SB550 has not been well received in Florida.  That is an understatement.  Some of the published comments regarding the bill affecting septic systems or Onsite Wastewater Treatment Plants were:

“I hope they flush this legislation…”
“Something smells here.”

The most onerous piece of this bill is that many of those  who had an older septic system were required to bring it to code.  Why fix it if isn’t broke?

A coalition comprised of members of the Florida Association of Realtors, the Florida Homebuilders Association, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Onsite Wastewater Association have been meeting to address the situation.  Repeal or amend SB550 and simultaneously propose legislation addressing the issues of clean water and a good mechanism for wastewater treatment. The hope is to get a sponsor of the new bill at the same time SB550 is repealed.
On Site Wastewater Treatment Plants (septic system) basically treat where generated.  How efficient is that?  The other choice would be to just “sewer the world,” said Bob Himschoot.  Bob is indeed an area expert on the issues.  He has a degree in forestry and is a member of  more than one of the groups in the coalition. Those who know Bob know that he has the credentials.  He ran the family business Gulf Disposal and developed Gulf Coast Landfill before he sold them to Waste Management, Inc..  He is a Rotarian and past president of the Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce.  Bob  formerly served on the board of the National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association and currently serves the Florida Onsite Wastewater Association.  He is president of Crews Environmental which he acquired 30 years ago.  His son and daughter are involved in the day to day operations.  When Bob isn’t driving to Tallahassee to promote clean water he is actively involved in the management of Crews. He has raised his family here and probably is good to his dog.  I don’t even know if he has a dog.  And, he isn’t running for public office so it doesn’t matter.  The point is that he is a person passionate about clean water in the state of Florida and has spent his adult life in that pursuit.

Bob advocates the onsite wastewater treatment plants. Without septic sytems there would be many more “non buildable” lots in the state of Florida. He says there are many nuances and unintended consequences to “sewering the world’.   His philosophy is “know what you have and maintain it.”  He is not opposed to some sort of requirement to pump and check the system every 5 years.  The cost per homeowner would be something like $500 or $100 per year maintenance.  Those of us on a central water system (sewer) pay at least $350 per year for maintenance of that system.  Look at it this way.  The system is permitted so it must meet the code when it is installed.  The buyer of the property is generally not involved in selecting the system or the workings.  Many move in to the property and expect a “happily ever after” with no thought of maintenance of the system.  Sometimes the septic survey and how a septic system works are never conveyed to the buyer. A buyer of a property with an onsite wastewater treatment plant must don the role of sanitation engineer. There are many measures that will prevent septic failure.

A county health official in the state of Florida has coined a phrase for raw sewage on the bathroom floor.  It is the “Ten Phone Call Failure” and what is better known as the Class I Failure.

Class II Failure is evidenced by raw sewage in the yard.  I recall a property management company giving me a tour of a duplex that the owner wanted me to list.  The backyard could not pass the “sniff” test. I was wearing sandals (I usually am) that day and slipping and sliding in stuff you don’t want to slip and slide in.  I did not know where to step next.  I just wanted to be sure that I did not slide and lose my balance.  When I got to my car I threw my shoes in a bag.  I disposed of the bag at the next receptacle. Adjacent to this wet area in the backyard  was an incredible vegetable garden with some of the best looking greens and plants I have ever seen.  I was so relieved that there was not a vegetable stand at the curb.  When the owner indicated no interest in repairing the septic or disclosing the issue, I did not list the property.  As always, “If you can smell it; you can’t sell it.”

Class III failure has no smell and no excess moisture around the drainfield.
Class IV failure  described as long term, environmental  degradation is the hardest failure to prove as it is determined by computer modeling and may provoke the cynics among us looking for at least some proof.

We should all be aware of things that will plug a septic system sooner. According to the local based plumber contractors, a garbage disposal is hard on any plumbing.  It sends larger pieces through the system.  Grease and even salad oil, coffee grounds, paper towels, cigarette butts are but a few of the items that will clog the system and can damage components if trapped.  Doing all of your laundry in one day might make you feel efficient; but, might be harmful to the system.  The new Energy Star clothes washer is said to use 50% less water than a standard model.

Limiting the amount of water that we use is not only beneficial to the water supply; it limits the amount of water that must be treated.  All Floridians have a responsibility to use our resources sensibly and to pass on a legacy of clean water to our children and grandchildren.

For more information:

When the legislature meets again to consider this issue, let’s hope they pay attention to the likes of Bob Himschoot and the various members of the coalition.

Written by Sande Ellis