Bedind the scenes with the Island's 'Water Wizards'

Steady flow: Complex systems keep Marco supplied with water

'No, it's not nuclear,' says Jeff Poteet, but this reactor is a key component in purifying Marco's drinking water. Marco Island Utilities provides services to all island residents every time they turn on a faucet or flush a toilet. Lance Shearer/Eagle Correspondent

Photo by LANCE SHEARER // Buy this photo

"No, it's not nuclear," says Jeff Poteet, but this reactor is a key component in purifying Marco's drinking water. Marco Island Utilities provides services to all island residents every time they turn on a faucet or flush a toilet. Lance Shearer/Eagle Correspondent

— When you turn on a faucet in your home, you expect the water to flow. And it does. You expect it to be clean and drinkable, and it is. But how often do you stop and think about what is involved in getting that water to your glass, your washing machine or your lawn, or removing your sewage?

Marco Islanders connect with their utilities department every time they use a cup of water, even if the only time they give it much thought is when they pay their utility bill. The massive system of pipes, valves and sensors stretch throughout the island and miles away. As city manager Dr. Jim Riviere pointed out, the cost for the utilities department is as much as all other city operations combined, but the complex web of infrastructure that keeps the water flowing reliably operates out of sight and, in most cases, out of mind.

The headquarters for Marco Island Utilities is at the North Water Treatment Plant, behind a chain link fence topped with barbed wire and a remote controlled gate, off of Elkcam Circle. If the expenditures involved in utility operations are massive, it isn’t because the department has built itself a Taj Mahal.

Utilities General Manager Jeff Poteet’s office is in a doublewide trailer, one of three within the sprawling complex of tanks, pumps and treatment equipment. The carpet is tattered and mud-stained, with racks of engineering drawings, mismatched furniture and ancient, scuffed chairs around a nondescript table.

Marco Island, Poteet explained, has two distinct water sources. The bulk of the water used comes from the Marco Lakes site, a 207 acre facility nine miles north of the island near the corner of U.S. 41 and Collier Blvd., which provides six to eight million gallons per day. This water is fresh, and comes primarily from groundwater infiltration, rainfall that flows into the lakes.

A second source comes from 15 groundwater wells on the island, providing water that starts off quite brackish salty and must be purified via a more expensive reverse osmosis (RO) process. These wells are 500 feet deep, and the water, with total dissolved solids of five to 12 thousand parts per million is much saltier than the 3,000 ppm generally utilized with RO systems.

Marco faces another problem with its water supply. The winter months, when population and demand soar, are also the driest. To deal with this, the utility uses ASR, or aquifer storage and recovery. Seven wells at the Marco Lakes site, extending down 780 feet into the ground, are filled with a billion gallons of water, to draw on during the dry months, as is happening right now. One additional well, to dispose of the salty wastewater from the RO plant, goes down 3,300 feet, over 3/5 of a mile.

“You won’t see that water for 10,000 to 15,000 years,” said Poteet. There is no gravity flow on the flat island, with all movement of water accomplished through the use of massive pumps. In one room at the North plant the city also has a South plant off Lily Court three 200 horsepower vertical turbine pumps make a continual whine. And what if LCEC loses electric power? Do the taps run dry?

“We can’t have that,” said Poteet, indicating one building filled with a backup generator. “We run that four times a month, under load,” to ensure the flow will continue.

One further issue is where to put all the storage tanks, settling ponds, filters and other equipment, on an island where space is at a premium. Looking at the layout at the North plant, the components seem as crammed in as the innards of an outboard engine or a laptop computer. On the ground, the 10.76-acre North plant is a jumble of valves, color-coded piping, filters, switches and control stations.

“Engineers look at this and say, ‘How did you get that much stuff in this footprint?” said Bruce Weinstein, senior project manager. “We have one of the most technologically advanced water systems in the world.” The challenge comes, said Poteet, when they have to upgrade the system, while keeping it in operation, which is currently going on with the installation of a new RO system that is taking the island’s water, already three times cleaner than state standards, and improving it by a factor of 10. Water quality is checked continually.

Weinstein, who has a Ph.D., is a tremendous asset to the department, said Poteet, who collaborated on a recent article in Florida Water Resources Journal’s March issue with him and two additional co-authors. Riviere said the same thing about Poteet.

“He is one of our rising stars,” said the city manager. “Jeff started out in an hourly position, and worked his way all the way up to general manager and that’s kind of hard to do these days. He completed his undergraduate degree (at the University of South Florida), and earned an MBA from Hodges (University).” Poteet was elected president of the Florida Water & Pollution Control Association in November.

