Water pressure debate continues on Marco

Skepticism remains concerning reason for water pressure increases

— A swirl of skepticism is surrounding three known facts on Marco Island — There is a shortage of money in the water utility; there is a history of low water pressure in some areas of the Island, and increasing the water pressure will increase Marco customers’ bills.

Despite attempts by Utility Director Rony Joel and City Manager Steve Thompson to answer the question of whether the utility increased water pressure to increase income, Chairman Rob Popoff said Thursday evening he doesn’t feel completely confident with the answers thus far.

“Let’s just say, based on the individuals I’ve talked to, including even the employees, I’m not confident it wasn’t done on purpose to bring more money into the utility,” Popoff said.

Thompson says that proving a negative, or proving motive, was next to impossible.

Four senior staff members in the utility, including Joel, were reprimanded this week for their lack of communication during water pressure changes. Those changes began in the summer, but the public was not appropriately informed about how it might affect them, Thompson acknowledged. Reprimand included several days of docked pay, city leaders reported.

“These are people with a lot of experience, they should know what to anticipate ... It was a team and that’s why innocent and wicked alike suffered,” Thompson said.

Water pressure needed to be increased and increasing pressure would bring in more money, but revenue was not the reason, he added.

“It was an appropriate response to a low pressure problem.”

Furthermore, data on income to the utility does not indicate that water pressure was the cause for significant revenue increases, rather usage fluctuated more based on rainfall, Thompson reported.

Popoff, however, said council will be pursuing the issue further.

“We will get to the bottom of this. When I see individuals who have never been politically aligned gathering together ... This has the makings of something more volatile than the STRP, if this is not handled and explained properly, if we find out this was done for revenue purposes.”

Consulting firm Black and Veatch Engineering was hired by the city in 2008 to assist in project planning and water pressure issues and consultant Bobby Burchett of the firm verified to council Tuesday that water pressure increases were needed to meet minimum state requirements and fire suppression demands.

“I want to ensure council that, in spite of what has been said, we have not increased the water pressure to sell water,” Joel said.

Burchett confirmed that he had first-hand knowledge of the water pressure falling below the state’s 20 PSI (pounds per square inch) minimum requirement in 14 locations on the Island, including the Estates area.

The highest demand is between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. due to irrigation and that’s part of the reason for needing to increase the pressure at the plant at night, Thompson said.

Customers could save money by avoiding watering during those times, he added.

The increased water pressure increased bills in some isolated areas by about $2 to $4 per month, Thompson reported.

This increase is on properties close to the plant that water at the peak times, but most customers won’t see an increase due to water pressure, he added.

Some residents and sprinkler companies have said the increased water pressure is a blessing, rather than a problem.

“I am thrilled we have water now because I was concerned if anyone’s house caught fire, we were screwed,” said Debbie Roddy of the Estates area of the Island.

Marco resident Tarik Ayasun, whose December bill doubled from his average bill, was an extreme case that came with a multitude of contributing factors, not just water pressure increases at the plant, city officials said.

Councilman Jerry Gibson questioned why there were reports from residents who said their water pressure was higher than the maximum 86 PSI pressure that Joel reported at the plant.

“When you leave the plant at 80 pounds there is no way in Newton’s Laws of physics that it can go higher.”

Joel later added that condos do use devices, booster pumps, to increase pressure in their properties. Condos are not seeing any bill increases, Thompson said.

Gibson asked about mechanisms to install to lower the pressure.

Back flow preventers, which cost about $275, will decrease water pressure by 10 PSI, but some will find they lower the water pressure too much, possibly not even allowing a toilet to be flushed, Joel said.

Utility committee member Amadeo Petricca proposed splitting the irrigation times for different areas of the Island. Currently morning watering is allowed from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m.

Projects planned in the next four years will allow water pressure at the plant to be brought back down to an average range of 70 to 72 PSI, down from the current range of 78 to 80 PSI.

Projects include new pipeline leaving the south water plant, a new water tank at that plant, and pipeline upgrades in the 14 areas identified in the consultant’s report.

The projects will cost $3.5 million over a four-year period in conjunction with the south water tank project that should be on line by mid 2011, Joel said.

“We now have a defined issue and a defined solution.”

