Underground Utilities & Public Infrastructure


Summary of Services

The City of Tallahassee's Underground Utilities and Public Infrastructure is a progressive department operating water, wastewater, and stormwater utility systems, as well as public works and transportation infrastructure to serve Florida's seventh-largest city. Major infrastructure includes a 26 Million Gallons per Day (MGD) wastewater treatment facility, 102 pump stations, 1,000 miles of sanitary sewers, 493 miles of storm drains, 110 miles of ditches and canals, 1,200 miles of water mains, 650 miles of streets, 8 water towers, and 27 water wells producing 10 billion gallons of finished water annually. The department boasts a skilled and satisfied workforce of 560 employees, with 60% of employees working for the department for over 10 years and 30% for over 20 years.


The Water Utility

Circa 1895, a City ordinance permitted the construction of privately-owned waterworks to serve the City. In 1908 the City purchased the original water system for $75,000. For over 100 years, City employees have worked to provide our customers and our communities with water that meets all federal and state standards. Fulfilling this responsibility in a sustainable manner is critical to our community's overall physical and financial health. Our technical expertise, leading-edge laboratories, commitment to investing in our infrastructure, and proactive protection of the environment ensure that we are doing everything we can to deliver the Best Drinking Water in Florida.


As a result of our water conservation programs and conservation rates the Water Utility has seen a steady decline in average per capita consumption of water. While this increased conservation aligns with our environmental and social goals, such decreases have resulted in pressures on water rates.


FY22

  • Based on a FY21 rate study, it was determined that water rates would require adjustment beyond the normal CPI rate adjustment mechanism. As a result, the Commission approved a water rate increase of 4.6% effective January 1, 2022.
  • Operating expenditures are projected to increase based on expected inflationary pressures.
  • The redistribution of Survey and Construction Inspections Division costs that were formerly funded in Wastewater, were split between water and wastewater, and resulted in an approximate $800,000 increase in expenses to the water fund.
  • Capitalized Overhead revenue was reduced by $1 million based on historical trends for direct labor charges to projects.
  • One employee categorized as Other Personnel Services (OPS) was converted to a permanent full-time position, allowing them to receive additional benefits such as pension.

FY23-26

  • Assumptions for rate revenues include modest customer growth and continuation of the existing CPI rate adjustment mechanism.
  • Operating expenses are estimated to increase with inflation.
  • Commitment to capital investments includes a future borrowing FY22-23 and a 4.4% average increase per year in the RR&I fund transfer through FY25.

The Wastewater Utility

Since 1904 the City has provided the complete array of wastewater collection, treatment, and disposal services that are essential to protect the Big Bend region's public health and natural environment. Wastewater services start with a collection system that collects the wastewater from residential, commercial, institutional, and industrial customers. The wastewater is transported through a network of sewers and pump stations to the Thomas P. Smith Water Reclamation Facility (TPS), a state-of-the-art treatment facility. At TPS the wastewater is fully treated to meet state and federal quality standards and then pumped to the Southeast Spray Field where it is 100% recycled through use as irrigation water to grow crops used for animal fodder.


The Wastewater Utility continues to conduct periodic rate studies that address major issues such as the additional costs for Advanced Wastewater Treatment (AWT) operations, infrastructure improvements for the collection system, the current and projected state of the economy, and growth in its customer base.


FY22

  • Based on a FY21 rate study, it was determined that no wastewater rate increases were required beyond the existing CPI rate adjustment mechanism.
  • Redistribution of the Survey and Construction Inspections costs split with the Water fund resulted in offsetting revenue that increased Wastewater’s transfer from the Water fund by approximately $800,000.
  • In FY22 rate revenues are expected to be sufficient to sustain operations.

FY23-26

  • Assumptions for rate revenues include modest customer growth and continuation of the existing CPI rate adjustment mechanism.
  • Operating expenses are estimated to increase with inflation.
  • Commitment to capital investments includes a future borrowing in FY22-23 and a 3.7% average increase per year in the Renewal, Replacement and Improvement Fund (RR&I) transfer through FY25.

The Stormwater Utility

Established in 1987 to provide Stormwater management services within the City limits, the Stormwater Utility is essential to protecting, preserving, and enhancing our neighborhoods, community, and natural resources. Stormwater Management plays a critical role in controlling flooding, enhancing safety, protecting water quality, and meeting the requirements of ever-increasing state and federal environmental regulations. Stormwater must be managed for the common good across the whole community because water runoff knows no boundaries. The Stormwater Utility's responsibility and challenge are to repair and maintain existing Stormwater facilities for flood control and water quality treatment and to address the long list of needed capital improvement projects.


