PORT CHARLOTTE — An emergency supply line between Sarasota and Manatee counties would protect all four counties in the regional compact including DeSoto and Charlotte, staff for the regional water authority told board members recently.
Such a connection would effectively link the two big water supplies in the region — reservoirs in DeSoto and Manatee counties.
Having all the water supplies connected protects everyone from the impact of a disaster, said Patrick Lehman, director of the Peace River Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority. He spoke before the quarterly meeting of the board last week held in Charlotte County.
Disasters include drought in one part of the region or failure of the infrastructure, Lehman said.
Other possible disasters includes a sudden influx of either bluegreen algae out of Lake Okeechobee, or phosphate processing contaminants from upstream fertilizer producer Mosaic, the authority’s lawyer, Douglas Manson, noted later in the meeting.
“We’re blessed to have a system that we can come off the river if something’s coming down the river that we don’t want in our system,” Manson said.
It’s too soon to move on a new pipeline between the two counties, however, Manatee County Commissioner Priscilla Trace told the board.
“I think we’re semi-jumping the gun,” Trace said.
Beginning in 1973, Manatee and Sarasota counties signed an agreement — predating the regional authority — in which Manatee supplies water to Sarasota. That agreement ends in 2025, when Manatee thought it would need all the supply for itself.
Authority Director Patrick Lehman told the board: “2025 in water planning years is just around the corner.”
Charlotte County Commissioner Ken Doherty agreed.
“I looked at the timeline, and I said, ‘Whoa!” he said. “There may be a short term need to do something in 5-10 years.”
The authority has already applied to the state for funding to conduct a feasibility study on a pipeline that would be 12-15 miles running from Sarasota County to the Manatee County reservoir. That study will likely begin next fall, the authority’s Deputy Director Mike Coates told the Sun. The existing connection only runs one way, he said.
Last year, the regional authority was the first in the state to receive a 50-year permit. That permit includes another reservoir in DeSoto in the future. Even the existing reservoir allows the region to stop drawing from the river for an extended period of time in the event of an emergency, staff have said.
Trace said that conservation efforts have pushed out the need to cut off Sarasota to 2035 or 2037 or beyond.
“Let’s keep it at the staff level,” Trace said. “The mission is we’re going to be integrated one day. It could be 2050.”
The problem with waiting, Coates said, is that without Manatee’s participation, the cost of building the pipeline could fall mostly on Sarasota. That’s because state regulators’ official stance is to favor funding regional solutions over local ones.
Staff from the Manatee Supply Facilities did not return calls for comment.
“I think their main issue is that they don’t want to pay for infrastructure that they don’t see directly benefiting them,” Coates said of Manatee.
Authority board members advised staff to set up future workshops for the board to hash out the issues.
“Our counties are growing, and the need for water is not going away,” said Sarasota County Commissioner Alan Maio.