5-year septic tank inspection mandate eliminated

Historic City News reporters learned that a controversial statewide septic tank mandate, passed by the Florida Legislature in 2010, was eliminated when Governor Rick Scott signed HB-1263 into law Friday; over objections from the Sierra Club, who requested a veto.

Rural residents reached in St Johns County said they feel “relieved” that a statewide requirement that septic tanks be inspected every five years has been eliminated. When SB-550 was enacted in 2010, it triggered a backlash from families served by septic tanks and family farmers.

Further, any local septic tank inspection programs are restricted under the new law and attempts by cities or counties to require a septic tank inspection when a home is being sold are prohibited.

HB-1263 was supported by groups including the Florida Home Builders Association, Florida Realtors, the Florida Onsite Wastewater Association, and Associated Industries of Florida.

Objectors, environmentalist groups including the Sierra Club, and a cohort of local utility agencies named “Florida Stormwater Association”, blamed increasing nitrogen levels in springs and groundwater on septic tanks, farms, fertilizer and dirty stormwater runoff.

Of Florida’s more than 700 recognized springs, only 33 discharge more than 64 million gallons of water per day; qualifying them as “first magnitude springs”. Of those springs, located in nineteen Florida counties, none is located in St Johns County.

Critics say the new law allows groundwater and springs to become contaminated because of a new definition of a “system failure”. Under the new law, a system failure only occurs when sewage flows onto the ground, into a surface water, or backs up into a house.

In addition to repealing the locally contentious inspection requirement on septic tanks, the bill reorganizes and streamlines Florida’s largest health care agency.

A move by health officials and some legislators to sever the relationship between county health departments and the Florida Department of Health was quashed by the new law. Scott and the Florida Association of Counties opposed any shift in responsibility to the local level. The new law removes an onus on local governments to apply for block grants to help fund programs run by the local health departments.

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