FY22

  • Operating revenues were adjusted pursuant to the existing CPI rate adjustment mechanism in FY22, and there was a $3 million transfer to the RR&I fund.
  • Personnel costs increased by 7.3% over FY21, which was partially mitigated by a $320,000 budget reduction in the internal service funds.
  • There are no significant changes to the fund’s operating expenses as they are continually looking for savings to produce a year-end transfer to the RR&I fund for capital improvements.

FY23-26

  • Assumptions for rate revenues include modest customer growth and continuation of the existing CPI rate adjustment mechanism.
  • Operating expenses are estimated to increase with inflation.
  • A fee study is contemplated in the future to assess the long-term sustainability of the utility.
  • Efforts to maximize the RR&I fund transfer through reduced operating expenses will continue to be monitored each year.


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Short-Term Action Plan

• Execute Capital Improvement Plan - Water, Sewer, Stormwater, Streets, Sidewalks, and Traffic

• Master Planning: Water, Sewer & Treatment, Surface Water

• Traffic Signal Management Plan

• Water and Sewer Rate Study

Challenges

• 4-B-4. Remain a Top 3 municipal leader in the prevention of sewer spills during the next five years.

• 4-B-5. Reduce the number of impaired water bodies.

• 4-B-I.2. Improve water quality by reducing harmful discharges.

• 7-B-2. Number of sidewalks projects completed annually.


Long-Term Plan

• Execute Capital Improvement Plan - Water, Sewer, Stormwater, Streets, Sidewalks, and Traffic

• Master Planning: Water, Sewer & Treatment, Surface Water

• Road Assessment Program

• Infiltration & Inflow Study




4-B-4: Remain a top 3 municipal leader in the prevention of sewer spills during the next 5 years.

The City of Tallahassee has been a leader among other Florida utilities in reducing the occurrence of overflows and mitigating their impacts on the environment and public health. Over the past decade, the City has reduced the incidence of overflows by approximately 85% and reduced the overall volume of overflows by 60%. To compare itself to other local governments, the City is a member of the Florida Benchmark Consortium (FBC) which is the largest intra-state local government benchmarking consortium in the country. Each year, the City compares 24 performance management indicators against other City and County Governments. For overflows, there is a metric that compares the total volume of overflows for every 100 miles of sewer collection pipe within the system. In FY2016-17 the City ranked in the top 3 best compared to other utilities.


Comparative data for FY 2017-18 and FY2018-19 has not yet been released. However, the City plans to sustain its leadership in this category through an effective and efficient sewer collection maintenance and cleaning schedule. This includes outreach to and educating customers regarding non-flushable items, replacing and rehabilitating aging infrastructure and implementing an inflow and infiltration study to mitigate impacts from significant storms and heavy rainfall.


4-B-5: Reduce the number of impaired water bodies.

The City is committed to reducing nutrients discharged into our surface waters, as these are essential to our quality of life and protecting the environment. The City has three regional drainage basins, each with their respective lakes as the primary water receiver: Lakes Jackson, Lafayette, and Munson. These lakes present unique water quality challenges, and for more than 40 years the City has been committed to addressing water quality concerns. By the early 1980s, treated wastewater effluent was no longer discharged to Lake Munson. In 1986, the City constructed the first aluminum-sulfate stormwater treatment system in Florida at Lake Ella. In the 1990s and early 2000s, the City committed to large regional stormwater treatment facilities such as Carter-Howell Strong Park and Lake Elberta. Most recently, the City has constructed major projects along Megginnis Arm, Boone Boulevard, the Lower Central Drainage Ditch and the Upper Lake Lafayette Nutrient Reduction Facility (ULL-NURF).


In addition to these stormwater treatment facilities, the City continues to provide public education through its award-winning Think About Personal Pollution (TAPP) program. These efforts, along with those of our local partners, [1] have led to continuously improved water quality over the years. For example, since 1974 the concentrations of Nitrogen and Phosphorus discharged into Lake Munson from Munson Slough has been reduced by 81% and the ULL-NURF, which began operation in 2015, has documented impressive treatment efficiencies.


The City is committed to attaining water quality standards set forth by the State of Florida. To advance these efforts, the City continues to invest in stormwater projects. Such work will be possible through the 2020-2040 half-cent sales tax funding, which will include $42.5 million dollars dedicated solely to water quality efforts. The City implements a robust operation and maintenance program that ensures proper functioning of our stormwater management facilities, gross-pollutant removal systems and continued street sweeping. The City also continues to investigate techniques to reduce the direct connection of impervious areas, advance studies of local waters to determine both causes and solutions to impairment and explore new technology. The City is committed to reducing discharges from our stormwater system by reducing nutrient concentrations to meet or exceed water quality standards and remaining the key partner in the improvement of water quality in our recreational waters.


