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State report: Drinking water source for Vero Beach ‘in pitiful condition’


More than six months after a poor inspection by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the results showing the sad state of Vero’s drinking water infrastructure are finally coming to light.

“The water source for the system is in pitiful condition,” wrote inspectors Jocelyn Labbe and Zachary Shulman at the conclusion of a two-day, systemwide inspection of Vero Beach Utilities in February.

Widespread leaks. Heavy Corrosion. Missing pumps. Thirteen wells out of service, some for many years. That’s just a sampling of the comments on the inspection reports and non-compliance notice the city received in March. Utilities Director Rob Bolton responded partially to the notice on April 12, saying staff was working on rehabilitating wells or replacing non-compliant components.

An example of the types of bureaucratic answers provided to FDEP by Bolton: “The city is reviewing the cost to repair vs. replace and will add the project to the 5-year capital plan. Once the study is completed the City will forward it to the Department.“

The Vero Beach Utilities Advisory Commission was set to discuss the inspection report and the city’s responses – which appear to have been buried, or at least not showcased, by city staff – this Tuesday. Utilities Commission member Bob Auwaerter, who also sits on the Indian River Shores Town Council, placed the matter on the agenda.

Auwaerter obtained the inspection report not from city staff, but from a concerned citizen. Not remembering the inspection report coming up for public discussion, Auwaerter asked town staff to research city meeting minutes over the past six months to see if the inspection had been presented to the Vero Beach City Council.

No evidence of any presentation or discussion could be found, so he asked for it to be looked at by the Utilities Advisory Commission. Commission Chair Jane Burton is a water-sewer utility expert who worked decades in the field.

“I felt that this was important and needed to be discussed publicly,” Auwaerter said.

The documents from the February inspection may also come into play on Thursday when Indian River Shores’ and Vero’s attorneys meet for closed mediation in the ongoing breach of contract dispute prompted by a disagreement over reuse water rates being charged by Vero. Shores officials claim Vero has violated its utility franchise agreement with the town.

Issues with the water supply the city taps were reported by Vero Beach 32963 throughout 2012 when Indian River Shores was weighing whether to renew its water-sewer franchise with Vero, or switch to Indian River County Utilities for service for the next 15 years.

Of note in those reports was that the city draws the bulk of its water from 26 shallow wells under the Vero Beach Regional
Airport near a closely-monitored decades-old dump site. The city treats the water from the shallow wells and blends it with water from the Floridan Aquifer. Bolton has told elected officials on multiple occasions that this blend enhances the taste and quality of the city’s water supply.