Septic Systems ... Funny You Should Mention That
Around the State
Just when I thought the day-late-dollar-short Environmental Protection Agency had flushed us Floridians for good, they come up with an act of impeccable timing for the yuk-laden rivers under assault on either side of Lake Okeechobee.
The EPA Tuesday declared a week in September, 23-27, its first-ever SepticSmart Week.
Thanks, EPA. Great day to make the announcement.
The EPA is encouraging homeowners "to take action" so that their septic systems are functioning properly. Nearly one-quarter of all American households, the agency points out, more than 26 million homes, depend on septic systems to treat their wastewater, and many of the systems in place aren't safely doing the job.
Repeat, many of them aren't safely doing the job.
Might I add that some of those 26 million homes are slap-bang on, or critically near, banks of the very waterways now gasping for breath in south Central Florida.
It's been easy for those who live along the toxic waterways to make their deteriorating quality of life somebody else's fault. Forty years ago it was cattle ranchers; today it's sugar farmers and anybody growing in the Everglades Agricultural Area.
But increasingly, as scientists like Harbor Branch professor Brian LaPointe and others have explained, pollution in the estuaries is the result of a number of human factors -- yes, I'm saying we're a big part of the screw-up.
Those human factors include wastewater sewage effluents, sanitary sewer overflows, combined sewer overflows, agricultural runoffs, golf course and fertilized-lawn runoff, concentrated animal feeding operations, street litters and leaking underground storage tanks.
A growing body of evidence on the degradation of the Indian River Lagoon and St. Lucie Estuary in particular points to leaching septic tanks as a "major" contributing factor. How major is still a matter of conjecture. LaPointe, who has studied the river for more than 30 years, thinks it's considerable. “One septic tank on 4 acres -- that’s enough to create a nutrient problem,” he says.
Me, I'd like to see EPA encourage total septic-to-sewer conversions within so many miles of a river or a waterway leading to a river.
I know that in Martin County, where protests over the condition of the water have grown angrier, there are an estimated 30,000 homes, or about a third of the population, on septic tanks, many of those homes built before 1986.
I also remember that when Martin County first considered a countywide sewer system, the late Sen. William G. "Doc" Myers, R-Hobe Sound -- on the Martin County Commission from 1968-1972, and again from 1976-1978 -- pushed hard for a total septic-to-sewer conversion. He was the only one who did.
Interesting to note that a major dissenter was then-County Commissioner Maggy Hurchalla, Martin's environmental maven, who now blames the state for failing to protect Martin's rivers. Her reason for the against-position wasn't cost. A county sewer system will encourage development, she said.
Frank Wacha, another commissioner at the time, told me, "If she could get away with it, Maggy would legislate an outhouse in every backyard to keep people out of Martin County."
All water over the bridge in 2013.
For the moment, I'm grateful to the EPA for the perfectly timed SepticSmart Week announcement.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423.