Palm Beach smart to look ahead to 2029 regarding water supply
To the Town Council, Oct. 1, 2029, is right around the corner.
That’s when the town’s current water contract with the city of West Palm Beach expires. And though it’s seven years away, the town is already working to keep its head above water.
That means looking at several options now for water service, some with price tags so high that they may not be easy to swallow.
The simplest solution, renewing the contract with West Palm Beach, is not as easy as it seems. The town will not soon easily forget last year’s debacle when the algal toxin cylindrospermopsin was discovered in the water supply, leading the city – after an unconscionable lag of eight days – to warn residents of West Palm Beach, Palm Beach and South Palm Beach not to drink from the tap.
But the mess-up of West Palm Beach led to a panel of experts tasked with reviewing the circumstances leading up to the discovery of the toxin and propose future remedies. And the city began sharing its sampling and water test data with the town. If such cooperation continues, renewing the contract may become more palatable.
Considering that scare, as well as the algae blooms that have contaminated water throughout the state in recent summers, and the possible saltwater inundation of freshwater sources from sea-level rise driven by climate change, access to fresh water may soon become our most critical need .
The newfound spirit of cooperation with West Palm Beach could ultimately lead the town to form a partnership to upgrade the city’s water plant to include membrane or reverse-osmosis treatment.
Or the town could go down other avenues. It could build its own water-treatment utility on town-owned property on Quadrille Boulevard in West Palm Beach or at Phipps Ocean Park. The Phipps option, though, already seems doomed after several council members, including South End resident Lew Crampton, objected to it.
“If we go forward with this, I will be one of the people with a flaming torch in hand and a pitchfork,” he said at a recent council meeting. “This is certainly not something that the South End will greet with open arms.”
Also on the table are possible agreements with Palm Beach County and Lake Worth Beach. All the options have hefty costs, ranging from up to $ 70 million to renew the contract with West Palm Beach, to $ 465 million to establish a town-owned water source. Some solutions would require tearing up roads so new pipes can be brought into town, which would lead to unwanted traffic tie-ups.
It may seem overwhelming, but the town should be given credit for not sitting back before the tap runs dry come Oct. 1, 2029.