I’ve been reading about the continuing drama caused by boil water orders in West Palm Beach.  About 6 weeks ago, a 10-day boil order, issued after the water tested positive for fecal coliform, resulted in some serious loss of business in the area.  Restaurants are especially hard hit.  Starbucks had to lock their doors, since their entire system is fed strictly by the public water supply.  Though a local linen service was blamed for the incident at the time, other questions are now arising after an improperly abandoned pipe was found at the water treatment plant.

Investigations continue, and newspaper reports state that a private company, U.S. Water Systems, is now running the plant and reporting directly to the Health Department and the Mayor–bypassing staff. 

Though I haven’t done a thorough job of researching the issue, I do know from years of experience in this business, that with a century old plant (and water distribution system) that chemically treats surface water–problems are bound to happen.  News reports noted that the water plant manager with 30+ years of experience has been placed on a leave of absence.  This was precipitated by another boil water notice over the weekend, a result of a plant operator shutting the wrong valve during an inspection and dropping the pressure in the system.

I doubt that the plant staff are incompetent.  Based on the age of the system, I doubt there are as-built drawings which could easily explain the turning of a wrong valve. 

Funding of drastically needed improvements to the plant and the system must come from the elected officials–water must be a priority.  All too often, critical infrastructure takes a back seat to other “important” projects–beautification, new city buildings, and other nice but not really necessary items.  The money doesn’t get channeled where it really needs to go until major problems start to rear their ugly heads. 

Of course, the staff does have to shoulder some of the blame.  Their job should be to educate their elected officials so the politicians can make informed decisions.  Education might be difficult in some cases–you can’t inform someone who doesn’t want to hear what you have to say.  But every effort should have been made to let those who have the purse strings know the situation.

Regardless, it sounds like the water system in West Palm needs major work, and has for a long time.  Whether they fire the entire staff and have the private company report only to the health department and mayor or not . . . the problems aren’t going to vanish until someone puts some money into the water system.