Protecting the Santa Fe River in North Florida

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Springs protection act brings new septic rules, increased cost

septic tank 2 In: Springs protection act brings new septic rules, increased cost | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River


The Ocala Star Banner has published the following article of interest to all Floridians who want clean water.

Excess nitrogen compounds along with decades of over-pumping are the known two main causes of our water problems in Florida.  It is way past time to work on this, and it will come with a cost.  This cost must be shared by all and it must become a way of life if we are to continue to have water we can use.

More development is not necessary and it must be curtailed.  Agricultural irrigation must also be curtailed and we must all share the additional cost of less produce grown because of less irrigation.

We must begin to charge water users for the water pulled from the ground.

The days of free, unlimited water are gone; a fact developers, agriculture and all citizens must accept.  Water managers must begin to manage our water, and the DEP must begin to protect, not dispense.  New withdrawal permits must be stopped by these agencies until our water quantity and quality meet acceptable standards.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-

By Carlos E. Medina

Posted May 24, 2018 at 5:59 PMUpdated May 24, 2018 at 8:33 PM

New regulations governing some septic systems for new homes built near Silver Springs and Rainbow Springs go into effect July 1.

New regulations governing some septic systems for new homes built near Silver Springs and Rainbow Springs go into effect July 1, potentially tripling the systems’ cost to prospective homeowners.

The requirement for nitrogen-reducing septic systems is part of a mandate created by the 2016 Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act, which hopes to significantly reduce the amount of nitrogen compounds entering the Floridan Aquifer. Water flowing out of the 30 springs included in the act comes from the aquifer.

High levels of nitrogen compounds in waterways can cause algae and aquatic plants to bloom. The rapid growth takes up oxygen in the water, killing off fish and other organisms and affecting water clarity. Nitrogen compounds come from a number of sources, including fertilizer and human and animal waste.

New homes built on lots less than an acre, which fall in the Priority Focus Area (PFA) near the springs, will require the new septic systems or a connection to a central sewer system, according to a presentation by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in Ocala on Thursday.

Silver Springs’ PFA spans about 20 miles north and south of the spring head and about 15 miles east to west. Rainbow Springs’ PFA is smaller, at about 10 miles north to south and seven miles east to west.

The state has five years to implement a plan for replacing existing septic systems with nitrogen-reducing systems or connecting to a central sewer system in the PFAs. The DEP will study the feasibility of offering assistance to cover some of the cost.

Eventually, the act requires the new septic systems or a central sewer connection for all existing septic systems in the Basin Management Action Plan areas, which covers the identified springs’ basins. The Silver Springs and Rainbow Springs basins cover most of Marion County and parts of Alachua, Lake, Putnam, Sumter and Levy counties. That area has almost 100,000 current septic systems, according to DEP.

The Florida Department of Health, which issues septic system permits, said the pending regulations do not include a grace period and that July 1 is the cutoff for the old-style systems within the PFAs.

Mark Hall, of DHC Contractors in Ocala, expressed his frustration with the new rules.

“We have 52 homes sites that are being affected,” he said. “What do I tell the person who qualifies for a $150,000 note and buys a $145,000 house? ‘Oh, hey, by the way, it’s an additional $12,000 to $14,000.’ It’s not feasible. You’re going to hurt the small homeowner,” Hall said.

A typical septic system costs about $5,000. The nitrogen-reducing systems can cost triple that, said Roxanne Groover, executive director of the Florida Onsite Wastewater Association, a septic system industry group based in Lake Alfred.

“We do hear you. We do understand your concerns and are listing to them. We do have a statutorily defined deadline of July 1 that we cannot change,” said the DEP’s Mary Paulic, who led the presentation.

But even if every method identified by the state to reduce the amount of nitrogen compounds entering the aquifer are successful — including nitrogen compounds from agriculture, residential lawns and recreational turf — the amount of nitrogen “load” coming out of Marion County’s two largest springs would still not meet state guidelines. Rainbow Springs’ load would miss the mark significantly.

Paulic said there is some mystery as to where the excess nitrogen compounds are coming from.

“One thought is, ‘Are we seeing large legacy loads that were already in groundwater that are now just flushing through the spring vents?’ We don’t really know, but that is one plausible explanation. Another explanation is that interaction between the two spring sheds. Is, for some reason, Rainbow pulling a little more water from the Silver side? You really don’t know what’s going on underground. There could be other reasons or we could have sources we just never even thought of to count,” she said.

To learn more, go to and scroll down to Silver Springs and/or Rainbow Springs.

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