Some Florida utility companies relying on liquid oxygen change approaches as shortage continues

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — It’s been 10 days since Orlando Utilities Commission asked its customers to cut back on water use so it’s not forced to issue a citywide boil water alert.

The utility company relies on liquid oxygen as part of the process to treat its water once it’s pulled from the Floridan Aquifer.

The company, along with 17 others in the state, relies on liquid oxygen to treat its water.

READ: OUC sees slight drop in water usage over the weekend after asking customers to start conserving

Last Thursday, Tampa Bay Water switched its water treatment process for some of its customers.

“Tampa Bay Water will temporarily change its water treatment process beginning Thursday, Aug. 26 at its Lithia Hydrogen Sulfide Removal Facility, due to a lack of liquid oxygen deliveries to the facility. Water provided to Hillsborough County Public Utilities customers will continue to meet all local, state, and federal regulations for drinking water,” a news release stated.

Tampa Bay Water said it was able to easily shift its treatment process because liquid oxygen, which is in short supply, is used in its pre-treatment process, not for disinfection.

READ: OUC asking water customers to start conserving water immediately: Here’s why

“And so, with the addition of bringing in some additional tanks to store the bleach and do some plumbing we were able to make that change. The disinfection doesn’t happen until it gets to Hillsborough County,” spokesperson Brandon Moore said.

Channel 9 has been tracking water use as liquid oxygen deliveries have slowed to about three per week for OUC. It expected seven deliveries this week, which would be the most it has received in a while.

Typically, half a million customers use about 90 million gallons of water per day. In the last 10 days, since it asked customers to conserve, that’s only dropped slightly to an average daily use of about 81 million gallons.

READ: OUC sending robocalls to customers urging them to conserve water

The utility company is still hoping a slew of social media ads, robocalls and emails will encourage customers to conserve non-essential water use, insisting they don’t have authority to force customers to reduce use, so they are at the mercy of suppliers.  

“Our members are producing it, as much oxygen as they can,” said Rich Craig, technical director for the Compressed Gas Association.

The companies, he said, are prioritizing hospitals where doctors are also using liquid oxygen to treat COVID-19 patients. Craig said the liquid has to be stored at about -300 degrees, industry experts say, which means it should be used as it’s needed and not stored outdoors for long periods of time where heat would cause it to evaporate over time.

READ: Couple weeks’ supply of liquid oxygen to treat your home’s water left

Winter Park Utilities is also using liquid oxygen.

Last week, its director told us clearly, it’s a health need, but he believes public health is also important. As of Monday, a spokesperson said they estimate the utility has less than 2 weeks of LOX capacity. 

“We have requested and have been told that we will be getting deliveries this week and early next week. Winter Park is monitoring the situation very closely and will be evaluating additional operational changes as the situation dictates,” said Clarissa Howard.