For Immediate Release: Thursday, May 27, 2021
Contact: Jerry Phillips (850) 877-8097; Kirsten Stade firstname.lastname@example.org
Delray Deputy Utility Manager Cashiered
Troubled Florida Water Utility Faces Gauntlet of Public Health Challenges
Tallahassee — Delray’s troubled water utility suffered yet another blow when its deputy utilities manager was forced to surrender his license because it was obtained under false pretenses, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). That action comes amid ongoing concern about the utility providing residents drinking water through lines cross-contaminated with reclaimed sewage water.
In a May 12, 2021 letter sent to PEER, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) revealed that Mr. Juan Guevarez had “decided to voluntarily relinquish” his Class C Water Treatment Plant Operator license. DEP took that action after PEER had notified it that Mr. Guevarez had not previously worked as an operator, despite the requirement of previous working experience actually operating a treatment plant. One of Guevarez’ former employees at the City of Boynton Beach also certified to the DEP that Guevarez had acquired the necessary operator experience while Guevarez was working as a manager at the City of Boynton Beach.
“The requirement that the wastewater treatment plant be under the supervision of an experienced operator is not just about bureaucratic paperwork but indicates whether this important public health facility is in capable hands,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney, who notified DEP of the problems. “Given Delray’s history, it would be prudent for DEP to start checking the utility’s logbooks to make sure its recordkeeping is in order and that there are not more deficiencies of this sort.”
The City of Delray Beach currently is the permittee for the South Central Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant. That permit requires that the facility be operated by operators who are certified in accordance with state law. In his role as Deputy Utilities Manager, Guevarez is in a position to oversee operators at the treatment plant.
Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Health (DOH) is currently prosecuting a significant enforcement action against the City of Delray Beach for its actions in the operation of its wastewater treatment plant, specifically the provision of reclaimed water to local residents. The City is facing potential multi-million-dollar fines for a host of safe drinking water violations.
One factor in determining the penalty calculation and whether the City has lived up to the terms of its proposed consent order are future violations involving submission of false information to the DOH.
“Delray desperately needs professional help to address its failing utility operations and cannot afford any more amateur hours,” added Phillips. “While we are happy that DEP has finally bestirred itself, it has yet to take any direct action to hold the utility to account.”