Since 2005 plans have been in the works to take fresh water from Cow Pen Slough that currently flows into Dona Bay and turn it into a 100 year source of drinking water for Sarasota County and the rest of the region. It would also have significant environmental benefits.
The plan was spurred by the housing boom in 2005 that caused alarm on the part of Sarasota County officials over drinking water supplies. A $186 million project was envisioned that would also improve the water quality in Dona Bay. In the 1960’s farmers had diverted Cow Pen Slough, a freshwater source into the saltwater of Dona Bay, turning the water brackish and hurting oysters, fish and seagrass.
The project has been hurt by the downturn in the economy that erased money set aside for the project and the easing of concerns that the water supply would dry up by the county’s slower growth and rising costs.
About $6.5 million has already been spent by the county on outside consultants and land acquisition. Officials are saying that parts of the project could now collectively cost tens of millions of dollars, and it is unclear which parts will actually move forward and when.
The Southwest Florida Water Management District has spent $2 million for the initial stages of the project.