Manatee County officials gather to honor Lake Manatee Dam's 50th anniversary

Manatee County celebrates the 50th anniversary of Lake Manatee Dam

Manatee County officials gathered at Lake Manatee Dam on Friday afternoon to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Lake Manatee Dam.
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Manatee County officials gathered at Lake Manatee Dam on Friday afternoon to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Lake Manatee Dam.

EAST MANATEE -- Donnie Clark remembers thinking his father was crazy when he told him about the construction of Lake Manatee Dam in the 1960s.

Clark, the son of former Manatee County Commissioner Ralph Clark who was on the commission when the dam was approved, thought Manatee County had all of the water it would ever need.

"He was right," Donnie Clark said of his father Friday. "He said we are going to run out of water."

Exactly 50 years after the Lake Manatee Dam groundbreaking on Oct. 23, 1965, Manatee County officials and community members gathered at the Lake Manatee Dam to celebrate its 50th anniversary. During the celebration, a historical marker honoring the 1965 county commission was unveiled and tours of the dam were given.

"This is a very special thing that we have here in this reservoir and with what the folks ahead of us did, we thought it was only right to honor those commissioners that were involved in this," said Mike Gore, the county utilities department director. "For us, it is also the birth of the utilities department so it's a double birthday for us."

Today, Lake Manatee, which covers nearly 1,800 acres and holds 7.5 billion gallons of water, is the primary drinking water source for more than 250,000 people.

"I am honored and I am humbled to be part of this celebration of our past, our present and our future," Commissioner John Chappie said during the celebration. "We don't celebrate our past often enough but if ever there were a group of local leaders that deserved our appreciation, it is the county commissioners that we are here to honor today."

Ralph Clark's daughter Sandra Rawls came from Arcadia to honor one of her father's biggest accomplishments during his time on the county commission.

Rawls said it was special to see her father be honored.

Bradenton resident Lorraine Todd came with her husband, Gerry, to see where their water comes from because they turn on the spigot and normally don't think about it.

"I thought it was really interesting to see where our water comes from," Todd said, calling Friday's experience once in a lifetime. "Your entire life you never think about it."

The dam, which was originally completed in 1967, underwent emergency repair, extending the life for at least another 50 years. According to a county presentation the dam repairs total $23 million.

The first phase of the repairs on the dam were to eliminate the erosion that occurred in the areas near the spillway gate.

While phase one of the repairs, which was considered an emergency repair, is completed, the engineers are working on the second phase, which is estimated to be completed this spring. The second phase is addressing the "downstream voids, unconsolidated soils and drainage system on the downstream side of the service spillway," according to a county document.

"Our future doesn't begin today," Chappie said. "It began years ago with groundwork continuously being laid as we move forward every year. In a community known for its natural beauty, Lake Manatee is one of the most gorgeous natural areas but Lake Manatee is also a strong and tranquil symbol of the ability of Manatee County leaders to come together and solve the complex challenges. The lake has served our community more than 50 years and it is in excellent position to provide for us for another 50 years."

Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter@Claire_Aronson.