Hernando poised to become first county to opt out of septic tank inspections

May 7, 2012

The following article was published in the Florida Current on May 7, 2012:

Hernando poised to become first county to opt out of septic tank inspections

By Bruce Ritchie

Hernando County is poised to become the first county to opt out of requiring septic tank inspections under HB 1263.

The Legislature in 2010 adopted SB 550 requiring statewide septic tank inspections. Supporters, including industry and environmental groups, said the requirement would help protect springs and groundwater.

The requirement later prompted a backlash that led to legislation to delay or repeal it. HB 1263, a Department of Health reorganization bill passed this year, repealed the requirement for most counties.

The 19 counties with the largest “first-magnitude” springs (with flows exceeding 64.6 million gallons per day) are required to conduct limited inspections unless they first opt out by Jan. 1, 2013.

Hernando, with Weeki Wachee Springs, is one of those counties and its county commission is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a resolution opting out. Hernando County Commissioner Dave Russell Jr. says residents don’t need to run the risk of having a $5,000 system overhaul that an inspection system could bring.

“The thing about a septic tank, when it quits working or isn’t functioning properly, that usually gets repaired pretty quick,” he said. “Here in Hernando County we have 55,000 septic tanks. Most of them are located in areas where we have high percolation rates.”

HB 1263 passed with support from groups including Florida Home Builders Association, Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Onsite Wastewater Association. Supporters said the 2010 legislation requiring inspections went too far but some inspection system was needed.

Sierra Club Florida and the Florida Stormwater Association, which includes local government stormwater officials, opposed the measure because of limits it placed on county inspection programs.

Robert L. Knight, director of Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute, said the 2010 inspection requirement was only “window dressing” anyway when it comes to protecting springs and groundwater from nitrogen.

Conventional septic tanks, he said, do little to prevent nitrogen from reaching groundwater, regardless of whether they are operating properly. He said fertilizer use is a larger culprit in causing springs to become choked with algae, along with excessive pumping that threatens the future flow of groundwater to springs.

But he also said it’s ridiculous that people shouldn’t have some expense for properly maintaining their septic tanks.

“You can’t avoid everything in this world,” he said. “You are having an effect on your neighbors. It should be all right to require some kind of inspection at some cost.”

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