FORT MYERS — Lee County may develop a plan to regulate septic systems if the Florida Legislature does not implement state-wide regulations.
State lawmakers may kill a requirement that homeowners have their septic tanks inspected every five years and mandating that they make repairs if damage is found.
Some commissioners and county staff are hopeful that if the state does not require this regulation, Lee County can create policies of its own.
“Unless we want to stop installing septic systems, I think (septic is) still a viable option,” said Roland Ottolini, natural resources director. “It’s just a matter of making sure they’re properly inspected and maintained.”
Some fear that sewage seeping from failing septic systems can make its way to groundwater systems and rivers, contaminating natural resources and creating pollution and potential health hazards.
Ottolini presented several options for Lee County’s approach to its septic systems at Monday’s Lee County Commission Management and Planning Meeting.
There have been about 150,000 septic systems installed in the county over the last 40 or more years. But the county has no tracking system and does not know how many have been replaced, where they are located or in what age or condition the systems are in.
Commissioner Tammy Hall said she’d rather not wait on the state to make its move.
“At what point do we just ask for the authority to do this ourselves because we end up paying for it,” Hall said.
She said it is the commissioners and county staff that land in the middle of state-mandated regulations when their constituents have complaints.
Ottolini suggested that before a county-level plan to monitor systems is proposed, an inventory of the county’s current septic systems should be taken.
When Commissioner Ray Judah asked how many of the 150,000 systems had been connected to sewer, Ottolini could not say.
“That’s part of the problem,” Ottolini said. “We don’t have that exact figure. We need an inventory so we know where they are at, what condition they are in.”
The Lee County Health Department responds to some 300 septic system malfunctions each year and there’s no telling how many go unreported, said Jim Love, the department’s environmental administrator. There is no requirement to report problems.
But not everyone was on board with regulating the systems that have been around for decades.
“Do we have recorded incidents in Lee County, can we point to health cases where people have gotten sick and we know it was because of the septic tank?” Commissioner Frank Mann asked Love.
Love said no. He also said that it’s difficult to trace illnesses back to incidents such as one reported to the health department when system failed and sewage flowed into a drainage ditch.
“Do we wait for an epidemic,” Judah asked. “Or, do we prevent this from happening?”
Ottolini will review the cost of making a septic system inventory and phasing in, by region, regulations for reviewing and repairing damaged systems. He will return before County Commissioners at next month’s Management and Planning meeting.