WEEKI WACHEE - A bill passed by the state legislature last December that would have mandated septic evaluations for 19 counties and three cities in the state with first magnitude springs - like Hernando County and Weeki Wachee - outlined an option somewhat odd for legislation seeking a policy change: the option not to comply.
"House Bill 1263 changes the law related to when to have your septic system evaluated," according to a Florida Department of Health release. "The law gives local governments the choice on whether or not to adopt an evaluation program for their area."
And as of January, all 19 counties and three cities that were required to take action on septic tank inspections under the bill, passed by the 2012 Legislature, voted to opt out of that requirement, according to the DOH.
However, county and municipal governments can vote to implement new standards for septic evaluation at any time, according to the bill.
Last May, and one month after Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill into law, county commissioners voted unanimously to opt out of the program, saying at the time that non-affected taxpayers should not be made to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars in septic tank inspections and repairs, and that the better way is to establish a local ordinance and target certain areas.
Septic evaluation costs can vary based on the size and complexity of the septic system, according to the DOH. Contractors set their own prices and also factor in the cost of area sewage disposal, but a typical pump out for a standard 1,000 gallon septic tank costs around $250. However, after local government fees are set, the total expected cost would be around $500 and $600.
Neither Hernando Health Director Al Gray, nor the health department's contact for the City of Weeki Wachee could be reached for comment.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection sought public input about the diminishing water quality of the Weeki Wachee Spring and Weeki Wachee River just last week, which have been verified by the department as impaired due to an ecological imbalance in the water's nutrients, and attributed in part to runoff from septic tanks.
FDEP Spokesperson Patrick Gillespie said the department will look at all the potential contributors to diminishing water qualities with the river and the spring, and that once a goal is set to reduce their nitrate levels, then the department will work with potential local contributors to prevent pollutants from re-entering into the water system.
"We present this 90-page plan and take public comment and incorporate that public comment into the plan to make it final, and go from an initial draft to a more stable draft after the public comments, then publish that as a rule," he said.
Once a restoration plan is implemented for the two water bodies it becomes enforceable by law, Gillespie said.
"Whether it's best management practices for agriculture, whether it's the amount of discharge a business has in a specific area, it's about looking at what we can do to reduce the nitrates for the spring and the river, and get to that goal," Gillespie said.
According to the most recent Springs Coast Basins Assessment Report, Weeki Wachee Springs has the highest nitrate concentrations in the Springs Coast basin - a general indicator of groundwater contamination above 3 mg/L.
The nitrate mainly comes from inorganic sources in the immediate area of the springs, principally residential and golf course fertilizers, and the increase in nitrates in Weeki Wachee Springs since the 1940s mirrors the growth in the area's population and the development of large, coastal residential subdivisions adjacent to Weeki Wachee.