Septic Tank Pollution Threatening Indian River Lagoon

It’s not the most pleasant subject, but human waste from inappropriately located septic tanks is being blamed for polluting many of Florida’s waterways, including the Indian River Lagoon – the most biologically diverse lagoon ecosystem in the Northern Hemisphere.

Scientists at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute have found that nitrogen-laden sewage from septic tanks draining into the lagoon is responsible for algae blooms that kill seagrass and marine life.

Recent news stories in Florida Today and the TC Palm’s Treasure Coast Progress & Innovation magazine have raised the issue of problems caused by the estimated 300,000 septic tanks along the lagoon.

Here Are Some of the Key Takeaways:

  • An analysis by Florida Today found septic tanks contribute an estimated 2 million pounds of nitrogen in the lagoon per year.
  • Nitrogen promotes the growth of algae, which suffocates seagrass needed to sustain lagoon life.
    Thousands of the septic tanks near the lagoon are located at homes built before 1983, the cutoff when state law increased septic tank setbacks from the water and the distance between drain fields and the water table.
  • Many of the septic tanks are old and malfunctioning. State health officials estimate up to 10 percent of Florida’s 2.6 million septic tanks are failing.
  • Harbor Branch marine biologist Dr. Brian Lapointe describes sewage nitrogen as “the smoking gun’’ threatening the lagoon.

Risks from septic tanks aren’t unique to the Indian River Lagoon.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce supports a Proposed Committee Bill by the House State Affairs Committee, as well as SB 552 by Senator Charles Dean (R-Inverness), which require water quality restoration programs to address septic tanks contributing to springs pollution and will benefit all state water ways by focusing resources on cost-effective water quality improvement projects.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Northwest Florida Water Management District recently set aside $11.6 million in state money to fund several projects to remove septic tanks from waterways in the Panhandle.

North of Orlando, the DEP has launched a study of about the impact of septic tanks on the Wekiva River. The state has declared the river and nearby springs polluted with nitrogen and phosphorous.

ICYMI: Below are links to recent articles highlighting septic tank pollution.


Business VIPs Address Chamber

By Deborah Buckhalter, Jackson County Floridian

Stan Connally dropped a news bomb near the end of his talk Friday at the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce power lunch — the Gulf Power president announced plans to help create six training academies in the Panhandle to teach skills needed for work in the manufacturing sector.

Connally is helping steer a Panhandle alliance which aims to make the region more competitive in attracting worldwide manufacturing concerns to set up shop here and put people to work. That’s been known for some time. The alliance wants to help set up the training academies between here and Pensacola over time.

Gulf Power is also a driving force behind a related effort—the certification of 11 Panhandle sites as essentially shovel-ready for development. Three of those are in Jackson County, and include land near the Family Dollar Distribution Center, another near the State Road 71 interstate ramp, and a third site near the Marianna Municipal Airport. Working with a world-recognized consultant to get those certified can make those sites more marketable too potential manufacturing concerns as essentially shovel-ready for start up. With most permitting issues, environmental studies and other preliminary having already been taken care of in the certification process, the sites could be more attractive to companies looking for a place to get up and running quickly.

Attracting manufacturers is a key element in the critical need to diversify the local economy, he said.

He estimated that 15,000 manufacturing jobs will be available in the state over the next five years, while tourism might generate 63,000 in the same time period. Manufacturing jobs can command salaries of $60,000 on average, while in tourism the average is around $20,000. While tourism is important and ultimately might generate more jobs in the state over the next five years, it’s seasonal and very dependent on the economy from year to year. In the manufacturing sector, the establishment of one business can generate other start-ups that bring other jobs, as well, he pointed out.

Connally wasn’t alone in bringing that diversity message to the Chamber guests Friday. He had a fellow guest speaker. Taking the podium ahead of him was David Christian, Vice President of Government Affairs for the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Christian also talked about the importance of expanding the scope of local economies, but focused on an overview of his organization’s lobbying efforts in support of legislative actions that can help small, medium and large business concerns thrive in the Florida sunshine. He talked also about the importance of embracing educational curriculum policies that help students, from pre-K forward, prepare to manage their personal finances, gain marketable workplace skills in the fields of science, technology and other areas that prepare them to take high-paying jobs perhaps right out of high school.

Both men spoke of the importance of people working together within their communities and across county borders to make this region more attractive to job-producing businesses.