Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Fort White Water Woes: A Municipal Water System That Is a Disaster Waiting To Happen

Commissioner Rocky Ford (left) and Mayor Ronnie Frazier in front of one of the at the end of their life water storage tanks in Fort White.
Commissioner Rocky Ford (left) and Mayor Ronnie Frazier in front of one of the at the end of their life water storage tanks in Fort White. The floors in both tanks are leaking.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The Town of Fort White has a water system that is about to fail. There are about 400 residents on the system. However, a few blocks from the water plant, there are 2,000 high school and elementary school students that are also on the system.


The Fort White water system has been problematic for decades. The drinking water delivery system is not looped, which means that water sits in the lines and does not circulate. If one is at the end of the line and the lines are not flushed, bad water is coming into your house.

Folks have been complaining for years that when they fill up their bath tubs, the water is so brown they can't see the bottom of the tub.

The well field, the place where the water is pumped from the aquifer, is next to a sink hole into which all the towns storm water drains.

Those on well water complain that the water coming out of their taps is brown and even though the water is treated and safe to drink, many people do not drink the water.

Dan Houston in front of Fort Whie public school
Dan Houston in 2010 in front of Ft. White public School after his two year battle succeeded in getting the District to install a backflow device and the Town to mandate them, as required by state law.

For years, the Town of Fort White and the school district ignored the state's laws concerning backflow devices. Finally, after a two year struggle and letters from Columbia County (2008) stating that there was nothing wrong, Daniel Houston, who complained that his kids and others were getting sick from the water, prevailed.

DEP threatened action against the Town and the Town and District finally complied with the state's backflow requirements.

Fort White Mayor Ronnie Frazier

At the September 30 Legislative Delegation meeting Fort White Mayor Ronnie Frazier addressed Senator Bradley and Representative Brannon.

Fort White Mayor Ronnie Frazier
Fort White Mayor Ronnie Frazier.

Mayor Frazier said [abridged]: "Drinking water. Our water system in Fort White is failing. Recently, we've failed some water tests... Our water tanks are failing. We have seeked grants. The CDBG grant that we did apply for -- it came back -- they denied us. We've actually looked elsewhere. We're a very small town, so we have very limited resources available and ready to use. Even if we got approved for a large grant of say $600,000, we don't make enough to pay it back. There is grants out there that does the forgiveness programs. It's not for sure. So if you don't forgive us ..."

Senator Bradley jumped in: "This is your water system?"

Mayor Frazier answered, "Yes sir. Yes sir. Our water system."

Senator Bradley:  And how much are the improvements?

There was discussion about the required improvements and the costs.

Mayor Frazier explained that the Town had recently failed a water test. Then, when the Town passed the test, the Mayor said the water was "barely normal."

Fort White water storage tanks.
Fort White's storage tanks are not expected to pass another inspection.

Mayor Frazier explained that the two [500,000 gals each] storage tanks were worn out adding, "They took pictures of our tanks... That's why they said that they don't think they will ever pass the next inspection when it comes up."

Senator Bradley inquired about which grants the Town had applied for.

Mayor Frazier again spoke about forgiveness.

Senator Bradley said, "But you're in an emergency state. I would be discussing forgiveness issues after you've already got the stuff in the ground."

corrosion in the fittings on top of the water storage tank.
Serious corrosion at the water plant.

Mayor Frazier replied, "Our water system. We supply a hotel; we supply our school system; our businesses. There's times you turn the water on and it's brown. It's bad. I mean it really is."

Senator Bradley observed, "We've got the Water Management District here. Give us a copy of the applications that have been filed. This sounds like an emergency situation. It needs to be addressed in short order..."

Commissioner Rocky Ford, who lives right across from the water plant in Fort White, explained to Senator Bradley that one of the options the Town was exploring was running a water line from Ellisville, which has a drinking water system, to Fort White.

When Senator Bradley asked for the cost, Commissioner Ford answered they just began working on it.

Senator Bradley explained that when the Town went out of compliance DEP was going to begin fining it.

Commissioner Ford explained that the Town was turned down for a sewer plant after having applied for one under the Springs Initiative program.

Senator Bradley had the final word," [the Water Management District] Their job is to look at something like a failing water system and make sure you have the resources you need -- we've got to hit the water thing first, because that's the emergency."

At the Fort White Water Plant

Mayor Frazier and Commissioner Ford discuss the situation at the Fort White water plant. They are standing in front of the charcoal filter bank.
Mayor Frazier and Commissioner Ford discuss the situation at the Fort White water plant. They are standing in front of the charcoal filter bank.

Last week, your reporter met with  Mayor Frazier and Commissioner Ford at the Fort White Water Plant.

Mayor Frazier said the plant was a bad design from the beginning. He thought it was built in 1996.

He explained that last year the utility "ended with a $3k surplus after expenses."

Commissioner Ford explained that they were told that in order to get money the plant has to be "shovel ready and all the plans have to be done."

Mayor Frazier said, "Approximately 60% of the customers are on a dead end line and that there was money available to loop the line, but it is not enough for all the folks that need it."

Assistant County Manager David Kraus

Early today, Assistant County Manager David Kraus told the Observer that the day after the Delegation Meeting there was a meeting at the Water Management District about funding the Fort White water issues.

All interested parties, other than the school district, were in attendance.

There have been other meetings since then.

The state wants Fort White to apply for a revolving loan and then apply for forgiveness later, or find another funding source that will pay off the loan.

(The state theory seems to be – apply for everything – and see what you get. Ed.)

Top of 500,000 water storage tank
The storage tank vent recently blew off because it became so corroded. Had a bird or animal fallen into the tank and began to rot this would have been a serious issue.

One revolving loan would be to fix the tanks and the generators.

Another revolving loan would be to do a study to get "the big picture."

Another option would be to hook up to the County's water supply at Ellisville, which now dumps thousands of gallons of water onto the ground every day.

With a well thought out route, a water line from Ellisville could be an economic development driver for the south end of the County.

According to Mr. Kraus, the County is working on a plan with Emergency Management in case the worst happens: the leaking water storage tanks blow up.

Also, this afternoon, Mayor Frazier told your reporter that School Superintendent Carswell came down to Fort White and is taking an active interest in Fort White's water issues.


Mayor Frazier, who lives close to the water plant told your reporter that many people he knows, as well as himself, won't drink the Fort White water, but drink bottled water instead, saying, "That is why the local Dollar General is constantly running low or is out of bottled water."

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