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Sarasota County wants more water from Peace River Authority

Written by on Saturday, November 18, 2023

But that will come at a steep price.

By Johannes Werner

Original Air Date: Nov. 17, 2023

Host: At the Sarasota County Commission meeting this week, Mike Moran put a culture war item on the agenda. That drew a lot of public attention and time, with more than 40 people signed up to speak. But it also diverted attention from an urgent message the retiring utilities director of Sarasota had to his bosses and the public: We need more water. Our news team did listen to Mike Mylett’s message.

Johannes Werner: The soothing sound of a running faucet is something we cannot take for granted, and it will come at an increased cost in Sarasota County.

In his second-to-last presentation to commissioners, retiring Sarasota County public utilities director Mike Mylett issued a warning: If population growth and current construction patterns continue, Sarasota County will need to find an additional 12 million gallons of water per day.

Mylett presented a chart with estimated daily water usage today, and a projection into the next two decades. According to Mylett’s chart, we consume close to 26 million gallons a day today, and that will rise to close to 38 million gallons by the year 2045. In other words, we will have to make up the difference somewhere.

The bulk of our needs – 15 million gallons – are currently covered through a costly contract with the Peace River Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority. The rest is coming from three local wellfields – most prominently through the new Carlton water treatment facility –  and an agreement with Manatee County, which – however – is shrinking, as the neighboring county has to cover its own population growth.

Mylett is ringing the alarm bells particularly because the growth of water consumption is accelerating. He warned that, while water use has grown consistently at around 2 percent per year over the last 25 years, that has accelerated to 5 percent per year over the last three years. And that’s happening not just in Sarasota, but in Manatee and Charlotte counties as well.

Mylett put it this way: “The growth is challenging our systems”.

Mike Mylett: If you look back over our 25-year history, we’ve had a pretty consistent growth rate on our utility, as far as our water demands go. Yes, we have high peaks and low valleys, but overall we’ve maintained a pretty consistent growth rate of about just under 2%. If you look over the last three years, that 2% has grown to five. So we’ve .. grown really dramatically over the last three years. And that’s impacting our water supplies and our water usage or water demands. Just this year, Sarasota County experienced a 30 million gallon day demand in our system. That’s the first time that we’ve experienced something that large. So it’s the growth that is challenging our systems. And when we look forward and we look at our neighbors, our neighbors are experiencing the same growth rates. Charlotte, Manatee County – very similar patterns to what you’re seeing in Sarasota County.

JW: So how are we going to cover the gap?

We are putting all our eggs in the Peace River basket – which means getting water from farther away, at a higher cost.

Peace River reservoir

The utilities director wants – and the commissioners seemed to agree, without discussion – to ask the Peace River Authority to provide an additional 4 million gallons a day, which requires signing an agreement by 2026, according to Mylett. That still leaves a gap of 8 million gallons by 2045, and deadlines for 2031 and 2036 to sign more incremental agreements for 4 million gallons each.

The Peace River Authority is planning for a new treatment plant and a controversial new reservoir. The total cost of all that is half a billion dollars, most of which Sarasota will have to bear, together with four other counties.

At the meeting on Tuesday, the commissioners had no comments or questions, and they unanimously approved submitting Sarasota’s use projections to the Peace River Authority. In spring, Mylett’s successor will bring to the commissioners a revised master water supply agreement with the Peace River Authority.

In contrast, City of Sarasota utilities director Verne Hall, in a recent workshop with city commissioners, was optimistic that reuse of water from treatment plants will begin to cover the city’s growth needs in the near future. Reuse technology has been around for decades, in communities along rivers such as the Mississippi and elsewhere. Hall points at a pilot project underway in Plant City, east of Tampa, that could pave the way for approval of reclaimed water technology in Florida.

In his presentation, county utilities director Mylett did not mention re-use, nor did any of the county commissioners.

WSLR News could not reach Mylett before deadline.

This has been Johannes Werner, reporting for WSLR News.

 

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