Taft Water Association
Quality on Tap” adorns the sign of the well-maintained blue building located on 1129 Pine Street. The building is the home of the Taft Water Association. If there one thing in Taft that symbolizes the spirit and attitude of its residents it is this organization. It stands as an island of independence in powerful Orlando Utilities Commission country. Before the water association was formed, residents had to relay on well water, which despite the depth of the wells, tasted of sulfur and possessed a rotten-egg odor. The residents showing their propensity for self-reliance decided to form their own water system. This would prove to be no easy task.
Zack Crews along with fellow locals Ellsworth (Pete) Pierce, Shirley Beavers, Nathan Weagraff and Ennis Dean Lewis became the first board of directors for the association. Their mission was to charter a non-profit water association, secure a $152,000 loan from the Farmer’s Home Administration and to arrange engineering for the Pine Street utility. However the most difficult task they faced was convincing local residents, a very cautious group, the endeavor would not raise taxes or open the door to developers. Regulations required 200 potential customers before FHA would even consider the loan. The group spent three months canvassing the community, urging the people to go the fire station and sign up; the original fee was a $5 membership fee and a $2.50 hook-up fee. The group finally achieved their goal and the application was sent to William Shaddick, the state director of FHA.
On May 1, 1964 word came that the loan for the fledgling water system was approved, the residents would have forty years to pay it back. Sadly Mr. Crews had passed away, but his dream was going to become a reality. Taft opened bids immediately, 21 bidders submitted 70 bids on various parts of the project. The bidders were informed they would have only 150-200 days to finish the project. The actual construction of the plant employed over twenty people. On April 30, 1965 the water was turned on and the residents had their own community owned water system, Mrs. Crews, widow of Zack Crews, attended the ceremony.
In January of 1975 FHA approved a second loan providing for the addition of an additional well, a new aerator, a high service pump and five new fire hydrants. The year before the by-laws had been changed to include seven members on the Board of Directors to comply with IRS laws.
1982 saw more improvements with a federally funded 199 KW diesel powered self regulating generator as well as a new 65,000 gallon ground storage tank and a new programmable computer controller being added.
Today the association serves 900 customers and employs three full time employees. Taft Water also maintains 70 water hydrants, which the county pays $3000 a year to use in fire protection. The system is now composed of two wells, both 10’’ in diameter and drilled to a depth of 600’ and cased to a depth of 225’. The ground storage system consists of two tanks, a 35,000-gallon as well as a 65,000-gallon tank. Both of these tanks were completely renovated in 1998. Other recent improvements include a storage building, a backhoe, new service truck, a new high service pump, additional office space, landscaping and a new customer service window.
Many people may ask what is the advantage to belonging to a small utility compared to a giant like Orlando Utilities? The answer is simple; the community sets the policy. Local residents serve as president of the association, included in this list are; Zach Crews, Charles Henry, Loren Morse, Ray Rogers, Nat Weagraff, Vic Wise, John Edmundson, Charles Rutherford. The Taft Water Association maintains a high profile in the community, appearing at local events to answer questions and promote water conservation. Its meetings are always open to the public and residents are encouraged to voice their opinions. There has been no increase in the flat water rate since 1993. Locals can walk up to the window and pay their bill and the plant’s employees try hard to work with the customers; after all they are also their neighbors. Any complaints are handled immediately and treated on a personal level. They have a standing rule; no one’s water will be shut off on Friday, protecting a customer from being without water over the weekend. It would be hard to find another example of this kind of concern in today’s fast paced world. Another factor is the tremendous quality of water the people of Taft enjoy. The association has won numerous Department of Environmental Protection Excellence Awards, as well as the prestigious Florida Rural Waters Smokey Knecht Memorial Small Public Water System Award. The employees and board members take the “Quality on Tap” motto very seriously as anyone who has tasted the water from the system can attest to. The water tower you see as you enter Taft stands as a statement of community spirit and self-determination; it is an oasis in the desert of impersonal service.