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Comments » 9

condoseller writes:

It appears there were many conversations about increasing water pressure to increase revenue despite contrary claims. If not, why was disciplinary action taken? How many more residential pinhole leaks developed in water pipes because of this pressure increase? What does, "innocent and wicked alike suffered,” mean? We know residents with unnecessarily higher water bills are the innocent but who is "wicked"? What a statement! I better make sure I shut my water off before traveling.

ed34145 writes:

Condoseller: "I better make sure I shut my water off before traveling."

No matter where you live, it's a good idea to turn your water off before leaving. Leaks can happen anywhere, anytime.

MrBreeze writes:

High pressure is not the only cause for pinholes.

I examined a piece of copper that had pinholes and in my opinion the copper was thinned to the point of pinholes. Causes of this a very rare. Copper itself in a Florida building is attacked two ways. It is from the salt air enviorment it is installed in and secondly by the water that travels through the pipe itself.

Causes of internal failure are usually chemical reactions with the friction of water travel actually "wearing" the pipe wall away thin. Other causes can be reverse osmosis along with chemical reaction used to treat the water supply.

Most copper failures are isolated events. When you have failure of piping in many homes in the same area you would have to suspect the water supply because all copper does not fail at the same time. I know that one year my water was "green" at all the taps and I had to flush them clean. That tells me that internally the copper had a reaction.

Copper in general does not "wear out" it will corriode as will any metal but it takes many years to failure. Homes built by Deltona in 1969 have 41 year old copper piping that at the time was the standard. Failures below the home (slab and Below grade) are usually caused by the concrete that surrounds the copper attacks the copper and the movement up and down of the slab causes the failure.

Piping of homes today is far advanced. "pex" poly pipe is the way to go for a home on the island. There are no solder joints and no metal involved.

I see more failures on the way for the older homes seeing that the conditions are tough for the copper to survive. Many people will face bills in the thousands of dollars to re-pipe their homes.

High water pressure does not help the situation of old and weak copper so I would say you will see a higher number of failures when the pressure is higher.

It is up to the City of Marco Island to provide even pressure and volume to residents. Adjusting the pressure is not the "cure all" for the problem. My question would be If the City was aware of water main problems long ago why did they not install new mains along with the sewer STRP project? Excavation was done for STRP, water could have been piped and laid at the same time. Upgrading now will mean new excavation, higher costs more fees.

I think the time has come for a new Utility Director to replace Mr. Rony Joel.

happy6 writes:

please help me here....two years ago the water utility was a huge cash cow for the city...what happened? we have injection wells, new facilities, new plant higher rates etc etc...what happened?

MarcoJimbo writes:

Pinhole leaks are not and never have been a problem in the City of Naples where the majority of homes are older (copper plumbed) than here on Marco. Their water treatment plant adds phosphate at 1 part per million which forms a protective film in the piping and makes for a very effective corrosion control method. This is common industry practice. Also, Shadow is correct. The utility is a huge cash cow. They now chip-in for the City Attorney, Finance Department, Public Works (STRP repaving), and the Fire Department (hydrant repair/replacement). Rony Joel has worn out his welcome and needs to go. Maybe Bill Moss can take him in, there's an open Public Works Director's job in Naples last I heard.

ajm3s writes:

Back flow preventers are designed specifically to prevent backflow. If you wish to control (reduce) pressre, you would install a pressure regulating valve. But since the city manipulates pressure to meet increase flow demand during peak hours, the only valid solution is to change the line (pipe)size. The city is in a tough spot until it makes these changes. They are limited by the line size. Bernouli's Equation. Please don't pay alot of money for consultants.

condoseller writes:

I hope a City Councilor asks the City Manager who he finds to be wicked. It is an odd choice of words. Something serious and cumulative must be afoot for Mr. Joel to be docked.

Thanks to others for their advice on water pipes and how to handle the excessive pressure. I will shut my water off before leaving tomorrow. I can't risk getting more pinhole leaks while traveling.

PBH writes:

I wonder if Rony Joel gets a bonus based on water company profits and/or billing? If so, looks like more investigation is needed.

MrBreeze writes:

I say seeing we the residesnts of Marco Island own the water plant it is time that it is operated with no profit at all seeing it's only function is to provide water to Marco Island.

Fire Rony Joel, find someone with real business sense and someone with waterplant operating experience that can provide us with fair and honest pricing of our water with out all the drama.

This is a real mess we have let the politicans get us into.

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