Septic tanks study gets $2 million as delay language looms

House and Senate budget conferees have agreed to provide $2 million to the Florida Department of Health for an ongoing study of septic tank technologies. Meanwhile, bill language looms that would prevent agencies from reducing nitrogen pollution from septic tanks while the study continues.

The study has been an issue for the past two years involving legislation to protect groundwater and springs from nitrogen pollution. Springs and other waterways across the state have become choked with weeds and algae as nitrogen levels have increased, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Florida Home Builders Association says the study is needed to point to cheaper alternatives to requiring nitrogen-reducing advanced septic systems, which cost $3,000 to $10,000 more than conventional systems, according to the Department of Health. The Legislature in 2008 provided with $1 million for the first phase of the study, which DOH said will last three to five years. Last year, the Legislature appropriated $540,000 and adopted budget proviso language prohibiting DOH from proceeding with any nitrogen-reduction activities prior to May 1, 2010. As a result, DOH delayed implementing a rule requiring advanced septic systems in the Wekiva River area north of Orlando.

This year, the Florida Home Builders Association opposed SB 550’s requirement to establish septic tank utilities. Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs and sponsor of SB 550, amended the bill to remove the utilities requirement. The bill now directs DOH to develop a rule requiring septic tank inspections every five years. SB 1470 by Sen. Durell Peaden Jr., R-Crestview, would implement the 2010-11 state budget proviso language and prohibit any state agency from adopting a policy or rule to reduce nitrogen from new or existing septic tanks through July 1, 2011.

Charles Lee, Audubon of Florida’s director of advocacy, said the study and rule delays represent a “never-ending saga of the septic tank industry insulating itself from improvements.”

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)