by County Commissioner Bryan Nelson
After passing Amendment One (a mandate that dedicates funds to acquire and restore Florida conservation and recreation lands) almost two years ago, there are still many questions on how the money should be spent. Some think we should buy more conservation land, but most people believe that money spent to protect our water quality is of utmost importance.
Living in Central Florida with our springs, lakes and rivers we place a great importance on protecting our water bodies for generations to come. We have held several meetings on how to address water quality and how it impacts our lives. There are four major areas where Amendment One dollars could be used to enhance our water quality in the region and the state.
First, drainage wells have been placed in areas to prevent flooding but allow unfiltered runoff to descend directly into our aquifer. These must be either capped or filtered to reduce the contaminants that move directly into our drinking water supply. In the Wekiva Basin alone we have 16 drainage wells which contribute to the problems with our water quality.
Second, we must address septic systems state-wide which could be a source of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution to our ground water. If we required all septic tanks state-wide to upgrade their system to an enhanced bio-reactive media at time of drainfield failure, we could reduce the nitrogen runoff by 70 percent and the phosphorus by 90 percent for a cost of $3,000 per system.
This alternative provides for six times as much nitrogen removal for every dollar spent as compared to converting to sewer. Based on Department of Health data for a cost of $57 million a year, the Amendment One dollars could help all homeowners state-wide to upgrade almost 19,000 septic systems which failed last year. The homeowner would still be responsible for repairing the required drainfield but the additional bio-reactive media drainfield could be paid for with Amendment One dollars at a much lower cost if done together. The alternative to upgrading the existing systems would be to take all septic tanks offline and hook them to sewer but this would cost upwards of TWO BILLION dollars for just the Wekiva Basin’s 60,000 systems. This bio-reactive media has also been shown to greatly reduce the nitrogen and phosphorus if placed under retention ponds.
Third, we must take inefficient sewer package plants offline and upgrade current sewer plants to meet the >3mg of nitrogen runoff requirement.
Lastly, we must do a better job of educating our homeowners about how they can help by not over fertilizing, reducing landscape watering, blowing leaves and grass clippings back into our yards instead of the street, and disposing of pet waste properly. With help from the State Department of Environmental Protection, Water Management Districts, and funding from Amendment One we can make a positive difference for our springs, lakes, rivers, estuaries and lagoons for all Floridians.
Bryan Nelson serves as the County Commissioner for Orange County District 2 which includes Apopka, Ocoee, Eatonville, and Northwest Orange County.