Flushing wet wipes, other items could cost customers more in ongoing repairs

'This is not a water garbage,' Miami-Dade Water and Sewer official says

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – They're essential services relied on by millions on people every day in Miami-Dade County, but what goes down the drain, or the toilet, can have a huge impact on the system and residents' wallets.

"This is not a water garbage, if you will," a Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department employee said.

But that's how many are treating their drains.

Everything from clothing to medical waste is currently clogging up the lines, including wet wipes for using in the bathroom and then a glove for medical reasons. 

Keep in mind that whatever is flushed down the toilet will end up in the sewer plant.

At the South District Wastewater Treatment Plant, the staff goes through tanks filled with waste to manually clear debris that made its way through.

"It's a time-consuming job. It's dirty and you have to have trained personnel to go into these tanks," supervisor Wayne Myers said.

For some perspective, the department in a recent one year period logged blockages caused by things like grease going down a sink drain or even makeup wipes or paper towels being flushed down a toilet.

 The cost for those blockages alone is more than $441,000.

"It's not going to dissolve any time soon, so it's just going to clog up the drains. It's going to cost more money for repairs," water customer George Perez said.

With repairs already badly needed, the aging infrastructure is entering year four of a $13.5 billion improvement plan.

"We have water pipes that are still being used that were put in when Babe Ruth was playing baseball over 80 years ago," Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department spokeswoman Jennifer Messemer-Skold said.

It's also in the fourth year of consecutive increases for customers.

This year the proposed rate hike is 8 percent.

"They shouldn't be coming that high, like, at 8 percent right now. At least gradually, but not, 'Boom, there it is,'" customer Daniella Perez said.

Monique Moss, a water customer, said the repairs should have been done "years ago."

"No, they do that in one shot, and we pay the price," Moss said.

Messemer-Skold points out that despite increases, the county has among the lowest rates in the country and is looking into options for alternative funding for some of its upcoming projects. 

That price includes $1.6 billion in federally mandated upgrades after a settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency in 2013 to address millions of gallons of raw sewage overflows.

The improvements will be ongoing for the next 12 to 17 years and a bigger bill could be going forward as well.

"If that's what has to happen, unfortunately, that's what has to happen, because this is a health-safety issue," Messemer- Skold said.

About the Author:

Amy Viteri is an Emmy Award-winning journalist who joined Local 10 News in September 2015. She's currently an investigative reporter and enjoys uncovering issues facing South Florida communities. A native of the Washington, D.C., area, she's happy to be back in South Florida, where she earned a masters degree at the University of Miami.