Water demand in Sarasota County expected to rise from current level of 19.4 million gallons per day to 29.38 million gallons per day by 2039

Staff working on resources to provide additional supply

A chart shows current water demand and sources for Sarasota County residents. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Sarasota County’s water demand is expected to rise from the current level of 19.4 million gallons per day to 29.38 million gallons per day by 2039, the director of the county’s Public Utilities Department told the County Commission this week.

As a result, Scott N. Schroyer explained on March 13, staff is at work on a number of initiatives to ensure the county will have sufficient resources.

Among them, staff is working on an extension of an agreement with Manatee County, which provides Sarasota County 5 million gallons per day, Schroyer noted. That agreement is set to expire in 2025.

Further, “The county needs to start adding additional water supply sources gradually beginning in 2025 to meet the additional 5 million gallons per day” average daily demand projected in 2039, he said.

The total supply available for county residents this year is 31.66-million gallons per day, Schroyer continued. By 2039, according to a chart he showed the commissioners, future supply options are expected to provide a total of 32.56 million gallons per day.

Another chart he provided the board showed that 48% of current capacity comes from the Peace River Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority, which includes Sarasota County along with Manatee, Charlotte and DeSoto counties. The Authority sells water wholesale to the counties and to the City of North Port, as noted in another slide Schroyer showed the board.

Any increase in capacity from the Peace River Authority would have to be made at least seven years prior to the beginning date sought for that extra service, according to a memo Schroyer sent the board in advance of the March 13 meeting.

A chart shows projected water demand by 2039 and sources. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Along with working on the Manatee County contract, staff is proceeding with the rehabilitation of the Carlton Water Treatment Plant, which should yield about 3 million more gallons per day, Schroyer explained. Staff also is at work on a Dona Bay/Cow Pen Slough project that would divert 10 million gallons per day for use in aquifer recharging or meeting water demand.

He and his staff constantly are looking at means of ensuring county residents will have the water they need, he added.

“I noted that you can reassure us that we have an adequate supply through 2025,” Chair Nancy Detert told Schroyer. “I’ve lived here long enough to remember water wars,” she continued; those involved North County, South County and Manatee and Charlotte counties.

“Considering our high growth,” Detert continued, I would just ask that you give us very frequent reports on water supply [and] water supply projections, so we would have a couple of years’ notice if we’re in any danger whatsoever.”

During his presentation, Schroyer explained that the county has to provide an annual update to the Peace River Authority regarding its water demand projections. Although the commission sometimes addresses that update as part of a Consent Agenda of routine business items, Schroyer said, he had asked for the March 13 discussion in the event any of the board members had questions.

The commissioners unanimously approved the latest water demand projections, as required by the Authority.

A graphic shows details of demand and projected supplies for county residents over the next 20 years. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Good news from the Peace River Authority

As for the Peace River Authority itself: Residents should not worry about getting sufficient water from that source for the next 50 years, Commissioner Alan Maio told his colleagues on March 13.

Maio has been chair of the Authority board since 2017.

“We will be in great shape for the next 50 years,” Maio added, based on projects underway and those being planned. “We’re in great shape now.”

The four member counties of the Peace River Authority, he noted, are using only 70% of the agency’s capacity. “That gives us the leeway for a good block of years ahead.”

Moreover, he continued, the Authority expects to receive a 50-year permit from the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) that will allow for “a much larger withdrawal from the Peace River, based on 25 years’ worth of data on peak flow periods of the river. This is water that would ordinarily flow to the Gulf” or otherwise be lost to current recovery efforts, he said. Diverting the extra water, he noted, will enable the Authority to fill a third reservoir it plans to build.

Additionally, Maio said, the Authority’s “huge [aquifer storage and recovery system] wells … have never run dry. … They top off” during the rainy season, he pointed out.

The Authority has 21 of those wells, which are used to meet demand during dry periods, the Authority website explains. They store up to 6.3 billion gallons.

A graphic shows Orange Hammock Ranch next to the RV Griffin Reserve, along with Peace River Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority infrastructure sites on the Griffin Reserve. Image from the Peace River Authority

Maio also reported that the SWFWMD negotiations to purchase the 5,744-acre Orange Hammock Ranch in South County are close to concluding. Provided that effort proves successful, as expected, the Peace River Authority will be “positioned and prepared to mitigate a third of Orange Hammock,” he added. Much of the ranch “over the years has been ditched and drained,” Maio pointed out.

A fact sheet on the Authority website explains, “Restoration of Orange Hammock Slough has the ability to provide significant water management benefits to the region by potentially increasing storage capacity for flood attenuation in the City of North Port, improving groundwater recharge, and enhancing water quality for downstream users.”

Orange Hammock is contiguous to the RV Griffin Reserve, where the Peace River Authority has all its reservoirs and wellfields, Maio noted.

Nonetheless, he emphasized, “The Authority has no designs [for] putting a third reservoir on Orange Hammock and no plan to take or redirect the surface water from the ranch.” That water will continue to flow south to the Snover Waterway and on to the water treatment plant of the City of North Port, he said.