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Nancy Smith

Septic Tanks a Red Herring? Wait for the Real Science Guy, Senators

January 12, 2017 - 6:00am

As Rob Bradley's Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources moves forward, its members might want to "weight" some of the scientists, engineers and other "experts" they're relying on to educate them.

There's a lot at stake for Florida's future here. And not all stakeholders in Tallahassee to make their pitch are without hope or agenda.

That became patently clear Wednesday when Bradley's Senate subcommittee members met for the first time this session to try to bring themselves up to speed on Everglades plumbing --  working in a big hurry to assess the need for all, part or none of Senate President Joe Negron's $2.4 billion plan to buy land and build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.

All presenters at the 10 a.m. meeting -- with the exception of Wendy Graham, director of the University of Florida Water Institute -- were stakeholders.

I bring this up now because one presenter in particular, Gary Goforth, Ph.D., formerly with the South Florida Water Management District, often associated with Mark Perry's Florida Oceanographic Society in Martin County -- given a 15-minute slot to make his case and even congratulated for his evenhandedness -- reminded me that as time goes on, senators might have to do more than listen carefully. They might want to consider renting out Politifact.

I admit I'm suspicious of Goforth for no other reason than he is so often aligned to Florida Oceanographic, an organization that gets money, as so many South Florida environmental groups do, from the Everglades Foundation ($20,000 in 2014, the last year a report was available to us). Florida Oceanographic is part of the environmental activism in Martin County that buys into a one-size-fits-all cause for the polluted St. Lucie River and estuary: agriculture generally, and sugar specifically.

Goforth hurt his argument on a number of issues, but he particularly got my attention when he downplayed the part septic tanks have played in the degradation of the St. Lucie River, the estuary and the Indian River Lagoon.

Said Goforth, "There has been some red herrings concerning septic tanks. I say red herrings because it has sort of distracted from the discussions but estimates have been less than 2 percent of the loadings last year from septic tanks." 

Huh? Estimates have been less than 2 percent?  

What estimates? Whose estimates? No explanation, no show of how or who came up with a figure like that. Is that a guess, Everglades Foundation-style?

Marine biologist Brian Lapointe, Ph.D. of Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch nearly dropped the phone when I told him he's apparently only dealing with 2 percent of fecal coliform, so he can get out of the water now. 

Lapointe has been commissioned by counties and municipalities up and down both coasts -- including Martin County -- and has spent thousands upon thousands of hours testing water and writing reports.

I've written my own stories about it many times. Lapointe's research has been reported in the press wherever he goes and has led to septic-to-sewer conversions -- most recently in Charlotte County. Gary Goforth knows it, the Everglades Foundation knows it, the environmentalists who dismiss it know it. I have a copy of the Martin County study, am unable to attach it here because it's too large for the SSN format. But if you email me and ask, I'll be happy to send it to you.

Here's what happens: Let's say a community has 28,000 individual septic tanks. Four million gallons of human waste a day flows into the ground because of them. A day. That's the equivalent of one ton of nitrogen entering the environment every day. It goes into the ground. And eventually but surely it makes it into the waterways. That's not a guess. It's not a red herring. It's in black-and-white in Lapointe's research.

Luckily for the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources, Brian Lapointe has been given 15 minutes on Jan. 25 to share his expertise with the senators. I hope someone on the subcommittee asks him about Goforth's 2 percent. I can't wait to watch him try to contain himself.

I'm fully aware stakeholders each have their own agenda. Nothing wrong with that. But it won't help this appropriations subcommittee if they don't keep their argument honest.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith 


Septic is a 24/7/365 pollution source. Laying a lot of nutrients in the system. A rain event supplies the fresh water. Even when the C 43 and C 44 are not "wide open" local basin runoff can cause algae blooms. When the gates to the Lake are open the chances go up. However, little if any of that fresh water from Lake O going out the C 43 and C 44 comes from the farms in the EAA. At least 97% comes from north of the Lake. The "hated" sugar farmers actually have nothing to do with the algae blooms in the estuaries. That is a simple fact. 97% of EAA water goes to the STAs and the WCAs. As soon as the groups that are fixated with destroying a multi billion dollar agricultural business that is important to S. FL economy and employment and actually address the true reasons the Lake overfills during rain events, progress can be made to reduce the damaging fresh water discharges. The discharges are not caused by the USACE, although the Corps does decide on all flows out of Lake O, nor the SFWMD who operates the system to prevent flooding, nor the farmers who want the water off their lands and just as glad to see it "sent south" as east and west. Not even the politicians of either Party. The discharges are caused because the historical path to Florida Bay is blocked by the U S Dept. of Interior.

Nancy, You tend to parrot the SFWMD board which parrots our ineffective Governor who parrots the sugar growers, who stuff his pockets with cash. He owes them so he repays them, as so many legislators in this state do. This, you are a tool of the sugar industry, which I suspect keeps your newspaper afloat. Or, is that too hard to believe?

