Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Septic Tank Law

From FloridasHealth.com
Statewide Septic Tank Evaluation Program
"Proper septic system maintenance is a commonly overlooked responsibility. Failing systems are a significant threat to our health and our water quality. Property owners can save themselves a lot of money and trouble by following a few simple guidelines." - Ben Grumbles, Assistant Administrator of the Office of Water, US EPA
The evaluation program was created to ensure all onsite sewage treatment systems in the State are working properly and to identify any failures. Like your car, home air conditioner, or water heater, your onsite systems require routine maintenance - pump outs to remove solids and scum that accumulate over time in the tank. Excess solids and scum can cause your plumbing to back up or your drainfield to fail leading to costly clean-ups and repairs and pollution to Florida's waters. The dollars you invest in having your system maintained can save you thousands in repair cost. Fixing failing systems will go a long way to address concerns about springs protection, as well as US EPA mandates to clean up Florida's waters.
  • The evaluation program will be phased in beginning on January 1, 2011.
  • The implementation schedule is under development.
  • The department must provide 60 days notice to system owners that the evaluation is required.
  • Evaluation procedures are under development but must include tank and drainfield evaluation and an assessment of system condition.
  • Evaluations must be performed by registered septic tank contractors, professional engineers, or certified environmental health professionals.
  • Owners are responsible for the costs of the evaluation (including pump-out), repairs or replacements. The cost of the pump-out will vary according to the size and number of tanks to be pumped-out on a given property.
  • Any system installed or serviced in the previous 5 years, where capacity and condition of the tank is documented as satisfactory, may omit the pump-out requirement from the evaluation.
  • The evaluator is responsible for submitting the report to the local county health department.
Follow and participate in the development of this program by visiting the Technical Review and Advisory Panel (TRAP) link on the Department of Health's Bureau of Onsite Sewage Programs web page:
The next TRAP meeting is scheduled for October 28, 2010 at the Capital Circle Office Complex in Tallahassee. In addition, public workshops have been scheduled as follows:
Date and Time: October 12, 2010 from 9:00 am until 12:00 noon, Eastern Time Place: John P. D'Alessandro State Office Building 2295 Victoria Avenue Fort Myers, Florida 33901 Room 165C
Date and Time: October 14, 2010 from 9:00 am until 12:00 noon, Eastern Time Place: Broward County Health Department 780 SW 24th Street Ft. Lauderdale, Florida 33315
Date and Time: October 18, 2010 from 9:00 am until 12:00 noon, Eastern Time Place: Conference Room 152 Betty Easley Conference Center 4075 Esplanade Way Tallahassee, Florida 32399
Date and Time: October 21, 2010 from 9:00 am until 12:00 noon, Central Time Place: DeFuniak Springs Community Center 361 N 10th Street DeFuniak Springs, Florida 32433
Workshop Handout (462 kb pdf)
Frequently Asked Questions:
  1. When will the program start? Notifications will begin in January 2011.
  2. I had my tank pumped out last year. Will I be exempt from the evaluation program? The law does not exempt you from the evaluation, but tanks that have been pumped and certified within the previous five years do not have to be pumped.
  3. Will the evaluator be digging up my yard and drainfield? The evaluator will have to uncover your tank manholes for access to pump out your tank and check that it is watertight. They will not be digging up your drainfield but will need to auger a small (4 - 6 inch) hole to determine the wettest season water table.
  4. Why the concern about separation from the wettest season water table? Onsite systems rely on dry soil to provide treatment. Research in Florida has found that 24 inches of dry soil is needed to remove pathogens and treat your sewage to protect both your and your neighbors' health.
  5. Will I have to upgrade my system to one of the new performance based treatment systems? No, the law does not require upgrades to performance based treatment systems.
  6. What will this cost? The most significant cost will come if your tanks require pump out. These costs vary around the state, due primarily to disposal costs, but can range from $150 to $450 per tank. Pump out cost also depends on the size and number of tanks to be pumped. The evaluation cost will be set by individual evaluators, but is estimated to be in the $150 to $200 range, including the reporting fee that the department estimated at $30 per system.
  7. I am on a limited income. What if I cannot afford this? The bill establishes a grant program for low-income families. The department also proposes to allow low-income families to request a one-time, one year extension to their evaluation deadline.
  8. I live in a small, rural county. When will I have to do this? The current proposal is to begin with a limited number of systems in all counties and phase-in the evaluations over the next five years. Evaluations would begin with those systems most recently installed and work backwards from the installation date.
  9. Are there enough private onsite contractors and county health department personnel to implement the mandatory onsite inspection program? The program will be phased in over five years allowing time to recruit, train, and license/certify new staff and contractors.

