Florida Keys residents are asked to conserve water following a third water main break on March 11. UNSPLASH/Contributed

Homes and businesses from the Upper Keys to Key West turned their faucet handles to find little to no water flowing following a third pipe break during the evening hours of March 11. 

Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority repair crews worked throughout the night and into the morning at MM 84.5 — an area that witnessed two breaks in less than week — to restore the flow.

With water now running out of the faucets, FKAA is asking residents, the many tourists staying at hotels and campgrounds during spring break and businesses throughout the island chain to conserve water to allow the system to return to normal operations. In a statement, Greg Veliz, Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority executive director, said the agency reduced output from its Florida City plant to relieve pressure on the system.

U.S. 1 heading north closes to allow FKAA crews to repair a major pipe burst at MM 92 on March 9. Traffic was diverted to a southbound lane. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly

“We are asking for assistance from the public, in an effort to conserve water and rebuild our services,” Veliz said. “FKAA is generating enough water to service our customers. However, we are limited in our ability to build our reserves, which have been depleted as a result of the leaks that occurred last week.”

Veliz added that people should reduce irrigation systems, boat washing and running water through the faucet or shower for too long. 

“Irrigation systems are a big killer for us,” Veliz said during a March 14 appearance on Keys Talk 96.9 radio with Michael Stapleford.  

The many motorists traveling south on a heavily congested U.S. 1 on Plantation Key on March 13 passed by a Monroe County Sheriff’s Office message board urging them to conserve water. 

FKAA had issued a precautionary boil water notice to residents from Windley Key to Key West, all of whom were affected by the latest water main break over the weekend. The precautionary measure ended on March 14. All water passed testing in all areas, FKAA said. 

Pipe breaks in the Upper Keys happened as FKAA prepares to begin a 4-mile, $42-million water main replacement project from Tea Table Relief at MM 79 to Whale Harbor at MM 84. Excavation work is slated for April to place new 36-inch water main transmission alongside U.S. 1. Veliz said the breaks at MM 84.5 are outside the scope of the project. Veliz told Stapleford during an interview with Keys Talk that FKAA will eventually replace 130 miles of water main. Veliz also emphasized the importance of planning once the new pipes are in the ground. 

FKAA crews place new 30-inch pipe into the ground in place of an older pipe that burst at MM 92 on March 9. FKAA/Contributed

“We need to put out a 50 or 100-year plan,” Veliz said, adding that FKAA can’t drop pipes into the ground and worry about it later down the road. 

The first break in the Keys occurred during the early morning hours of March 8 near Postcard Inn Beach Resort & Marina. Repair crews battled the sun and heat as they spent 12 hours repairing the break and the road. Sheriff’s deputies and flagmen directed northbound traffic to the Old Highway and southbound traffic onto the northbound lane of U.S. 1. 

Just as Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority crews were finishing repairs of a water main break at MM 84 near Postcard Inn Beach Resort & Marina on the evening of March 8, a second major leak was reported roughly eight miles north at MM 92 in Tavernier. As a result, crews were sent to the Tavernier water leak that Veliz said was much worse than the break in Islamorada. 

Veliz said repair crews were working more than 29 hours between the first two breaks. 

“And this isn’t sitting under the tree, this is 29 (hours) in the hole,” Veliz told the Keys Weekly.

Stanley Switlik and Plantation Key schools closed on March 9 due to the low water pressure. Coral Shores and Marathon high schools also closed, as well as the village of Islamorada administrative building and the county tax collector’s offices in the Upper and Middle Keys. All schools and government buildings are currently open.

A number of restaurants throughout the Keys were forced to close on March 8 and March 12 due to the lack of water.

Jim McCarthy is one of the many Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 4-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, hockey, mixed martial arts and golf. He also enjoys time with family and his new baby boy, Lucas, who arrived Oct. 4, 2022.