Conventional Septic Systems

Conventional septic systems may not have initially been designed to remove nitrogen, but it turns out they do a pretty good job! In fact, FDOH and FDEP studies show that a modern conventional septic system averaging about $8,000, removes 17% (4 lbs.) more nitrogen than the Nitrogen Reduction Systems that cost on average $25,000. Plus, the Nitrogen Reduction Systems include frequent and expensive maintenance, a required FDOH annual permit fee of $75 a year, and a required $75-$300+ a year maintenance contract, with a large majority of these systems being forced on homeowners living pay check to pay check.


ALL household sewage treatment systems including sewer laterals, old  and new, leak nitrogen into our waters. If it is Florida’s goal to clean up our waters from septic system nitrogen. Florida needs to first clean up the last 3 decades of a disastrous septic system program and develop programs that are financially sustainable, cost effective and driven by a treatment systems real world performance.


1. Statement by Public Officials:The conventional onsite treatment and disposal systems contribute nutrients to  groundwater and surface waters.” (Senate Bill 712) This is a deceptive and misleading statement, as all onsite treatment and disposal systems contribute nutrients to groundwater and surface waters throughout the state. It should be noted that the nitrogen reduction septic systems being promoted by the State “leak 17% MORE NITROGEN” than the conventional septic system. (Source, FDOH 2013, FDEP 2018)


2. Statement by Public Officials: A conventional onsite treatment and disposal system can contribute to the conditions which can “cause” harmful blue-green algal blooms; This claim is deceptive and misleading! The only purpose this statement has is to mislead the Florida citizens into opening up their purses and wallets to install the more expensive septic systems or connect to sewer whether they need to our not. A more truthful and honest statement would be, ALL human waste treatment systems, including sewer laterals, contribute to the conditions which can “cause” harmful blue-green algal blooms. 


Any type of septic system that does not receive its required maintenance will not reduce the amount of nitrogen of which it’s capable, as has been realized but not disclosed with our current enhanced septic system program. “It is not the septic system type that removes nitrogen, it’s the septic system’s maintenance”. The more complicated, expensive and repetitive you make the maintenance, the more difficult it becomes for the septic system to meet its nitrogen reduction claims, more so, when forced on homeowners living pay check to pay check! 


3. Statement by Public Officials: A conventional septic system leaks more nitrogen into our waters when installed in poor soils.”


The soils under the treatment system have little to do with the performance of any type of septic system, and all septic systems leak nitrogen into good, fair or poor soils as determined by the FDOH septic system permit. Soils transport and provide additional treatment of the effluent after it is treated and dispersed (leaked) from the septic system, the better the “actual” septic system treatment, the less nitrogen there is for the soil to transport and treat before it enters a water resource. Since 1983, Florida code requires a modern conventional septic system to have at least 24 inches of appropriate soil, approved by a FDOH permit from the bottom of the drainfield to the estimated seasonal high-water table. The 24 inches of appropriate soil approved by a FDOH permit is a part of the conventional septic systems treatment. So, when comparing a conventional septic system to all other septic systems, the treated effluent does not enter the “soil” until after it is treated by the required 24 inch drainfield constructed with the appropriate soils required by a FDOH septic system permit.


Florida's existing septic systems are a mixed bag of 1+ million outdated septic systems operating under several different inefficient codes, rules, regulations, and unknown conditions, simply put, Florida's septic system programs are a mess and the conventional septic system is not the problem. No one will address the decades of inefficient codes, rules, regulations and the unacceptable administration of our existing septic system programs as it is easier to blame the “conventional” septic system. Despite the fact that improving the administration of our septic system programs would be cost efficient and would remove hundreds of thousands of pounds of nitrogen over septic to sewer and nitrogen reduction septic system programs.  However, no one would know this because, septic to sewer and nitrogen reduction systems are the only solutions discussed, no matter how much they cost and how little nitrogen they actually remove. No one is saying we shouldn’t implement septic to sewer projects and install nitrogen reduction septic systems, but we should apply a little commonsense and start evaluating our projects by performance, cost per pound of nitrogen removed and select the septic system type that best fits the project and will remove the most nitrogen.  


