Residents of Winter Springs,
Here is an update from Bilal Iftikhar, the Director of Utilities regarding the concerns of the Water Distribution System in Winter Springs:
We understand that recent boil water alerts and concerns related to our water distribution system have caused inconvenience and frustration for many of our valued residents. We want to assure you that we are fully committed to addressing these issues to ensure the safety and reliability of our water supply.We empathize with the hardships this has caused for you and your families.
1. What does the City currently have in reserve for the express use of equipment replacement at the end of it’s expected useful life?
The City currently has reserves of approximately $16 million. This was recently presented as part of the proposed budget/rate study for water/wastewater utilities in the coming years with a budget of $166 million. Along with the proposed rate increase, the City anticipates taking SRF (state revolving fund loans) and utilizing much of the existing reserves in order to push forward with necessary projects, with the most significant being development of two new wastewater treatment facilities (as the current wastewater treatment facilities are well beyond there useful life). Note we are also seeking grants where possible, but these are often project specific and limited in nature. The City also currently has $18 million in ARPA funds which are anticipated in this budget.
2. When did the City most recently engage with a third party firm that is capable of performing a full engineering study on the City’s water supply infrastructure?
The most recent engineering contract was established in 2021, which was a reselection of the City’s on-call engineering consultants. Specific to water/wastewater, the initial focus of this contract was the treatment facilities. At that time, the primary needs surrounded potable water quality with improvements at water plant #1. On the wastewater side, urgent repairs and replacement of the two aging/failing wastewater treatment plants were the major focus. Additional items also included lift station rehabilitation, reclaimed system expansion, and reliability projects such as backup generators. The City also engaged engineering consultants to develop a wastewater/reclaimed master plan to identify system need, which helped to create much of the currently established Capital Improvement Program (CIP).
Since I joined the City, which was only about 5 months ago, I have established a plan for our wastewater treatment facilities, the next step will be to focus on the collection and distribution system piping. Primarily, given the continuing failures in the potable system, we plan to focus on the potable distribution system in 2024. Our goal is to begin a City-wide look at the potable water system assets, including a valve assessment program and pipeline prioritization for future repair/replacement. With more than 150 miles of water main, this will take time to accomplish, and improvements will require funding. We have already established needs for some pipeline replacement, but we expect more recommendations will come out of these analyses. For this reason, our proposed budget carries an annual pipeline replacement line item. Even with the increase, funds are limited and repairs and replacements will have to be planned strategically.
3. What are the current approved and funded plans for replacement of aged, defective and inoperable equipment including water treatment plants, potable water supply lines, sewer return lines, lift stations, pumping station, etc.?
The City has recently established an updated Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for utilities. This identified numerous projects including two new wastewater treatment plants, lift station replacements, and other collection system improvements. On the potable side, this includes further optimization of the treatment processes, reliability improvements, water main assessment, valve and water main replacements. A copy of the current CIP is attached for your reference. Please note this CIP list is not final, and we will continue to update information as we determine necessary projects (such as water main replacements). Related to the CIP, please note that we recently conducted and presented a rate study based on our proposed CIP to the commission. The rate study proposes significant rate increases in the coming years in order to fund the proposed CIP. However, the rate increases are not yet approved.
Since joining the City, my goal is to remain very open to our community with our goals and plans to improve upon the City’s water/wastewater infrastructure. However, the expected projects are not a simple undertaking. Completion of these projects to improve the City will take many years and require the funding to pay for them. This will require the support from our City leadership and citizens.
Additional comments on recent main breaks:
I noted some concerns about the recent water main breaks. Remaining open in our communication, I’m providing you with some information below:
First, I’m sorry that our residents have to deal with the breaks and the inconvenience that goes along with these breaks, such as low pressure and boil water alerts. I can assure you we are also concerned with the recent continued water main breaks which have occurred. Please note there are a variety of reasons for the system breaks, and each of the recent breaks have occurred for different reasons, varying from nearby structures inducing a failure to fiber contractors drilling through the pipe. A few of the many factors which can lead to breaks include:
- Aging infrastructure – This is a challenge in every municipality. Certain materials/era’s of construction are more vulnerable than others. We are aware of areas of the system which have pipe material which is more prone to breaks and we are focusing on these areas.
- Loading – External loading/forces and soil conditions can often lead to failure when the pipe cannot handle loading from the nearby forces (vehicle, structures, etc). In particular when soils “soften” in wet/flooded conditions, the pipe becomes more vulnerable.
- Nearby Construction – Often, area construction work such as installation of other utilities by 3rd party contractors can lead to a failure. A few of the recent failures are related to directional drilling of fiber which hit our utilities. We have also recently met with fiber contractors to address recent issues.
- Crossings – Special crossings or conflicts with other utilities (mostly underground) are often more vulnerable (these are difficult to find, such as when a pipe was improperly installed against another structure, which ultimately leads to a failure)
- Storm Events – Note that Hurricane Ian caused a record amount of flooding and impacts to the City, which washed out structures, uprooted trees, etc (impacting pipelines with it). This accounted for many of the water main breaks last year.
We believe some more recent failures may still be related to flooding impacts from last year, in particular with settlement/movement which could add to pipeline stress/loading.
We as a City are not alone, and unfortunately, every utility will experience main breaks. With that said, the City recognizes that there are areas of the City which were originally developed with pipeline which is more likely to break than other materials. We will remain focused on these items, but again, please understand that this will take time and will require funding to accomplish.
Thank you for your patience, understanding and support as we plan and then work though this crucial endeavor. We are committed to making the necessary improvements, and we are confident that, with your support, our water distribution system will be better than ever.