By: Katrina Elsken, Okeechobee News
OKEECHOBEE — A potential source of water pollution could be in your backyard.
Nationwide about 20 percent of American homes use Onsite sewage treatment and disposal systems (OSTDS), more commonly known as septic tanks. In most states, septic tanks are used in rural areas where it is not cost effective to run sewer lines to remote homes. In Florida, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, about 30 percent of all homes have septic tanks. Florida is home to 12 percent of all of the septic tanks in the United States. Unlike northern states where most homes with septic tanks are in rural areas surrounded by farmland, in Florida septic tanks can be found in urban coastal areas where development outpaced sewer line expansion or where developers opted to put in septic tanks to cut costs rather than pay the fees required for sewer line expansion and hookups.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) estimates there are about 2.6 million homes in Florida with septic tanks. Many of these septic tanks are in environmentally-sensitive watersheds.
While manufacturers recommend septic tanks be pumped out and inspected every 1 to 5 years (the EPA recommends 1 to 3 years), according to FDEP, only about 100,000 septic tanks in Florida are pumped out each year. That means more than 2 million septic tanks have not been pumped out within the past 5 years. According to testimony given in Florida Legislative hearings, many have not been pumped out in 20 years or more.
In 2010, under Governor Charlie Crist, the Florida Legislature passed a law requiring septic tanks be inspected at least once every 5 years. Two years later, the Legislature repealed the law. Two years later, with Rick Scott in the governor’s office, the Florida Legislature repealed the law.
In rural areas, where residents are more likely to have grown up in a home that had a septic tank, homeowners are more aware of the need for regular septic tank maintenance. Many who move to Florida from an urban area have no experience with septic tanks.
As amazing as it sounds, according to the EPA, some people who buy homes in Florida don’t even know they are not on a public sewer system.
The EPA offers this handy checklist for “how to know your home has an OSTDS.” The EPA website advises:
“You may already know you have a septic system. If you do not know, here are tell-tale signs that you probably do:
“You use well water.
“The waterline coming into your home does not have a meter.
“You show a “$0.00 Sewer Amount Charged” on your water bill or property tax bill.
“Your neighbors have a septic system.”
The EPA advises homeowners protect the OSTDS by conserving water. The average indoor water use in a typical single-family home is nearly 70 gallons per individual, per day. Just a single leaky or running toilet can waste as much as 200 gallons of water per day. All of the water a household sends down its pipes winds up in its septic system. The more water a household conserves, the less water enters the septic system. Efficient water use improves the operation of a septic system and reduces the risk of failure…