As chronic instability abounds in Delray Beach, many blame the mayor for effectuating a toxic culture that drives conflict from the dais and rewards loyalty over merit. Thus, precipitating Delray’s revolving door of seven city mangers in the last six years. The constant turnover of leadership and staff at the city has seemingly created spaces for negligence and corruption to proliferate.
The latest manifestation of Delray Beach’s malignance from the top pertains to allegations of drinking water contamination from January 2018. Improper installation of Delray’s reclaimed water system is the alleged cause of the contamination, which may have triggered bouts of illness to residents on Delray’s barrier island. Speculation of an ensuing cover-up from Delray’s mayor almost certainly deserves a closer look.
Reclaimed water is highly treated wastewater primarily used for irrigation and is also the linchpin of South Florida’s future water use strategy. It is a sustainable and cost-effective water supply that reduces withdrawals from our aquifers and scales back discharges into our bays from wastewater plants. With proper oversight, reclaimed water is extremely safe.
Prior to his controversial removal at the hands of Delray Beach’s mayor, George Gretsas – Delray’s most recent former city manager – hired the longtime county utilities director, Hassan Hadjimiry, to clean up the mess several months ago. To herald the arrival of such a qualified administrator, a citizen review board should also be established to ensure transparency, safety and freedom from political pressure.
Although Delray Beach’s troubling water problems appear to have been resolved for now, an increasing number of residents have requested to “opt-out” of the city’s reclaimed water program – a program that should be expanded, not abandoned. Currently, approximately 15% of the city has access to reclaimed water. Public trust in the efficacy of Delray’s reclaimed water system is essential to its growth.
The daily demand for drinking water in South Florida is projected to increase over 17% over the next 20 years as our population rises steadily. With the increase in droughts and mismanagement of Lake Okeechobee as a backup water supply, demand could rapidly outpace supply. Water scarcity is a major threat for South Florida. A serious paradigm shift is needed to address this impending catastrophe. We are behind the curve compared to cities in California, Australia and Singapore.
Simply put, we don’t have time for alleged malfeasance or recklessness from our public officials when it comes to our water supply. It’s not only our public health that hangs in the balance, but also our progress towards a sustainable future. The residents of Delray Beach deserve better.
ROB LONG, DELRAY BEACH
Editor’s note: Long is chair of the Palm Beach Soil & Water Conservation District.