Thus far, 2018 has not been kind to either Lighthouse Utilities or its customers.
Plagued by unforeseen “acts of God,” the utility, which provides potable water to much of South Gulf, has experienced a series of issues that have impacted service.
Problems have become even more pronounced with the onset of the summer tourist season and the thousands that bulge the peninsula and Cape.
The utility has even had to tap into its interlocal agreement and purchase water from the city of Port St. Joe to maintain pressure and reserves.
“I apologize for the issues we’ve had in recent weeks,” said owner Jay Rish last week during the annual meeting of the Coastal Community Association of Gulf County. “As the father of two young children who lives on the system, I am sensitive to the situation.
“It has not been fun … We were, unfortunately, not able to foresee these events.”
The problems began in February when a motor burned out and had to be replaced, but hit critical mass when the utility’s auxiliary well was rendered unusable due to saltwater intrusion.
Toss in a lightning strike, a couple of fires and Memorial Day, Rish said, and the resulting drop in water reserves and pressure in the system, and one had a “worst-case scenario,” Rish said.
Reserves, Rish said, are back up to acceptable levels and the purchases from the city have eased the strain on the system.
Those purchases have ranged, on average, to 50,000-60,000 per day, according to City Manager Jim Anderson; city commissioners approved the purchases early last month.
Rish noted the utility was paying more to the city per gallon than Lighthouse customers were being charged.
Rish said he decided to fix the auxiliary well despite recommendations otherwise.
The problem, he said, is about one-third of the way down the well, where a weakening pipe is causing the saltwater intrusion.
The plan is to slide a steel sleeve down to bolster the weakened area and stop the leakage.
That should assist in the short-term in building reserves and maintaining capacity along the system.
He hoped that auxiliary well would be back online in the next 30-60 days.
A long-term solution will arrive sometime next year, Rish said.
Working with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the State Revolving Fund, Rish said the utility had secured a low-interest loan package of some $7 million.
That will allow for construction to increase the utility’s sources to three deep wells to build both capacity and reserves within the system.
Rish also pledged to established a more efficient and comprehensive method of informing the customer base about issues and resolutions.
He acknowledged, after questions from some CCA members, that boil water notices and other information about what was happening within the system was not being fully disseminated to the customers.
“We do need to do a better job of getting information out to the public,” Rish said.