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Report: failing septic tanks degrade water quality

May 15, 2019
By CHUCK BALLARO ( , North Fort Myers Neighbor

The coalition of Lee County mayors and the Lee County Board of County Commissioners held a special meeting last week to discuss a contributory cause to water quality degradation: failing and ill-maintained septic tanks.

North Fort Myers has thousands ot properties with septic tanks and officials fear many have never been pumped out.

The mayors learned about the North Fort Myers Nutrient and Bacteria Source Identification Study during the special workshop meeting and learned that ill-fitting septic systems have had a major impact on water quality.

Septic tank failures, along with urban runoff, such as pet waste, fertilizers and impervious surfaces, agricultural runoff, wildlife and wastewater, has resulted in impairment of the Caloosahatchee Estuary with fecal coliform and nutrients entering the water, according to the study.

The blue-green algae algal blooms, as well as red tide, were the result of nutrient-rich water.

Areas such as North Shore Park have been closed regularly because of persistently high bacteria levels.

Commissioner Brian Hamman said it was nice to be able to give the mayors accurate information. One of the realities of area water issues are septic systems that are decades old.

"The study showed that septic systems that don't work properly are having a big impact on the water. They looked for pharmaceuticals and sucralose, two things animals don't eat. The waste they are finding is from humans," Hamman said.

The problem septic systems tend to be in low elevation, high water table areas near the Caloosahatchee. One of the biggest needs is to get these properties with septic onto sewer, the study found.

The problem with that is cost.

In Cape Coral, it will cost more than $100 million to expand utilities in the North 2 section of the city alone.

"There are places where septic tanks are a fine application. The real thing that was brought up is that you need 3.5 feet of sand or separation between the drainfield and the water table," Hamman said. "Along the banks of the Caloosahatchee, there was no separation. They actually found the ground water table would rise into the drainfield so the waste would wash into the groundwater and into the river."

Hamman said the state is looking to help through grants to coastal communities and those with lots of septic. By doing this study, Hamman said they now have data that proves they have a problem.

"We would be first in line to provide evidence to the state that we would qualify for the grants. Hopefully, that would offset the costs to the residents here," Hamman said.

Cape Coral Mayor Joe Coviello said the septic tank situation in North Fort Myers has him thinking about the septic systems that still exist in Cape Coral.

"It may be time to think about what we're doing," Coviello said.



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