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Reclaimed water plan closer to fruition

BRADENTON — The city of Bradenton is one step closer to finding a place to use the 4.5 million gallons of reclaimed water it pumps into the Manatee River every day.

The Manatee County Commissioners, in a 5-1 vote, agreed to send a proposed comprehensive plan change to the Florida Department of Community Affairs for review.

The comprehensive plan change will partially lift the almost three-decade prohibition the county imposed on using reclaimed water in Manatee and Braden rivers watersheds.

The proposal will create a beneficial reuse area, about a third of the Braden River watershed, and limit use of reclaimed water to that area.

Claude Tankersley, the director of the city’s public works department, said the biggest concern he hears from the community deals with the safety of reclaimed water.

“The biggest question is, ‘Is this safe?’ ” Tankersley said. “We have 50 years of documents showing the safe use of reclaimed water.”

He said there are 66 reclaimed water systems in the Southwest Florida Water Management District, and Manatee County was the only one to not allow its use in a watershed of a drinking water source.

Even Sarasota County already uses 1.5 million gallons a day for irrigation in the Braden River watershed, Tankersley said.

One of the major concerns of the public is the presence of coliform bacteria, which is present in human and animal waste.

Reclaimed water is wastewater from toilets, showers, dishwashers and other household uses, that is purified to a standard just below drinking water, but high enough to be used for irrigation.

The amount of coliform in the 4.5 million gallons of reclaimed the city processes each day is equivalent to the droppings of one dog, Tankersley said.

And there are thousands of dogs doing their business in the watershed each day, he said, so using reclaimed water would add an insignificant amount of coliform into the Evers Reservoir, which the City of Bradenton owns and uses for its drinking water supply.

The city then reprocesses the water from Evers Reservoir to a zero amount of coliform, Tankersley said.

Several people in the commission chambers still were not convinced and asked the commissioners to consider the consequences.

“We’re not talking about a small amount of reclaimed water going into the watershed,” said Glenn Compton, chairman of the environmental group, Mana-Sota 88. “Over 30 years we don’t understand the unknown risks.”

Compton said the county took the stance years ago to prohibit use of reclaimed water in the watershed for good reasons, and should maintain that standard.

Several members of the county planning, water utility and natural resources staff spoke on why they recommended the proposed comprehensive plan changes be sent to Tallahassee for review.

One point made was that the reclaimed water was from the city and would be used in the watershed of the city’s drinking water reservoir.

The commissioners approved the comprehensive plan transmittal in a 5-1 vote, with Commissioner Joe McClash voting in the minority.

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