Realtor Cheryl Lambert mug for Biz

A few months ago, I brought up a “dirty” subject that we don’t talk about much. Yes, I’m talking about the “s” word — septic.

Big changes are happening with septic tanks in Florida and I felt it was important to bring you into the conversation early, so you were well informed. Now that some time has passed, I wanted to come back to you with an update on where things stand.

First, a little refresher. Two years ago, the Florida Legislature passed a massive environmental bill to help protect many of our state’s natural resources. One of the issues the bill tackled was making sure the nutrient levels in the state’s springs stayed at environmentally safe levels. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) started the project by identifying different water bodies across the state, pinpointing the causes of their high nutrient levels and developing remediation plans that would help them reach an approved nutrient level.

The Department of Health (DOH) is responsible for regulating septic tanks, so they developed guidelines that could mitigate the impacts of septic systems in these areas. Those guidelines became law at the beginning of this month and only affect new construction projects.

Here’s how the new guidelines break down. Parcel owners within impacted areas that are building new construction on an acre or less of land will first need to determine if they can connect to central sewer. If central sewer is in their area, the homeowner will be required to connect. If they can’t connect, but sewer will be coming to them soon, they can install a conventional non-nitrogen-reducing system, but will be required to connect to sewer once it is available.

If sewer is not scheduled for their area, then they will need to install a nitrogen-reducing onsite treatment and disposal system, such as an in-ground, passive nitrogen-reducing system. These systems use additional soil and media layers to reduce nitrogen flow to the aquifer. There are also options of aerobic treatment units and performance-based treatment systems.

Just to reiterate, the new guidelines only affect new construction and do not have any impact on existing septic systems. DEP and DOH will continue to work with the Florida Legislature to identify funding that will incentivize homeowners with standard systems to upgrade their septic technology. In the coming weeks, DEP will begin an incentive program to encourage the enhancement of conventional septic systems by adding features that will reduce nitrogen. This program is designed to provide up to $10,000 for the instillation of enhanced nitrogen reducing features to existing septic systems located in these areas. To learn more about this program, I would encourage you to visit DEP’s website.

That’s where things currently stand with these new guidelines, but this is an ongoing effort and both DOH and DEP will continue their work to protect our springs. Florida Realtors has been engaged in the progress of this issue and has posted a document, created by DEP, titled “What Homeowners and Realtors Need to Know.”

I encourage you to review this document to understand how the current changes to septic guidelines may impact you. You can also contact your County Health Department with any questions you may have.

Cheryl Lambert — legislative chair for the Realtors Association of Citrus County — is the broker/owner of the Only Way Realty Citrus. She is a past president of the Realtors Association of Citrus County in 2013, past District 7 vice president of Florida Realtors in 2014 and is currently Florida Realtors 2018 treasurer. She is an active broker/owner who specializes in affordable/attainable housing and is active in legislative issues surrounding this topic.