4-B-i-2: Improve water quality by reducing harmful discharges.

To ensure residents enjoy the highest quality of life possible, the City is dedicated to protecting the quality of our surface waters. This is achieved by eliminating harmful discharges to reverse the effects of improper waste disposal, underscoring the City’s continued commitment to environmental stewardship and maintaining the high quality of life to our citizens.


The City of Tallahassee has been a leader of environmental stewardship in the region, with programs and methods developed specifically for protecting and improving our water quality. Two of the City’s notable programs include the Industrial Pretreatment Program and Aquifer Protection Program. These programs have staff dedicated to outreach, education and inspection of commercial and industrial facilities to prevent the discharge of harmful chemicals and waste products into the sanitary and stormwater systems.


To closely monitor water discharge in the region, the City maintains a database of commercial and industrial facilities that tracks outreach efforts, inspections and illicit discharges [1]. In 2019, there were more than 3,400 active facilities in the region. City staff inspected nearly 2,200 of those facilities with only 12 illicit discharges documented. For FY2021, the performance target is to realize at least a 10% reduction in illicit discharges from the previous year, with the ultimate goal of achieving “zero” illicit discharges. Staff recognizes that that ideal goal may not be attainable due to being a growing community with thousands of facilities in the region, yet they remain diligent and committed in their outreach, education and inspection efforts. Staff will continue to promote the importance of proper facility maintenance and waste disposal, protection of the environment and improving the quality of life for the community.


4-C-1: Win the “Best Tasting Drinking Water in Florida” award by 2024.

When it comes to drinking water, there are very few places in Florida, and throughout the country, that have access to such an abundant and high-quality source of drinking water as Tallahassee. As a City-owned and operated utility, maintaining best-in-class drinking water is an important aspect that supports our high quality of life.


Fortunately, Tallahassee’s drinking water requires minimal treatment to make it suitable for public consumption [1]. Through the efforts of our licensed water treatment plant operators and distribution system maintenance personnel, the City can provide its residents with the best tasting drinking water in Florida, and among the best in the country.


Each year, the Florida Section of the American Water Works Association (FSAWWA) hosts a competition to determine which water system has Florida’s “Best Tasting Drinking Water.” Contestants are chosen from twelve regions and are judged in a blind sample based on taste, color, clarity and smell. Region I, which includes Franklin, Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty, Madison, Taylor and Wakulla counties, has won the state-wide contest five times. The City of Tallahassee is the only drinking water system in Florida to win the state contest three times – in 2008, 2015 and 2016. In 2016, the City of Tallahassee’s drinking water went on to compete in the nationwide contest, where it was voted a “Top 5 Best Tasting Drinking Water in the U.S.A.” The City of Tallahassee will continue providing its customers with this best-in-class drinking water and pursue the goal to win the “Best Tasting Drinking Water in Florida” award again by 2024.


4-C-2: Complete construction of new water quality laboratory by 2021.

One of the City’s objectives is to have a capital improvement plan in place to systematically upgrade infrastructure integrity for both efficiency and environmental safety. This program includes ensuring that clean and safe drinking water is continually supplied to our customers, which requires adequate facilities, instrumentation and personnel to routinely monitor the quality of our drinking water in accordance with well-established standards.


Consistent with this objective, the City operates a water quality laboratory where extensive sampling and analyses are performed to meet rigorous Federal, State and Local regulations. The City closely monitors and samples our water as it is pumped from a system of 27 deep wells. More than 10,000 samples for more than 50,000 analyses per year are performed to ensure compliance with said regulations. Our chemists test for more than 110 regulated and unregulated substances including lead and copper. Running a certified lab provides assurances that our customers receive the highest quality of water. Over 11 billion gallons of water are produced each year for more than 80,000 customers. In addition to providing compliance to our public water system, the Water Quality Laboratory provides compliance to the City’s wastewater treatment and disposal systems, stormwater management facilities and the electric power plant facilities.


After decades of service and multiple renovations, the existing water quality lab has become insufficient to accommodate staff and laboratory processes needed to reliably conduct the volume and frequency of tests. To address this need, the City has begun the process of evaluating, planning, designing and constructing a new state-of-the art water quality laboratory. Following a comprehensive independent review, the City concluded that a new water quality laboratory building would be the most efficient and effective means of improving the laboratory space while maintaining operation of water quality laboratory services [1].

