Message to Southwest Florida: ‘Help is on the way’
Image via WFME.

indian river algae
Nearly one-third of the state’s population relies on septic tanks for wastewater disposal.

With new laws going into effect and significant financial resources invested by the Florida Legislature this year, help is on the way to residents in Southwest Florida and on the Treasure Coast who are looking for protection and restoration of their precious water resources.

One key piece of legislation signed with little fanfare was House Bill 1379, sponsored by Infrastructure Strategies Committee in the House and Sen. Jason Brodeur in the Senate.

This new law not only dedicates $100 million to the new Indian River Lagoon Protection Program but also establishes pollution-remediation requirements and growth management caps. In addition, the legislation invests in conservation to protect precious landscapes and mitigate the increasing urban pressures on existing infrastructure.

“Protecting Florida’s natural environment has been a priority since Day 1, which is why I was proud to sign legislation that will improve our water quality, preserve the Indian River Lagoon and expedite our land conservation efforts,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis on Twitter after signing House Bill 1379, which earned unanimous support from both chambers of the Florida Legislature.

The ecosystems around the Indian River Lagoon in recent years have been plagued by harmful algal blooms and dangerous diseases due to sewage pollution in the central and northern lagoon basins.

Specifically, the law implements a ban on new septic systems in the Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) area and requires the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to work with local governments and other key stakeholders to develop a remediation plan in places where septic tanks are contributing 20% or more of the pollution to the local water resources.

The proper treatment and disposal or reuse of domestic wastewater is an important part of protecting Florida’s water resources, according to the bill analysis. Floridians generate approximately 100 gallons of domestic wastewater per day, most of it managed and treated through sewage systems.

However, nearly one-third of the state’s population relies on septic tanks for wastewater disposal. While sewage disposal facilities are required to provide advanced waste treatment approved by DEP, septic tanks generally filter waste through a drain field, after which gravity draws the water down through the soil layers. In most circumstances, the septic tank does not reduce nitrogen from the raw sewage, allowing nitrogen to potentially contaminate the groundwater. This all occurs with little to no oversight from DEP.

A recent study published in the upcoming June 25 issue of Science of the Total Environment underscores the role human waste pollution plays in plaguing Florida’s precious water resources.

Scientists from Florida Atlantic University and the Lee County Department of Natural Resources collected and analyzed samples from 25 ditch, creek and canal sites across Lee County. They discovered “evidence of widespread human waste pollution throughout Lee County.” The study concluded “these findings should be applicable to urbanized regions globally that are experiencing declines in water quality and harmful algal blooms due to development with inadequate infrastructure.”

The new law is a significant step forward in strengthening infrastructure to better protect water resources, with an emphasis on converting septic to sewer. With grants or loans from DEP, local governmental agencies can help residents offset the cost of connecting septic-reliant homes to public sewer systems.

“We have made historic strides in environmental protection, water quality, and land conservation under the leadership of Gov. DeSantis and with the support of the Florida Legislature,” said Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Shawn Hamilton in a statement issued by the Governor’s Office.

“This legislation will allow us to further expedite and advance these efforts.”

This is a wave of good news for residents from Martin to Palm Beach County and stretching over to Collier and Lee counties after a drumbeat of bad news in recent weeks.

Lake Okeechobee is more than half covered with cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae. At least three spots in the Caloosahatchee River are flagged for algae toxins, including the Davis boat ramp in Fort Myers Shores.

The Florida Department of Health in Lee County issued an alert May 26: “The public should exercise caution in and around Caloosahatchee River-Fort Myers Shores.”

The emailed statement urged people not to drink, swim, wade, use personal watercraft, water ski or boat in waters where there is a visible bloom, and to keep pets and livestock away from the bloom.

“With the signing of House Bill 1379, Gov. DeSantis is both renewing and expanding upon his commitment to protecting and restoring our water quality statewide, with a much-needed focus on some of our most at-risk waters in the Everglades and the Indian River Lagoon,” said Chief Science Officer Dr. Mark Rains. “This legislation directs strategic action to address nutrient sources and expedite restoration.”

In addition, the legislation is bolstered by an additional $25 million in investment for Southwest Florida infrastructure upgrades in the Caloosahatchee River basin for septic-to-sewer conversion. Plus, $50 million recurring will go toward storage North of Lake Okeechobee, an integral part of the Lake O Water Restoration Plan.

Since DeSantis took office, he has invested more than $250 million to implement the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP).

For residents and businesses in the region that continue to struggle with the water crises, know that help is truly on the way.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises Media and is the publisher of, INFLUENCE Magazine, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Previous to his publishing efforts, Peter was a political consultant to dozens of congressional and state campaigns, as well as several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella. Follow Peter on Twitter @PeterSchorschFL.

One comment

  • PeterH

    June 20, 2023 at 8:02 am

    This problem cannot be solved without a survey of where the septic tanks are located. The State cannot require owners to complete remediation repairs to septic systems that are buried in unknown locations.

    Most states require septic system installation permits…. but Florida didn’t require such permits until recently. Meanwhile storm surge, rain water and poor drainage continue to threaten our aquifer and gulf streams and waters.

Comments are closed.


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