The Legislature is in its final days and many bills concerning environmental protection from nitrogen and other nutrient “pollutants” seem sidelined for this year. Few bills confronted the real issue: preventing nitrogen and other nutrients from entering groundwater and the aquifer.
Perhaps they are being put off until they can be debated more fully next year, or there is a legislative “surprise” yet to come. These issues are important and deserve careful consideration. Most remaining bills deal more with reorganizing bureaucracies and requiring reports.
One major issue that can be dealt with this year is Everglades restoration. At the top of the list should be the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project. The storage and treatment of water north of the Lake will make a critical impact on mitigating the effects of stormwater. Last week, the Coalition for Property Rights released a study, “Everglades Restoration". Its highest priority recommendation to the Legislature is to fund the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project. With water storage projects already in progress to the east, west, and south of the Lake, the missing piece should now be initiated north of the Lake.
Another major issue is the remediation of wastewater pollution. Few bills confronted this issue. Representative Randy Fine filed legislation which would fine wastewater treatment plants that unlawfully release raw or partially treated sewage. Sen. Ben Albritton filed legislation restoring some financial oversight and transparency to FDEP. These were needed but, did not make it to the floors of the Chambers.
Unaddressed were three important issues involving septic system remediation.
-- First, a standard should be set for nitrogen reduction in nitrogen-reducing septic systems. Isn’t it odd that, for all the talk about their negative impact, Florida has no standard for such reduction? The so-called “advanced” systems are tested for a 50 percent nitrogen reduction but, only in laboratories. Once installed in “real-world” conditions, their performance is closer to 33 percent. Conventional septic systems often do better than that (47 per cent, according to an FDEP study). Florida needs a standard for in-ground tank and drainfield reduction.
-- Second, Florida needs to open its free-market to innovative nitrogen-reducing septic systems. Innovative, nitrogen-reducing products have been known for almost a decade. Yet, they have gone unapproved by the Florida Department of Health.
One nitrogen-reducing solution was discovered and developed at the University of Central Florida. It found that underlaying a septic system drainfield with a mixture of old ground-up tires and gravel would reduce nitrogen and other nutrients into the 90 percent range. Another solution was an innovative drainfield with equal ability to deal with excessive nitrogen. The private business that developed this innovation spent nearly $350,000 over the past nine years seeking FDOH approval, without success.
Government has been the “gate-keeper” of products entering the free-market place. That is not the role of government. Government should set the standard for nitrogen reduction. But, once set, an objective, third-party, non-government organization or organizations should be authorized to test and certify that a product will do what it claims in “real-world” conditions.
-- A third issue needing attention regards septage disposal. Once septic tanks are pumped out, the septage is delivered somewhere, theoretically. While much is discussed about where it must be delivered, there is no mechanism to document its delivery. This loop must be closed. A manifest documenting proper disposal of each pump-out is needed.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has expressed his desire to address and fix environmental problems. Funding Everglades restoration and the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Project would be a good step for this year. Important issues of oversight, accountability, performance standards and innovative products should be priority for next year.
Dan Peterson is president of the Maitland-based Coalition for Property Rights-Fl.