In Florida, two out of every five residents rely on septic tanks, and that waste is seriously harming our state’s very fragile ecosystem. While many areas would like to swap the septic systems for sewer systems, it is estimated the cost for Miami-Dade County alone would be $3.3 billion.
That being said, one county in South Florida has made the move to eliminate all 10,000 septic systems over the next decade. Martin County residents will have to pay between $8,500 and $9,000 for the service, then the county will pick up the remaining installation costs. The total cost is usually around $15,000 per sewer connection.
For some time, Martin County has been working toward eliminating all septic systems, but after the horrific seasons of blue-green algae growth in 2016 and 2018, they realized they had to do better. Developers have long been required to connect any new development to the existing sewer lines.
With respect to the rest of the state, Governor DeSantis has promised,
“…to fight blue-green algae. We will fight discharges from Lake Okeechobee, we will fight the red tide, we will fight for our fisherman, we fight for our beaches, we will fight to restore our Everglades and we will never quit, we won’t be cowed and we won’t let the foot draggers stand in our way. We resolve to leave Florida to God better than we found it.”
The key targets to winning this battle are the dirt, septic tanks, underground sewage, and disposal networks. Unfortunately, Florida residents have been warned of the dangers of septic systems to the fragile aquatic environment all the way back to the Carter administration. The warnings never gained any traction until the Florida Chamber of Commerce started promoting it.
Professor, Brian LaPointe of Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Breach Oceanographic Institute says, “the biggest reason for algae bloom, fish kills, goopy water, and awful smelling rivers over the last few years has been contamination from septic systems.” He went on to say to Florida senators, “These local governments cannot do this on their own. They need help. ‘We need a Manhattan Project.’ We’ve got to go to war against algae.”
How a septic system works
verses a sewer system
A sewer system whisks dirty water away through pipes to a water treatment center. Typically, at the water treatment center the following steps are taking to treat the water:
- Odor control: Chemicals can help keep down foul orders.
- Screening: Move the water through screens to separate larger solids and trash.
- Primary treatment: Move water to large tanks and allow solid material to settle at the surface. Scrape material off and dispose of it.
- Aeration: Stir up the water to get it to release gasses, and pump air through the water to allow bacteria to act on organic matter to help it decay.
- Remove sludge: Solid material settles to the bottom and is removed.
- More filtration: Filter water through sand, for example, to reduce bacteria, odors, iron, and other solids.
- “Digest” the solid material: Hold and heat the solid material to break it down to nutrient-rich biosolids and methane gas.
- Disinfection: Water is treated with chlorine to kill bacteria.
A septic system on the hand filters the water on-site. The septic system will sort the waste into three layers:
Bacteria will eventually break down the scum at the top of the tank, while the sludge falls to the bottom. The sludge has to be pumped out periodically for the septic tank to work properly. Wastewater or effluent sits between the scum and the sludge. It flows into underground pipes near the tank and is released into the ground in an area called the drain field.
Another problem and luckily, they are not as common as septic tanks, cesspools. While similar they are more primitive. A cesspool relies on the natural filtration of the soil to eliminate the worst contaminants in the water.