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Although the headline and subsequent story posted in the Florida Today are accurate, unfortunately, it does not give all of the necessary information that was provided during our interviews with reporters. I want to make sure our residents and customers know our unwaivering commitment to invest in our utility system and provide safe and reliable drinking water.
Our water system includes 1,300 miles of distribution pipes and more than 24,000 valves over nearly 250 square miles.
In 2012, repairs were done to a valve along the underwater transmission line and at that point it was mentioned by the contractor that there were some areas of exposure visible. This prompted a more comprehensive assessment of the underwater transmission lines. Beginning in 2013 and through 2014, the City conducted an internal assessment of the pipes, and in late 2015 and early 2016 the City’s diving contractor conducted an external assessment of the pipes which reported the areas of exposure. Nothing in the reports were deemed an immediate threat or of a critical nature where work needed to be done immediately to protect the exposed areas.
Utilities staff wanted a full picture prior to investing capital, which included searching for leaks in the pipes throughout the underwater mains. Utilities staff also had to research and plan for the needed repairs to the exposed areas of underwater main. In March 2017, a permit was applied for to perform the needed work to the underwater mains which included covering the exposed areas with concrete rip rap bags. The permit was approved in July 2017 and immediately our staff worked with the contractor to coordinate a time to complete the work. The contractor was scheduled to complete this work in early September 2017. Unfortunately, Hurricane Irma changed those plans.
Due to the shear velocity and strength of the currents in the Indian River caused by this historically damaging storm system, a section of the base of the river supporting the transmission main was undermined causing fittings to fail and break the line. The area that failed and caused the loss in system pressure was not the same area that was noted as exposed on the reports. Within hours of the roads being cleared and deemed passable, our crews systematically began searching for a large water main break. Shortly after determining the break was not on the mainland or the barrier islands, dive crews were in the water assessing any damage that may have occurred to the underwater mains. Engineers were also working hard to develop a plan to repressurize the system and deliver water to all of our customers. Within days, all of our customers had water pressure and shortly after that, all of the required precautionary boil water notices were lifted. Twenty five days after the storm passed, the transmission main that failed was fully repaired and once again delivering water to our customers. Any reputable civil engineer can attest to the challenge to repair such a break in less than a month.
While engineers planned steps to repair the underwater main break, utility crews responded to more than 170 service calls—42 were water line breaks—14 of which resulted from trees being uprooted and some resulting from washed out roads.
Cocoa provides water to more than half of Brevard County. The management and maintenance of the water and wastewater systems is one of our primary responsibilities. On a daily basis, staff has to manage the costs associated with maintaining and investing in our infrastructure based on the critical risks to the system and the consequences of failure, and they take that responsibility very seriously. Over the last seven years, the City has systematically prioritized infrastructure capital improvements and repairs and maintenance to ensure the City delivers reliable potable water. Equally important, our system is designed with multiple backup and re-routing capabilities to facilitate service restoration in the event of a disaster, which functioned as designed.
Florida Today failed to report the significant proactive investments made to strengthen and make the system more resilient and reliable. In fact, since 2012 Cocoa has invested $89.2 million in capital improvements and tens of millions more in repairs and maintenance. The City of Cocoa continues to invest in our Utility System and all of our Capital Projects can be found on our website, www.CocoaFL.org, showing our ongoing infrastructure investments and improvements over the years. We also have a comprehensive website dedicated to detailing the Cocoa Utility System at www.CocoaWaterWorks.com.
More than 20 years ago and planning ahead, the City invested in a redundant water main along SR528. That is how the City restored water system-wide including the mainland, the barrier islands, Canaveral Port Authority, and critical federal facilities within two and a half days.
I think everyone can agree the impact of Hurricane Irma was unprecedented, just consider the damage along the Indian River and how docks and piers were destroyed. Our entire boardwalk was destroyed along with the T-Dock located in Lee Wenner Park. Clearly, the storm surge, winds and the abnormal hydrological influences of the Indian and Banana Rivers were subjected to unusual conditions that many lifelong Brevard County residents have not witnessed in the past.
Unfortunately, Florida Today’s focus hours after the storm passed was to concentrate on what the City didn’t do to prevent this unfortunate incident, even calling our responses to their questions defensive and overkill. One reporter even related this incident to the failure of levees during Hurricane Katrina. Our prime focus was always in the public interest by being transparent and responsive to our customers and residents. The City provided accurate and timely information on our website, all of our social media pages and by providing information to our media partners. Daily video updates by our Utilities Director were provided on Facebook advising our residents and customers of progress made and plans for the next day.
The City will conduct an after action review and will ask the hard questions to determine what we can do better and lessons learned. It’s how we conduct the public’s business.
We understand customers want assurances this will not happen again—a guarantee that they will never experience a failure of this nature or worse, but we cannot make that guarantee. Nature is both powerful and fickle and we cannot predict what future natural or other disasters will bring. We will, however work tirelessly to protect the infrastructural assets of the utility system, an investment that delivers a life sustaining product—quality drinking water.
As City Manager I am proud of every employee that worked tirelessly before and after Hurricane Irma. Despite damage to their own homes and leaving their families, their commitment was unwavering.
The City of Cocoa is a regional utility provider. As such, safe, reliable, and quality drinking water is our job. The process through which we do that is systematic and we passionately dedicate ourselves to protect the water system now and for the future. For you.
-John Titkanich, Jr.
City Manager, City of Cocoa