State Inspections Of Septic Tanks Proposed As City, JEA Work To Phase Them Out

Jan 3, 2019

Amid concerns that leaky septic systems are polluting waterways, a Florida Republican senator filed legislation Wednesday  that would require the Florida Department of Health to identify all septic systems in the state by Jan. 1, 2021 and provide a map of the systems.

The bill (SB 214), filed by Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, would also require inspections of septic systems at least once every five years and require the health depatrment to develop minimum standards and requirements for pumping out or repairing failing systems. Those requirements would take effect July 1, 2022.

Septic tanks are widespread in Jacksonville where the city and JEA want to eventually phase them out.

There may be as many as 85,000 septic tanks in Duval County, according to Scott Turner, Director of Environmental Health and Safety with the Florida Department of Health in Duval County.  He previously told WJCT News he thought approximately 10 percent of Duval county’s septic tanks were probably failing.

Jacksonville’s City Council approved a phase out program in 2016. The city and JEA set aside $30 million for the project over a five year period.

In 2014, the state found 135 Duval County water bodies were polluted with fecal bacteria.  Florida Atlantic University Professor Brian Lapointe told WJCT News in 2016 that septic tanks are the second leading cause of of nitrogren pollution in Florida's surface waters, with the first being fertlizer used on farms and lawns.

JEA initially identified the following areas of Jacksonville to target for septic tank removal:

For the projects to move forward at least 70 percent of property owners must consent. In the case of the Beverly Hills phaseout, JEA says the consent threshold was reached in May with public meetings and removal planning continuing.

Looking at the issue on a statewide level, they are also a problem in South Florida where there are approximately 90,000 of the tanks throughout Miami-Dade County, according to Christopher Flavelle, who covers climate change and adaptation policy for Bloomberg News.

He told our WLRN news partner that as the groundwater level rises with sea-level rise, the tanks don't work as well with more bacteria making into the aquifer. 

A septic tank is a large water-tight container buried underground that collects waste water from bathrooms, kitchens and washing machines. Solids sink to the bottom while liquid waste is allowed to leach into the soil where nature removes any bacteria, viruses and nutrients.

Credit Adam Lindquist / Maryland Department of the Environment

Gruters’ bill is filed for the 2019 legislative session, which starts March 5.

Bill Bortzfield can be reached at bbortzfield@wjct.org, 904-358-6349 or on Twitter at @BortzInJax.