The takeaway message:
Florida lawmakers are still grappling with the state’s poop problem and are working on legislation to limit the amount of waste that leaks into our waterways.
What’s going on?
Brevard County Republican Randy Fine has filed a House bill to help stop raw sewage from spilling into the Indian River Lagoon. The measure would water quality projects like upgrading wastewater facilities and connecting septic tank users to central sewer systems. Similar bills were filed last year, but never gained traction. In Orange County, neighborhoods near Wekiwa Springs and Rock Springs are getting ready to make the switch from septic to sewer as part of the Basin Management Action Plan that aims to reduce spring pollution blamed on septic runoff and fertilizers.
Commissioners in Brevard County unanimously approved a six-month moratorium on the expanded application of biosolids, or sewage sludge, which are used to fertilize beef cattle pastures. Biosolids contain nitrogen and phosphorus, nutrients known to fuel algae blooms. But which is better for the environment — commercial fertilizer or biosolids—is still up for debate. A recent small-scale study found that nutrients from commercially available inorganic fertilizers enter surface water more easily than those same nutrients from biosolids. Further research is needed.
In October, the Pinellas County Commission voted 5-1 to ban horseback riding in the area’s waters, stating that the horse manure is causing bacteria levels to spike in some regions of Tampa Bay.
Why it matters.
As the third most populous state in the U.S., Florida is home to more than 21 million people, and hosts more than 100 million tourists annually. That means we have a lot of waste, and the places to store and dispose of that waste are limited.
Additionally, the state’s sandy soil, wet climate and porous landscape can make it difficult for wastewater to be properly treated in the septic drain field in some locations, and excess nutrients can end up in rivers, lakes, springs and estuaries. Hurricanes and rising sea levels increasingly overwhelm aging wastewater and stormwater systems, causing spills.
When wastewater gets into our waterways, the bacteria can pose a risk to public health. Wastewater also brings nutrients that can lead to problems like harmful algal blooms.
What can I do?
- Take these 8 steps to reduce your personal nutrient pollution.
- Find out if you have a septic system.
- If you have a septic system, familiarize yourself with best practices for maintaining it.
Where can I learn more?
- About nitrogen and phosphorus pollution.
- About how septic systems work.
- About wastewater in Florida.