The City has completed the engineering and architectural design of the building and a contractor has been selected through a competitive solicitation process. A $5.8 million contract was executed with a local firm to start construction in Fall 2020. The expected time of completion is in 2021, and the project is currently on schedule.




4-C-i-1: Maintain best-in-class water quality.

Improving the quality of life for residents is of paramount importance to the City, and maintaining best-in-class water utility services is one important aspect and contribution toward this pursuit. The City continually strives to provide its customers with the safest, most reliable and best tasting drinking water in Florida, protect the local aquifer and water bodies and mitigate harmful discharge through effective wastewater treatment efforts.


There is substantial effort required to continually maintain compliance with State and Federal drinking water standards. The City employs licensed treatment plant operators to ensure the City’s water supply is properly treated before water is distributed to the customer. It also employs licensed water distribution maintenance personnel to ensure the construction and repairs to the City’s water distribution system are performed in accordance with industry standards to ensure public safety. Additionally, licensed operators monitor the water system 24/7 to ensure proper water quality, availability and system pressure.


Each year, staff collects more than one thousand samples from our water system and analyzes them in our nationally accredited and certified laboratory to ensure compliance with drinking water standards established by the Safe Drinking Water Act. In addition, many more samples are collected and analyzed at the request of our customers and residents in the region to determine water quality within their homes and businesses. Ensuring and maintaining “Best-in-Class Water Quality” is achieved through proper staffing, training, and licensing of our water system operators, construction and maintenance staff, and laboratory analysts; the accreditation of the water quality laboratory and the funding for construction of a new Water Quality Laboratory.


4-D-2: Complete FAMU Way Extension Project by 2024.

As the fifth largest historically black university in the nation, Florida A&M University (FAMU) has been a cornerstone of our community since the late 19th century. As the community and the university grew, there was a need in the early 2000s to enhance traffic flow around the university. Community meetings for this milestone project began in 2008 to address the need for an additional east-west corridor. This resulted in the FAMU Way Extension project, which is more than 10 years in the making. As plans progressed and the conversation continued with the community over the years, the project grew to be much more than just a road project. FAMU Way is a world class roadway and multi-use trail that provides a connection from Lake Bradford Road all the way to the Monroe Street corridor. This connection creates a parallel route to Gaines Street, routing traffic along the north side of FAMU creating a gateway into the campus.


The first two phases of the project transformed the existing roadway, that used to have a deep and dangerous ditch running alongside it, into a safe and reliable corridor for multiple modes of transportation. These two phases included extending FAMU Way from Wahnish Way to Gamble Street and created three roundabouts, wide sidewalks, a multi-use trail, a community gathering place at Lake Anita, a playground, landscaping and more. These upgrades and new roadway construction on FAMU Way support an efficient transit network with well-connected roads and sidewalks for neighborhood residents.


FAMU Way Phase 3 follows the same design aesthetics and attention to detail as the previous phases. Phase 3 is currently under construction and will extend the roadway from the Gamble Street roundabout to the intersection of Lake Bradford Road. The project includes a new roadway, enhanced landscaping, a wide sidewalk and multi-use trail. FAMU Way Phase 3 began construction in August 2019, and the roadway portion of the project is anticipated to be completed in 2021.


4-D-3: Complete Weems Road and mixed-use trail project by 2024.

7-B-2: Number of sidewalk projects completed annually.

Sidewalks have been of significant importance to the City of Tallahassee for many years.  Sidewalks provide an alternative means of transportation and are critical links for pedestrians in and out of neighborhoods and also provide for a dedicated pedestrian route. They are valuable assets to our community and help to provide a higher quality of life thus enhancing livability.  The City is therefore committed to improving the pedestrian network throughout Tallahassee by constructing new sidewalks. 


The City applies various criteria to aid in ranking sidewalk-installation projects both for citizens' safety and to enhance the general quality of neighborhood life. The City maintains a sidewalk priority list, which includes projects identified on the Planned Multimodal Project List. Additionally, the City periodically evaluates criteria in the prioritization process and uses this approved process to evaluate and rank requested sidewalk projects. 


Using the Sidewalk Priority List and other planned projects with sidewalks, the City will work towards meeting the Strategic Plan goals for sidewalk construction. Twelve sidewalk projects were completed in FY2020 (20,300 Linear Feet). Public Infrastructure Engineering is consistently looking to leverage sidewalk funding through grants.  For example, To date, the City has identified 11 sidewalk projects (21,355 LF ) for completion in FY2021.