Septic-to-sewer projects face challenges

Posted 6/2/23

Nutrients from septic tanks feed algae blooms.

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Septic-to-sewer projects face challenges


OKEECHOBEE – Septic-to-sewer projects are a priority for many South Florida communities, due to concerns that nutrients from septic tanks feed harmful algal blooms in nearby waterways.

“Okeechobee County is doing well. We’re doing a lot of septic-to-sewer projects and we’re proud of that,” said Okeechobee County Commissioner David Hazellief, at the June 2 meeting of the Coalition for Responsible Management of Lake Okeechobee, St. Lucie and the Caloosahatchee Estuaries and the Lake Worth Lagoon in the Historic Okeechobee County Courthouse.

Charlotte County is also keeping their septic-to-sewer plan going, according to Charlotte County Commissioner Ken Doherty. He said they are running into problems with the expected cost, with bids coming in about 40% higher than the original estimate. County officials had planned to let property owners pay their portion of the cost through assessments over a 20-year period, but may expand that to 30 years to keep the annual assessment lower.

Collier County Commissioner William McDaniel  and Osceola County Commissioner Ricky Booth  said their counties are also working on septic-to-sewer projects.

Plans for a septic-to-sewer project on North Hutchinson Island hit a snag, according to St. Lucie County Commissioner Chris Dzadovsky.

North Hutchinson Island is a coastal barrier island in Indian River and St. Lucie counties. The island is separated from the mainland by the Indian River Lagoon.

A community of about 600 homes on the island did not deed the easement needed for sewer lines to the county when the development was built, he explained. There is an easement for water lines, but there is a required distance between water and sewer lines. He said runoff from this area directly discharges into the lagoon.

“We have to get 60% of homeowners to agree to the easement,” Dzadovsky continued. The property owners are only being asked to pay about 20 to 25% of the cost of connecting their homes to sewer, he continued.

“You would think that people would want to keep the water clean, especially around their own homes,” he said. However, getting property owners to agree to the easement has been a challenge.

In January 2022, St. Lucie County Utilities announced its plan to construct a wastewater collection system on North Hutchinson Island. This septic removal project is supported by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD).

Discharge from septic tanks is one of the sources linked to the nutrients feeding the “brown tide” algae in the Indian River Lagoon. This algae shades out the sea grass and the loss of this sea grass has been blamed for an increase in manatee deaths from starvation.

septic, sewer, lagoon