Thursday, October 14, 2010

Septic Septic Tank Legislation Proposed


Sen. Don Gaetz (R - Destin) and Rep. Marti Coley (R - Marianna) have promised to file a bill to repeal an important water quality victory from last year’s session. They want to eliminate the requirement for septic tank inspections every five years.

Sierra Club Florida supports the Evaluation and Assessment section of last year’s SB 550 which requires an evaluation of the tank and drainfield every five years (scroll to page 62 of the bill). Inspections are standard practice and protect homeowners from costly system failures that can require not only pump-outs, but also drainfield replacement. They also protect the community from water pollution and health hazards.

According to an EPA Fact Sheet, improperly functioning systems can introduce nitrogen, phosphorus, organic matter, and bacterial and viral pathogens into the surrounding area, wells, and groundwater.

Florida’s Dept. of Health (DOH) reports the state does not currently have a statewide inspection program and that only three counties, Charlotte, Escambia and Santa Rosa, mandate them at costs ranging between $83.93 to $215 per inspection. The inspections are performed by the Health Dept. or the private sector. Florida has between 2.3 and 2.7 million septic systems with the estimated failure rate during the initial round of inspections to be 9.5 percent.

The cost of mandating this routine maintenance is much lower than hooking up to a sewer system. See Sarasota County’s Property Owner’s Guide for a comparison (well over $8,000 to hook up plus $35-50/month ($420-600/year) depending on usage.)

DOH estimates the annualized cost for inspections to be $122.40, ($500 for inspection and pump-out, and $112 for County Health Dept. fees once every five years.) And last year’s bill included a grant program to help low-income families comply.

According to DOH, over half of Florida’s septic tank systems are over thirty years old and were installed under less stringent standards than are now required. Legislators will not be doing their constituents a favor by passing laws that say in effect, “clean water is too expensive.”

Sierra Club Florida’s Legislative Advisory Committee and lobbyist will be following this issue closely in the coming session. Watch for alerts!


David Cullen, Sierra Club Florida lobbyist