Onsite Treatment and Disposal Systems
Girl wades in a Florida spring
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Learn More About New Rules for Septic Tanks & Other Systems

Efforts to reduce high nutrient levels in Florida’s springs have led to new state guidelines regarding onsite treatment and disposal systems, such as septic tanks.

In 2016, the Florida Legislature passed an environmental bill that was aimed at protecting many of Florida’s natural resources. One of the issues this bill tackled was making sure the nutrient levels in the state’s springs stayed at environmentally safe levels.

The two main government agencies involved in this effort are the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Florida Department of Health (DOH).

DEP started the project by identifying different water bodies across the state, specifically some of the Outstanding Florida Springs, and pinpointing the causes of their high nutrient levels. DEP also began to develop Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs) for these water bodies, and if polluted, would develop and administer remediation plans to help them reach their approved nutrient levels.

After studying these water bodies, DEP identified specific Priority Focus Areas (PFAs) that are crucial to their environmental health. Within those PFAs, it was identified that Onsite Treatment and Disposal Systems are some of the biggest contributors to the high nutrient levels. Since DOH is the state agency charged with regulating these systems, it is their responsibility to develop new rules to address this issue.

Here are answers to some commonly asked questions about the new rules and how they affect onsite treatment and disposal systems, such as septic, in Florida.:

Q: What changes does the new rule make?

A: In April, DOH held a rule hearing to discuss guidelines that could mitigate the negative impacts of Onsite Treatment and Disposal Systems in the PFAs. As a result of that hearing, and subsequent feedback from individuals and organizations that would be affected by the changes, DOH developed proposed rule 64E-6.009.

The proposed rule states that for parcel owners of less than one acre within a PFA with an existing Onsite Treatment and Disposal System that is in working condition, nothing needs to be done immediately. However, it is encouraged that parcel owners get an upgrade but is not required until it is indicated in DEP’s remediation plan and the system needs significant repairs or modifications.

For parcel owners within a PFA that are building new construction on an acre or less of land, you will first need to figure out if you have the availability to connect to central sewer. If you can’t, but you know that sewer will be coming to you soon, then you can install a conventional non-nitrogen-reducing system but will be required to connect to sewer once it is available.

If sewer is not scheduled for your area, then you will need to install a nitrogen-reducing Onsite Treatment and Disposal System, such as an in-ground, passive nitrogen-reducing system. These systems use additional soil and media layers to reduce nitrogen flow to the aquifer.

Q: How do I know if this new rule will affect me?

A: People affected by this new rule are those meeting all the below criteria:

1) Your property resides in a PFA located in one of the following 20 counties: Alachua, Citrus, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Hernando, Jackson, Jefferson, Lafayette, Leon, Levy, Madison, Marion, Orange, Pasco, Seminole, Suwannee, Volusia, Wakulla. You can use this map to determine if your property is in a PFA.

2) You have an onsite treatment and disposal system, such as a septic tank, or are planning new construction that will include the installation of one of these systems.

3) The property with the system is on an acre or less of land.

If you do not meet all three criteria listed above then you will not be affected by the new rule.

Q: When will the new rule take effect?

A: The new rule is expected to be adopted on July 1, 2018.

Q: If I am someone affected by the new rule, what exactly do I have to do?

A: The main thing the rule is requiring is the installation of a nitrogen-reducing Onsite Treatment and Disposal System, such as an in-ground, passive nitrogen-reducing system. These systems use additional soil and media layers to reduce nitrogen flow to the aquifer.

However, once the rule goes into effect you will only need to install one of these systems if you are building new construction that is not scheduled to be connected to sewer.

If you have new construction that is scheduled to be connected to sewer then you can install a conventional septic system but will need to connect to sewer once it is available.

Additionally, if you have an existing system that is in working condition then you do not have to do anything until DEP’s remediation plan for your area requires it, or your system needs significant repairs or modifications.

Q: Are there any alternatives to the installation of a nitrogen-reducing system?

A: There are also options of Aerobic Treatment Units and Performance Based Treatment Systems; however, those are much more expensive.

Q: Who can I talk to for more information about this?

A: If you have any questions, please call your County Health Department. You may also call DOH’s Onsite Sewage Program office at 850-245-4070.

 

For additional information on the rule changes affecting onsite treatment and disposal systems, click the links below.

For more information on a septic upgrade incentive program that coincides with these new rules, click the links below.