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Hidden problem? Florida’s history of septic tanks

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — There are almost 3 million septic systems across the state of Florida — 90,000 in Orange County alone.

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Most of the systems operate efficiently, serving as a low-cost way to handle waste.

However, not all systems are maintained, and when they fail, it can mean waste in either the house, yard or even the water system.

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“The septic system is buried in the ground — out of sight, out of mind. And until something happens that affects the drainage, they don’t even pay attention to it,” says Frank Cervasio of Drainage Solutions.

The problem, as Frank notes, is that much like a car, a septic system needs to have regular maintenance to operate efficiently.

“It needs to be pumped out and checked. If you do that, they can last a very long time,” says Frank.

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For years, Florida has struggled to deal with leaking and poorly maintained septic tanks. An FAU study of the Indian River Lagoon found, “groundwater had significantly higher dissolved nutrient concentrations, nutrient ratios and more enriched stable nitrate isotopes than surface waters, indicating septic system-enriched groundwater as a nitrogen source to adjacent surface waters.”

To deal with septic tanks, many cities and counties have started transitioning homes off of septic and onto sewer.

“It is definitely a big priority for us,” said Orange County Manager of Engineering Lindy Wolfe.  “We are looking at the entire county as a whole to see what other areas may be vulnerable to conventional septic tanks.”

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Right now, Orange County is working to transition about 1,600 homes off septic and onto sewer. The county is working in the Wekiva Springs area through a partnership with the state to split the costs of the connections, which can run as much as $60,000 per parcel of land.

“It is important for us to identify the places where we can have the most impact,” says Wolfe.

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