DADE CITY — The principal at Moore-Mickens Education Center, Jackson Johnson, didn't notice it.
Neither did city officials nor the volunteers at Habitat for Humanity. But a 3-year-old boy named Kingston Elliott insisted last October that a "waterfall" was the cause of rising water surrounding the Moore-Mickens campus and Habitat for Humanity development.
"I had noticed that the ponds were getting bigger and bigger," said Kingston's father, Tavaris Elliott. "I heard the running water but couldn't find the source."
At a meeting Thursday night of the Dade City Neighborhood Steering Committee, Elliott insisted that city officials inspect the cause of the spreading murky waters that, despite an extended lack of rain, have been closing in on Mickens-Harper neighborhood's mounded barriers and back yards.
City planner Michael Sherman responded Friday morning. After clearing extensive overgrowth, Sherman discovered a gushing water valve. City officials didn't have an estimate for the water loss. But Elliott filled a gallon bucket in five seconds with part of the gushing stream. He figured the valve could have been spewing hundreds of thousands of gallons a day.
City Manager Billy Poe reported that the valve's flow was capped "before lunchtime" Friday.
"There was a pop-off valve at the end of a dead end street," Poe said. "The valve wasn't supposed to be open and running."
He said the city dispatched a vacuum truck to allow workers to secure the valve.
"Now that it's shut off, we need to put a box around it to enclose it," Poe said.
Elliott wondered who would pay for all that wasted water. And he noted the cost extends beyond the water bills.
"When people stopped harvesting yams from that ground, I knew there was a problem," he said. "Now the same area is below 5 feet of water."
City commissioners established the Neighborhood Steering Committee last year to address complaints in Mickens-Harper, a predominantly black neighborhood that opposed expansion of the wastewater treatment plant in center of their community. The panel of seven representatives is slowly learning the governmental process while navigating the discussion phase with the city to prioritize future projects.
So far the community organization has saved their baseball field by forcing the city to relocate a proposed reclaimed water tank to another site; secured a promise of $75,000 from the city for neighborhood improvements; and reached an agreement from the city to remove the entire treatment plant by 2025.