Septic Systems have been villainized for years as THE PROBLEM! And, we have been saying for years that the problem is insignificant compared to the problems with the sewers and municipal infrastructure that handles wastewater for the other 20 million residents and 50 million plus visitors to our state. Here are just a few events and facts that will make you crazy, and hopefully give you some perspective. The following events and facts were collected from a number of reporting sources including Florida Water Daily, reports from citizens around the state, and local publications all over the state. References to these reports will be provided on request.
Let me begin with an interesting quote from Mark Perry, Executive Director of the Florida Oceanographic Society in Stuart FL. His opinion piece appearing in the TCPALM and reported in Florida Water Daily on June 10, 2016 is focused on pollution causes and concerns in the Indian River Lagoon that suffered a huge marine life catastrophe, and South Florida whose natural ecosystems are suffering from freshwater discharges into saline environments.
“Some folks want us to focus on septic tanks as the main contributor of nitrogen to the Indian River Lagoon. There are 16,000 septic tanks in the Martin County Utility service area near the estuary. However, even if you took the estimated 30,000 septic tanks in the entire county and multiplied 10 pounds of nitrogen per year for each septic tank, this would pale in comparison the 1.5 million pounds we got in just 90 days from Lake Okeechobee.”
Yet, despite these known facts, the water management districts and counties continue to funnel taxpayer dollars into septic to sewer conversions. Are some septic systems a problem? Probably. Back in 2012, every county was given the authority to inspect septic systems in some or all of their jurisdiction to identify failing systems. None have adopted an inspection ordinance, however many have moved forward with multi-million dollar projects to convert septic systems to municipal sewers.
Will the nitrogen excess in waterways be vastly improved as a result of these conversions? Not according to Mr. Perry, and not according to this partial list of documented sewer infrastructure failures such as the following:
Tropical Storm Colin causes municipal plant overflows and compromises storm drains.
St. Petersburg dumps 10 million gallons of partially-treated sewage into Tampa Bay
St. Petersburg reports 230,000 gallons of untreated sewage poured into storm drains and into Coffee Pot Bayou
Tampa dumped 355,000 gallons of untreated sewage into the Hillsborough River.
Gulfport dumped 50,000 gallons of untreated sewage into Boca Ciega Bay
St. Pete Beach dumped 331,000 gallons of untreated sewage into Boca Ciega Bay
Gainesville Sun – “Aging” pipe burst, undetermined amount dumped into the Lake Forest Creek and downstream to Newnan’s Lake.
Rainfall causes manhole blockage, causing sewage back up and overflow into Massalina Bayou, Santa Rosa County. Swimming advisory in effect.
Satellite Beach, Brevard County – Broken main line dumps raw sewage into a canal leading to the Banana River. This follows a 1.7 million gallon spill at Barefoot Bay Sewage Treatment Plant in February of 2016.
Sun Sentinel – Fort Lauderdale, FL waste water system crumbling. Six breaks in 2014, 16 in 2015 and 22 projected in 2016.
Gainesville pumps sewage and stormwater from overloaded lift station for five days and nights to avoid back up into homes and releases of wastewater into local water bodies.
August 14, and 21, 2015
St. Petersburg dumps 31 million gallons into Boca Ciega Bay and Tampa Bay
August, 2015 Fox News 13, Tampa
Infiltration (rainwater entering sewer pipes increasing volume carried to treatment plant) causes many counties and municipalities to dump sewage. List includes Mulberry, Palmetto, Bradenton, Tampa, Clearwater, St. Petersburg, Largo, Pinellas Park, New Port Richey, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, and Hillsborough.
From July 2015 to February 2016
There were 18 events in the form of sewage spills with several caused by heavy rains. Other failures were caused by loss of power, blockages, a faulty meter and other faulty equipment. St. Augustine typically averages 8 to 10 spills a year. FDEP lists causes as “aging infrastructure.”
March, 2015 St. Augustine FL
Raccoon caused a power outage at sewer station, releases 60,000 gallons of sewage into the San Sebastian River
2014 – Reported in Florida Today (4-26-15)
Palm Bay – 5.7 million gallons of partially treated sewage dumped. Receiving body of water, Turkey Creek
Brevard County, Indian Harbor Beach – 16 million gallons of raw sewage dumped during heavy rains.
Altamonte Springs FL, Sanlando Utilities dumps 1,750,000 gallons of raw sewage into Sweetwater Creek
Altamonte Springs FL. Sewer Main bursts sending 55,000 gallons per hour of raw sewage into the Little Wekiva River. Crews pumped 24-7 for ten days before line is repaired. No report of how long the pipe was leaking before it burst.
SEWAGE ALERT!!! Reported in Florida Water Daily: Along the east coast of FL, from Ft. Lauderdale to Miami, there are six “POOP CANNONS” about two miles out into the ocean. On a DAILY BASIS, just one of them near Hollywood Beach is shooting 47 million gallons of untreated wastewater into the ocean, complete with pharmaceuticals, fertilizer, and pathogens.
In November, 2015, FWD also reported a “wastewater line” under Biscayne Bay was broken by a construction crew sinking dock pilings. Article quoted a spokesperson as saying “Avoid contact, there is poop in it.” Perhaps it was one of the poop cannons.
The Sludge Report – Previously reported spills:
Escambia Bay – lift station failure – 2 million Gallons released into the Bay
Santa Rosa – lift station failure – 750,000 gallons released into a Bayou
CONCLUSIONS FOR TODAY
There are no reports of environmental group outrage over these events, even while the pressure has continued from them to eliminate septic systems. In fact, after making such a fuss over the nitrogen contributed by septic systems to ground water and canals, FL Defenders of the Environment and those groups represented by Earth Justice sued in court to prevent the legislature from using Amendment 1 money to “restore” waterways allegedly threatened by the use of septic systems.
The bumper sticker available from 1000 Friends of Florida (an environmental lobby) says “Friends Don’t Let Friends Sprawl”. That’s nod to no development outside of municipal service areas. Since the municipal services are causing so much horrific environmental damage without any expressed concerns from them, I have to conclude that the real message is about making sure there is land available for Amendment 1 conservation purchases. Never mind the 800 POUND GORILLA – failing and inadequate infrastructure. I sincerely believe the real mission is to keep people in the “sustainable” cities, prevent rural development by attacking the use of septic systems and, as former Gov. Bob Graham advocated in an Amendment One speech, get the rural land into conservation – as quickly as possible. It’s not about nitrogen from septic systems, when these multi-million gallon “spill” events go unnoticed by those who anguish over clean water, blaming septic systems for every pound of nitrogen in the waterways and springs.