On March 27, 2018, a community meeting organized by Orange County Commissioner Bryan Nelson was held to inform Wekiva Area residents about the Wekiva Basin Management Action Plan and its impact on septic system owners. During the question and answer period, Eberhard Roeder, the Environmental Manager for Florida’s Bureau of Environmental Health FDOH, responded to a question from a home owner.
“What happens to me if I am forced to use an electrical based solution for processing my sewage and the power goes out?” Mr. Roeder’s response, “Get a generator.” Mr. Roeder obviously thinks this is a simple solution to a non-problem. Other government officials and even some contractors believe the same “simple” solution will work for us.
The truth is generators are not so simple. We have researched this for you and what it means if BMAP rules force 25,000 homeowners in the BMAP priority focus area to use electrically operated Advanced Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems or Grinder Alternative Sewers. Mr. Roeder believes all 25,000 should have them and the problem of no electricity is solved. After you have read this, you can decide if Mr. Roeder’s simple solution is even feasible, or whether it would do more harm than good – to humans and the environment.
Basically, there are three types of generators: portable generators, home generators and solar panels. We will look at how these electrically powered advanced onsite wastewater treatment systems (AOWTS) work and how low-pressure grinder sewers work.
- AOWTS operate in a constant dosing mode. That is, they require power 24 x 7. They cannot be turned off. If you try to turn them off, and alarm will sound. Further, whether the system is off because of mechanical failure or a power outage, you will need a trained technician to restart the system. After a restart, it typically takes more than a month for the system to reach its nutrient removal capability.
- Grinders have a small tank capacity equal to one day of household water use. When it’s full, a sensor inside the tank triggers the grinder to empty. The power must be available 24 x 7 because you do not control when the grinder does the pump out. Even if you have a generator and your grinder works, fluid hydraulics will force your effluent down the “pipe of least resistance.” You might have very unhappy neighbors when their grinder, their yard, or their home is overflowing with your effluent during an area-wide power outage.
When either of the above solutions are installed, the power source and breaker box is outside your home. To plug in a portable generator, you need to have an external outdoor and rainproof adapter. For solar or full home generators, this would be built in at installation.
Generating or storing electricity with solar is not simple, easy, or as effective as you might think. You can’t just stick a solar panel on your roof and get electricity. They do not work at night, in cloudy weather or storms. Depending on the direction of your best sunlight, they may be vulnerable to storm damage. This means you will also need a lithium ion battery pack to hold several days’ worth of power. Cost of the solar panels and battery pack is dependent upon the amount of power you need to produce and how long you want the system to operate without sunlight.
Full Home Generators
These would solve all the problems. However, they come with a very high cost. It is not unusual for these to run $5,000 to $15,000, higher for large homes. Because of the amount of fuel required to operate them, you would be limited to propane or natural gas. Having several hundred gallons of propane in my yard during a lightning storm would not let me sleep well at night. Natural gas is best, but availability is limited in Florida.
Portable Generators cost anywhere from $500 on up. The more watts and amps of output you need or want the bigger they are. Keep these requirements and consequences in mind:
- You need a place to store the generator
- They are heavy and not easily maneuvered by elderly or those with limited muscle strength.
- A 5 gallon can of gasoline weighs 31 lbs – This might last you for a day or less depending on the size generator you use.
- You must empty the gas from the generator after every use if you just store it between storms. Your gas supply will last about 3- 5 months in a sealed container, or 6-8 months with fuel stabilizer added. Recommended maximum storage is 1 year.
- Red Cross, the disaster experts, publish generator safety guidelines:
- The primary hazards to avoid when using a generator are carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from the toxic engine exhaust, electric shock or electrocution, and fire.
- To avoid electrocution, keep the generator dry and do not use in rain or wet conditions. Operate it on a dry surface under an open canopy-like structure, such as under a tarp held up on poles. Do not touch the generator with wet hands.
- Be sure to turn the generator off and let it cool down before refueling. Gasoline spilled on hot engine parts could ignite.
- Store fuel for the generator in an approved safety can.
- Local laws may restrict the amount of fuel you may store, or the storage location. Ask your local fire department.
- Store the fuel outside of living areas in a locked shed or other protected area. To guard against accidental fire, do not store it near a fuel-burning appliance, such as a natural gas water heater in a garage.
Mr. Roeder’s suggestion that 25,000 homeowners in the Wekiva BMAP Priority Focus Area simply use generators is not a suggestion anyone would expect from a Dept. of Health professional. The question that only you can answer is whether an electrically powered sewer or electrically powered septic system is worth the risk to your family’s health and your safety. These are not acceptable solutions when they pose undeniable and probable risks – especially to the elderly, children, and property.