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Helpful hints on keeping your septic system in great shape. Editorial comments on the EPA and Senate Bill 550.

On the care and keeping of your septic system. Some do’s and don’ts:

  • If you can avoid it, don’t use your garbage disposer. Organic solids, i.e. food waste, stop the enzyme action in the tank and are very bad for the long term functioning of the system. Just pretend you don’t have one. Do as our mothers and grandmothers did – drain off liquid waste and bag the rest for garbage pickup.
  • Don’t pour melted fats such as butter, shortening, and meat fats such as bacon grease or broiler drippings down the drain. Any fat that is solid when cold and liquid when warm is a no-no. Wipe grease off pans with a paper towel, or pour grease into a paper cup and refrigerate until solid and then dispose of it in the trash.
  • Dawn liquid is your best friend. It’s what rescue teams are using to dissolve and remove oil sludge from the birds and turtles. For hand washing pots and pans, Dawn will help dissolve and break up fats and oils and help prolong drain field life. These fat and oil deposits are the primary reasons drain fields become clogged and fail. (We do not receive any compensation for this recommendation!)
  • Dumping buckets full of anti-bacterial cleaning solutions down the house drain kills the bacterial action in the septic system that dissolves solids. Dump the bucket instead onto the driveway or on top of a brick walkway, or stone path and let it evaporate. The bonus is no weeds and cleaner concrete, not likely to grow algae.
  • The natural flow of rainwater runoff and water from gutter downspouts should be directed away from or around the drain field. Excessive water sinking from the surface into the drainfield will interfere with its functionality.

SB 550: Statement of Legislative Intent Cautions EPA against “one size fits all” Nutrient Water Quality Standards. (Lines 4432-4478)

In the interests of keeping the heavy hand of the EPA from setting and enforcing rules that are unnecessary and damaging rather than helpful, SB550 makes the following statements:

“The establishment of numeric nutrient criteria in a manner that fails to take into account site-specific factors may result in criteria that lack adequate scientific support and cause unintended environmental and economic consequences.”

Editor’s Note: This was the same argument we used trying to convince our agencies that a “one size fits all” performance based treatment system (PBTS) remedy promoted in ’09 was inadequately supported by appropriate science and would cause unnecessary economic consequences.

  • “The total maximum daily load program is the best mechanism for establishing numeric nutrient standards for nutrient-impaired water bodies and restoring nutrient-impaired water bodies.”

Editor’s Note: Maybe. The Department of Environmental Protection/Basin Management Action process used a pristine spring in an uninhabited area of the Ocala National Forest as the benchmark to declare that the Wekiva Spring was “impaired.”

Last year, a FDEP/Basin Management (BMAP) representative stated that the “difficulty is not in the identification, but in quantification of nitrate load from the various nitrate sources in the spring shed.” How do you justify setting nitrate reduction targets for a specific source if the base number is in question?
As an example: The BMAP pie chart allocates a 3% nitrate contribution for atmospheric deposition. Other highly respected sources state the number BMAP is using may be underestimated by as much as a factor of 2, and it may be higher than that. (Hazen & Sawyer, Memorandum, May 23, 2007) The same BMAP representative said their goal is to “achieve a balance between what is known (the various sources), and what is less well known (the precise % of nitrate load contributed by each source.) “ If this is the best we can do is strive for a “close enough” balance, and there is 3% to play with, we vote for taking another 3% away from the septic number. That would leave the septic contribution at near zero.

“The (EPA’s)January 2010 proposed water quality standards fail to incorporate, and may undermine, the state’s science-based total maximum daily loads program….and, will have severe economic consequences on the state’s agriculture, local governments, wastewater utilities, ……small businesses and residents living below the poverty level or on fixed incomes.’

Editor’s note: That argument about the severe economic consequences is a valid one. We said that loud and clear to our state agencies when they pushed for performance based septic systems, and have voiced similar concerns to FDEP at the BMAP meetings. For the most part, our similar argument fell on deaf ears. Had it not been for our legislators, the taxpayers of this state would have gone down for the count. We hope the FDEP has better luck with the EPA than we did with that rationale. By the way, FDEP, the severe economic consequences fall on those above poverty level too, as increased tax burdens coming from all levels of government increase on businesses and residents. As for the science argument, we have watched this process enough to know, EPA, FDEP, and DOH have more energy invested in advancing an agenda than they do in making sure the logic and the science is sound.

PLANT A TREE!!!! From the website “Trees absorb many nutrients from the environment, including nitrogen from storm water. Each tree in an urban area can capture up to 10 lbs of pollutants per year, including nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone and other particulates. It can lower city temperatures up to 20 degrees F, and may reduce energy bills by up to 25% by the time a tree reaches 25 years of age.”

Editor’s Note: Let’s see, instead our agencies believe the perfect solution for septic systems is one that increases our dependence on carbon based sources of energy, and take up so much room in our yards that there is no room for trees, whose root structures soak up nitrogen like a sponge.

FACTOID: According to the Department of Health, the average per capita septic contribution of nitrogen is 10 pounds. For every 10 pounds of nitrogen removed by performance based systems, 8 pounds of nitrogen is released into the atmosphere by the electric company producing enough energy to run the system. Atmospheric nitrogen is re-deposited to waterways by precipitation and lightning. Net gain – 2 pounds. Or, the homeowner could use one less bag of fertilizer per year and achieve the same nitrogen reduction. Or, plant a tree.