By Christine Stapleton

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

The South Florida cities and counties that would fund a major water supply
project for their drought-prone region learned Tuesday that its projected
cost has soared from $451 million to $1 billion — and they didn’t like it.

“To me, the numbers that we see now compared to the original numbers have
cooled my enthusiasm,” Alan Garcia, director of the Broward County
Water and Wastewater Services, told officials of the Lake Worth Drainage
District, the lead agency in the project. “You’re at least a
half-billion dollars off in those estimates.”

But district officials said the project is still the best solution to the
region’s water needs and told utility representatives at a meeting Tuesday
that they had until Feb. 28 to sign on. “If we don’t more forward,
shame on us,” said Woody Woodraska, a consultant hired by the district
to oversee planning. “It’s the last remaining inexpensive water in

More than a dozen utility representatives discussed the ambitious project,
known as the C-51 Reservoir Project, which calls for building a massive
reservoir in western Palm Beach county to capture storm water that is
currently flushed into the Lake Worth Lagoon. The water would be sent to
communities in southern Palm Beach County and Broward and Miami-Dade

From its start, the project required cooperation and commitment from a
patchwork of utilities, water managers and a controversial mining company —
all with separate motives and needs — to make the plan work.

The project could provide up to 175 million gallons of water a day to the
counties. However, only a handful of communities have signed on — not
nearly enough to make the project viable.

The South Florida Water Management District, Palm Beach County and Fort
Lauderdale have agreed to partner with the Lake Worth Drainage District.
Boynton Beach, Delray Beach, Pompano Beach, Dania, Plantation and Margate
have signed non-binding agreements to participate.

But big water consumers, such as Florida Power Light, Broward and
Miami-Dade have not signed on.

The board of directors of the Lake Worth Drainage District — which has spent
$350,000 studying and pushing the project — set the deadline for potential
users to sign on and Woodraska said the participants will be asked to pony
up between $25,000 and $50,000 to offset planning costs.

It was a tough sell to the utility representatives who would have to take it
to their bosses — ultimately the public.

“I cannot sell it with these numbers here,” said Reddy Chitepu,
Director of Environmental and Engineering Services in Margate, whose city
will not need the additional water for 15 years. “For us to come up
with this kind of money now — we don’t know how the economics are going to
work out.”

Ernie Cox, a spokesman for mining company Palm Beach Aggregates, explained
that cost estimates rose because the planned capacity of the reservoir on
the company’s site grew substantially, from a volume of 15-billion to
24-billion gallons of water, due to better estimates of future demand. In
addition, the larger reservoir size required much larger pumps — capable of
moving twice as much water.

Water quality issues also troubled officials at the meeting.

Some canals in Palm Beach County have been classified “impaired”
because of low oxygen, high coliform and elevated nutrient concentrations.
That raises concerns about the ability to transfer water from LWDD canals to
cleaner Broward County canals without violating state or federal water
quality standards, the report said, and about the “potential need for
alternative distribution routes, or additional treatment”

“Until we have a guarantee of what we’re getting for the money, we can’t
go to the commission and ask for the money,” said Randy Brown, the
utility director in Pompano Beach. “Are water quality costs going to
increase the cost?”

Bevin Beaudet, head of Palm Beach County’s water utility, agreed. “That’s
a big unknown,” he said.

Beaudet supports the project but said he “wants to see more interest from
other utilities.”

Although not discussed at Tuesday’s meeting, the study also raised concerns
about the amount of water that would be lost to seepage. Analysis showed
that during the dry season, the amount of water that seeped through the
canal bed as the water headed south was nearly as much — and sometimes as
much — as the additional water pumped from the reservoir.