ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — The Orlando Utilities Commission saw a slight drop in water use over the weekend, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to where they need to be to keep up with demand as they wait for liquid oxygen deliveries to pick up.
OUC supplies water for 140,000 customers or about a half a million people in the City of Orlando and unincorporated Orange County.
The utility supplies water for all of the City of Orlando and unincorporated Orange County. And now, the city of Winter Park is also desperate for the product to help treat its water supply.
OUC received a shipment of liquid oxygen Monday and expects two more this week, but in order to keep up with demand, it needs to receive about seven to 10 deliveries per week.
“We’d like to go from 90 million gallons a day, maybe 25% of that, maybe even 50%,” OUC spokesperson Tim Trudell said.
Winter Park is also desperate to refill three 9,000-gallon tanks at its plants.
A delivery Friday was cancelled, as demand for liquid oxygen grows at our local hospitals. It’s being diverted there because doctors are using it to treat an increasing number of COVID-19 patients. Winter Park’s tanks sit at 30% to 55% capacity, which amounts to a supply of eight to 10 days.
COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased significantly in Central Florida this summer, as the area deals with another surge of the virus. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer told us that hospitals are at capacity, and a majority of the patients being treated are unvaccinated.
“This is now a pandemic of the unvaccinated versus the vaccinated,” Dyer said as he urged more people to get one of three COVID-19 vaccines.
Winter Park, like OUC, is asking its residential and commercial customers to conserve water by eliminating lawn irrigation, pressure washing and car washes. They’ve also made internal adjustments with water pressure, and are working to identify leaks.
“Clearly they have a significant health need for it, I would argue water distribution plants need it as well. They’re a public health entity, but clearly they’re trying, producing it as fast as they can. It’s just a matter of demand exceeding their production,” Winter Park Utilities Director David Zusi said.
The primary supplier for both we’re told is local but they can’t keep up with demand from the utilities and the hospitals. Winter Park said a back up vendor, which is a smaller company, said they simply can’t help until demand slows down.
“People are listening, but we need it for a sustained period of time, it just can’t be one day we’re talking several weeks of conservation methods,” Trudell said.
Orlando and Winter Park’s water supply is pulled from the Floridan Aquifer more than 1,000 feet underground and the liquid oxygen, considered state-of-the-art technology, removes hydrogen sulfide, significantly improving the water quality and taste.
Most utilities still rely heavily on chlorine. OUC told us it doesn’t stockpile the product because their treatment plants are in residential neighborhoods and it’s potentially dangerous.
Advent Health and Orlando Health are among the largest water consumers, along with Universal City Florida Hotel Venture, Universal, Winter Park Town Center, Rollins College, Winter Park Towers, Orlando Airport and Orange County Public Schools.
The City of Orlando has agreed to shut off water at its public facilities like baseball fields and city water foundations. Winter Park told us it uses reclaimed water at its park facilities.
If deliveries for both utilities don’t pick up within the next weeks, they will be forced to issue a mandatory boil water order system wide.
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