Committee narrows House environmental package on wastewater nutrients
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. 1/4/23-Rep. Kevin Steele, R-Dade City, during the House Agriculture Conservation & Resiliency Subcommittee, Wednesday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

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The amendment was because of 'basically a typo.'

A House committee narrowed the specification on nutrient reduction in an environmental package that generally takes aim at the state’s septic tanks and encourages movement to centralized sewer systems.

Previously, the bill (HB 1379) banned new septic tanks in areas governed by basin management action plans (BMAPs) for the Banana River Lagoon, Central Indian River Lagoon, North Indian River Lagoon, and the reasonable assurance plan for the Mosquito Lagoon. 

In areas where a central sewer connection wasn’t possible, the developer could install septic tanks, as long as they remove at least 50% of nutrients compared to standard systems. 

For those same areas, any existing development would need to move from septic tanks to a centralized sewer system by 2030. If such a connection was impossible, septic systems that achieved at least 50% nutrient reduction would be required.

The amendment, passed by the House Infrastructure Strategies Committee, changes those specifications from 50% nutrient reduction to 65% nitrogen reduction.

Bill sponsor and Dade City Republican Rep. Kevin Steele said the changes were necessary to fix what was “basically a typo.” 

However, 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 prioritizing 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. 

“It’s an important step forward for water quality improvement statewide, and one of the reasons this is literally one of my favorite committees to serve on,” said Parkland Democratic Rep. Christine Hunschofsky

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. 

“There’s a lot of discussion about septic-to-sewer, and I think the recent incident that we saw in Fort Lauderdale is a good, go-to discussion point for this committee,” said Roxanne Groover, Executive Director of the Florida Onsite Wastewater Association.

“If the amount of water that we received as rain would’ve stayed in the stormwater infrastructure, we wouldn’t have had the challenges that we saw with wastewater treatment plants. So, what that tells us is, our wastewater infrastructure for those wastewater sewer plants is not adequate to have all these discussions about moving on-site over to central sewer. Rainwater should go to stormwater — it should not end up in your wastewater treatment plants.”

She said her organization is with the committee, though, as it applies to enhanced septic tank systems and the nitrogen reduction standards proposed.

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. 

“This bill, entitled ‘Environmental Protection,’ does exactly what it states,” Palm City Republican Rep. Toby Overdorf said. 

“It does it without prejudice towards one industry or another, and the people of Florida have requested in many cases, or even demanded, a comprehensive strategy applied statewide to restore our environment through nutrient reduction and comprehensive, detailed planning.”

Representatives of DEP, 1000 Friends of Florida, Audubon Florida, the Bellini Better World Foundation, Conservation Florida, the Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation and Tall Timbers waived in support.

HB 1379 moves on to await the action of the full House.

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: facebook.com/wes.wolfe


One comment

  • Scott

    April 18, 2023 at 11:54 am

    Bill HB 1379 and the others like it, Clean Waters Act, will have no impact on reducing household sewage nitrogen, THIS IS A FACT. Here’s just one example, it doesn’t matter if HB 1379 requires 50%, 65% or even 100% nitrogen reduction, as the state does not check, nor does it care, about the performance of the systems after they are installed on private property.

    The states required so called maintenance reporting and drive-by inspection program for the nitrogen reduction systems is a joke, nothing more! It was designed to give the illusion of oversite; but does nothing to actually confirm that these systems are truly reducing nitrogen. The one time the Department of Health study the nitrogen reduction of the systems performance proves this. The fact is, the performance of these systems after they are install on private property, at great expense to the owner, is of no interest to anyone.

    Florida’s, Install and forget, household sewage program for both septic system and sewer hookups is our problem, not the type of sewer treatment that is used.

    The administration of Florida’s household sewage treatment program is failing Florida’s environment, citizens and tourist, and only when this is recognized will we begin to start reducing household nitrogen from our waters.

    A study in the Indian River lagoon found that both septic systems and sewer communities pollute the Lagoon with nitrogen EQUALLY! The enhanced nitrogen reduction systems have shown to have no benefit over a conventional septic system after being installed on private property, but none of this information is of any interest in legislating solutions for household nitrogen reduction.

    So, where is HB 1379’s benefit to the environment, property owners living pay check-to-paycheck forced to install these expensive nitrogen reduction septic systems, connecting septic systems to a failing sewer infrastructure, and to the tax payers who are also being asked to partially fund this fictional solution?

    It’s time to start having some open and honest discussions about sewage nitrogen reduction, preferably run by an independent third party, where all the facts can openly and freely be discussed.

Comments are closed.


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