“…the state has failed to go far enough in not only reducing pollution from septic tanks, but also in cutting the contributions from fertilizer use and livestock waste.
To really save our springs, the state’s water management districts also need to stop issuing massive groundwater withdrawal permits in spring basins. Cleaning up septic tanks is only part of the solution — albeit an important one that deserves increased attention in our region.”
The above is the real message we need to get out. It must be said over and over again: fertilizer, septics, over-pumping.
Read the original editorial here in the Gainesville Sun.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
Editorial: Clean up septic tanks to protect springs
Too many Floridians are flushing their waste right into our state’s springs and water supply.
Perhaps that is an oversimplification of the problem, but not by much. Septic tanks are a major source of nitrate pollution in the aquifer, which supplies most of the state’s drinking water and the water that flows from its springs.
As GateHouse Media’s Dinah Voyles Pulver recently reported, there are an estimated 2.7 million septic tanks in Florida. Many of them are too old, too close together and too close to groundwater, and were never designed to prevent nitrogen pollution.
Nitrogen pollution is fueling algae growth in the formerly crystal-clear waters of springs such as Rainbow Springs, Silver Springs and the springs of the Santa Fe and Suwannee rivers. There are other contributors to the pollution, including agricultural operations and fertilizer applied to home lawns, but septic tanks are a problem that our region should be able to tackle with the state’s help.
Marion County has the third-highest number of septic tanks in Florida — an estimated 123,720 tanks — despite being ranked 18th in the state in population. Some efforts are underway to remove septic tanks in areas including Ocala, with properties being connected to the city’s wastewater system in order to decrease nitrogen pollution of Silver Springs.
Alachua County has fewer septic tanks — around 40,000 — but also needs to step up efforts to connect properties on septic tanks to the municipal wastewater system. In parts of northwest Gainesville near Glen Springs, for example, septic tanks contribute to the poor quality of the springs and the contamination of creeks.
The state needs to provide more financial assistance for septic tank conversions in places where they are densely clustered. While septic tanks may be appropriate for large rural properties, their use on smaller lots that are close to one another poses a greater risk for groundwater pollution.
Newer advanced treatment septic tanks are designed to remove nitrogen, but they are an imperfect solution. Replacing old septic tanks with these systems can cost up $20,000, and homeowners sometimes turn off their power in order to save money and thus eliminate their nitrogen-removing capabilities.
The Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act, passed by the Legislature in 2016, is supposed to begin reversing the damage to the state’s most significant springs. It requires septic tank remediation plans in areas near springs where septic tanks have been found to be causing at least 20 percent of the pollution.
But several of the plans are being legally challenged by environmental groups. Those groups are right that the state has failed to go far enough in not only reducing pollution from septic tanks, but also in cutting the contributions from fertilizer use and livestock waste.
To really save our springs, the state’s water management districts also need to stop issue massive groundwater withdrawal permits in spring basins. Cleaning up septic tanks is only part of the solution — albeit an important one that deserves increased attention in our region.