Cornelius Kossen (left) of the Stuart Public Works Department and Holwinster Alexis install a grinder tank in 2015 at a home on Osceola Street in Stuart. The system, which could be used if neighborhoods in northern Sewall's Point vote to switch from septic tanks to the Martin County sewer system, grinds sewage which is pumped through a 1.25-inch hose also buried in the yard into an established sewer line. (Photo: ERIC HASERT/TCPALM)

Turning the Toxic Tide: Florida must address the problem of human waste

Turning the Toxic Tide is a series of editorials published collectively by the six editorial boards of USA TODAY Network-Florida, with the goal of providing an environmental road map for Gov. Ron DeSantis, state legislators and Florida's congressional delegation. This is the fifth in the series.

Florida has a poop problem. And we need to clean up the mess.

There are an estimated 2.6 million septic tanks in our state. We don't know how many are properly functioning to ensure they don't leak into waterways because there's no inspection requirement. Florida had such a requirement for two years, until the state Legislature repealed that law in 2012. Milder attempts to crack down also failed, such as a bill requiring sellers to notify homebuyers that their home has a septic system.

Not all septic tanks in the state need to be removed — but even systems that are functioning properly can be a threat to the environment. Tanks installed on sandy soil or too close to waterways can be risky because there's not enough filtration of effluents. A properly maintained septic tank and drain field, combined, can remove up to 40 percent of significant nutrients.

Counties and municipalities along impaired waterways need help connecting more homes to sewer lines. Several bills are proposed in the current legislative session to allocate state matching dollars for that purpose and to bring back inspection requirements. One of those bills, filed by state Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Melbourne, would create a wastewater grant program, among other things. Gov. Ron DeSantis has made the environment a priority, so ending session without a dedicated fund would be a letdown.

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