New prices from the regional water authority have increased local water rates for typical users by about 8 cents a month.

The Peace River Manasota Regional Water Authority adopted a $61.9 million budget July 31 that is 3.7% higher than last year. Commissioners from four counties voted unanimously.

The increase is driven largely by higher costs to maintain, improve and expand the pipelines, water processing and storage systems throughout the four-county region. The users in this system are Charlotte County, the city of North Port, DeSoto County, Sarasota County and Manatee County, which has just begun drawing water from the system. Most of these have their own utility that sets its own rates.

Charlotte County Utilities uses water from the authority, adding its own processing and distribution. County commissioners have already included this increase in the current water rates, which they raised by 7% early in the year, spokeswoman Caroline Wannell said.

Charlotte County has one of the higher water rates in the state, as reported in recent years, due in part to its takeover of the bankrupt General Development Utilities in the 1990s. The county has also undertaken extensive upgrades to its water lines. Its low population density, small household size and seasonal residency also contribute to the high water rates, county utility administrators have told the Sun.

While Charlotte County draws the most water of the users at 16.1 million gallons per day, Sarasota County pays the most into the system at $12 million for a base rate in 2020. Sarasota has more money going into more capital projects than other users.

North Port uses only about 2.9 million gallons a day. DeSoto county uses less than a million gallons per day.

The authority must also spend more money on water chemicals to meet new federal regulations, staff told commissioners.

Commissioners also voted to spend more than $4 million for another new state and federal requirement, which is the installation of large covers over the outdoor water filtering systems. Although the covers are for water quality, they will also protect workers during storms, Director Patrick Lehman told commissioners.

The authority is continuing to plan for a new reservoir to be built next to the current one off State Road 17 in DeSoto County. That will only cost $275,000 in 2020 for a feasibility study, Deputy Director Mike Coates told the Sun. The reservoir would likely be built within 10 years.

The Peace River authority is not typical in the state in that it uses river water rather than drawing from an underground aquifer. Water supplies are looking good this year, staff told the commission.

Administrative costs decreased by $306,240 now that the authority owns its administrative building in Lakewood Ranch in Manatee County. This was a move that Charlotte County opposed, saying that the authority should build offices at the physical plant in DeSoto rather than near where some executives live.

Email: betsy.calvert@yoursun.com

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