CHARLOTTE HARBOR — Help is on the way for people in the Charlotte Harbor Water Association where aging pipes and pumps break on a regular basis leading to cautionary boil notices every few months.
These issues affect not just the residents, but potentially businesses or restaurants in the area that people may visit, too.
The help will be in the form of a $7.1 million loan and a $5.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Charlotte Harbor Water Association Superintendent Scott Baker anticipates construction could begin as soon as February with laying down 85,000 feet of new pipe in the region that hugs the Peace River. The 5 square mile area serves about 5,000 customers in some of the county’s older neighborhoods along with new residences.
It also includes the Sunseeker resort, which is not yet built.
Full relief will not be quick, however. The project is expected to take three years, Baker said. The first pipes to be installed will be the biggest mains, which will provide some immediate relief.
“They’ll get relief, but they won’t see full relief until it’s all done,” he said.
Water pressure problems are particularly bad in the oldest areas of the district to the east of US 75, Baker said, where a 2-inch pipe might supply a 5-unit condominium building. That means some residents cannot shower and do the dishes at the same time, he said, for example.
“Our number one complaint is lack of flow to people’s home,” Baker said.
More alarming is the fact that many fire hydrants would not serve to fight a fire, because the pressure is too low. Instead, firefighters use the hydrants to fill their truck tanks that have sufficient pressure.
“That’s why we’re doing this,” said Baker. “Our system is an aging system. It’s falling apart.”
The initial system was built by General Development Corporation back in 1964. That was before there were any requirements for water pipes to accommodate firefighting, Baker said.
Baker has been on the job for only two years, replacing a longtime superintendent who left along with the entire board of directors. Rates had not increased much over the years. The last overhaul to the plant on Highlands Road was in the 1990s.
After a new board took over, residents actually praised the 21.5% rate increase, saying it was about time. The USDA required that the district overhaul its rates.
Once the project design is approved by the USDA, the district will begin to replace all asbestos pipes and all pipes under 4 inches. New pipes will be polyvinyl chloride or PVC pipes of 6, 8 and 10 inch diameter.
Replacing the pipes is the first of a three-part overhaul. The district is preparing a request for $12.6 million to upgrade the water treatment plant, and also, to build a deep injection well for high salt content water left over from processing. The district has been using the canal to dispose of this, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said that arrangement will soon end.
The third part of the overhaul is to build a new storage tank to replace the tower that looms over the landscape near Kings Highway and US41. That tower was used when they got it in 1980. The cost to build a new tank will be between $1 million and $1.5 million, Baker said.
So far, the district has qualified for the maximum grant amount of 45% of the project, Baker said, with the rest coming in low interest, 40-year loans. These funds are not available to the bigger water authorities in the region, because their populations do not qualify as rural.
And don’t blame it on Sunseeker, Baker said.
“All these projects have nothing to do with Sunseeker,” Baker reiterated. “We’re getting these water main breaks, and Sunseeker hasn’t taken a drop from us.”