This is a full transcript of the online presentation. For the
presentation itself, go here.
This is Gerald Briggs, Bureau Chief for Onsite Sewage programs with the Florida Department of Health. I would like to give you a brief overview of Florida’s program, the challenges we face and our stratagies and initiatives.
Our mission is to protect the public health and the environment by developing and promoting a comprehensive onsite sewage program. Our vision is to make Florida’s program the model for the nation using our Florida research as the cornerstone.
Here in Florida we have been fortunate to have a statewide code since 1921 that even in those early years required watertight tanks and had minimum drainfield standards. Major revisions to the water quality assurance act in 1982 led to major changes in our program including increased setbacks to surface water and a 2 ft separation from the wet season water table to assure effective treatment. It also dedicated a portion of every new permit new to research to validate our statue and rule requirements.
Other major milestones include the enactment of septic tank contractor registration in 1989 – one of the first in the nation and the first construction industry license to require continuing education for renewal. This was followed by certification for environmental health field staff in 1991 – also requiring training, testing and continuing education. In 1996 Florida became the first state in the nation to enact a performance based treatment standard code – again based on our own research. 1999 saw the enactment of standards for voluntary inspections of onsite systems, such as homesales. Requirements for operating permits and maintenance agreements for aerotic treatment untis and performance based treatment systems were revised in 2001. Legislation in 2003 and 2004 focused on nutrient issues in lake okeechobee and the wekiva study area near orlando.
The Bureau is tasked with rule development and is assisted in this task by a technical review and advisory panel established by statute. By law the Bureau is the “final rule interpretive authority” for the onsite program in Florida. Another unique part of our program is the allowance for a variance from either the statute or rule in the case of a hardship. Four of our consultants – 2 in tallahassee and 2 in orlando are dedicated to mediating disputes between contractors, county health departments, and the general public. These consultants also perform program evaluations at each county health department every three years. The Bureau licences and monitors enforcement of septic tank contractor registration.
Using dedicated funding from repair permits we have contracted with the Florida onsite wastewater association to run a hands-on training center in polk county. The facility provides training and standardization for chd staff as well as for septic tank contractors, private site evaluators, and engineers. Our research program receives oversight from the research review and adivsory panel. Over twenty years of research has been conducted and copies of the studies and results are online at www.myFloridaeh.com. Finally we have two professional engineers on staff to review innovative and alternative systems, septic tank designs and performance based treatment systems.
We face many challenges. There are 2.5 million onsite systems in operation in Florida. This represents 39 percent of the housing units and over 750 million gallons of wastewater per day. We face a continued increase in growth. 90 percent of our drinking water source is our groundwater – protection of that resource in a priority.
Recently we have dealt with two major hurricane seasons that impacted also all areas of the state. They demonstrated the vunerability of our coastal development and need for new standards. Rising nutrient levels in our springs, rivers and lakes must be addressed. Usepa veiws the management and maintenance of onsite systems as the “major” issue in the use of onsite systems in the nation.
In response to these challenges we are striving to improve system performance through improved practioner competency for all those involved in the program – septic tank contractors, our field staff, engineers, and private evaluators. Improvements in system designs, construction standards, inspections, and maintenance is also a goal.
To meet the challenge we are looking for increased oversight – system inspections and operating permits, advanced nutrient reduction sysems in sensitive areas, better coordination with our sister agency – environmental protection – on coastal development issues, an enhanced statewide tracking system, greater protection of high density development near receiving waters, and a higher level of management for all systems.
We are already involved in a number of collaborative efforts – state and local planning activities, the total maximum daily load program, springs protection, and critical areas of concern.
We need to develop a consistent message in our outreach to the public that onsite systems are a significant part of our wastewater infrastructure and are not a temporary fix. To address the maintenance and management issues we have worked with the department of community affairs, the Florida onsite wastewater association and the Florida environmental health association on a number of video public service announcements to educate the public. The program is called “maintain the drain” and will be airing on local stations soon. Here’s a sample.
In closing i am proud to announce that Florida was one of only eight state programs to be recognized by usepa for their commitment to protecting human health and the environment through adoption of us epas voluntary guidelines.