Florida has been delinquent for decades in developing and managing effective rules, regulations and permitting programs that actually protect our health and environment. This is without question the number one cause of nitrogen contamination from households using septic systems in Florida. The numbers don't lie!


                       Below:

                                         Nitrogen Reduction & Cost Per lbs. Chart

                                         Good - Modern Conventional Septic Systems 

                                         Poor - Nitrogen Reduction Septic Systems

                                         Poor - Unregulated Existing Septic Systems


(The information below is sourced from FDOH, FDEP, EPA, BMAP PLANS, & Brevard County.)

Old Septic System vs. Modern Conventional Septic System

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We should all understand the difference between decades-old existing septic systems and modern conventional septic systems.  

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Nitrogen Reduction Performance - GOOD

The development of a conventional septic system remediation program is a sensible, affordable and realistic long-term solution to reducing, limiting and containing septic system nitrogen from “all types” of septic systems. If setup properly it will stabilize, limit and control septic system nitrogen contamination. A properly developed remediation 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 remediation program incorporates the needs of all stakeholders; state, regional, county and local government agencies, owners, contractors, real estate, banking, general public, etc.… to implement and support, 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 safely?

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Nitrogen Reduction Performance - FAIR

The experts claim that the nitrogen reduction septic systems will reduce 65%+ nitrogen. However, in the real world, the nitrogen reduction septic systems operating here in Florida have only averaged 33% nitrogen reduction. That is 17% “LESS” nitrogen reduction than a modern $8,000 conventional septic system. 


"The majority of the systems tested would not have produced a benefit over a conventional OWTS (septic systems) installed in suitable soil." (2006  Damann L. Anderson, P.E., of Hazen and Sawyer, P.C., )


What has been purposely left out of the public conversations about the nitrogen reduction septic systems, is their difficulty to maintain 65%+ nitrogen reduction on private properties! And, the odds of the enhanced nitrogen reduction systems getting their required and expensive maintenance when forced on homeowners living pay check to pay check!


Nitrogen reduction septic system maintenance is never discussed in public meetings, which is ironic considering that maintenance is the only thing keeping septic system nitrogen contamination to the absolute minimum.  “It is not the septic system type that removes nitrogen, it’s the septic system’s maintenance!” 


The more complicated, expensive and repetitive you make the maintenance, the more difficult it becomes for the septic system to meet its nitrogen reduction claims, especially when forced on homeowners living pay check to pay check! 


The nitrogen reduction septic system program has been around for a long time and it failed miserably! Everything you are being told today about the “new” nitrogen reduction septic systems is the same song and dance promised 20 years ago, and it failed! 


 Florida  officials  will spend hundreds of millions of your public and private funds over the next 20 years by mandating the installation of nitrogen reduction septic systems they know will not deliver. Florida's public officials are ignoring the nitrogen reduction septic systems poor performance, somehow expecting a different result.

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Nitrogen Reduction Performance - POOR

Florida has been delinquent for decades in developing and managing effective rules, regulations and permitting programs that will actually protect our health and environment. This is without question the number one cause of nitrogen contamination from septic systems.

  • 99% of Florida's existing septic systems are not and have never been under any management or maintenance requirements.


  • Approximately 2 million existing septic systems are 20-years or older, which is the average lifespan of a septic system in Florida. 


  • 1.3 million existing septic systems were installed prior to 1983. Pre-1983 septic systems were required to have a six-inch separation from the bottom of the drainfield to the estimated seasonal high-water table. 


If our septic system nitrogen proplems were given a fair and impartial review, you would find that mess of decades of incompetence and mismanagement of our septic system programs is without a doubt the primary cause of our septic system nitrogen contamination. 


The nitrogen contribution to the Florida's waters from the mess of regulatory mismanagement of Florida''s septic systems adds close to 16,000,000 lbs. of nitrogen a year , none of which is included in the BMAP plans.