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A primer on county’s septic tank inspection program

Charlotte Sun – FL – Dec 2, 2008 Dale Watson column

A good question that should be asked is why Charlotte County does not spend as much energy explaining to it’s citizens about the managed septic tank plan as it did about touting the penny sales tax. I find most people do no understand what is happening in the County regarding septic tank inspection. Those people on sewer say, “Well, nothing to me. I’m on sewer. I don’t even want to know about it.” But for those of us using septic tanks it is a real cause for concern.

 

So to learn a bit more I went to the health department and met with Herman Velasco. He is the environmental administrator of the state health department in Charlotte county. He is working to try to extend new sewer installations in areas where it is feasible to do so economically. Additional sewers, of course, will eliminate some septic tanks, which is desirable.

 

Velasco indicated that the septic tanks in the county are generally old and, further, the soil in the county is not well suited for percolation of the effluent downward but rather it tends to go out laterally. But as a bit of good news he indicated that if a septic tank is pumped out at least every five years it should last without problems for many, many years. My intent was to find out exactly what was happening with the tank inspections.

 

A little of history. In 2000 ordinance 97-95 was promulgated to start a managed septic program. It was never implemented. Then in 2003 the commission passed an ordinance requiring that a residence built on a lot of 10,000 square feet or less must have an aerobic treatment plant instead of a baseline septic tank.

 

The county wished to open the lock on the Manchester waterway. The state advised they would not allow this unless the county implemented the managed septic program. The managed septic program was started and the lock was opened.

 

The state required that septic tanks in the Spring Lake/Manchester watershed be tested and if found defective they must be repaired or replaced. Initially, it was thought that the test area was along just the waterways but it turns out that the state’s definition of the watershed area comprises all the area between highway 776 and U.S. 41. In that area there about 9,000 septic tanks. Quite a difference in area from that initially believed to be the problem area. To date about 4,500 tanks have been tested and only 350 have been found to be defective.

 

An alarming condition was found this past summer. Water in various swales was tested and found to be contaminated. An alarming concentration of coliform bacteria was found in various swales. Also coliform was found in the water at Port Charlotte Beach. The department of health believes leaking septic tanks were the cause.

 

Under the managed septic tank program your tank must be pumped out and inspected every five years. When the health department notifies you that your tank must be inspected you must then obtain a permit. This costs $115.00 and is good for five years. When you have received the permit the tank is inspected. If the company pumping your tank finds a defect they will notify the health department and you must correct the problem.

 

A permit to do corrective work or replace the tank costs $525.00. A replacement tank may cost several thousand dollars. If your tank has been pumped within the last five years then your new permit is good for the remaining number of years. For instance, you had it pumped perhaps three years ago, then your new permit will be good for two more years following which point you must have it pumped again.

 

Short of installing sewers across the entire county the department of health believes this program along with extending sewer services where feasible will basically correct any problems and provide as safe an environment as possible. Those of us who have septic tanks as the method of treating our sewage should have read Gene Leapley’s article in last Tuesday’s paper. He notes that septic tanks must be treated with care and knowledge. We cannot just go our merry way.

 

Dale Watson is president of the Charlotte County Curmudgeon Club.


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