sources of nitrogen contamination from septic systems

Florida has four sources of nitrogen contamination from septic systems: 1) the properly functioning septic systems, 2) neglected septic systems, 3) the transported raw sewage from septic systems and 4) flawed and inadequate rules and regulations managing our septic systems. Without the understanding of how all four sources are affecting our environment it is impossible to determine with any accuracy how our septic systems are truly affecting our environment. Only when we have a full understanding of the issues can we better determine a productive path to long-term reduction of nitrogen from our septic systems. How is it possible to evaluate septic system nitrogen contamination when you know nothing about your septic systems? Florida has been permitting septic systems for more than 50 years and we don’t know how many we have, where they are, what they are, their condition, or if their raw sewage is legally and properly dumped. 


1. The properly functioning septic system: A properly functioning septic system is estimated to contribute 11.5 lbs. of nitrogen to our environment. A typical household will produce 23 lbs. of nitrogen a year and a FDOH 2018 study shows that a properly functioning and sited septic system will reduce 50% of the nitrogen. 


2. Neglected septic systems: A neglected septic system would not provide the 50% nitrogen allowing up to 23 lbs. of nitrogen a year to enter our environment. 


3. The transported raw sewage from septic systems: The State of Florida does not track or monitor the transportation and disposal of pumped raw sewage. It is estimated that 2.2 billion gallons of raw sewage freely moves throughout the state unregulated. If only 10% of this waste is illegally disposed it has the potential to allow 220 million gallons of raw sewage to contaminate our environment. 


4. Flawed and inadequate septic system rules, regulations and record keeping: We have 2.6 million septic systems operating throughout the state and we permit an estimated 30-40,000 more systems a year. A conventional septic system has a life expectancy of 20-25 years provided they are properly maintained and that is not the case here in Florida. As of now we do not know how many septic systems we have in Florida, their condition, or if they are being maintained. Septic Systems are allowed to freely operate throughout Florida without maintenance and a very large majority of them operating well beyond their life expectancy. Florida also does not monitor or track the estimated 2.2 billion gallons of raw sewage that is transported and dumped throughout the state from our septic systems. With a fair assessment of at least 33% of our septic systems operating in a neglected state and the potential of at least 10% of our transported raw sewage being improperly disposed, our flawed and mismanaged septic system programs are contributing 10 million lbs. of nitrogen a year to our water resources and allowing 220 million gallons of raw sewage to be freely transported and dumped anywhere in the state, this is equivalent to connecting 434,782 septic systems to sewer at a cost of $13,043,460,000, every year.

Our flawed septic system permit program will unnecessarily add 10 Million lbs. N/yr. to our waters

Our flawed septic system permit program will unnecessarily add 10 Million lbs. N/yr. to our waters

Reducing septic system nitrogen

To remove septic system nitrogen from our environment you have three options; Septic System Restoration, Septic-to-Sewer and Upgrades. 


SEPTIC SYSTEM RESTORATION: The development of a restoration program is a sensible, affordable and realistic long-term solution to reducing, limiting and containing septic system nitrogen from “all” your septic systems. If setup properly it will stabilize, limit and control septic system nitrogen contamination. A properly developed restoration program will also provide the benefits of an impact study providing the vital information needed to properly evaluate future steps in reducing septic system nitrogen, such as selecting locations for septic-to-sewer projects. 


This is not a check-the-box pump-out or inspection program. A restoration program works with both the septic system owners and the local regulators to implement education, incentive and improvement projects to reduce the impact the septic systems have on our environment.


Reducing, limiting, containing and learning as much as possible about your problem before taking action is always good policy and is generally the first step in evaluating and developing a sound and economical solution to any problem. 


How do you learn, evaluate or improve the impact of a “device” that is determined to have a negative impact on your environment when you don’t know how many you have, their condition, if they are working properly, if they are being maintained properly or if their hazardous waste is being disposed of appropriately?


SEPTIC-TO-SEWER: This is the kneejerk reaction to solving septic system nitrogen. It is claimed that septic-to-sewer is the ultimate solution, but realistically we know that it is financially and logistically impossible to sewer all our septic systems. And, we seriously need to ask ourselves are we spending hundreds of millions of dollars to only transfer the human waste nitrogen problem from one source to another? 


ADVANCED & PERFORMANCE BASED SEPTIC SYSTEMS/UPGRADES: These types of systems with high nitrogen reduction claims generally have high installation, service, permitting and maintenance contract costs. FDOH studies on these types of systems have shown nitrogen reduction to only average 33%. Research these systems carefully and avoid data collected from testing or studies. Try to find data from systems operating on private property under normal and unsupervised conditions, this will give a more credible representation of their performance. It is likely these types of systems could increase your nitrogen issue, rather than reduce it. This option demands a lot of homework.

SEPTIC-TO-SEWER:  kneejerk reaction  to solving nitrogen issue.

SEPTIC-TO-SEWER: kneejerk reaction to solving nitrogen issue.