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Water board gets help on salt issue

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By Lou Elliott Jones

Almost eight  months after learning saltwater intrusion was posing a problem with the water supply the Cedar Key Water & Sewer District Board was ready for the good news it received in Monday night's meeting. 

Joe Muttauer and Greg Lang of Mittauer & Associates, Inc., said USDA Rural Development officials who had previously refused to allow the District to use a portion of a $1.9 million grant for a water system improvement project to be used for the purchase of a reverse osmosis (RO) system have changed their minds. The money is available because the low bid for water improvement project came in at $1,217,345. 

The board voted 3-0 to seek the approval of using the funds for the RO system. Voting yes were Leslie Sturmer, Chris Reynolds and Thelma McCain. Absent were Board Chair David Beach and Dottie Haldeman.

The decision means the city can recoup up to 85 percent of the $361,005 it spent on the RO equipment, so long as it remains a permanent part of the water system. 

“Initially Rural Development said we're not so sure,” Mittauer told the board. But in meetings Mittauer's staff pressed the issue. “The answer now is yes.”

The District was forced to declare a water emergency on June 19, 2012, after high salt levels were detected in the water supply. Residents used bottled water for drinking and cooking until August when the RO units came on line. 

Also, in preparation for finding a new, safe source of water, the district board voted 3-0 to spend $1,259 to obtain water samples for analysis from a 442-foot monitoring well at Rosewood. That is in addition to constructing a test well at the  District's well site to obtain water samples for testing. All of this work will go into determining whether and where to drill for a safe, secure water supply. 

“If we find good water at Rosewood, then we could dig the test well at 400 feet,” District Manager John McPherson said, instead of stopping every 100 feet and testing the water quality until “good” water is reached. 

The district has also applied for a 50/50 matching grant of $25,000 with the Suwannee River Water Management District that will help with digging the test well funding and the data collection for the effluent from the water treatment plant. The effluent from desalinating the water is going into a pond. 

Lang said testing the water could cost another $2,500,  and suggested that the University of Florida could help by handing the lab tests. 

In other business the board approved removing sewer charges for a $1,239 bill for Black Dog Bar and Tables that it incurred in August and September. The business's bill normally runs $45-$95 per month.

Black Dog occupies the first floor of a building on Dock Street, while the Pickled Pelican occupies the second floor. Until the middle of last year, both shared one water meter and divided the bill. Last summer, the lone meter was replace with two meters and plumbing for the two businesses was separated.

But a pipe, shared by both businesses and hooked into Black Dog's meter, was overlooked. When the pipe developed a leak, it showed up on Black Dog's bills. When the owner missed the charges, Black Dog's meter was turned off, and the Pickled Pelican also found itself without water.  “It's been a mess since that building has been there,” said McCain. 

“That water went somewhere other than the sewer,” McPherson said. “And Black Dog is being charged .”