It will be years until the project comes to fruition, but the town of Windermere is starting the process to bring its residents access to a potable water system.
Presently, most homes in the town use well water, but residents have requested water services for years, Windermere Town Manager Robert Smith said.
After a public workshop conducted in January 2018 that explored the feasibility of bringing water, sewer services and underground electrical systems to the town, Windermere council members learned the utilities initiative would cost nearly $80 million.
So, for now, the town has focused its efforts on one part of the project: potable water. The town is presently accepting proposals to create a masterplan that would include the logistics and cost estimates for the project.
“There are currently some lines extended throughout town, and what we want to do is come up with a masterplan to make water available to all residents, not only in the town proper but also the HOAs, because some people have it and some don’t,” Smith said. “So we just put out an RFQ to do a master water utility study and get engineers to develop a masterplan for the town and let us know how much it’s going to cost. That would also let us know what other benefits it would have for the town, in terms of fire protection, water quality in the lakes.”
Once the masterplan is completed, the town could request state grants to help fund the design and construction, Smith said.
“Once that first step is done, we could ask the state if they could provide any grants for us to help pay for the design,” he said. “We’re anticipating the study will cost about $130,000, and I believe the cost of the design will be a little over $400,000. So we’ll have to figure out how to pay for it, and how to create a fair payment connection fee, because some people are already tied to the lines, so should they pay the same amount as someone who is not already tied to it? So we have to figure out a way to structure it so that it’s fair for everybody.”
People who have already connected water lines to their home should not be penalized, Smith said.
The construction would cost about $7 to $8 million, he estimates. Sewer services would cost around $20 to $30 million, and moving the electrical system underground would cost another $40 million, he said.
During this fiscal year, the town was able to fund a third of the design cost and the full utility study. The timeline for the project would all depend on the financing situation, he added.
“We’ve been talking about all of this for quite some time,” Smith said. “But we just didn’t have the revenues coming in to offset these initial costs. When you look at wastewater, that would be about another $20 million, and for the undergrounding of the electrical systems, that would be about $40 million.
"And when your overall yearly budget is about $5 million, it’s challenging to come up with ways to afford some of this stuff – especially when you’re trying to repair existing roadways and other infrastructure to make sure it’s safe for residents. So this is more of a want than a need, but it’s one of the things that residents have really wanted. That’s one of the reasons we had to increase the ad valorem this year: to put money away for some of those future capital improvement projects.”