On this episode of Boca Behind the Scenes, host Anne Marie Van Casteren chats with City staff members about the water modification process, where the City of Boca Raton’s water comes from and how it’s processed and addresses resident concerns. Utility Services Director, Chris Helfrich and Laboratory Director, Ashton Wydock, provide more information on the City’s water utility while Sustainability Manager, Lindsey Nieratka discusses plastic water bottles versus city tap water from a sustainability standpoint. For more information about water modification or utility services, visit www.myboca.us/utilityservices.
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Anne Marie: Hey everyone and welcome to Boca Behind the Scenes, a get to know you podcast where we talk to city staff to get details and information about new programs, events and projects that are taking place right here in your city. My name is Anne Marie Van Casteren, Public Relations Specialist with the City’s Communications and Marketing Division, and as always, I am happy to be your host today.
Water is essential to all aspects of life. It sustains our families and communities and supports economic productivity. The average human can only survive about four or five days without water according to most experts. And the typical American relies almost entirely on their water utility to provide them with this vital sustenance. In order to maintain the high quality of drinking water for our residents, the city’s Utility Services Department undergoes a water modification process where the city’s water system is disinfected by slightly increasing the chlorine level periodically over two weeks. This helps clean any and all bacteria that might be in our water systems and keep our community ahead of any potential risks. This process is a widely recognized standard practice that meets, and in our city’s case exceeds all federal, state and local standards of safety. However, through each modification process there are more and more resident concerns. These include concerns about the slight chlorine smell in the tap water, questioning if it’s safe to drink or even cook with, if the water can turn their hair orange while in the shower and all of these concerns are legitimate to have. I mean, look at the events and occurrences that have happened in places like Flint, Michigan and Hinkley, California where Erin Brockovich uncovered documents that led to the discovery of water contamination. However, this modification process that has been implemented in Boca Raton, along with other cities and counties across the entire nation, has been going on for decades. During this episode of Boca Behind the Scenes, you’re going to hear from the City’s Utility Services Director, Chris Helfrich and Laboratory Director, Ashtan Wydock about the modification process, the importance of it, about your city tap water and they’ll even be able to address some of the concerns that you might have. But before we hear from them I’m joined by our Sustainability Manager, Lindsey Nieratka to chat about something we hear residents refer to quite often during the modification process, and that’s the immediate need to go out and buy cases of plastic water bottles to drink during the two week modification process because they feel that the city tap water isn’t safe to drink during that time.
Anne Marie: Lindsey thank you again for being on the show. Very happy to have you as always.
Lindsey: Happy to be here.
Anne Marie: So, let’s get right into this issue.
Lindsey: Well obviously plastic water bottles have the issue of coming in plastic and so you have in addition to the water you have that waste that’s that’s a part of it and plastic water bottles take petroleum to produce, it takes more water to produce a bottle of water than it’s contained. They’re transported so there are a lot of environmental issues and the reason a lot of people choose that water is because they believe that it’s safer and that’s not necessarily true. Here in Boca Raton, our utility is making sure that our water is safe to drink. That’s part of the process that’s going on right now. And so, it’s really using bottled water is a personal preference. And a few things that I think about with bottled water versus tap water are things like there are studies that have shown some bottled waters have higher levels of bacteria than tap water. That it’s possible for plastic — chemicals in the plastic to leach into the water. And so that’s all going to be of course a function of how the bottles have been stored and transported. Whereas our water one thing that I’ve learned about the water here in Boca Raton is that when it comes out of your tap it’s within twenty-four hours of having been extracted from the aquifer, so you know that it’s been you know fresh it hasn’t been sitting around for a long time. And another thing that I always think about is that about twenty-five percent of all bottled waters are filtered tap water, and it’s a lot more affordable to filter your tap water yourself.
Anne Marie: And you know keeping with the sustainability issue, I mean plastic water bottles you know we are coastal community we’re always promoting to keep it clean and preserving it, so you know bringing more plastic water bottles into our community you know what kind of effect does that have?
Lindsey: So, we’ve been promoting reduction of plastic through on that I think the last two times I was on the podcast talking about plastic free July and talking about our Coastal Connection Restaurant program, both of which were pushes to reduce to use a single-use plastic. Plastic water bottles are as a big contributor to a single-use plastics, and so you know we see at the beach we have beach cleanups on average once a week, a little bit more and there’s constantly plastic that can be picked up. So, any ways that we can reduce even by a little bit the single-use plastic is really good. And we’re all doing our best efforts for recycling I know I talk to a lot of people who say well but I’m recycling it, and it’s really important to recycle whenever you can but it’s also important to to know that not every plastic water bottle is getting recycled. According to the Association of Plastic Recyclers, the recycling rate for plastic bottles is only around twenty nine percent. So even with best efforts the system isn’t collecting everything.
Anne Marie: And so, is it just the way that… is there a certain way that you have to throw out plastic water bottles? Do you have to remove the cap? Like is it people not putting in the correct bins or?
