Levy County mayors unite to solve water issues

Otter Creek Vice Mayor Russell Meeks buys $60 worth of bottled water a month to make sure that his family has enough clean water to drink and cook with.

Cedar Key Mayor Heath Davis is worried that if the water quality issue in his town isn’t addressed and solved in an ecosystem-friendly way that the aquaculture industry in his coastal community will suffer.

Bronson Mayor Robert Partin says the water in Bronson is plentiful, potable and he’s willing to share.

The three mayors addressed the Levy County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) on Dec. 7 at a regular meeting and explained their situation and followed that up with a request for the BOCC’s blessing as they join forces to find a solution.

“The southwest part of Levy County has a water problem,” Partin told the board. “It’s something my fellow mayors here deal with on a daily basis and they have been fighting this battle for a long, long time.”

Partin said that Bronson has been blessed with adequate and almost pure water.

“We don’t even have to do anything to our water to dispense it to the public,” he said. “We are very fortunate and thank the Lord for that.

When Meeks reached out to Partin they came to the conclusion that they could help each other and that is how the idea of a regional solution to a statewide problem was needed.

Levy County BOCC Chair John Meeks

“We’ve come to an agreement through our boards to try to help each other with an interlocal effort,” Partin said, adding that Bronson has enough water to supply it to Cedar Key, Otter Creek, and communities in between.

“We are talking about a major project here,” said Partin. “We need cooperation, sponsorship and guidance and the experience of Levy County and the Suwannee River Water Management district to accomplish this.”

Partin then asked the BOCC to give a nod of approval and designate someone on the board who could help them come up with a concrete proposal.

BOCC member Lilly Rooks asked about running lines versus trucking water loads to Cedar Key which has a population of about 800 residents according to Davis.

“We know Cedar Key and Otter Creek have had problems and both have tried everything they can do,” Rooks said. “To the mayor of Bronson, I applaud you for taking this and welcoming these two communities to help them get water.”

BOCC member Matt Brooks also commended the effort.

“This is what makes Levy County a special place to live,” he said. “There’s an issue, you look at your neighbors, ask can you give us a hand? And they say yes.”

BOCC Chair John Meeks moved to provide a letter of support which was seconded and approved unanimously.

Davis said the mayors are meeting with the Suwannee River Water Management district on Friday to see if the director and engineers can help come up with a solution.

“We’ll be at the SRWMD to look at all of Levy County and build-out capacity,” said Davis, who has served the city for more than 20 years and is a seventh-generation Cedar Key resident.

“When my great grandfather was mayor, they had pitcher pumps,” Davis said. “Now it’s almost impossible to treat the water to desirable quality or EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) standards.

“We have a sophisticated treatment plant but the water quality is always shifting. Even if you had a fix and you built it today, when you get done with it, it may not be sufficient because the water just keeps changing and that’s common near the coast.”

Davis referred to the natural bacteria and toxins that form in stored potable water.

“If it sits in a tank for a while, it starts to break down,” he said.

Davis said the three mayors are turning to the experts at SRWMD to determine the best plan for “water transfer” whether it be underground or by truckloads.

“We would like to turn this project over to them and let them tell us how to proceed and we stand ready for them to support it and lobby hard for it,” he said.

Levy County BOCC member Matt Brooks

Davis said this has happened in the opposite way in the past where a municipality would bring the plan to the water district. This time the mayors want the water district to develop the plan and the municipalities will get behind it.

“We are asking to bring the professionals in and we are going to yield 100 percent to their experience,” he said.

The city of Chielfand will hear the mayors’ ideas at the next regular meeting to see if they are interested in joining the effort, according to Davis.

“It’s not just the three cities, it’s a Levy County issue,” Davis said. “Hopefully the project will be engineered to handle the full build-out capacity.”

Davis said that there are plenty of opportunities for the cities to find funding to support the plan and referred to President Joe Biden signing the infrastructure bill as one possibility.

“There are a lot of sources for monies for this project and with the president signing the infrastructure bill there’s going to be more pots,” he said.

“We also see this as a step to protecting the good water that Levy County has,” Davis said. “If we have a lot of capacity, we can start protecting our land (from well drilling) and that protects the water from saltwater intrusion that has happened in other parts of the state.

“By us messing around with the aquifer, it can’t be good. We need to quit jeopardizing the protective layer and keep a more natural flow that protects the shellfish industry. When you’ve got everybody in a well sucking up water, it affects the flows, aquaculture and wild harvest, fish and fisheries.

Meeks has lived in Otter Creek for more than 50 years.

“We just need good water,” he said. “The water that we’ve got is almost impossible to treat it to where you could use it.”

Meeks said the wells in Otter Creek only go down to 60 feet but, “The good water, if there is any, would be 1,500 feet deep.”

Otter Creek has a population of about 140 people, Meeks said.

“We have 70 water meters that we rely on to take care of our water plant,” he said, adding that he feels bad that the city just raised water rates. “We were going in the hole. That was a hard thing to do.”

Meeks thinks one solution would be if the water management district, “Let us put a well down in Bronson and have it supply Otter Creek and Cedar Key and possibly unincorporated Levy County. They could use some good, clean water.”

Davis said he hopes that if and when a transfer of water starts to provide consumers with potable water.

“We believe that it goes from there to becoming a regional success,” he said. “When the SRWMD plan comes together, you’ll see everyone jump on.”

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