  10. What is the "average" septic tank capacity? What is the "average" time to fill a septic tank with normal usage? Five years? Seven years? The capacity of a typical modern septic tank is 900 - 1200 gallons. Estimated peak flow for a 3 bedroom house is 300 gallons per day. The time to fill a septic tank with sludge and scum until it no longer serves its function depends on usage and individual practices. US EPA recommends tanks be inspected every 3 - 5 years. An inspection program allows identification of those households that fill their septic tank up faster, as well as identification of other problems, such as leaking septic tanks, broken lids, failing drainfields and illegal discharges.
  11. What happens when a septic tank is full and is still being used? How long can a septic tank operate in this condition? When a septic tank is full of solids, the septic tank can not fulfill its function of retaining solids. If the solids move into the drainfield, they can clog the drainfield, requiring an expensive drainfield replacement. A full septic tank can also lead to sewage backing up from the tank into the house or to the ground surface.
  12. How many septic tanks operate per year in this condition? A survey in Duval County has been summarized as finding about 11% of systems with problems. The types of violations detected were typically: (1) drain field located below groundwater table, (2) direct connections between the drainfield and a stream, and (3) structural failures.
  13. How many repair permits are issued each year? 14,000 - 16,000.
  14. What is the average cost of a septic tank repair? Does a pump-out usually solve the problem? A pump out would generally fix an initial back up of sewage into the home, but if the drainfield has become clogged this is only a short-term fix. The cost of a repair varies based upon what is required. Some systems may just need the drainfield replaced, while others may need a complete system replacement. The amount of fill required, if any, will also impact the cost.
  15. What is the average life of a septic tank? The average life of a system depends on usage and maintenance. In Florida, system age at the time a repair permit is issued is around 20 years. Some systems have failed within 3-5 years while others have functioned for over 30 years.
  16. How many septic tank failures occur per year in Florida? The department tracks repair permits issued as an indication of the failure rate. The number of repair permits indicates that Florida's failure rate is about 1%, but national data and surveys in Monroe, Franklin, Duval, and Charlotte counties indicates the actual failure rate is much higher. The inspection program will help us accurately determine the failure rate.
  17. What is the cost of a new septic tank versus the cost of complying with a mandatory five year inspection and pump-out program over a twenty year period? Over a twenty year period, the evaluation program should cost the owner from $1500 to $2000. A complete new system averages $5000 - $7500, but can be over $10,000 depending on the specific circumstances.
  18. What is the evidence that a five year inspection program will increase the life of a septic tank by fifty percent? What is the average cost savings from above? This is a rough estimate based on reduction of drainfield failures. There are no other statewide programs where we can get information on the effectiveness of onsite maintenance programs. Door-to-door surveys in Franklin County, along the Suwannee River, and in the Florida Keys found significant problems with onsite systems, many due to age and a lack of maintenance. The inspection program will identify such problems.
  19. What does the EPA recommend in regard to mandatory inspections and pump-outs? Do any other groups/organizations recommend pump-outs every three to five years? Are there any documents or materials that back up the EPA's position? EPA recommends an inspection every three years and tank pump-outs as recommended at the inspection (generally 3-5 years). The National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Organization (NOWRA), composed of regulators, industry, and manufacturers, also recommends routine inspections and pump outs (as required for onsite systems). EPA's 1966 Report to Congress, National Water Quality Inventory, estimated that between 10-20% of onsite systems are not adequately treating waste, that half are more than 30 years old and more likely to malfunction, and that onsite systems are the second greatest threat to groundwater quality.
  20. How will a regular inspection program impact proposed EPA numeric nutrient standards for Florida? How does the EPA nutrient program operate? Water quality standards are established under the Clean Water Act. These are goals for the protection of aquatic ecosystems, safe recreation and fishing, and water supplies. These water quality standards include numeric nutrient criteria. These criteria include the level of nitrogen and phosphorus (nutrients) allowed in a waterbody to maintain the Clean Water Act goals. EPA is adopting water quality criteria for nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) which will apply to Florida's lakes, streams, and estuaries. These criteria will be enforced by permits and through the total maximum daily load program. Domestic wastewater contains high concentrations of both nitrogen and phosphorus. Onsite Sewage Treatment and Disposal Systems (onsite systems) provide some treatment and management of nitrogen and phosphorus, but the amount of treatment is dependent on whether the system is installed correctly and working properly. Onsite systems that are not working properly contribute to both surface and ground water pollution. In the absence of an inspection program we do not know the full extent of failing systems within the state. An inspection program will serve to identify areas with failing systems and the correction of those failing systems will reduce their contribution to surface and groundwater pollution.
  21. What is the cost of the EPA's nutrient program, and are there any savings associated with implementing a mandatory onsite inspection and pump-out program? Nitrogen and phosphorus is produced by many sources associated with people. Because of how common and widespread the sources are, the costs for controlling the levels of nitrogen and phosphorus is significant. DEP has estimated the costs for achieving compliance with the EPA criteria proposed for lakes and streams to be in the range of 5 to 8 billion dollars. Florida's onsite inspection program represents a methodical approach to identifying one source of nutrient contamination. This will help us to take the best actions to reduce the impact of onsite treatment systems. In the absence of knowing where the failing systems are located and how many exist there is no way to determine the amount of nutrient pollution coming from failing onsite treatment systems. In some areas of the state where there has been a high rate of documented septic tank failures, these failing systems have been identified as a source of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution to surface and ground waters.
  22. Are there any other DEP or EPA water quality programs that will be impacted by a mandatory onsite inspection and pump out program? State and Federal water quality criteria also limits the amount of bacteria allowable in lakes, streams, and estuaries. Failing onsite treatment systems can create unacceptable levels of bacteria in surface and groundwater. An inspection program is a proactive step towards preventing these human health hazards that are associated with failing onsite treatment systems.


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