The series of sewer main breaks that transpired recently in Rio Vista, Victoria Park and Coral Ridge has truly been an unfortunate event for the Fort Lauderdale community. The impact on people’s lives and our precious environment is distressing.

I want the community to know that this City Commission is committed to ensuring that our water, sewer and stormwater systems will keep pace with the demands that we have put on them. We cannot have sewage regularly flowing through our streets, yards and waterways. It is unacceptable.

We intend to invest as much as possible as fast possible across all our vital infrastructure — not only our sewer system, but our water and stormwater utilities as well.

When this commission took office in March 2018, we vowed that infrastructure would be a top priority. In fact, one issue that led me to run for mayor was my frustration with the pace of infrastructure improvement. It was something we sorely needed.

The fact is we have made major strides after inheriting an untenable situation. The issues we are now addressing did not occur overnight - and cannot be fixed overnight.

It took us time to assemble new leadership at the top of city government and in the Public Works Department. Extricating the city from the annual raids on our utility reserves to pay for general operations has been equally difficult given the level of dependence that the prior administration created.

So, what is this new course this commission has charted?

We have launched a five-year plan of major undertakings and are putting in place the means to fund this important work so the city can be resilient, competitive and secure in the evolving world of the 21st century.

Even before the December breaks, plans had been drawn up and we were already at work.

The irony of what occurred is that this City Commission allocated money to begin the rebuilding of the 54-inch line days before it broke. That financing was based on engineering plans that were already shovel-ready.

The city manager has used his emergency purchasing authority to fund a design/build project to immediately replace it. That work should be completed within 90 days.

This commission also has approved the long-term fix: the replacement of the entire seven miles of collection line from its start at the Coral Ridge Country Club to the sewage treatment plant at Port Everglades.

The city manager plans an innovative approach with a pair of contractors working together to compress the construction schedule to a very quick turnaround of 18 months. The old line will then be revitalized with liner sleeve technology so we will have a backup pipe that can used should a break occur on the other.

In all, four major projects are now underway in response to the December events. The speed and scope of this action speaks to this commission’s commitment to the community to greatly improve infrastructure. 

pipe installation in fort lauderdale florida

With our sewer, we are ahead of schedule in addressing an action plan that the city set with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in 2017. In all, we have completed almost half of the 51 milestones that were set and intend to complete all the projects well ahead of the 2026 deadline.

Four miles of new sewer mains now serve downtown and Northwest neighborhoods. Work on the main serving Las Olas is underway. Several key pump stations have been replaced or rehabilitated as well.

The city also has been working hard to prevent the infiltration of groundwater and stormwater into the sewer system. Heavy rains can cause sewer overflows and reduce the capacity in the system.

Today, more than 36 miles of sewer have been lined to prevent inflow. The remainder of this work in designated priority basins will be completed this year.

We expect an assessment of the entire sewer force main system to be completed by March. We will no longer be blind to where our problems are or the degree of their severity.

Another $177 million is scheduled to be invested in 118 miles of sewer pipe. And, $20 million in funding is committed to repair or rehabilitate 29 pump stations. Moreover, we are making critical upgrades at the George T. Lohmeyer Wastewater Treatment Plant.

I think we can say that despite the setbacks of late, Fort Lauderdale is headed in the right direction in fixing our sewer system – rapidly and without delay.

Still, this commission needs to commit itself to go even further.

I am proposing that we must immediately make use of the sewer line risk analysis to broaden our construction program.

To fund these initiatives, we will look to our management team to recommend fair and balanced measures to raise needed funds. Residents should not shoulder the entire burden.

The City Commission raised the water and sewer impact fees assessed on new development in September. The new rate structure went into effect at the end of December.

This was the first update on the impact fees since 2005. The sewer impact fee more than tripled. Water impact fees increased more than 40 percent.

There has been a lot of concern in the public about whether our utilities, particularly the sewer system, can handle the amount of new residential and commercial construction.

The fact is that what has transpired with the series of breaks is by and large the result of deferred maintenance. We had large pipes that could carry sufficient volume, but they were old pipes.

Still, the city must ensure that it does not end up with a capacity problem. We would be negligent if we did not look at this, too. 

I’ve expressed particular concern regarding downtown, where the bulk of development is occurring. Public works administrators assure me that they have been pursuing projects to meet downtown development trends.

For instance, by the end of this month, a new pump station will be brought online downtown that adds 1 million gallons of additional daily sewage capacity to the area.

Water System Fort Lauderdale

Progress is also occurring with our water system.

The vulnerability of the existing water system was made clear this past summer when an FPL subcontractor mistakenly drilled into the pipe that runs from our wellfields to the main water treatment plant.

The most critical aspect of this system that needs attention is the Fiveash Water Treatment Plant. This old plant has a real risk of failure, and renovation is no longer viable.

Several international players in the water industry have expressed interest in a fast-tracked public/private solution that can bring more efficiency, more stable costs, guaranteed maintenance and higher quality water.

We also are investing more in improving our water pipes.

More than four miles of new water main has been installed By 2025, some $53 million invested in the rehabilitation of almost 60 miles of water mains.

Based on this summer’s accident, the city realized the need to definitively locate key valves and consistently test them.

We have mapped 11,224 water distribution valves, with only 10 percent left to go. We just added a crew whose job is to test and maintain valves.

Experts are working on computerized modeling of the entire water system to identify improvements needed as a result of low pressure and inadequate flows in mains.

The city has installed 22 auto-flushing devices - and will add 50 more within the next year - to remove sediment deposits and biofilm from pipes.

And because redundancy is critical, we will upgrade three existing interconnections with the city of Pompano Beach and build a new one on State Road A1A. Construction of this new interconnect will begin in the second quarter of this year.

This commission has also been forward-looking in safeguarding adequate water supply for future generations.

As such, we have joined a consortium of other local governments in a major initiative called the C-51 Reservoir. We have purchased the rights to 3 million gallons of water a day with an option for another 3 million gallons.

Another effort underway should help address concerns of some residents about unusual spikes in their water bill. Our long-term plans call for the replacement of all water meters with ones that can be read wirelessly.

This will allow us to provide detailed usage reports and real-time alerts to residents so they can better manage their water consumption and act on leaks quickly.

165 tidal valves

Lastly, I want to address our efforts regarding stormwater.

This work is critical in light of climate change. High tides and heavy rains now more frequently flood low-lying areas in the city.

In all, 165 tidal valves have been installed to prevent tidal water from backing up through storm drains. Catch basins and drainage pipes have been installed, and public seawalls elevated.

We soon will begin similar stormwater work in seven neighborhoods determined to be most prone to flooding.

This work will cost about $200 million, and we are finalizing a rate structure that will be used to borrow the money. In the meantime, the city manager is using an innovative way to start work now – before the bonds are issued – by tapping a line of credit.

All of the work should be completed in five years. As this work is in progress, the city will finish designing stormwater improvements for neighborhoods in the next phase. 

stormwater improvements in fort lauderdale

The totality of the program I’ve discussed represents an undertaking without precedent in the history of Fort Lauderdale in both size and scope: more than $600 million will be spent in less than five years.

One of my colleagues recently referred to us as the can-do commission. Nothing speaks more to our results-driven approach than these initiatives.

There will be challenges – whether the result of an accident, climate change or the failure of a remaining older part in the system.

But I promise this: At the end of the day, Fort Lauderdale will have the utility infrastructure that a modern metropolitan area expects and deserves.

Sincerely,

Mayor Dean

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