Why You Must Remain Involved
The year 2017 will be most challenging for homeowners who use septic systems. Your Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) has been mandated by the legislature to develop a strategy for reducing the nitrogen entering the soil from your homes. The FDEP process is known as BMAP (Basin Management Action Plan). BMAP’s are structured to achieve Total Daily Maximum Loads (TMDL) for springs and surface waters with the main goal of limiting contributions of nutrients coming from various sources, including septic systems. We have supported the BMAP process and have been successful in convincing FDEP that homeowners need to be represented on the BMAP Committee.
BMAP committees have been established across the State of Florida. Sitting at the table are representatives from FDEP, city and county governments, associations governing the contractors who design and sell alternatives to septic systems, environmentalists and, yes, homeowners. The BMAP committees have a place for homeowner representation and if homeowners do not take advantage of this opportunity, they will be on the receiving end of decisions that may not in their best interests, and may not even positively impact the environment.
While the issues before each BMAP are somewhat regional and complex, there are a few very important points that taxpayers and homeowners need to always keep in focus. They are:
- In many cases, the TMDL target reductions are based, not on site-specific studies, but on modeling software or other assumptions. They are not necessarily based on scientific studies that define the size and scope of the nitrogen contributed to springs and groundwater by septic systems.
- The definition of a “passive” (conventional) septic system was re-written in the rules governing septic systems. “Passive” now describes new septic system designs having no more than one pump, but it also includes the use of timers and floats that all require electricity. “Passive” no longer means passive, and this is a point of confusion for homeowners and legislators alike.
- The septic system alternative standards that are being applied for nitrogen removal exceed any reasonable return on investment. This means that if time is taken to understand the nitrogen that will be removed from the environment, the quantities are low and the costs are high.
The Sludge Report offers a “Resources” section designed to help homeowners educate themselves on the issues surrounding nitrogen reduction and septic system alternatives that are being discussed in BMAPs all over the state. Our most recent addition to the Resources section is “Lesson Five: The Questions Every Homeowner Needs to Ask.” Read it, print it, e-mail it to your friends, and use it in BMAP meetings.
The Principle of Obsolescence
Many involved in the BMAP process believe homeowners must accept their conventional tank and drainfield must be replaced with a more complex, nitrogen reducing system. However, there is an underlying principle of engineering and human history that every citizen must keep in mind before they accept a “mandated solution”. It is the principle of obsolescence.
A simple example of this principle is a hammer. Simple as it is, it has been around since recorded history. Its design has not changed much and reliability never questioned. But, what starts to happen when an electric motor or air motor is added? Immediately safety concerns rise. Liability and reliability issues compound. Parts and service technicians are required to keep it running and the life span drops from centuries to maybe 25 years or less.
Now apply that same principle to simple, conventional septic systems. Introduce a fiberglass tank, add motors for pumps and grinders, electrical circuits to monitor functions, filters that must be replaced, fuses, sensors that detect status and trigger operations, software that runs the onboard computers and the life span drops from 25 years to what? We currently have no time-tested systems involving these components.
Industry states that technology involving electronics has less than a ten-year life span. As the complexity increases, the expected life span drops commensurately. During the life of a now newly-defined “passive” system, the septic system will require maintenance from qualified technicians. More importantly, the industry will be busy, constantly designing new models to remain competitive while the older models will still need replacement parts and service. The Principle of Obsolescence is based on experience we all have had with our day to day items. Just take the example of a cell phone or a computer. Models change, features change. Have you taken a 5-year-old phone or computer somewhere to get it fixed? Probably not. The cost of the repair is not worth it, and you replace the old one.
If a conventional septic system costs $5,000 to $10,000 for a complete installation and it can last 25 years or more, how will the value of your home be perceived if you have a $30,000 to $40,000 system that will be obsolete in five to ten years? Don’t forget to add the cost of constant maintenance!
To keep this in perspective, the new technology that is about to be required will be removing from our environment the equivalent amounts of nitrogen found in seven bags of fertilizer. In the environmental journals, “reparain” zones where natural plantings are used to absorb excess nitrogen are proven to work. For the homeowner with a septic system, just planting two trees would remove what a septic system adds annually to our environment.
Regulations resulting from the BMAP process can destroy home values, pull tax dollars unnecessarily into ineffective “assistance” programs and most importantly, totally miss the real issues causing pollution, the crumbling infrastructures of our cities.
Be informed and get active in local BMAP meetings. There is no substitute for your involvement, and there will be no recourse after the rules are written. Refer to our List of Statewide BMAP Coordinators for regions, names and emails.