City says water system a far cry from what it used to be
AVON PARK When Avon Park City Manager Julian Deleon first saw the city’s water system, its equipment was outdated, corroded and had exposed wires, he recalled Wednesday. Deleon, who was then director of public works, said the system failed to properly control water pressure, resulting in water line breaks that occurred frequently and weak flow at other times. “Prior to my tenure, the equipment at the plants was obsolete, inefficient and unreliable,” Deleon said. “There had been electrical explosions, the electrical panels had severe corrosion.” He estimated no substantial improvements had been made in 40 years. Four years later, the system is computerized, much more reliable and has new equipment, including a new generator that helps ensure service during power outages, he said.Although upgrading the system to an improved one designed by Deleon required a $900,000 investment, that set the stage for better control and savings, he said. Among other things, the water system can be controlled remotely via computer. Deleon demonstrated that by quickly changing and then changing back the water pressure for the system, saying that the city could respond quickly if a problem occurred. He said the system on Wednesday had four pumps, but only one working. That provided considerable backup should a problem occur, he said. Although the water plants are not staffed full time, the remote monitoring, cameras, barbed wires and other security protect the system, he said. Even when the plants had more staffing, it wasn’t 24 hours a day, he added. The city has cut the plant workforce from four full-time to two full-time employees and one part-time employee. While the city says the system is vastly improved, Tammy Macklin, president of the Local 3597 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees filed a complaint with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection claiming that the city sacrificed public safety to save money. The union claimed generally that the city used unlicensed employees to make repairs in order to save money. However, the state has rejected the complaint. “The Department performed a thorough review of the city’s records and found no ongoing related violations,” Jon M. Inglehart, director of district management for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, wrote to Hector R. Ramos, director of AFSCME Council 79, District 3. Ramos said the union and the employees had concerns and voiced them to the experts, who determined the city met the requirements. Deleon said the city does what is necessary to maintain safe water. The city employs two Florida licensed engineers and two dual certified treatment plant operators. “We collect over 30 water samples and perform water quality testing on a monthly basis,” he said. “This ensures that the water is safe ad that quality is maintained.” In 2011, he noted, the city won the best tasting water award for the state and statewide recognition from DEP on regulatory compliance and operation excellence. Jim Beddingfield, the master chief plant operator for the city, said he had some reservations initially about the coming changes, but likes them now. He said it’s good the system is now in the 21st century.