If the eventual goal is to replace 2.5 million septic systems in the State of Florida, our economy will need to reallocate and prioritize 50 billion dollars to this task. Where will these funds come from? Well, our State learned from history, going to the Stamp Act of 1765. In 1931, the Florida Documentary Stamp Tax was passed. You must pay a tax on deeds or other writings whereby realty is conveyed or vested; transfers of shares or certificates of stock; bonds, debentures, certificates of indebtedness, or other promissory notes, etc. Amendment One passed in 2014, dedicating 33 percent of net revenue from the documentary tax to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund. When the Springs Protection Act was passed that intensified the attacks on septic systems, legislators overwhelmingly voted for full implementation of BMAP. This pool of money was viewed as a legitimate cookie jar by State Legislators to solve environmental problems. However, on June 15, 2018, Florida Circuit Judge Charles Dodson ruled in favor of environmental organizations that the land conservation constitutional amendment (Amendment One) overwhelmingly approved by voters requires funding to be used for land acquisition, and restoration and management of those lands, not for other purposes.
So here we set as homeowners, under a mandate to change and with questionable financial assistance from our State or counties. Political scientist Anthony Downs uses five-stages of political movements to understand how progressivism feeds man’s neurotic fear of social catastrophe while providing a path for moral redemption. It is very appropriate to look at history and see how the Basin Action Management Planning (BMAP) process fits this model.
Stage 1 A Public problem is identified: Our rivers are contaminated, algae everywhere, we are running out of clean water, it is all about septic systems and unbridled growth in our State.
Stage 2 Politicians and media embrace the issue: Politicians vote for a Springs Protection Act. Media and environmentalists love it, we will save our water ways. Plenty of money is available to do this, just dip into the Amendment One cookie jar.
Stage 3 Pivot due to skepticism about costs, benefits and underlying facts: Plans are flawed. No real problem is identified through science. Therefore, lobbyists, environmentalists and industry specialists drive the planning process. Technology is not ready for solving this “unknown” problem. Costs are either not known or hidden from State homeowners. Litigation begins. Both sides go to court. The plan is not tough enough, the plan is too tough, the plan is too costly, the plan may not even solve the problem.
Stage 4 Public interest wanes: BMAP and its pursuit of a problem to solve has been going on for over ten years. Our understanding of our rivers, springs and other waterways continue to remain a mystery. Some say it is nitrogen, some phosphorus, some the volume and flow of the water, some fertilizer, and oh yes, most will throw in septic systems. Exasperated homeowners give up. Property values drop, State growth slows. Still no science, still no real plan. However, a myriad of vendors rushes to the State, ready to cash in on providing solutions to the yet to be defined problem.
Stage 5 Post-problem stage is prolonged limbo: BMAP is a 20-year plan. Citizens must wait years before any of the guesses made in BMAP can be proved false.
Eric Hoffer, an American moral and social philosopher, said, “Every cause begins as a movement, becomes a business and eventually degenerates into a racket.” What stage do you say we are in?
One of the first and simplest designs in history took advantage of a well-known scientific fact: human waste, when properly placed in the ground not only decomposes but goes back to natural materials that are used by the earth to sustain itself. While no one is suggesting that we go back to our primitive roots, conventional septic systems have been in operation for over 150 years. Originating in France, septic tanks were invented by John Mouras around 1860. Mouras began with a simple prototype. The tank was made of concrete and piping was made of clay. The longevity of this concept is mostly due to its simplicity. A tank, pipes and nature’s bacteria do all the work.
Eric Hoffer points out that the last stage of a movement degenerates into a racket. Well, we are not there yet but we are at the “Business Stage” and moving rapidly to the last stage. In the next few years, while our cities and counties attempt to develop plans in response to BMAP, vendors and products will pour into our State, loaded with claims that these will solve all our water quality issues. And this is where we need to pause for a moment and consider the following:
Advanced Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems are typically designed with requirements for electrical power. Many will have multiple pumps, circuits, timers, alarms, floats, check valves, and filters. There are some that will require a wi-fi connection that you must maintain. The State, due to the complexity, will require certifications, deed modifications, design fees, annual renewable permits, maintenance contracts, sewer fees, and inspection fees. The National Sanitation Foundation standards are now part of BMAP. You will hear a lot about NSF245. Once this certification is achieved by a vendor, you can purchase and install their product in the State of Florida. NSF245 – To achieve certification, treatment systems must produce an acceptable quality of effluent during a six-month (26-week) test. System service and maintenance are prohibited during the test period.
As a purchaser, you will know the product worked for 6 months. You will probably be replacing a conventional system that worked for 25 years or more. Not time to relax yet. It is time homeowners begin to demand information from our State agencies and vendors. Where are the models installed? What is the warranty? How many are in operation and for how long? What are the maintenance fees? Other fees for filters, parts, etc.? How long will they last (lifespan)? Will you still get service in 5 years, 10 years or more on an older model if it is still in operation? If new market history is any indicator of how products fare in the long term, in 5 years, a large percentage of the vendors will have failed, leaving homeowners with orphaned products.
Whether the State of Florida helps its homeowners or not, homeowners will be required to spend more money. Not only is the initial cost of an AOWTS higher ($15K to $25K), the life span is shorter due to the complexity of the design. The advice, KISS. Keep It Simple Stupid is an acronym that has been around for a long time. What did last for 25 to 30 years may only last for 5 to 10 years. Add to your costs, multiple repairs or complete replacements in your home’s life time, annual fees yet to be defined, and maintenance contracts, it is time to pay attention to BMAP. One quick and poor decision can erase your life savings and remove considerable value from your home. Please stay involved. Citizen input is critical to guiding our State’s unaccountable bureaucracies.