket, the prices of all local goods will increase as local businesses are already treading to meet overhead.

When the city’s own studies show we can save a half billion dollars on a plan that uses non-toxic filtration methods, and could begin work almost immediately without the need to relocate, for this to be ignored is recklessly negligent. The City of Ft. Lauderdale is asked to follow the recommendations of the Reiss Report and initiate the immediate retrofitting of the existing Fiveash site. Rather than looking to extend miles of pipes, let's use that time and money to update the crumbling lines we have now, which will only continue to deteriorate.

Representatives are asked to introduce initiatives and legislation that would regulate the process of municipalities entering P3 deals, or attempting to sell public assets. There is little to no oversight when elected officials decide to commodify common property and undermine public trust, without a framework that includes unbiased impact assessments, extensive community discourse, and voter approval. The public-private partnership should only be a considerable option after all attempts are made for state and federal funding to ensure citizens maintain ownership of their rightful possessions.

Privatizing vital assets has historically led to disaster as was the case in Flint, MI and Jackson, MS. The company next considered for the job, Suez, was removed from Bolivia when water privatization turned to civil unrest and a new government was elected. When shareholder wealth is prioritized over public welfare, no positive end can reasonably be expected.

Residents and business owners of the Central Broward Region have not been objectively informed of all viable options. Press and local officials must explore the alternative and act in the interest and benefit of citizens. A logical conclusion would abandon this foolish plan to relocate and privatize to foreign investors who have no other goal than profit.

¹ Reiss Pilot Study -
² The State Of Public Water In The U.S. -