Lee County department health to provide oversight of Fort Myers’ failing water infrastructure

Published: July 1, 2022 3:58 PM EDT
Updated: July 1, 2022 4:05 PM EDT

The State of Florida will provide oversight, which could include potential penalties, after numerous violations have been found in the City of Fort Myers’ water system.

A 9-page draft consent order from the Department of Health in Lee County reveals serious problems and explains why the city has struggled to provide quality water and enough water to residents.

The consent order, obtained by WINK News, shows violation after violation and it shows how the state will make sure improvements get made.

“With or without the consent order, we were going to do these things once it was brought to our attention. What this does is hanging over our heads, it’s kind of like that carrot,” said Fort Myers Mayor Kevin Anderson, adding that, “there’s not an overnight fix.”

The consent order is a draft and Anderson said it is expected to be finalized in a month or two.

WINK News reached out to the Department of Health in Lee County on Friday. They asked for a list of questions. We will update the story when we hear back.

The consent order comes after years of apparent neglect.

WINK News has covered the lack of water in the Fort Myers system, but the order shows the system can’t produce enough water to meet daily demand, even when there is enough water to go around.

The state said the system hasn’t been maintained properly with some equipment leaking and showing disrepair.

“Initially I was very, very disgusted and disappointed and embarrassed when the magnitude of the problem came to light,” Anderson said.

Since the water issues came to light this year, the City has turned up its efforts, building two new water wells and buying water from Lee County.

It has helped with the water pressure problems across the city.

“We’ve been able to ween ourselves off that. The water pressure has been much, much better,” Anderson said.

For Tami Adamson, it’s still the same.

“If they say change is coming, I can’t wait,” Adamson said.

Not all issues have improved.

Adamson said she can’t remember the last time her water looked clean.

“It’s rust-colored and you feel it on your body and skin so you have to continuously scrub like, ugh, what is on me,” Adamson said.

With sink and shower water that can come out discolored and grimy, Adamson and her family are considering leaving Fort Myers.

“We’re tired of paying so much money on water and taxes on something that hasn’t been fixed. We know the fix is coming, but it’s a long time coming. We’re just tired of waiting,” she said.

The consent order lays out specific deadlines for the City.

By December 31, 2023, Fort Myers should finish water system improvements. The city will also have to submit written quarterly updates to the state and pay penalties ranging from $1,000 to $15,000 daily if the city fails to comply with requirements.

“We’re talking now just tens of millions but hundreds of millions of dollars it’s going to cost us to get out of this problem,” Anderson said.

Anderson said the state and the city have been meeting and he describes the relationship as “cooperative.”

“There’s not an overnight fix. We are very comfortable that we’re in a position to serve water pressure to serve current citizens,” Anderson said.