After a thorough review of the Springs Protection Act and the language specific to the Wekiva BMAP Plan adopted as law, we have uncovered several key areas of concern. We are, therefore, urging our legislators to amend the 2016 Springs Protection Act and the BMAP plan. These changes will provide necessary protections for homeowners and assure a successful BMAP implementation. These changes will also assure water quality goals are achieved in concert with the State budget and local planning requirements.
RESTORE LEGISLATIVE OVERSIGHT – FDEP and accountability.
- HB 7051 should be repealed, and the Act amended, removing that language, as it sets up FDEP as the final determiner, no matter how arbitrary, costly or unscientific its decision. BMAP plans invoke exemption to Chapter 120, the oversight statute.
- The Technical Review and Advisory Panel (TRAP) and the Research Review and Advisory Committee (RRAC) advisory groups should be reinstated, and members appointed with the approval of the Rules and Regulations Committee.
In 2012, in response to the threat of EPA setting water quality standards for the State of Florida, the legislature passed HB 7051. The bill essentially said the legislature surrenders its oversight function and gives complete responsibility for water quality issues to FDEP. This is reflected in the Springs Protection statute (373.807) in several places.
Example: 373.807 (1) (a) “During the development of a Basin Management Action Plan, if the department identifies Onsite Sewage Treatment and Disposal systems as contributors of at least 20 percent of nonpoint source nitrogen pollution, or if the department determines remediation is necessary”
Further, the 2019-20 Clean Water Act transfers the Bureau of Onsite Sewage from the Dept. of Health to FDEP and dissolved the Technical Review Advisory Panel and the Research Review and Advisory Committee that were tasked with oversight of the Bureau’s rulemaking and research activities. Once transferred, The Bureau, notorious for abusing its rule-making authority and questionable research methodology, now will enjoy the same total lack of oversight given to FDEP
One additional complication will now face the legislature. With the passage of the “Right to Clean Water” amendment, if the Springs Protection Act and the BMAPs fail to produce results, (and they will fail) the state, the agencies, and even homeowners can be sued. FDEP accountability is essential.
ALLOW COUNTIES VIA “DESIGNATION” TO SET ASIDE PORTIONS OF THEIR COUNTIES AS TARGET AREAS FOR MUNICIPAL SEWER EXPANSION.
- To facilitate the county planning function, counties must be allowed to officially designate an area as a target for municipal sewer expansion with a longer planning, financing, and implementation window. This designation language should also include a statement that conventional septic systems in the designated area are grandfathered and will be entitled to repair permits until such a time as sewers are installed.
- BMAP sets 5-10-20 year target reduction mandates that require approved and funded projects to satisfy the model. This is not compatible with county sewer planning requirements or annual legislative appropriations. If counties can “designate” geographic areas as candidates for municipal sewers, it allows them to move forward with their planning process and still fulfill BMAP mandates. This is also a necessary homeowner protection that must be part of the Springs Protection Act and the BMAP plan, or homeowners are subject to double financial jeopardy and can be forced to install an Advanced System while still subject to future sewer installation costs. This supports the “home rule” aspect of the BMAP planning scenario.
REQUIRE ALL ADVANCED NITROGEN REDUCING SYSTEMS TO BE NSF-360 CERTIFIED
Homeowners who are required to modify their deeds and declare that the property has an Advanced Nitrogen Reducing Septic System must have the assurance that the system carries with it an NSF 360 certification. This certification will safeguard the value of their homestead asset and protect them against unknown performance and costs.
- To assure the success of BMAP’s desired water quality outcomes, BMAP plans must abandon NSF 245 as the accepted performance standard and replace the standard with NSF360. certification.
- BMAPs require all conventional septic systems in a Priority Focus Area to be converted either to municipal sewers or Advanced Systems. The Advanced Systems approved by the Bureau of Onsite Sewage and incorporated into the Springs Protection Act carry NSF 245 certification that is completely inadequate. NSF 245 is a six-month, above-ground laboratory installation that uses an effluent 50% the strength of the average household. The Bureau of Onsite Sewage does not require testing for Nitrogen Reduction once installed on the homeowner site, and both FDEP and FDOH have published research demonstrating, that once installed, they do not perform as well as conventional systems. Although the Bureau requires inspections of NSF 245 systems, inspection rules do not require nitrogen reduction performance, nor does the Bureau collect repair data. For all practical purposes, the costs and performance of these systems is unknown. A higher performance and reliability standard, NSF 360, requires a product vendor to install 100 systems at homeowner sites and collect nitrogen, bacteria, and repair data for one year.
The legislature must – in statute – narrowly define a “sewer” as one that removes sewage from the homeowner’s site and sends it to a municipal treatment plant. The legislature must also narrowly define an Advanced Treatment System as one that treats sewage at the homeowner site and has been certified for performance and reliability by NSF 360.
“Distributed Sewers” are a recent private product introduction that is not a traditional municipal sewer that moves sewage from the residence to a municipal treatment plant. Nor is it being represented as an Advanced Nitrogen Reducing Septic System that has received any certification. It appears that simply by providing monitoring and service through the municipality, this on-site treatment product claims to provide the same level of sewage treatment and nitrogen reduction as a municipal treatment plant.
While the product is defined by the manufacturer as a mini-municipal treatment plant, it does discharge to a drainfield. It is subject to discharge events that release untreated or partially treated sewage to the drainfield, but does not fall under the NPDES (discharge) permit. Unlike traditional sewers that are built in the public right of way, this system requires homeowners to cede private property to the municipality to provide 24-7 service easement. It is unclear who sets or changes monthly service charges.
Although the design and function of this “mini-plant” are the same as that of other Advanced Nitrogen Reducing Septic Systems, it does not fall under the traditional definition and requirements of similar systems that must have NSF certification. Installed homeowner reference sites are not available. This private product is, however, receiving Water Management District cost-share (taxpayer dollars) to be deployed as sewers in areas where BMAP plans mandate septic systems must be converted to either sewers or Advanced Systems.
Providing clear definitions in statute will protect homeowners and their property values, and provide necessary data on the reliability and environmental protection provided by these systems. There should be no middle ground that bypasses traditional definitions, expectations, functions, or proper certification.
INCLUDE ALL NON-POINT SOURCES IN SPRINGS PROTECTION AND BMAP ALLOCATIONS
The Springs Protection statute should mandate that ALL known human waste sources be included in the BMAP allocation pie chart and septic system contributions adjusted downward to reflect known additional source contributions to groundwater.
373.807 instructs FDEP to include non-point sources of nitrogen in their allocation charts. Unfortunately, the language in law does not instruct FDEP to include certain known human waste sources such as exfiltration and biosolid disposal. The Blue Green Algae Task Force provides a basis for this adjustment by distinguishing human waste sources of nitrogen pollution from non-human sources and acknowledging that exfiltration and biosolids are a source of human waste nitrogen. Once validated and accounted for in BMAP, the allocations attributed to these two human waste sources must specifically reduce septic system contributions, as all are non-point human waste sources. These refined computer modeling “assumptions” of septic system contributions should result in a reduction of the number of systems that need to be remediated with state assistance and provide substantial savings.