ARIPEKA -The magnolia tree in the yard next to Mabel Baker's home has been looking remarkably healthier since the septic tank contents there started spewing out of the ground.
"This is where it comes up," Baker said, pointing down at three holes atop the septic mound where small rocks are scattered about.
"They tried to put rocks in it as a solution instead of fixing the pipe, but that didn't work. When it bubbles out it's like a geyser, and it dribbles down naturally and collects at the end of the driveway."
And the drainage system there, currently backed up with stormwater, empties out into the ocean canal behind the home.
When the tide rises, Baker said, that water gets pushed back in the direction of freshwater springs.
"I've been here 20 years, and I used to swim in this canal, but I haven't for years during the rainy season because all these septic tanks just drain out there," Baker said, leaning against her neighbor's fence downwind from the failing septic mound. "I can smell it from here."
That's why the Health Department is getting involved again. The home's registered owner, John Reszetar, who rents out the property, could not be reached for comment.
This is not the first time the property has had septic issues, said Environmental Health Manager Al Gray. From his office in Brooksville, Gray could already see a potential health hazard at the Gulf Drive property.
"In the past it had been saturated, and you can tell if it surfaces and recedes," Gray said. "When we do these possible repair permits, we look at water use, and they are way over."
It's a smaller, older septic system designed for 200 gallons of water a day, Gray said, but with the number of tenants renting the home, water use during some months exceeded 300 gallons a day. That was one reason a health inspector viewed the property Thursday.
"It looks like it's been saturating for a long time. Because of the pennyworts growing around there, which have a shallow root system," Gray said. "In order to grow on land they need water within six inches, and that's an indicator there's water very near the surface, and in this case it's waste water."
If the septic system backs up, and there's drainage, there's a threat of exposure to fecal coliform bacteria, Gray said. It's also an indicator of possible disease-causing bacteria and viruses, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
"The inspector said the septic system is failing, and we are going to issue an official notice to abate a sanitary nuisance," Gray said. "The owner will have to get a repair permit."
The original septic system backed up so often that the previous tenant, Russell Benney, said he had to pay out of pocket several times to have the tank pumped.
"That old septic was right back there at the back of the house under the overhang," he said. "It would overflow and come right out the top of that. The sewage was backing up and running all up over the back into the grass and everything."
Benney, his wife, and two daughters lived there for more than a year, he said, and when the owner in Michigan refused to pay to repair it, Benney said he refused to pay to live there.
"It would back up into the kitchen sink even, it was that bad," Benney said. "The toilets were always overflowing, and it would come up into the bathtub all the time."
Benney said he complained to the courts about it, but was ultimately served an eviction. That's what got the county's attention, Benney said. They had to go to the property to serve the eviction in person.
"My wife still has a video of the sewer backing up and running all up over the back of the grass," he said. "They did replace it right after I left when the new people were in there."
The new septic system at the front side of the home passed a previous inspection back in April, according to Gray, and had no wastewater on the ground.
The new tenants are following precedent. They've ended their lease, and in coming weeks will part ways from the scenic Aripeka canal.
"The owner is responsible," Gray said. "We're going to contact him, and that will require corrective action."