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Lake Manatee marks 50 years of quenching thirsts

When they turn on their faucets, several times each day, more than 250,000 people in Manatee and Sarasota counties rely on Lake Manatee for clean drinking water.

Ordinarily, they do so without thinking about the source of that vital liquid.

On Friday, however, Manatee County paid tribute to those who created what has become a major water supply for the region by celebrating the 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking for the dam that formed the 1,800–acre, 7.5 billion-gallon reservoir.

“Lake Manatee is a valuable asset for Manatee County,” Utilities Director Mike Gore said in anticipation of Friday's celebration, which included tours and the unveiling of a historical marker. “We are extremely fortunate to have a primary source of water that will meet our needs for years to come.”

Talk about creating a reservoir at the headwaters of the Manatee River started about 1950. Although the city of Bradenton had its own water supply from Ward Lake (now called Lake Evers) on the Braden River, residents in unincorporated Manatee relied on wells.

In 1951, the Manatee County Commission (H.G. Slaughter, Joe McLeod, Herman Burnett, Alden Gillett and Ralph Clark) passed a resolution in favor of a dam. An existing deep ravine east of the Rye Road bridge seemed the logical spot.