Governor DeSantis wants our waters to be clean. We all do. The Blue Green Algae Task Force, is an advisory team headed by our State’s newly appointed Chief Science Officer, Dr. Thomas Frazer. The task force has been meeting over the past several months to assess status of our current water quality efforts, including the BMAP process. The output of the task force is to advise the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and make recommendations to the legislature on regulation and funding improvements that can be expected to advance science, implement projects and evaluate effectiveness of plans that impact our state’s water quality.
Your editor monitored each of those meetings. In response to the content of the meetings I drafted a six-page letter and sent it to Dr. Frazer and the Task Force. It addressed many of the issues we have been following regarding conventional systems and the science about nutrient loading or, lack of it; BMAP plans for remediating septic systems; electrically-powered solutions such as Advanced systems, grinder systems, and “distributed” sewers; and the likelihood of any Return on Investment in the current remediation plans. The Final Report of the Task Force did address some of the issues in my letter. For example, it acknowledged that exfiltration (sewer pipe leakage) actually is a real issue!! But the task force did not go so far as to recommend that exfiltration should be included in the BMAP pie chart as a non-point “human waste” source of nitrogen contributors. Curious.
So far, septic system recommendations from the Task Force include transferring the Dept. of Health Bureau of Onsite Sewage to the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection (FDEP). Quite frankly, if transferring the DOH Bureau of Onsite Sewage involves simply moving the same people from one agency to another, I’m not in favor. If your car has a flat tire, the problem is not solved by rotating the tires. The Bureau is a flat tire.
The Task Force also recommended a “comprehensive regulatory program” that would ensure onsite sewage treatment systems are not causing nutrient pollution and are preserving human health. The Task Force recognized that underperformance is an issue. It is recommending a septic system inspection and monitoring program to identify improperly functioning or failing systems.
Editor’s Note: I sincerely hope this means the Task Force is also including the “underperformance” of Advanced Nitrogen Reducing Systems. Their underperformance is well documented. Interesting that the Task Force report says there “is no requirement that conventional septic systems be inspected post-installation.” What the Task Force did not specifically address is that there is NO requirement that advanced systems be tested for their ability to reduce nitrogen post-installation! This was an advanced system inspection rule passed by the flat tire. Therefore, neither FDEP nor the Bureau of Onsite Sewage has field data on nitrogen reduction performance. There is no evidence the BMAP mandate to install Advanced systems would reduce nitrogen contributions any better than most conventional systems.
Further, even though there is a septic system inspection statute that can be implemented, I fully expect new legislation that mandates a septic system inspection and maintenance program. The inspection program currently in statute was passed in 2012 – but it was voluntary. The law gave counties and cities the authority to adopt an inspection ordinance and implement it in their jurisdiction. Not one county or city chose to adopt an ordinance, probably because the local officials did not want to be blamed for imposing the cost of inspections on their residents. What is very important to know is that the existing inspection statute spells out the pass/fail criteria. The concern is what the pass/fail criteria will be if FDEP is in charge of setting up new rules governing inspections. Will the new rules guarantee that every conventional septic system will fail?
Altogether, the Task Force asked very important questions during the meetings. They listened to public comment. Comments the members made: “We must have well proven prevention methods”; “Lab experiment is different that the real world”; “Do we have data on loading?”; and “we must get the most out of our investments” These are the same questions and concerns we have been looking at and questioning for ten years.
Sadly, in one case, a task force member asked if advanced systems reduce nitrogen and phosphorous. The Florida Onsite Wastewater Association lobbyist said, “yes.” Unfortunately, the task force member asked the wrong question. She should have asked “Do we have post-installation test data that shows advanced systems reduce nitrogen? A lab-tested advanced system is indeed different than the real world, but homeowners in the Priority Focus Areas of the Springs Protection Basin Management Action Plans (BMAP) have been handed only two options – sewers or advanced systems.
Science and solutions need to catch up with reality or there will be no return on the investment for the environment or for our citizens – there will only be enormous costs. For now, what is clear is that gravity sewers are currently the only viable solution to the BMAP mandated remediation efforts. All other solutions require large numbers of homeowners to provide the electricity needed to treat effluent. Power outages and mechanical breakdowns will expose citizens to harmful pathogens, trigger environmentally damaging spills on homeowners’ properties, and make nutrient concentrations worse, not better. In short, electrically powered, on site nitrogen “remediation” using Advanced Septic Systems, grinders, or distributed sewers will not work short term or long term. You must ask your legislators to focus on providing funding for gravity sewers in Priority Focus Areas (PFA) targeted in the Springs Protection BMAP’s. This is the most economical and productive solution for homeowners and for reaching nutrient reduction targets.
Take action, homeowners! Let your legislators know that you expect them to make good on the FDEP promise that State funding for septic system remediation would be in place. Get your letters written! Click HERE for a sample of one you can use. Send them to legislators, committee chairs, and the Governor. Click HERE for legislative contact info. Forward your letter to your friends and ask them to do the same. For those readers on sewers, your tax dollars are at stake as well, and lots of them! Please write and support your neighbors. Do it now as session starts in January and only lasts 60 days!