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Water-Related News

Irma dumped 19 billion gallons of water into Peace River basin

SARASOTA COUNTY — The amount of rainfall that drenched Southwest Florida during Hurricane Irma highlights one of the reasons the regional water authority wants to expand its water storage capacity.

The Peace River-Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority is owned by Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and DeSoto counties and has a reservoir and wells to collect water from the Peace River in southern DeSoto County.

But officials were shocked to see the total amount of water that flowed during the hurricane and could have been collected if the authority had more storage capacity, said Sarasota County Commissioner Alan Maio, who also leads the water authority’s board.

“I will give you one sound bite which will startle you: During Irma, on Sept. 13, 19 billion gallons flowed past our reservoir and our wells and our intake pipes,” he told the rest of the County Commission.

“That one day is slightly more than the two-year supply for the water authority,” he continued. “In one day, 19 billion gallons. I went back and had them give me the number again in writing.”

The river’s occasional extraordinarily high water flow is part of the justification for the authority’s plans to continue to expand its reservoir and aquifer storage, which capture water during high flows — typically the summer rainy season — for use during drier times and can currently hold 12.5 billion gallons. The authority is developing plans to expand even further, potentially doubling storage, which could have taken advantage of Irma’s abundant rainfall, Maio said.

“Storage, storage and more storage,” authority Executive Director Patrick Lehman said of the group’s goals earlier this year.