Marco’s Water and Sewer Dept. has 74 employees, and 716,613 feet, or over135 miles, of water mains. Poteet said that while the utility budget is $27 million, that includes paying down the debt for buying the system, which otherwise would have been operated for profit by some municipalities in the Panhandle. Operating expenses are “only” $10 to $11 million.

Another time, said Poteet, he would be happy to detail the “much more exciting” wastewater side of the system.

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Comments » 16

2themoon writes:

Are you kidding me??!! Marco water is disqusting. We cant even filter it with a Pur water filter.we use to feed it to our dog and it litteraly corroded the plastic on the dog bowl. Please the water here is terrible!

WMissow writes:

What is the city doing about the corrosion that the water appears to be causing to copper pipes? Several people in our area have had to have some pipes or all pipes replaced. The city water appears to be responsible and should be investigated, thoroughly.

None of my friends in Naples have that problem.

gladesgator writes:

What is the need of the reverse osmosis system? What is the relative cost of the water from the 12 wells? What would it take to capture some of the rain water to return to the system and use the natural prurificaton of the Sun and its water transport scheme?

Come on NDN, give us something to think about.

2themoon writes:

What aminute!!! I do believe i found a way for he city to get out of debt. Bottle the water and sell it as paint remover! We'll make millions.

happy6 writes:

the water out of the tap has a very high smell of chlorine...more so than my pool water.

dc5799 writes:

What does mismatched furniture, tattered stained carpet have to do with the quality of the drinking water?

WMissow writes:

I am worried about getting pin hole leaks in my copper pipes such as my neighbors did.

What are they adding to the water causing that? Please, can anybody answer this?

MrBreeze writes:

I was told some years back that the water process caused the water to actually "thin" or "scratch" the inside of copper water lines. I have seen some with the pinholes and it is strange.

I was also told that the Reverse process put a charge in the water making it do the same thing to the copper.

I have never heard an "official" reason for it all I know is copper lasts 100+ years in other parts of the country. I believe that I saw some examples on-line of copper failure. Google and find out.

The piping of choie is PEX plastic. That seems to be what most people are installing on the island.

I do not like the taste of the Marco Island water. I drink bottled.

WMissow writes:

Thank you for the explanation.

I have heard of PEX through my plumber and was told that some insurance companies will not insure houses that use PEX. Something to completely check out.

Either way, this does not help out since the water company, in fact, may be causing the problem and they should pay for the damages it causes such as floors and walls needed to broken through to get to the pinhole. Why do they not have insurance themselves for the damages?

Whole house pipe replacement was some $9000 to re-pipe and repair a neighbors house.

MrBreeze writes:

Wmissow I do not know about the Insurance coverage, most new homes today are plumed with PEX. PEX is a manufacture and I know there are others making the same type plastic line product.

The copper homes on the island were plumed through the slab which makes repair challenging. I would install new branch lines in the attic and then drops down. The process is not that bad if you have a plan for access to get to tubs, showers with minor distrubtion. I would not break floors to fix copper. I would switch out to a new plastic water system.

WMissow writes:

MrB, Good info, was just doing some of my own research and found out the Reverse Osmosis that we are using my be the culprit that is causing the copper pipes to pin hole.

Please read the following

MrBreeze writes:

Wmissow Yes I have read that when this first became a topic on the island. It seems reverse osmosis can cause the water to become charged and then the breakdown of the copper can occur.

As I said before I have never heard an "official" reason for the problem. It may be a combination of things. Good luck on your repairs. Thanks for the link.

WMissow writes:

MrB, Thank you. Found some additional info you may find interesting.

Very Low Alkalinity below 100 ppm+ Very High PH above 8 is detrimental to copper pipes.

Just had my water tested after running for 5 minutes Alkalinity 70 ppm, PH off the chart well above 8. What is the city doing about this?

MrBreeze writes:

WMissow, Interesting How are Alkalinity and PH controlled or balanced in muninicipal water?

WMissow writes:

MrB, I will not claim to know that answer. I think that our water company should do everything it is capable of in order to prevent additional problems to copper pipes, whether it be from reverse osmosis or the Alkalinity and PH balance.

Leaving the problem of pin hole leaks on the backs of property owners to deal with on this island is not acceptable.

Instead of simply supplying the water that is palatable, and questionably so, is not the only responsibility our water dep't should concern itself with.

What is going on and why?

RayPray writes:

in response to 2themoon:

Are you kidding me??!! Marco water is disqusting. We cant even filter it with a Pur water filter.we use to feed it to our dog and it litteraly corroded the plastic on the dog bowl. Please the water here is terrible!

"Marco water is disqusting"

I can't add much to Ph discussion, but, come on, Marco water is clear and tastes great!

If you got talked into some overpriced & unnecessary Kitnetco or Culligan system, you was scammed....

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