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State of Florida dragging its feet on septic tank cleanup
Leaking septic tanks are the state’s second biggest polluter behind agriculture
By Mike Vasilinda – Tallahassee Bureau Chief
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Despite their toll on Florida’s waterways, the state is doing virtually nothing to encourage people and businesses to clean up leaking septic tanks.
Of the more than 2.8 million septic tanks across Florida, at least 280,000—or 10 percent of them—are leaking, according to figures provided by the state Department of Health.
Septic tanks are the second biggest polluter in the state, trailing only agriculture. But even though that’s the case, fewer than 20,000 were repaired in 2018.
In Jacksonville, the city and JEA have already identified 1,600 septic tanks they want to phase out, likely in part because environmentalists say the runoff seeps into the St. Johns.
“It’s antique technology that needs to go,” said Bill Howell, a commissioner with the Leon County Soil and Water Conservation District.
For about $2,000, there’s technology available that could turn septic tanks into miniature wastewater treatment plants, Howell said. Some tanks would require modernization.
“It’s got bacteria in it and you pump air into it and the bacteria actually eats what’s in the septic tank,” he said. “Digests it completely.”
The consequence of doing nothing about the problem can be seen in Wakulla County, where a glass-bottom boat used to run tours of the springs 30 to 40s out of the year.
The last time they had such a tour was two years ago.
As recently as 10 years ago, lawmakers required septic tank inspections. They passed a spring protection bill in 2010 mandating inspections every five years.
But a year later, lawmakers got cold feet. They killed the plan in response to thousands of complaints over the inspections’ costs.
Former State Sen. Lee Constantine was the bill’s sponsor.
“We would have been five years, minimum, closer to a solution,” he said. “And by 2020, we would have inspected every single tank in the state of Florida.”