The dark side of staying green

Fertilizers and other chemicals applied many miles from the county’s coastal rivers can have a negative impact on the fragile waterways. Many homeowners living on the shoreline of these rivers also impact the waters with aging septic tanks and fertilizer and other chemicals applied to their lawns.

Editor's note: Due to reporter error, this story incorrectly reported the average cost of the installation of a new septic system. The story has been updated to reflect the actual average cost. The Chronicle regrets the error.

A state environmental official Friday tried to tamp down fears that new septic tank regulations going into effect July 1 will force some homeowners to spend big bucks to replace their existing tanks with more environmentally friendly systems.

Greg DeAngelo, with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), said the new state-mandated nitrogen-reducing tanks will indeed be built into the costs of new homes. Depending on the size of the home, the national average cost to install a typical, single-family home septic tank system is $4,000 to $14,000. Homeowners could pay two or three times that amount under new regulations.

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There’s no getting around increased costs for new construction, said DeAngelo, guest speaker at Friday’s Citrus County Chamber of Commerce luncheon at Citrus Hills Golf and Country Club.

But DeAngelo said the loudest cries are coming mostly from existing homeowners who believe they will be required to swap out their current tanks a of July 1. Not true, he said. The new law only goes into effect when those existing owners must repair, enhance or replace their current systems. And the new mandate won’t kick in until the state has in place a funding mechanism to reimburse homeowners for the new environmental features.

So except for the normal cost of septic tank repair, the financial hit many are expecting will not occur, DeAngelo said.

DeAngelo uses this example:

Your existing septic tank system fails. The contractor determines that it’s bad enough that he must pull a permit from the Florida Department of Health (which issues septic tank permits). Instead of a $5,000 repair bill, the homeowner might be looking at a $10,000 bill.

“That extra $5,000 for the nitrogen-enhancing features will be reimbursable from the state,” DeAngelo said. “(And) the requirement to make that upgrade isn’t going to start until that funding mechanism is in place.”

The new septic tank regulation is part of the Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act state legislators passed two years ago.

The goal is to remove harmful nitrates in area waterways and springs that can produce invasive aquatic vegetation that kills plants and fish.

DeAngelo said new homes built within a priority focus area will have to have the enhanced septic tanks installed if the lots are less than one acre near the springs (mainly King’s Bay and Crystal River). They are exempt if the property is connected to central sewer or are expected to get new sewer lines within five years.

DeAngelo said the new state mandate may account for the rise in new-home permits from the Florida Department of Health as new home-buyers rush to get in under current septic tank prices.

Critics of this new law say that septic tanks are not the biggest culprit in springs’ contamination. The worst offenders, they maintain, are runoff from fertilizer and other agricultural sources. DeAngelo said Citrus County springs are “a perfect mix” of all three pollutant sources.

DeAngelo said it’s not like septic is being picked on. The state is looking at fertilizer usage and best practice agricultural methods in Citrus County, as well, to try and protect the springs.

Jim Morton, broker with Century 21 J.W. Morton Real Estate, told the Chronicle recently that all involved have to “bite the bullet and save the environment.”

“If it’s going to cost an extra $10,000 for the house, that’s what it is,” he said. “That’s the reality of life. It will hurt the market to a degree but when you look at our pricing (in Citrus County), it’s already cheaper.”

Morton said the expected price hikes “need to be intelligently addressed” while protecting water resources.

“The nitrates are filtering into the water table and have been for many years and it is polluting the table,” Morton said. “I think this (the new regulations) is necessary. It’s for the environment.”

Contact Chronicle reporter Michael D. Bates at 352-563-5660, mbates@chronicleonline.com.