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PREVIOUS COVERAGE | Bradenton's push to sell reclaimed water wins key backing

MANATEE — Manatee County should take steps to allow Bradenton to supply reclaimed water for irrigation in a portion of the Braden River watershed, a county advisory board said Thursday.

The Manatee County Planning Commission recommended seeking state review and approval to amend the county’s comprehensive plan, which now bans using treated wastewater in watersheds that protect drinking-water sources.

Bradenton wants the ban lifted so it can provide up to 4.5 million gallons of reclaimed water daily to Lakewood Ranch and other areas within the Braden River watershed. The city draws its drinking water from the Braden River, but discharges its excess reclaimed water into the Manatee River.

“We believe it is in the public interest to make this change,” said Claude Tankersley, the city’s public works director. “Right now, we’re taking water, using it, and then basically throwing it away.”

But critics, including two advisory board members, questioned whether the change would threaten drinking water supplies and jeopardize human health.

Citing studies that have found pharmaceuticals and other containments in supposedly clean drinking water, they said reclaimed water — which is treated to a standard just below drinking water — would inject even more contamination into the river.

“Even though water treatment is much-improved, we also know more about what kind of substances are getting into the water,” many of them not yet regulated, said Sandra Ripberger, of the Sierra Club. “Many of these chemicals come from the wastewater ... It would be even more important to keep this restriction.”

City officials disagreed, saying people can drink their reclaimed water without ill effects. The reclaimed water will add a negligible amount of nitrogen, a fertilizer product often found in runoff, into the Braden River, they said.

They also noted that about 1.5 million gallons of reclaimed water already is being used for irrigation daily in the Sarasota County portion of the watershed.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District supports the city’s request because it will conserve water and reduce withdrawals from the aquifer, its executive director said.

“It’s fundamentally needed for this area,” David Moore said. “The project before you is the most basic and time-tested use of reclaimed water.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe, critics said. They also warned it could lead to efforts to ease the restriction in the watershed for Lake Manatee, the county’s primary source of drinking water.

The board’s vote was 4-2, with Mary Sheppard and Marilyn Stasica dissenting and George Mendez abstaining because he works part-time for the city.

County commissioners are scheduled to consider Tuesday whether to submit the requested amendment to the state Department of Community Affairs for review and comment. If the agency has no objections, the county can adopt the amendment after holding another public hearing.

Duane Marsteller, transportation/growth and development reporter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.