Politics and Your Septic Tank, by Jim Stevenson – October 26, 2012

My wife and I have a septic tank that processes the wastes from our home, and I know its specific location in the yard.  Some homeowners have never thought about their septic tank and have no idea where it is.  That means that they have never had their tank pumped.  The septic tanks company employee that pumped our tank a year ago said that he has had to empty some tanks out with a shovel because they have never been maintained.   It is out of sight out of mind.  Just flush it and forget it until the sewage backs up in the bath tub or spills onto the lawn. Some regard septic tank maintenance as a nuisance and an unwanted expense.  All but approximately 1200 homes in Tallahassee are connected to the city’s central sewer.  Those who are connected pay a reasonable monthly utility fee for this service.  Some have central sewer available in front of their homes but have refused to hook-up to it because of the connection fee and the city has not required them to do so.

During the 2010 Legislative session, the Legislature passed a septic tanks law thanks to the leadership of Senator Constantine.  The law required that septic tanks be inspected every five years to ensure that they are properly treating household sewage.  Soon after the session, efforts were begun by several legislators to repeal the law during the 2011 session.  During the 2012 session they were successful and essentially neutered the law, in fact it is now worse than the original law.

This is about money!  Public health is being ignored.  Apparently, many homeowners don’t want to take responsibility by paying for the proper disposal of their own poop.  They choose to flush it and forget it.

This is about votes!  Every septic tank represents 1or 2 votes.  That’s why many legislators were hastily rushing to repeal the law soon after it was passed.  Forget about public health.  After all they are only responding to the demands of “We the People.”  Some politicians think only about the next election.  A statesman thinks about the next generation.

The purpose of a septic tank is to kill harmful bacteria in human waste so as to protect drinking water, swimming areas and oysters and scallops from contamination.  Citizens can choose to protect the health of their community.  They have the opportunity to be good neighbors by ensuring that their septic tank is properly maintained so as not to contaminate their neighbor’s (and their own) drinking water.

When needed, we spend thousands of dollars to replace the roof on our house so as to protect the house — because we own it.  Yet some homeowners rebel when required to spend a couple hundred dollars once every five years to maintain their septic tank to protect drinking water that belongs to everyone.  Selfish?  Irresponsible?

It costs to flush.  Homeowners in Tallahassee pay on the average $40 to the utility every month to properly process their waste at the sewage treatment plant.  It costs about $225.00 to pump a septic tank.  That amounts to $3.75 per month over a five year period.  That’s about the cost of a cappuccino coffee once a month.

Standard septic tanks were designed to control harmful bacteria.  They were not designed to control nitrate.  In springsheds, the effluent from septic tanks flows through the aquifer to our springs.  Nitrate flowing from the drainfield, at a concentration of 60-70 milligrams per liter, is degrading our springs.  Some viruses can also be transmitted to the groundwater by septic tanks.

State agencies that have the responsibility and the expertise on this issue are silent.  They dare not speak due to the anti-government and anti-regulation political climate.  Perhaps our elected leaders should demonstrate wisdom and seek the advice of agency experts (not agency heads or their public relations staff).

Prior to every election we are reminded that our single vote contributes to a healthy democracy.  Your single septic tank affects the quality of our drinking water and the health of our springs.

Jim Stevenson   florida_springs@comcast.net

Former coordinator: Ichetucknee and Wakulla Spring Basin Working Groups and former chairman: Florida Springs Task Force.