To the Editor:
The Gasparilla Island Water Association has been busy this year planning for future improvements to both your water and wastewater treatment facilities.
The first project will include an expansion to the water treatment facilities,including two new deep wells north of the existing facility. The reverse osmosis plant will also be rehabilitated, with changes that will allow the plant to operate more efficiently and increase production capabilities to 194,000 gallons per day. The increased capacity will reduce our dependency upon Charlotte County Utilities during peak flow periods.
We are pleased to report that GIWA secured a 1.16 percent 20-year loan through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection State Revolving Loan Fund (SRF) to finance this project.
GIWA has awarded the contract for construction of the project to Brandes Design Build, Inc. for a total contract amount of $3,742,450. The notice to proceed will be issued in January 2016.
Additionally, our existing wastewater treatment facility is nearing the end of its useful life; therefore, we are reviewing options, one of which is to replace the existing treatment facility with a plant constructed to last fifty years. Initial cost estimates are around thirteen million dollars. This capital improvement is timed to coincide with the retirement of our oldest loans that mature in 2019, which will free up cash to repay new debt but will still require some creative financing.
GIWA is not eligible at this time to finance wastewater projects through the low-interest SRF fund, but we are researching options for low -nterest funding.
Your Board will continue to explore the replacement and financing options next year.
GIWA’s water withdrawal permit issued by Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) in 2011 includes a requirement that we reduce our daily average water use per person from an average of 176 gallons as follows:
- Reduce to 164 gallons per person by December 31, 2014, and
- Reduce to 150 gallons per person by December 31, 2019.
We not only met but exceeded our 2014 mandate with a reduction to 158 gallons per person. Water usage actually increased in 2014, but an increase in average population reduced our per-person usage by two gallons per day. The average population is determined by a complicated formula involving year-round residents, seasonal residents, tourists staying in vacation rental homes and hotels plus daily commuters to the island, including employees, contractors, day tourists, etc.
While we met the first mandate, we must reduce our water usage further to meet the 2019 mandate. GIWA wants to remind everyone that if landscape sprinklers are turned off when it rains, it will go a long way toward meeting our permit mandate. The easiest way to accomplish this is to install automatic rain shutoff devices that override irrigation systems when sufficient rain has fallen.
Florida law requires a working rain shutoff device for all automatic sprinkler systems. Besides being a requirement, this is simply an easy way to save not only one of our most precious resources, but also money on your monthly water bill.
With many island residences unoccupied several months of the year, high bills due to leaks and problems with sprinkler systems happen regularly. When we discover problems either while reading meters or through reports from neighbors, we make every effort to contact homeowners or the local representatives to prevent any additional water loss. If we are unable to reach anyone, we will turn the water off as well. Requests are often made for an adjustment to the water usage charges; however, GIWA does not have an allowance in its by-laws or rate structure to make adjustments for high usage.
GIWA is a non-profit utility with fixed costs such as debt service, insurance, salaries, laboratory fees, etc. covered by your base water and sewer charges. The water usage charges are designed to cover the actual cost of producing and pumping the water to your home.
Your Board of Directors feels that if we begin making adjustments, the revenues lost to cover the cost of producing the water will have to be recovered through higher rates to all members.
In closing the 2015 year, GIWA is on sound financial ground. Your Board will remain proactive in planning for future maintenance projects and upgrades to the water and wastewater system.