19 billion gallons of water produced by Hurricane Irma’s effects emphasize potential of Peace River Authority’s expansion plans, county commissioner says

Authority also working with SWFWMD on management agreement for part of Orange Hammock Ranch, if that property can be acquired

A graphic shows the Peace River Authority’s water capacity as of September. ‘BG’ stands for billions of gallons. ‘ASR’ refers to the aquifer storage system. Image from the Authority website

On Sept. 13, as a result of Hurricane Irma’s passage through Florida, 19 billion gallons of water flowed past the reservoirs and wells of the Peace River Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority on the RV Griffin Reserve, Sarasota County Commissioner Alan Maio told his colleagues on the county board this week.

“In one day: 19 billion gallons,” Maio reiterated the number. That represents slightly more than a two-year supply of water for the Peace River Authority, he pointed out. Moreover, it underscores the “great potential” for the Authority’s plans to build another reservoir on the Griffin property, he said.

During the commission’s regular meeting on Oct. 31 in Sarasota, Maio took the opportunity to provide an update on the approval of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Peace River Authority and the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) that calls for the Authority to maintain and manage a segment of Orange Hammock Ranch, if the that 5,774-acre property near North Port can be acquired in a public partnership. The agreement would apply only to the portion of the ranch that would remain in SWFWMD ownership, the MOU says.

In a June 7 email, Sarasota County Administrator Tom Harmer notified the commission that SWFWMD “has identified approximately 875 acres” that it is interested in selling as surplus land, if the county and the district are able to acquire the ranch. Of that portion of the property, Harmer noted, approximately 330 acres is “developable uplands.”

SWFWD representatives believe that selling the acreage “will help fund the overall acquisition and also help the City of North Port achieve [its] goal of keeping some of the property on the tax [roll],” Harmer wrote in that email.

On Oct. 31, Maio pointed out that the county, SWFWMD and the Peace River Authority remain “deep in the middle of negotiations” over the purchase of the ranch, which is contiguous to the western border of the Griffin Reserve. The Peace River Authority has two reservoirs and an aquifer storage and recovery system (ASRS) on the reserve.

On Feb. 1, the Authority’s board of directors — of which Maio is chair — formally directed its staff to work on obtaining a permit to build a third reservoir and to expand the ASR. The Griffin Reserve has plenty of space for that project, Maio pointed out on Oct. 31.

“Our Authority does not desire to take any of the potable surface water” that flows to the Snover Canal and then to the City of North Port’s water treatment plant, he stressed.

A graphic shows the location of Orange Hammock Ranch and the RV Griffin Reserve. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The authority operates as a regional partnership with its members “to ensure adequate water supplies for an ever-growing population of more than 900,000 people in our region,” its website says. The current capacity ranges between 11.8 billion and 12.6 billion gallons, Maio explained during the County Commission’s Feb. 7 meeting.

The four counties served by the authority are using only 70% of the authority’s capacity, he added. “Other parts of the state are not so fortunate.”

Along with Sarasota County, those counties are Manatee, Charlotte and DeSoto.

“We’re currently in great shape,” Maio said again on Oct. 31.

The MOU the Peace River Authority board approved on Oct. 4 points out that “the protection and restoration of a protective buffer for water supply development on the adjacent RV Griffin Reserve, not conservation per se, serve as a primary basis for the acquisition of the [Orange Hammock Ranch] Property and land management goal for the property …”

It adds that those initiatives “and other special protection areas designated for the [ranch], including preservation areas, will take precedence over all other land use and management considerations …”

The document further notes that the Authority may need to use about 2,000 acres of the ranch “to mitigate wetlands impacts that would result from the expansion of the Authority’s water supply and storage system on the RV Griffin Reserve ….”