House environmental protection package advances
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. 1/4/23-Reps Rep. Danny Alvarez, R-Hillsborough County, left and Kevin Steele, R-Dade City, talk after the House Agriculture Conservation & Resiliency Subcommittee, Wednesday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

Areas around the Indian River Lagoon receive special attention.

An environmental package in the House to take on septic tank pollution passed its committee this week, moving forward efforts to take concrete action to reduce nutrient pollution across the state, especially its springs and the Indian River Lagoon.

It prohibits installing new septic tank systems within a basin management action plan (BMAP), a reasonable assurance plan or pollution reduction plan where there’s an available connection to a sewerage system.

“This is a transformative, comprehensive, changing of the state of Florida for water quality,” Dade City Republican Rep. Kevin Steele said to members of the House Water Quality, Supply and Treatment Subcommittee. “I’m proud to be a part of it.”

For lots 1 acre or smaller where such a sewer system isn’t available, the property owner has to install enhanced nutrient-reducing septic tanks, which are those that reach at least 50% nutrient reduction compared to a standard septic tank.

BMAP comprehensive plans would be required to address coordination of upgrading water facilities and prioritization of advanced waste treatment, along with looking at the possibility of providing sewer services within 10 years to any group of more than 50 residential lots with a density of more than one septic tank per acre. 

“This truly is a very comprehensive bill that will really go a long way to improve our waterways,” said Dania Beach Democratic Rep. Hillary Cassel.

HB 1379, like its related bill in the Senate, also includes a new section of proposed Florida law that directly addresses the Indian River Lagoon.

For properties within the BMAPs affecting the Indian River Lagoon, the bill would ban installation of new septic tanks starting next year, where a central sewer system is available, unless those installations were previously permitted. 

By Jan. 1, 2030, those properties with septic tanks would need to connect to a central sewer, if available, and an enhanced nutrient septic tank or wastewater treatment system if not. 

“(Septic tanks) account for much of the nitrogen enrichment in groundwater in the (Indian River Lagoon) watersheds because the six counties adjacent to the (Indian River Lagoon) rely heavily on (septic tanks) for wastewater management,” according to the House staff analysis. “As of 2021, there were approximately 300,000 permitted (septic tanks) within the (Indian River Lagoon) watershed. 

“Indian River and Martin counties used (septic tanks) for over 50% of their wastewater management, and there were approximately 31,000 septic systems in each county. As of 2019, Brevard County, which borders nearly half of the (Indian River Lagoon), had an estimated 53,204 (septic tanks) and contributed approximately 17,863 pounds per year of total nitrogen from failing (septic tanks).”

BMAPs that include springs, meanwhile would have to include a septic tank system remediation plan for that spring if the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) determines the septic tanks in that BMAP contribute at least 20% of the waterbody’s nonpoint source nitrogen pollution, or if DEP determines remediation is necessary. 

The bill also amends the Florida Forever program to up the contract price for land acquisition needing Internal Improvement Trust Fund Board approval from $1 million to $5 million. 

The bill, unanimously passing the subcommittee, now awaits action in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.

Wes Wolfe

Wes Wolfe is a reporter who's worked for newspapers across the South, winning press association awards for his work in Georgia and the Carolinas. He lives in Jacksonville and previously covered state politics, environmental issues and courts for the News-Leader in Fernandina Beach. You can reach Wes at [email protected] and @WesWolfeFP. Facebook:

One comment

  • Scott Carmody

    April 2, 2023 at 10:06 am

    Everyone in the industry knows that it is difficult and expensive to keep the enhanced nutrient-reducing septic tanks reducing the nitrogen they claim, especially on private property.

    After cherry picking the enhanced nutrient-reducing septic tanks to be tested for their performance, in 2013 a DOH study found that the enhanced nutrient-reducing septic tanks on private property only averaged 33% nitrogen reduction, despite, Florida’s rules and regulations required service and drive by inspections. And, nobody should be fooled by the NSF 245 certification for these systems, it has little to no effect on how these systems will perform on private property.

    So, what does the FDOH do after learning these disappointing test results, they push to have these systems mandated for use in Florida’s most vulnerable and sensitive environmental areas. Asking Florida citizens to continue to pay for the failing enhanced nutrient-reducing septic tank program as it is, based on misleading information is nothing short of negligence.

    The EPA estimates the average household produces about 23 lbs. of nitrogen (a Brevard County 2018 study only found est. 14 lbs. per household) and the FDOH claims that our septic “systems” reduce 25-30% nitrogen. At 23 lbs. of nitrogen per household and 25% reduction from Florida’s existing septic systems, they disperse an estimated 17.25 lbs. of nitrogen into the environment. The 53,204 septic systems in the Indian River Basin in Brevard County add an estimated 931,070 lbs. of nitrogen to the lagoon, that’s a far cry from the 17,863 pounds per year of total nitrogen from failing existing septic tanks, reported in this study. How and where did “17,863 pounds per year” come from?

    An inexpensive conventional septic system installed under current rules and regulations have tested (in Florida by DOH) removes and average of 50% + nitrogen reduction, and at most there can only be 2 installed per acre, totaling 23lbs. of nitrogen per acre. Compared to the 4 enhanced nutrient-reducing septic tanks installed per acre, hopefully getting 50% nitrogen reduction, totals 46 lbs. of nitrogen per acre! So how are we reducing nitrogen with these expensive systems?

    The 2018 Brevard County study also found the sewer contaminates our water the same as septic, so how is septic to sewer and nutrient-reducing septic tank programs going to reduce our household sewer nitrogen problem? The numbers simply do not add up.

    Sooner or later the State needs to come to grips with the fact, that their household septic system treatment programs are failing and continuing to cover it up with distorted and miss-leading information and programs, is not going reduce our sewer nitrogen problem. It’s time that Florida has an independent assessment of the household sewage treatment programs and learn why after 2 ½ decades and an untold amount of tax dollars the problem is not improving. Florida citizens deserve to start getting some answers.

    There is, “NO CHANCE”, that this and the other Bills like it will have any effect on reducing household nitrogen from our waters, they will only add to the problem.

Comments are closed.


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