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Bradenton to study drought surcharge

BRADENTON — You may have the greenest lawn on the block, but you may have to pay for that status in the future.

Residents who have higher than average water usage may see an added charge on their water bills.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District has asked the city, and other municipalities and counties, to consider a drought surcharge.

Claude Tankersley, director of the city Public Works Department, told the city council at a work session meeting Wednesday he would like to do a study to determine the need for such a surcharge.

“Between 2-4 percent of our residential customers use more than 15,000 gallons or more a month,” Tankersley said.

The city has about 10,000 residential accounts, he said.

The average daily usage in Bradenton is between 95 and 100 gallons a day, Tankersley said.

Robyn Felix, spokeswoman for SWFWMD, said all water agencies under the Phase 3 or 4 restrictions are required to consider a surcharge for heavy users.

Seven of the 16 counties in the district are under Phase 3 or 4 water restrictions, and Manatee County is one of them.

“We are strongly urging those agencies to institute the surcharge,” Felix said. “The board is having some discussion about how to make it a requirement.”

Manatee County has told the SWFWMD management they look at their rates every year, said Amy Merrill, spokeswoman for the county utilities department.

“We feel our tiered-rate system is very effective in getting residents to conserve,” Merrill said. “Our per capital usage rate has gone down each year.”

She said the water management district’s average daily usage is 135 gallons and Manatee County’s is about 100 gallons.

Felix said even though the area had a good rainfall in May, we are still in a drought condition.

Over the last 36 months, there is a 22-inch deficit district wide, down from 30 inches because of the recent rains.

The southern end of the district, including Manatee County, has a 23-inch deficit.

“Water supplies are depleted,” Felix said. “Lakes are highly impacted at 2-5 feet below normal.”

Tankersley said a surcharge sends a strong conservation message during a drought condition, but has a side effect of reducing water department revenue.

“I am not advocating for or against a surcharge,” he wrote in an e-mail to the city council members, “. . . As director of our utilities, I am concerned about the drop in revenue and how it will affect our operations.”

The DPW chief said it was a Catch-22 situation, where there is a need to conserve water, but reduced usage makes it difficult to operate the water utility.

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