Septic Tank pollution of nitrogen--yes it occurs, look at the SCIENCE (yes I know a bad word for the incoming administration in DC--about as bad as Climate Change In Florida's administration). It is WAY pastime for government to start paying REAL attention to good hard science---nitrogen isotopes exits and tell the tale. High density and intensity of septic tanks do add tremendous amounts of nitrogen to our surface waters (surficial aquifer)--our sands and karst grounds are nothing more than porous conduits. Another polluter is livestock both equestrian and bovine, nitrogen and notably phosphorus. Remember what the ancient American Indians said: "We do no inherit the landform our ancestors--we borrow it from our children." Let's clean up our collective act. Give a hoot-don't pollute!!

Lapointe is paid by the counties and municipalities, most of which are the sewer providers for those areas. Of course, he is going to say that septic systems are to blame. If septic systems are blamed, then the counties/municipalities vote for sewer conversion. And, at 10-15 thousand per home those municipalities seem to have a little financial motivation. Once connected to sewer, where does everyone think that the effluent goes? Does it magically disappear? No, it is “treated” and deep well injected back in to the ground, millions of gallons per day per sewer provider. If septic systems are such a problem, then why is it that when the rains stop, and the locks are closed the water quality improves? Aren’t the same number of people on septic systems when lake O isn’t draining into our backyard?

Dr. Brian Lapointe has become the lead man for a line of opinion that claims that septic tanks are the major cause of algae blooms. Dr. Lapointe never says that point as a fact. He only alludes to it. In reality the data in Dr. LaPointe's own 2014 video scientifically proves, using nitrogen isotope studies, that agricultural fertilizers are at least 80% of the cause of algae blooms in the Indian River Lagoon. This proof is significant at the 95% level. Dr. Lapointe has acknowledged to two newspapers that fertilizers are the majority of the problem. Data from 31 watershed studies in 13 scientific research papers confirms septic tanks are on the order of a 7% contributor. No scientific studies or papers (including Lapointe’s) have data which says otherwise. Further data can be obtained at

Dude I'd get my well tested if it's only 75 feet from my drainfeild.

So, if not 2%, then what is your estimate (for specific counties/impact areas)? Agreed, septic can be a problem. However, it is often raised as THE key target to divert from other problems. It is also more readily regulated. Let's also not forget the WW treatment inadequacies and failures of many of our county and city governments' systems. (Ex: Miami, St. Pete, etc.)

Yes, yes, there she goes again . . . . . Nancy's back in the scientist slimming business once again . . . . Gary Goforth was highly respected at SFWMD . . . . . . . . but SSN never cares about the science (e.g. just look at it's misinformed "scientific" opinions about Florida Bay . . . . . or climate change) . . . . . . . why is it that right-wing FoxNoise type news people without scientific degrees or scientific experience, always believe they know the science better than the scientists . . . . . . when in fact they're usually clueless . . . . . . . . SSN demonization of another scientist because "I'm suspicious of Goforth for no other reason than he is so often aligned to Florida Oceanographic" . . . . . . . shame, shame on you, Nancy Smith . . . . . . PATHETIC . . .

If Goforth isn't a quack he shouldn't be talking like a quack. Frank, I would be obliged if you could show me or refer me to where Sunshine News ever denied climate change. I have been reading daily since I arrived in Tallahassee in September of 2011. I have never read one story where their writers blew off climate change.

Gee . . . . for starters, try a Nancy Smith article from May 6, 2014 discussing climate change entitled "Environmentalists' One-Dimensional Strategy of 'No' " . . . . . . . . . . . . . . or her more recent article from April 28, 2016, entitled "'Climate Hustle' Movie Debunks Liberals' Climate Change Argument" . . . . . . and if you suddenly want to bait and switch and want to instead deny her erroneous science about Florida Bay . . . . . . have at it, doubly make my day . . . . . . . . especially from someone making their first comment on SSN, and who seemingly has no web presence under that name . . . . . . . . . PATHETIC . . . .

Glad you pointed that story out, Frank. I must have missed it and it is right on. Nancy isn't denying climate change, she is laughing at how overboard sanctimonious environmentalists go to label their bad guys. I think she is pretty smart and that eats you up.

By the way, I checked the Florida DPR records . . . . . no Clary, P.E. listed in Tallahassee, only two non-female Clary names listed in Florida (1 active, 1 not), and neither with a first or middle name that lends itself to "Lew" (especially one here since 2011) . . . . . . . . it appears that Lew Clary, P.E. is a phantom, both to DPR (I wonder if claiming to be a state licensed P.E. without being one is a felony or other crime) and to the world wide web (i.e. no web presence) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . PATHETIC . . .

