For many, many years I have been discussing municipal wastewater facilities, with a focus around water quality issues and how they discharge the wastewater once it is treated. The irony facing those that are complaining about the Lake Okeechobee discharges in Southwest Florida is that the DEP themselves allow the more than 2,000 permitted wastewater facilities in the state of Florida to dump partially treated wastewater (known as effluent) into our waterways and into the ground via deep well injection. More than 960 million gallons per day go into our rivers, springs and deep well injection that claim to be more environmentally friendly.
But a close look at deep well injection impacted by natural phenomenon and leaking over time shows us that they’re just as responsible for contaminating our water resources as the facilities dumping that effluent directly into our water. In fact, in the state of Oklahoma, deep well injection from fracking have actually been blamed for increased earthquakes. And the same fracking disposal wells in Texas are being blamed for contaminating an entire neighborhood’s water source. If we aren’t careful to monitor our own, we’ll have a similar situation to Flint, Michigan, as these wells have been known to contaminate surface and groundwater. Since 1974 Congress has acknowledged the threat of deep well injection and has forced the EPA to heavily regulate the disposal of partially treated wastewater into them.
Yet, despite their own questionable practices, the city of Cape Coral has invoked a lengthy legal document, demanding that the City of Fort Myers (whose wastewater facility is just one of many permitted directly by the DEP to release a portion of the wastewater into the river) clean up their act.
Here’s the funny thing about the City of Cape Coral’s claim – despite both of these methods having been proven as detrimental towards the environment, both of them are approved by the Department of Environmental Protection and the EPA. Is this the pot calling the kettle black? We think so.
Here’s why. Now, I realize this may seem biased coming from a Septic Contractor. But from the get go septic systems have been scapegoated by government for causing the water quality issues that still exist, despite widespread elimination of septic systems and forced connection to public wastewater. Not only are wastewater facilities extraordinarily costly to maintain, but they’re largely inefficient from an energy perspective and must be staffed, which also costs money. They’re an ongoing cost and burden, contrary to septic systems.
A septic system works in a natural, biological way. As long as it is inspected regularly and pumped out, wastewater flows from your pipes to your septic tank, where it naturally separates itself from the waste solids. Inside that tank, the biological bacteria (which is naturally balanced and requires no additives) begins breaking it down. From there the effluent travels to the home’s drainfield, which spreads out the water to then be naturally filtered through soil microbes and into the ground, replenishing the water table. It’s a sustainable process that involves no chemicals.
Conversely, wastewater facilities are putting chemicals into the water to treat it, and only sending a portion of that wastewater back to our homes, while the rest settles back into our natural waterways or is used as reclaimed water for injection purposes. You can see why I’ve always had a hard time with this. Rather than maintaining existing infrastructure, cities (like the City of Cape Coral) are enforcing costly assessments, requiring homeowners to pay out of pocket to connect to public wastewater facilities that are then using questionable environmental practices (both of which are currently approved and regulated by the DEP) to release the wastewater. This is not only a massive waste of effluent that could be processed and used to replenish our groundwater, but it’s polluting our waterways. If they could just get on board with helping educate homeowners to maintain existing septic infrastructure, these fees and assessments could stop.
The fact is that it’s costly to maintain a wastewater facility and an infrastructure that is just hiding partially treated wastewater in different places. Whether it’s the Gulf of Mexico, the Indian River, our natural springs, underground in the City of Cape Coral or the Caloosahatchee River – the way that our state deals with wastewater is just not cutting it. It’s time to Consider an “integrated approach” to managing wastewater treatment infrastructure.
It’s time to stop finger pointing. For too long we’ve placed blame on each other. First it was septic systems, now it’s the wastewater facilities. Demand more from your government and convince those that are operating within it to be a catalyst for change. It’s easy to accept things as they are and pretend that because Cape Coral is hiding their wastewater underground that they are better. The water quality issue is everyone’s issue, so before you take the time to comment on the actions of one municipality, I strongly urge you to look around. The problem is bigger than you realize.