Cape Coral's expansion includes 960,000 linear feet of sewer gravity pipe, 520,000 feet of water transmission and distribution pipeline, 450,000 feet of reclaimed water mains, and 32 sewer pumping stations. Photo: MWH
New wastewater treatment plants in Cape Coral will eventually meet the needs of 17,000 customers. Photo: MWH

As one of the fastest growing communities in the country, Cape Coral, Fla., is expected to have double-digit population growth over the next 10 to 20 years. City officials, while optimistic about the anticipated economic vitality, quickly realized that this anticipated growth would put a tremendous burden on the city's limited water and wastewater infrastructure.

“We're a relatively young community—first incorporated in 1970,” said Chuck Pavlos, public works director for Cape Coral. “At the time, the road infrastructure was built to handle a population of approximately 300,000, but with only minor infrastructure to meet water and wastewater needs. There are currently 140,000 people living in Cape Coral and we need a plan to manage the predicted growth to about 275,000 in 2020 while still providing our citizens quality service.”

The city implemented its 1999 Utility Master Plan—a comprehensive, flexible plan designed to expand utility services throughout the city by 2020. The first part of this program was the five-year, $250 million Utility Extension Program that extends the city's water, wastewater, and reclaimed water systems to 17,000 additional customers in areas presently served by shallow wells and septic systems.

Unique in size and implementation, this program has emerged as one of the community's most successful programs. Using a “Program Manager (PM) at Risk” project-delivery method, the city has expanded its water and sewer services rapidly, met regulatory requirements, and developed a mutual relationship of respect and progress with its constituents.

Situated on Florida's west coast about 120 miles south of Tampa, Cape Coral has more than 400 miles of canals and a welcoming climate for businesses, residents, and visitors within its 114 square miles. Prior to the Utility Extension Program, growth was limited by the lack of utilities—shallow wells and septic systems were the norm. The expansion program was designed to replace these with water, sewer, and irrigation pipelines; and with pump stations and reclaimed water systems for residential and light industrial service.

Early on, city officials looked to deliver the Utility Extension Program with a different project management style. “We learned a valuable lesson from prior expansion attempts,” said Pavlos. “We wanted one point of contact—a single construction management company to take total responsibility for the entire design/build program.”

The city selected a consortium including MWH, headquartered in Broomfield, Colo., as the program manager, providing all facility design and engineering services and design support during construction. In this framework, MWH is the key source of communication, assuming all responsibility for project delivery from planning, permitting, and design, to bidding, construction, facility start-up, and customer service.

The PM at Risk method allows city staff to focus on policy issues, performing detailed reviews of products, evaluating options, implementing the assessments, sourcing funds, and tying the program into the city's other development programs. “More importantly, one phone call gets us to the people in charge—the team that handles the entire program from design to implementation to hand over,” said Pavlos.