Take the time to read these two articles above. I did and I’m feeling justified for sure! Shocking numbers on just how much damage is caused by Florida’s failing sewer systems. Yes, the same sewer systems that serve 90% of the state’s population, three-quarters of which live on our coasts. The second article focuses on the “science” of red tide. It follows the old-school philosophy that real science is observable and repeatable. Both articles provide data based on MEASUREMENT, not computer modeling.
Unfortunately, BMAP’s in place all over our state rely on computer modeling, not measurements. FDEP uses that modeling to justify spending billions eliminating conventional septic systems. We have always maintained that if you want to know how much nitrogen from septic systems is reaching the groundwater, measure it at the groundwater level. I could fill the rest of this page with scientific journal references and state sponsored reports that have measured to groundwater and demonstrated that sandy soil (dirt) is a wonderful denitrifying agent – that a mere 5 ft. of dirt serves as a wonderful nitrogen eliminator, and the more there is beneath a drainfield, the better the results. But the information is not included in the “model.” The model only looks at proximity to the springs and housing density. That’s it.
While I don’t have a PhD following my name, The Sludge Report has been asking for years that legislators look at the issue of failing infrastructure instead of blaming septic systems for every ill that plagues our waterways. (see the 800-pound Gorilla in the room). These articles underscore what for me has been simple common sense – do what matters most and prioritize spending. It also underscores what is really behind the unending attacks on septic systems, blaming them for every molecule of nitrogen in our state’s springs and flowing waters.
I could also fill the page with references to the stated goals of the environmental groups – cluster people in “sustainable” cities and stop growth in rural areas which keeps land available for conservation. Anyone with an ounce of common sense has to acknowledge that if there are billions needed to fix aging infrastructure on the coasts where most of the population is served by sewers, and where most of the damage is occurring, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to cluster even more people in cities on top of failing infrastructure. It certainly doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to connect septic systems to an infrastructure unable to process even more effluent when a few feet of soil beneath a septic system will accomplish nearly the same result. Until this year, there has been a deafening silence from environmental groups about the massive sewer spills.
If stopping growth is the objective, then deal with development. Don’t shift the blame from zoning considerations to septic systems. Observable, repeatable science has not been used to justify the mania over septic systems. For every study that points the finger of blame toward septic systems, there are equally credible, numerous studies that say the opposite. The ones that say the opposite are buried or ignored. Computer modeling stops measuring nitrogen reduction at 24” under the septic system’s drainfield – it does not include data on what reaches groundwater.
Computer modeling using carefully selected input is all we have been given. Computer modeling simply does not account for daily exfiltration from leaking or broken sewer lines, massive wastewater treatment plant spills, or stormwater. Minutes from a 2009 Wekiva BMAP meeting show FDEP committing to adding an “exfiltration” segment to the nitrogen sources pie chart. That would have reduced the septic system segment to well below 20% and not subject to remediation mandates, but that was never done because sewer lines are considered a “transport” – not a source of pollutants leaching to groundwater. I might ask, “where do they think the leaking effluent goes?” The obvious answer is into groundwater!
The modeling also never accounts for the 2,000 tons of nutrient loaded cake produced by municipal wastewater treatment plants that’s being trucked annually from South Florida and dumped onto Central Florida land and into landfills.
In BMAP, computer modeling sets the nitrogen reduction goal for septic systems, and then it’s used to award counties victory “credits” toward projects assumed to be achieving the goal. Counties will be given credit for converting septic systems to “advanced” systems. They are advertised to remove 65-90% of nitrogen from septic systems. Those are above ground lab results using a simulated effluent that is 50% the strength of the average household effluent. Observable and repeatable science says they only remove about 33% when installed at homeowner sites, and everyone in our agencies knows this! The average nitrogen removal for a conventional septic system with 24 inches of soil beneath the drainfield removes 50% and everyone in our agencies knows this. The observable and repeated science demonstrating this has been buried and ignored.
My crystal ball sees financial chaos and no demonstrable, measurable water quality improvement on the horizon.