Residents of Everglades City suffered the most tragic consequences of the “septic to sewer” frenzy that anyone could imagine. In one of Florida’s poorest communities, every home runs a low pressure, electric sewage unit called a grinder pump. It was considered the less expensive, “safer than septic systems” alternative in an area deemed unsuitable for gravity sewers. The town is virtually destroyed – as the article says, “Washed in Sewage.” Every citizen, every bureaucrat, every legislator, every mayor and elected local official needs to read this article. (TCPalm, “Widespread sewage leaks after Irma showed Florida’s dependence on electric pumps.” 9-23-17). Pass it on to those listed above!

With no power, lift stations and municipal sewage treatment plants all over the state failed. Governor Scott is quoted in this article that the obvious lesson from Irma should be that backup power at all sewer generation areas was essential. That means generators are needed for all lift stations and municipal treatment plants.

Excuse me, but generators at every lift station would not have helped anyone in Everglades City. With no power at every individual house, the grinder pumps stop. Nothing moves away from the home, toilets back up into the home, nothing goes to the municipal sewer line.

Lesson 1. Electrically powered sewage units at individual homes is not a workable solution. Taking a trip down the logic path might just help everyone learn the obvious first lesson. When individual homes provide the power needed to move sewage away from the home, the home is the sewer generation area that Governor Scott says needs backup power. Logic test – If the homes on grinder systems are part of the municipal sewage system, will there be municipal workers at every home keeping things running? Will every home outfitted with a grinder pump, or an electrically powered Nitrogen Reducing septic system also be provided with a generator? It seems only fair.

Lesson 2. If Lesson One is not learned, then what we get in a power outage is a human health hazard and property loss we did not have when passive septic systems were in place. More and more e-mails are coming into the Sludge Report that state grants and water management district cost-share projects to convert septic systems to central sewer are in fact not being converted to sewers at all, but to low-pressure grinder systems and the latest conversion oxymoron – electrically powered “passive” septic systems. If your community is facing septic system phase out plans, refer to The Sludge Report guide, questions every homeowner should ask. You should know what you are getting into when your elected officials and agencies offer “safe” alternatives to septic systems. By the way, your editor received an email from a reader who checked with her insurance agent. Apparently, homeowners’ insurance may not cover damages caused by grinder systems.

Lesson 3. It’s not just Irma. It’s Charlie, Wilma, Matthew, Jeanne, Francis, Opal, Ivan, Andrew, and the list goes on. Irma was bigger than most, maybe caused more widespread damage than most, but folks, this is predictable! Squirrels and drunk drivers have caused power outages! Responsible planning takes predictabilities into account. Responsible planning also includes setting priorities…fix aging and insufficient infrastructure or take a small amount of nitrogen out of groundwater. Unfortunately, too many decisions about septic to sewer conversion are based on nitrogen hysteria…which triggers multi-million-dollar appropriations of state money flooding into cities, counties, and towns… where local officials are focused on spending the appropriation, but not at all focused on the very predictable possibility that the potential for sewage flooding citizens’ homes is real…..that electrically powered sewer or nitrogen reducing septic systems at individual homes are not suitable or acceptable solutions under any circumstances.

I hope no one will remind the residents of Everglades City, or should I say the former residents of Everglades City, that the grinder systems were supposed to be the safer alternative to septic systems.

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