Fort Lauderdale’s Sewage Situation
Fake News, Knee Jerk Reactions, Past Leadership Failures, and the Facts You Should Know about Fort Lauderdale’s Infrastructure
We are knee-deep in crap! And, no, we aren’t talking about the sewage spill in Rio Vista. We’re referring to the fake news and false information being spread as a result of the sewage break.
Anyone who claims that downtown development is responsible for our damaged and deteriorating sewage system is trying to fool you. They want you to believe that downtown development is the cause and that the solution is a development moratorium. Don’t buy into it! These people want you to place the blame on the progress our city is making when in truth, it’s been a 75-year problem in the making.
It amazes us to read comments in the newspaper by multi-term commissioner Aurelius, and a two-decade Mayor Naugle who claim that the pipes have been old and worn since the 1990s when they were in office, and also claim that it’s the fault of new downtown residential buildings, most of which didn’t even exist before 2014. The fact is, this problem should have been addressed during their tenure.
We can’t turn back the clock but we can move forward in a way that is both smart and effective. In order to do that, we need to keep the facts straight. There’s no reason to panic and make a rash decision that will reverse all of the progress we’ve made in recent years.
Below are the facts that no one is talking about:
FAKE: The breaks are caused by the volume from Downtown Fort Lauderdale:
- We are a century-old city. This is a 75-year old problem in the making. This was caused by failure to maintain and replace by past city commissions. Our aging sewage infrastructure has been at risk for decades.
- For decades our city’s elected officials voted to keep property tax rates low and instead diverted tens of millions of dollars each year from our sewage system to the general fund.
- If the problem existed 30 years ago how could it be a side-effect of downtown development, of which the majority of new buildings didn’t even exist before 2014?
- Fort Lauderdale treats wastewater for the residents and businesses in Wilton Manors, Port Everglades, and parts of Oakland Park, Dania Beach, Davie and Tamarac, well over 180,000 residents and the many businesses in Fort Lauderdale.
- Since 2010, the new projects in Downtown have accounted for 2,480 new households vs 180,000 total customers.
- The average household size in Downtown is 1.77 vs. the rest of Fort Lauderdale at 2.37. So the rest of the city produces 25% more waste per household than Downtown, making compact vertical development a more efficient smart growth approach.
- Downtown residents account for less than 1.5% of the total volume of waste on our system.
- Age and years of failure by prior city commissions to maintain and replace the sewer pipes caused the issue. For decades, our city’s elected officials have voted to keep property tax millage rates down. Basically, the reserves for replacement of our sewer system was essentially swapped out for lower tax bills.
- Major rain events have the greatest impact on wastewater capacity and sewer pipe integrity than new development does. Pipes are not cracking because more sewage is being pumped into them. They begin to fail when massive amounts of groundwater flows into existing cracks in the pipes. The City is improving 41 miles of sewer main lines by September 2020 to address rainwater infiltration.
SMART GROWTH FACTS:
As we move successfully forward past this immediate issue to future resiliency, climate change and sustainability issues, vertical growth is one of the smartest solutions. It’s a matter of consolidation versus sprawl.
- Within the streets of the city, the average apartment in a 200 unit apartment building accounts for 6 inches of sewer pipes per household, while the average single-family home accounts for 40 feet of sewer pipe. Almost 80 times more infrastructure per single family.
- 200 single family homes water 200 lawns. A vertical 200-unit apartment building waters one.
- 200 single family homes fill 200 pools. A vertical 200-unit apartment fills one.
With sea level rising, how many hundreds of billions of dollars will it cost to mitigate for low lying single-family homes? How many miles of sea walls will have to be raised? Pumps to move water? Vertical housing, raised streets, beach berms, sea walls… the world will look very different in the near future. Who will they blame for that? Compact vertical multi-family housing is forward thinking. It’s smart growth. It’s part of the big picture!
Too often in crisis situations such as this the target is developers. And what does that mean?
A city-wide moratorium would affect more than just developers. It would impact everyday people trying to make a living for their families who work for local builders, architects, engineers, drywallers, electricians, plumbers, air conditioning installers, secretaries, administrators, estimators, managers, and on and on and on. These are real people who live locally and who could lose their jobs if local companies lose substantial or all of their business due to a stop in construction citywide. Is that really what we as a community want? Or should we focus on fixing the pipes as quickly and as effectively as possible, without wasting time on arguing over an unreasonable solution that doesn’t actually fix anything.
So, before you start pointing blame, taking sides, and making rash decisions, take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
- Our infrastructure problem exists
- There is only one viable solution
- It will cost our city approximately $1.4 billion over 20 years
- Downtown developments are paying more than 3 times their share of the problem through impact fees alone
- Downtown development accounts for less than 1.5% of total volume of wastewater
Don’t allow your outlook to be manipulated simply because you’re disgusted by the situation. We’re disgusted, too. But know that there is a sensible way of handling this situation and a development moratorium is not part of that solution.
We need to Go Big and Go Fast. Any discussions other than how we can fix the problem quickly and efficiently is a waste of time.