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Report says better management needed for Florida’s wastewater

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(The Center Square) — A new report says amid the Sunshine State’s burgeoning population growth, better wastewater stewardship by replacing aging infrastructure is needed.

Florida TaxWatch has released a report on the state’s use of septic tanks and their environmental effects. The report states that protecting Florida’s ground and surface water is essential to public health and supporting population growth.

President and CEO Dominic M. Calabro states in the report foreword, that Florida’s water is at risk because even properly working septic tanks are seeping heavy nutrients into groundwater. Florida has approximately 2.6 million septic tanks and drain fields.

“An excess of certain nutrients, specifically nitrogen, encourages the growth of algal blooms on rivers and lakes and degrades the quality of groundwater to levels unsuitable for drinking, consumption, and direct public use,” Calabro wrote.

While wastewater management was a priority for the Legislature during the 2023 regular session, which allocated almost $1 billion to wastewater management; Calabro questioned whether this would be enough when facing considerable population growth, currently rising by nearly 800 new residents daily.

According to the report, the Office of Economic and Demographic Research of the Florida Legislature has calculated inferred water shortages, and findings suggest that some regions could start to experience shortages by 2025.

A study conducted in 2008 by the Florida Department of Health found that over half of Florida’s septic tanks were over 30 years old at that time. Now those tanks are over 45 years old and prone to failure.

The report further states that the state research office says in its 20-year needs analysis that significant investment is needed to convert septic systems to sewers. Around $2 billion in funding has already been secured, however, the project still needs an additional $6.7 billion.

Florida TaxWatch calls on the governor and the Legislature to develop a five-year funding plan for wastewater management and recommend that the state task the Department of Environmental Protection to create a plan to develop central sewer lines, wastewater treatment facilities and improve or remove existing septic tanks.

It was further recommended that the Legislature implement a septic tank inspection and monitoring program, as well as financial assistance to homeowners who are economically challenged and unable to afford to update existing septic systems.

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