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Sometimes I just must cover my face with my hands and try not to think about the lack of common sense that has permeated the septic verses sewer debates over the past seven years. Not a day goes by without a major sewer line break or muni wastewater plant dumping thousands and thousands of gallons, sometimes millions of gallons of untreated, yes, RAW SEWAGE into neighborhoods, creeks, bayous, canals, rivers, and lagoons. Yet the drumbeat and the dollars flow toward converting 2.5 million residents who use septic systems to sewers. It’s highly questionable if that is the most productive use of taxpayer dollars when the sewers connected to 20 million residents and 100 million visitors are served by infrastructure already overloaded and dangerously crumbling.

What’s unbelievable is that the septic to sewer conversions are focused on reducing or eliminating the nitrogen output of those who use septic systems. I have yet to see any reporting on the nitrogen content of these huge raw sewage spills. Apparently it is not ever considered a problem. Signs are posted warning swimmers, anglers, and neighborhoods about the bacteria present in raw sewage spills, yet the nitrogen content and impact of these spills is either ignored or dismissed. Several articles I read over the past year quote various officials saying they were “unconcerned” because the soil or the water current will take care of it. If that is true for raw, nitrogen rich sewage, why is it not also true for septic system sewage that is pre-treated in the tank and through the soil beneath the drainfield? Is the human waste product from those on sewers different than those who use septic systems?

Ft. Lauderdale stands out as a glaring example of this ostrich mentality. A Sun Sentinel article published on 1/15/17 indicated that a month after a ruptured sewer line sent 2.5 million gallons of raw sewage into a neighborhood near the Tarpon River, crews were still working to decontaminate driveways, mulch, yard dirt and crawl spaces under homes. Okay, that addresses the bacteria in a raw sewage spill. What about the nitrogen residual? Not a word.

In 2016, this same city has had three other major sewer line ruptures sent a total of 16 million gallons into a canal, a lake and another neighborhood. While the Ft. Lauderdale elected officials admit the infrastructure is aging and crumbling and repairs will cost nearly a billion dollars to repair, this city and others around the state who are experiencing the same catastrophe continue to compete for state and water management funding to convert septic systems to sewers. A Longboat Key councilman said after a similar spill that there’s nothing sexy about fixing a sewer infrastructure – no one sees it.

He is correct. Nor does anyone see the sewage that leaks every day from these sewer pipes even before they break and dump. Honestly, after reading all these articles about sewer infrastructure failures, no one with an ounce of common sense should point to septic systems as the major cause of the floating pea soup that plagued Indian River Lagoon area. When older residents say they would like to see the canals and rivers return to the pristine condition they were in fifty years ago, they refer to that time period known as “BS” (Before Sewers).

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