Lindsey: With our recycling system here and in the City of Boca Raton, we have our blue bins and our yellow bins, and the plastic water bottles would go into your blue bin, and you can leave the caps on. That’s something that’s changed and so not everybody knows that but as long as the, if the bottle is plastic and the cap is plastic, they can stay together. So in fact it’s better if they do because then they’re connected. You just have to remove the bottle cap if it’s a different material from the bottle.
Anne Marie: So, not many people are really familiar as to where our city water actually comes from and how it’s processed. So, let’s hear a little bit from Ashtan Wydock as she explains more of the process.
Ashtan: Okay so the Utility Services Department, we provide safe and clean drinking water and wastewater services to the hundred and thirty thousand residents of Boca Raton. We also service some areas that are unincorporated such as some areas in Palm Beach County. We serve not only residential, but we also service commercial and industrial sectors as well. We are a full-service utility; we receive our water from the Biscayne Aquifer. It comes in through a series of wells, we have fifty-two wells, comes into the drinking water plant where it’s treated and analyzed by the laboratory and then goes out to our Boca residents and it comes back to the plants and we have a waste water plant and it comes there and we treat it again and it goes out as reclaimed water. We are a hundred percent reclaim facility.
Anne Marie: So as any product or service that we buy, there are always consumer concerns. And being in the communication department we do receive a lot of those concerns through our various social media platforms and Report a Concern module from residents. And our Utility Services Department also speaks with residents over the phone that call and to hear them out about certain issues or questions that they may have with their water services. So, let’s listen to Ashtan and Chris chat a little bit about the common concerns the department gets from our residents and how they provide the best quality service to deal with the certain situations.
Ashtan: So, some consumer concerns, as a laboratory director I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve had the opportunity to interact with a lot of the residents of Boca. Occasionally, we will get a phone call from a resident at about a water quality issue. An example I have is actually a couple weeks ago I received a phone call, and the customer had black particles in their water. And the first thing that we do is we get their address, we go out, we take a sample from outside their house, we investigate the service lines to make sure that everything looks okay. We also check for a water filtration system; sometimes residents have a filtration system that they don’t even know about actually. Sometimes residents don’t maintain these filtration systems, and if you don’t maintain a filtration system you’re not really seeing a water quality that is representative from our water plants.
Chris: I think one of the kind of one of our strategies, and it’s also kind of a business strategy, is that we’re problem solvers. So, when people call us up and say gosh I have an issue, we go one step further and also try to figure out what is the issue.
Ashtan: The residents of Boca, they have confidence in us. In the laboratory, we run forty-three thousand tests a year — awful lot of testing. And our job is to communicate with the water treatment operators and also the waste water operators. If we noticed any small issue in the results we’re going to communicate with them immediately, and this helps prevent a larger issue.
Anne Marie: So, going back to the whole discussion of city tap water versus plastic water bottles, you were able to hear from Lindsey about this issue from a sustainability standpoint, but what about from a health and safety standpoint? In speaking with our Utility Services Department about this issue and all those questions we get asked to whether resident should go and purchase plastic water bottles during this modification process, Ashtan had some really interesting research from being in the laboratory and running tests on bottled water that really made me rethink my choice about drinking from plastic water bottles ever again. So, let’s learn more about this.
Ashtan: We actually tested some different types of bottled water and some of the bacteria levels I see there I would not want to be drinking that water. I mean when you think about it, bottled water is stored in plastic which contains industrialized chemicals produced and sits in a warehouse exposed to hot and cold temperatures. And it just doesn’t receive the amount of testing that’s needed, and those chemicals that are in the plastic for the water bottles their potential carcinogens, and then that bacteria level I would definitely not want to be drinking that.
Chris: You kind of think about a timeline of waters and and you know if they produce Zephyrhills water in Zephyrhills, Florida, it’s sitting on the shelf, we figured probably by ten weeks you may be drinking that water. In our case, the water is to you within twenty-four to forty-eight hours.
Anne Marie: So, we hope this podcast is able to provide you with some answers to the questions that you might have regarding your city water and why the modification process is so important. If you go on the Utility Services website, you can actually find more information about the whole process. The modification will start on Sunday, May 5th until Sunday, May 19th, so you might smell or taste a slight chlorine odor in your water. But as mentioned, that this is all part of the disinfection process and it won’t cause any adverse health effects.
There are some precautions for those on kidney dialysis machines, owners of tropical fish aquariums and managers of stores and restaurants with fish holding tanks, but we definitely advise that you go ahead and call up our experts at the Utility Services Department to have any of your questions answered and to find out some more information. You can contact them by calling 561-338-7310 or again you can visit our website at myboca.us. The city will also continue to flush fire hydrants during this period, so you might notice some flowing water in streets and swales, but again this is all part of this modification process. So, thank you again so much for tuning into Boca Behind the Scenes.