In the first water conservation initiative put in place by the City of Marco Island, with the cooperation of the Collier County Department of Health, City Council has unanimously agreed to waive city imposed fees on septic tank to cistern conversions.
The Collier County office of the Florida Department of Health, which has authorized the conversion of septic tanks to cisterns for irrigation use, has granted a partial, temporary abeyance of fees associated with the conversion process, offering to waive the initial $160 application fee for the first 12 applicants, under a pilot program which will assess effects of fee abatement, on a trial basis. Out of pocket expenses to Collier County come to $135 per conversion, and cannot be waived.
Several Marco Island residents have opted for cisterns, including Mario Sanchez, who designed the converted cistern, and has advocated its use. According to Sanchez, a cistern derived from a septic tank saves approximately 900 gallons of water every two to three days during the rainy season, and the same every 14 days the rest of the year.
Sanchez asked the city of Marco Island to apply for a state grant for residents converting septic tanks to cisterns.
“I begged, I pleaded,” says Sanchez. “The staff was not too keen on the idea, and came up with an estimated conversion rate which caused residents not to apply for the grant, which was based on number of applicants.”
Sanchez explained that, since many people were scared away by the numbers put forth by the city, very few applied, and the city did not get the grant.
“I just could not believe the numbers they were coming up with,” continues Sanchez, who met City Council and staff members to propose his septic tank conversion design.
“It’s inexpensive, and very efficient, and has been tentatively approved,” says Sanchez, whose pumpless design does not require electricity.
Sanchez then wrote a letter to the Collier County Department of Health, asking them to abate their fees, which, they agreed to do.
City of Marco Island Public Works Director Rony Joel stated, “We fully support this conservation effort, and Marco Island staff and council have demonstrated that by waiving the permit fees for the first dozen properties to participate in conversion.
“We have recommended to adopt the options that have been made available by the State Legislature this year, to convert septic tanks to cisterns,” says Joel. “Prior to this year, when you abandoned a septic tank, you had to render it useless.”
“We can only do what we are allowed to do by the State of Florida Legislature,” says Sanchez. “What’s interesting, is that the State of Florida actually encouraged conversion of septic tanks to cisterns, with the grant. Their scientists did a study. If only 10 percent of the state’s citizens converted their septic tanks to cisterns, think of all the water we’d be saving. So they decided on the grant as a way to motivate people to do this.”
Sanchez credits City Council member Chuck Kiester for the septic tank conversion project’s success.
“It’s a situation where we have to look longterm,” says Kiester. “The more we can encourage people to use a cistern, whether it’s a wooden barrel under a rainspout, or a converted septic tank, over the years, it will result in accumulated water savings. We need to encourage everyone to consider the future, every chance we get.”
Sanchez says, “When was the last time a grass-roots conservation movement actually garnered the cooperation of two government entities, and implemented a real water conservation program that also protects the environment?
“Now, it’s up to the citizens of Marco Island, to act to enjoy the benefits of this opportunity.”