BELLE GLADE, Fla. – Years of neglect and corrosion have taken so much of a toll on the pipes that carry water to thousands of homes and businesses in Belle Glade, Pahokee and South Bay that officials in Palm Beach County said they would turn to Washington to help pay for part of a multi-million dollar plan to repair and replace the critical infrastructure.
The pipes – many of which were built in the 1920s and 1930s – were not built to current engineering standards and have been corroded by the local soil.
"We're left to deal with it," said James Stiles, executive director of the Glades Utility Authority. "I've never seen anything in this condition in my career."
Stiles said some of the pipes in the three cities were above-ground – exposed after years of erosion.
Others, he said, were being propped up by cinder blocks.
As much as 40% of the water leaving a state of the art water plant ends up in the ground.
"We have line breaks almost daily out here that the line crew has to go out and fix -- all hours of the night – weekends," he said. "This is exactly what we should be spending money on -- fixing critical infrastructure – which potable water is."
Stiles said the Glades Utility Authority had repaired some pipes but cautioned the replacement of pipes in three cities would be a major undertaking.
He said Palm Beach County expected to spend $25 million to repair and replace the pipes -- $5 million every year over the next five year.
The county is expected to ask the federal government to pay for half of that.