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St. Augustine cites safety reasons for water release. Residents cry 'waste'

10:12 PM, Jul 3, 2012   |    comments
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ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- As you drive on U-S 1 in St. Johns County near Cornwell's Market, it's easy to miss a pipe that gushes city water.

That's because it's in the weeds and about 30 feet off the side of the road.

But Doug Laidlaw knows it's there.  Tuesday he shook his head, "When I can't water may yard but twice a week... well, this is just sad!"

Laidlaw lives around the corner on Stokes Landing Road. He says he's watched water gush out of the pipe for years.

Tuesday, he even clocked how long it took to fill a five gallon bucket.  He stuck the white plastic bucket in the stream of water two separate times. Both times, it was full in twelve seconds.

That's the equivalent of 252,000 gallons a week.

That's enough to fill two Olympic-size swimming pools in six weeks.  

"I'm unhappy with the situation because it should not have happened in the first place," Laidlaw said.

He blames the City of St. Augustine.

The city says it has to release the water.

St. Augustine Public Works Director Martha Graham said, "Unfortunately, we have to do this."

In the 1990's, the City of St. Augustine installed water pipe north along U.S. 1, outside of the city limits. The city hoped to garner customers in future neighborhoods.

"As it turned out, with the downtown in the economy, the development has not transpired at the level we had hoped," Graham explained.

However, the treated water still runs through the pipe.  Graham said because few people use the water, it becomes stagnant and it does not meet federal safety regulations.

"Therefore," Graham explained, "we would need to flush and keep the water fresh. That's why we flush it."

Flush... or release it.

Graham said an operator checks the chemical levels of the water in the pipe every day. Based on the test results, a decision is made to flush the pipe.

Graham does not know how much is coming out of that pipe.

"It is unfortunately not measured," she noted.

Because of that, she does not know how much the city is spending to flush the water.  However, Graham estimated that it costs less than a dollar per thousand gallons.

Graham said the city has been flushing the pipe since May 18th. Using Laidlaw's unscientific bucket measurement, that's equates to approximately $1,500 since the middle of May.

Some say it is wasted money and wasted water.

"It's a shame," Graham added. "We don't want to waste water, but at the same time health concerns are out number one concern."

However, she says the city is looking into alternatives.

"We're working with the DEP to relocate and close the valve so it won't be flowing at that location,"

For Laidlaw, it's not about the money.

He asserted, "It's a waste of a natural resource in the worst way."

He then picked up his bucket and went home.

First Coast News

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