Palm Coast Water Tower Isolated From System After Break-In; Security Questions Pending
FlaglerLive | May 17, 2011
Last Updated: 6:07 p.m.
The Palm Coast water tower–one of the city’s most visible icons, just south of Palm Coast Parkway and west of I-95–was cut off from the rest of the city’s water system this morning (May 17) after city workers discovered a break-in at the facility sometime after 9 a.m.
Water from the 500,000-gallon tower was isolated from the rest of the system as a precaution, Palm Coast Utilities Director Richard Adams said Tuesday afternoon.
“We have no reason to believe that there’s any problem with the drinking water,” Adams said. “We’re running a battery of tests to make sure the water in the tank is safe.” So far, what tests the city itself has conducted have raised no issues. Many tests will be conducted by an independent lab. Some results from those tests are not expected until the end of this week, some until the end of next week.
“It’s not a question of putting a piece of litmus paper in there to see if it turns blue,” Frank Meeker, an environmental specialist at the St. Johns River Water Management District and a Palm Coast City Council member, said after being briefed on the break-in Tuesday afternoon.
“The utility has contacted all the agencies and we are pursuing this with all due diligence to make sure there’s absolutely no issue with our water supply,” Adams said. “We have gone out to check all of our facilities to make sure there’s been no other incident and we have found none yet.”
Even though the water tower has been isolated from the rest of the system, there is neither a water-supply nor a water-pressure issue, Adams said. The tower is one of six storage facilities. The Palm Coast water utility pumps out 7 to 8 million gallons of water per day. Last week, for example, demand in the city was 8.55 million gallons. The shut-off from the tower is not expected to affect water delivery.
Nor are residents being advised to change their habits–or worry about drinking tap water. If water did leave the water tower at any point after the break in, the amounts would have been very small, Adams said.
The main door to the tower was damaged and forced open, the sheriff”s office reported, and a green garden hose was found hanging about 50 feet above ground.Flagler County’s Fire Flight helicopter flew over the water tower after the break-in was discovered and took photographs, which show that two latches were open. The blue latch leads to an inner tube and ladder that runs the length of the 165-foot tower from the ground up. It appears that the person who broke in (or the persons) climbed that ladder and may have had a beer at the top. A beer can was found inside the fenced area around the water tower. That fence, 6 foot high and topped with barbed wire, was somehow scaled. Of more concern is the second latch that was found open at the top–the latch to an air vent into the water tank itself, with direct access to the water. But it would be pure speculation, Adams said, to suggest that the water was compromised through that vent. Still, the city is taking all precautions.
Immediately after discovering the break-in, the city called what’s called the Florida Division of Emergency Management’s Warning Point, which serves as the contact point for communications between local Governments and Emergency Agencies, State Government Agencies and the Federal Government. The Division of Environmental protection was also notified. So far, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office is leading the investigation from a law enforcement perspective.
The city will conduct a post-incident evaluation and determine whether and how security would be beefed up, Adams said.