Yes, yes, you must be right . . . . . except you never watched the movie, did you . . . . . . . . and never listened to even conservative voices of reason, have you . . . . Nancy's never demonized climate change, and if you believe that, Trump has never lied, bullied or fondled a unwilling woman anywhere . . . . I mean, it's not like four previous REPUBLICAN EPA administrators not so long ago gave testimony before Congress that climate change is real, man-made, and critical for the US to address, now is it: WILLIAM RUCKELHAUS (Nixon, Reagan) - "Several months ago, after talking with one another, the four former EPA administrators sitting in front of you found we were convinced by the overwhelming verdict of scientists that the earth was warming and that we humans were the only controllable contributor to this phenomenon . . . We all feel strongly that something should be done (about climate change) and we should get on with this . . . The IPCC report validates in the strongest terms the science of climate change and the projected impacts . . . We believe there is legitimate scientific debate over the pace and effects of climate change but no legitimate debate over the fact of the earth's warming or over man's contribution . . .This is an extremely complex problem whose solutions are not straightforward. We believe this is no excuse for complacency or not stepping up to our responsibility." LEE THOMAS (Ronald Reagan) - "We know that communities in our country are already dealing with the effects of the changing climate today. In my state of Florida, we see increasing salt water intrusion infiltrating our drinking water supply due to sea level rise. Coastal communities are dealing with the impact sea level rise is having on their drainage systems, resulting in an investment of more than $300 million to upgrade flood mitigation infrastructure in Miami Beach alone. The economic impact is undeniable, and local governments struggle to address today’s impacts of climate change while trying to anticipate the increased risk it poses in the future . . . We know there are many approaches that can be taken, and all are controversial . . . (EPA's recent moves) once again position the U.S. to demonstrate international leadership." WILLIAM REILLY (George H. W. Bush) - "While the President has taken many important steps, a full and constructive response is needed from Congress . . . The longer we delay, the more adverse the impacts will be, and the more expensive to address them . . . not only is climate change likely to affect natural resources and public health, but it will have profound effects on our economy." CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN (George W. Bush) - "We have a scientific consensus around this issue. We also need a political consensus . . . The issue has been settled. EPA does have the authority (to regulate carbon omissions). The law says so and the Supreme Court has said so twice. The matter should be put to rest." . . . . . . . . . . gee, wonder if Nancy wants to slime them, also . . . . . interesting that before today you've never commented on SSN (nor have any independent web presence elsewhere, at all) . . . . . . and you responded back to my email within 8 minutes . . . . . . must have taken you at least a few minutes to write it . . . . . . so what are you, on call to SSN as a response tool . . . . . . . . PATHETIC . . . .

Climate change? That's the backdoor slogan for geoengineering and the dastardly works of Harvard's David Keith who has admittedly done no studies of the effects of such on humans, plants, or animals. Carbon was more than double than it is today when the dinosaurs roamed the Earth. It's a good thing, it makes the Earth more green, lush and healthy. Maybe you pathetic pseudo scientists should study the effects of coal fly ash on Earth and focus on that and what it's doing to Florida and it's ecosystem, exacerbating the cornucopia of suitably unaddressed ecological disasters. It's evidenced by government patents and the peer-reviewed research paper by J. Marvin Herndon whose paper is given out to new Medicare recipients in some states. Our thesauruses should be changed to make clear that "climate change" is the same thing as "geoengineering." The climate is changing all right thanks to geoengineering. I'm sure though you would just argue that the changes we are seeing are coming from persistent contrails, as if that is possible from a modern jet equipped with a high-bipass turbo prop engine. P-A-T-H-E-T-I-C. You pay for hire scientists are sickening tools.

I continue to be surprised at the total lack of logic and reason of these anti-Sugar groups. Whether or not you like sugar farming ( I happen to be diabetic so sugar isnt always my friend), only a fool would suggest sugar farms 50 miles south of the blooms are the cause of the blooms. Is there a public education system in Martin County? Did they teach Earth-Space science? How exactly are the farm discharges being piped back up and emptied into Martin and St Lucie county waters? Are they being carried buy birds, bugs, mist, Star Trek beams, massive waterjets? Can we get a scientists in the house please to explain water flow to these dummies? Half of them fish for a living and know exactly where the water flows so why they are so convinced its the sugar industry should be a case study in propaganda and brainwashing.

Thats funny!

28000 septic tanks probably does NOT equate to 4 million gallons of Human waste. Roughly a multiple of 150 gallons per installation. A large proportion of the multiplier is grey water, dish washing water, and the flow water supplied by the toilet before its used. A better estimate of the human waste component might be 280000 gallons. A multiplier of 10.

Hard (make that impossible) that you believe in FACTS. Did you question Trump on his FACTS(LIES)? God forbid we question BIG SUGAR or BIG Farming.

In Florida, a well can be 75 feet away from a septic tank , which is supposed to be an adequate distance for the effluent to be fully treated .

The 75 feet is supposed to make you safe from pathogens, not remove nitrogen (it's a rule requirement of the Dept. of Health, not the Dept. of Env. Protection). You can safely drink water with up to 10mg/L of nitrogen, but that concentration is two orders of magnitude over the nitrogen limit for the St. Lucie Estuary (0.070 mg/L) which was set to prevent algal blooms from nutrient pollution.

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