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Beginning a long water and sewer journey

 

There has been substantial publicity regarding our need to address deficiencies in our water and sewer system that have accumulated as those systems have aged beyond their intended life. Water and sewer services are usually taken for granted, but every resident of Miami-Dade County and every visitor uses these essential services several times every day. Neither our economy nor our environment can be sustained without reliable water and sewer systems.

The plan to update these systems in order to improve reliability, comply with regulations and meet future needs is now at hand. We need to invest more than $4 billion over the next six to eight years and more than $12 billion over the next 15 to 20 years to guarantee the reliability and availability of these critical services. These investments become obvious when you consider that our newest sewer plant was built in the 1970s, and our newest water plant was built in the 1960s. And, the majority of our 14,000 miles of pipes is more than 40 years old. We have already experienced catastrophic pipeline failures that can cost up to 10 times more to replace on an emergency basis than before a failure occurs.

We are mindful of the importance of keeping costs as low as possible. Between 1995 and 2013 the average customer experienced a 43 percent increase in service costs. During that same time period, the national index for water and sewer utility costs increased by 118 percent.

To some extent, the decline in our system’s reliability is a consequence of limited investment reflected in our extremely low rates. An increase in rates of 8 percent, effective Oct. 1 is needed to finance the first set of projects to put us on a path to sustainability. This translates to a monthly increase for an average customer of $3.36, bringing the average monthly bill to $45.39. Even with this increase, our customers will pay less than customers elsewhere in the state and nation.

As we implement this ambitious, but necessary plan, Mayor Carlos Gimenez has insisted that every opportunity be explored to ensure efficiency in the system.

While there are costs and some disruption that are unavoidable as we repair our “hidden” infrastructure, the benefits far exceed the cost. This work will be done incrementally over time, taking into consideration changes in our community in terms of economic development, population growth and the likely impacts of climate change. We’ll also incorporate the use of new technologies to ensure the plan is implemented in a cost-effective manner.

Finally, we plan to keep our customers and residents fully apprised of our progress so that our performance is consistent with their expectations. We are at the beginning of a long journey that will pay large dividends for many years to come.

John Renfrow, director, Miami Dade Water and Sewer Department

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