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Okeechobee Watershed Projects, Septage Solutions In Big Need of Funding

April 25, 2019 - 7:30am
Dan Peterson
Dan Peterson

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.


TI'll be sharing it with others. I agree an honor system is not how we clean up our water systems. That's as absurd as a county utility telling residents the county will provide generators for all the houses with grinders (Martin County's only sewer choice). Once those systems have no electricity, raw sewage backs up into one's house. Everglades City was destroyed by this fact. Many homeowner's insurance companies don't cover for this damage... others do, but only if the homeowner knows to ask for it. Not to mention the utilities dumping raw sewage into our rivers when they're overloaded. Really??? No scientific basis for their claims. The only way to get the best for us, environmentally and financially, is to open the market up to more innovative technologies, even if that technology just means chopped up tires. But wait... that means government can't triple tax us (i.e. placing sewer on our property costs the homeowner up front; if subsidized, grant money comes from us the citizens in the form of taxation; thirdly, the utility gets to charge for taking it away in perpetuity! What a racket... thanks again for your article.

Ty Republicans - DeSantis, Mast for getting this done! For too long our rivers have become cesspools of green muck!

Why are you thanking DeSantis and Mast? Have they actually done anything yet? All talk from Gov D, all lies from Cong. Mast

Naturally, environmental issues "get sidelined" by the Republicans again. As 'Native Son' says ... "it's high time big sugar, citrus and the cattle industries are held accountable for their contaminations"! (Or, like they did to inshore fisherman ... eliminate those occupations/businesses altogether.)

You forgot the deregulation of the septic systems that occurred under Gov. Scott. Every septic system should be inspected to make sure it is not leaking, and that the drainfields are working properly. Then DOH might be more willing to approve the need for the new technologies for Nitrogen removal. While your at it, the regulations on state water pollution, mostly fertilizer amounts, that were eliminated under Gov. Scott need to be reintroduced for all state waterways. It is high time big sugar, citrus and the cattle industries (both for fertilizer and runoff) are held accountable for their contaminations. The ridiculous "honor system" that is currently in place is a joke that is just not funny for any real Floridians...

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