Cranes once again mark the Miami skyline, evidence of South Florida’s recovery from a severe economic slump that hit the building industry especially hard here. In fact, over the past year, this growth in construction has brought almost 3,000 new jobs to our community.
This is good news for the local economy. However, the resurgence of our building industry, which is creating new wealth and job opportunities in Miami-Dade, is also highlighting the need for long overdue upgrades to our infrastructure. This is especially true for what lies below the ground: our water supply and sewer systems.
Four months ago, Mayor Carlos Gimenez asked me to take over leadership of Miami-Dade County’s Water & Sewer Department, where a $13-billion capital-improvement program is underway. The projects include important upgrades mandated by the federal government to keep our county in compliance with Clean Water Act standards.
We are proud that our drinking water meets the highest standards. We are also fortunate to have some of the lowest water rates in the country. But, aging pipes and increased demand puts us at serious risk for sewage overflow emergencies along with the possibility of penalties from the federal government if we fail to meet regulatory requirements such as the phase-out of ocean outfalls for disposal of treated wastewater.
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Fortunately, recent advancements allow us to separate, extract, reuse and generate valuable water, energy, nutrients and other commodities from wastewater. This process can then be used to reduce costs and address global energy and environmental concerns. This is where economic development and environmental protection intersect for the good of the community.
Over the next 15 years, water improvements and wastewater upgrades will ensure future economic growth while adhering to environmental guidelines to protect South Florida’s most precious assets, Biscayne Bay and the Everglades.
To get the job done in a cost-efficient and timely manner, it is critical that we change the way the WASD does business. We cannot afford to spend years watching critical projects languish, mired in lengthy procurement processes.
Mayor Gimenez and the County Commission should be commended for supporting new strategies to expedite our capital improvement process including the utilization of public-private partnerships.
So what’s in it for WASD’s 2.3 million customers? The installation of new water lines and replacement of undersized water lines means millions of gallons of water will be saved from leaking out of the system. Water pressure will improve, which will not only be an enhancement for households, but also an important component of fire safety. Perhaps, most important, we ensure that the community’s precious water resources remain clean and safe.
It is WASD’s job to provide customers with high-quality services at a reasonable price and, in doing so, contribute to the well-being of the entire community. Let’s make sure we’re doing everything possible to support future economic growth and the quality of life that makes South Florida a premier place to live, work and play.
Bill Johnson, director, Miami-Dade Water and Sewer, Miami