ISLAMORADA -- Village wastewater officials say they're working diligently to reduce saltwater intrusion into the pipeline that carries sewage between Islamorada and the wastewater treatment plant in Key Largo.
"I believe we're starting to trend downward," Tom Brzezinski, the village's lead wastewater engineering consultant told the Village Council last Thursday.
The village began pumping wastewater north to the mile marker 100.5 plant that is owned by the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District in June. Just a couple weeks later, water monitoring stations showed that saline levels in the sewage had climbed above the maximum allowed under the interlocal agreement between the village and the Key Largo district.
According to a report submitted to the village by wastewater consulting firm Severn Trent Services, saline levels in north Plantation Key averaged 2.78 parts per thousand during the first three weeks of June, above the limit of 2 parts per thousand.
At Tavernier Creek Marina, which Brzezinski said has been identified as one source of the problem, salinity was 5.02 parts per thousand during the third week of June.
The village has since replaced seven leaky vacuum pits in north Plantation Key at a cost of approximately $70,000, Brzezinski said in a follow-up interview last Friday.
The problem at the marina, he added, is on private property. The marina has been asked to identify the cause of its leak and to fix it.
The Key Largo wastewater district is thus far satisfied with how Islamorada has responded to the saltwater intrusion.
"They're very cooperative. They're on top of it. So I'm confident it's being resolved," District Manager Margaret Blank told the Free Press last week. To this point the salty water has had no impact on the Key Largo plant, she said.
Brzezinski explained to the council that the leaky pits on north Plantation Key are a result of wear and tear. He added that the parts in the system are likely to wear out quicker than would otherwise be expected due to the many operational difficulties it has had. The north Plantation Key system went online in 2006 but did not function properly. It was overhauled in 2013.
Over the past 12 months the village has replaced 25 pits in north Plantation Key at a cost of $258,000, Brzezinski told the Free Press. He told the council that his firm, Wade Trim, now plans a complete analysis of the more than 400 pits in the system to determine which need to be replaced now and also to help the village prepare a renewal and replacement program.
Councilman Ken Philipson reacted to the news with a sense of foreboding.
"This is going to cost us millions," he said.