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Septic-to-Sewer

CWC Position

CWC supports a programmed phase-out of older septic systems, as well as septic systems in proximity to to the Lagoon watershed. The phase-out should give priority to the the most cost-effective opportunities to eliminate nutrient pollution sources.

About septic systems and nutrient pollution

Septic systems are a leading cause of nutrient pollution in the Indian River Lagoon, and Indian River County is home to over 33,000 individual septic system.  Because of a unique combination of factors of geography, soils, and watershed, septic systems are a very poor solution to waste disposal in most of Indian River County.

33,000 Septic systems dot Indian River County, clustered in certain neighborhoods.  Most of these septic tanks drain through groundwater into canals and the Lagoon

Even when new–under ideal conditions–septic systems only treat between about 25% of nitrogen generated in household waste, and conditions in Indian River County are far from ideal. 

Much of the developed part of the County is underlain by sediment known as “hardpan” that confines groundwater to a shallow depth.  It is possible, in many places, to reach water just a few feet below the surface.  The combination of high water table and sandy soils largely negate effectiveness of septic systems to treat nitrogen and phosphorus.

The high water table also creates an underground, hydrological connection between septic systems, groundwater, and receiving waterways.   

This would not be as bad if it were not for our “artificial watershed”—the system of canals and ditches which are designed to move water—along with the dissolved nutrients—swiftly and directly to the Indian River Lagoon.

Nearly every home—and septic tank—is but a short distance from this system. 

CWC supports the programmed phase-out of older septic systems, and systems in proximity to the Lagoon and waterways leading to the Lagoon.  We advocate for the following measures:

  1. Prioritized timeline. Cost benefit analysis to prioritize geographies that have the best “payback” in terms of cost of nutrient removal.  Some Septic-to-Sewer projects are estimated to cost less than $40 per pound for removal of TN, one-fifth of the cost of the most cost-efficient stormwater treatment project.
  2. Mandatory Connections.  In order to remain cost-effective to all ratepayers, CWC advocates for a mandatory connection policy.  Experience has shown that only about 10-20% of served customers will convert if voluntary, which means 80% or more of the ratepayers’ investment is “down the drain.”
  3. Consumer Financing Options. CWC favors a “zero out of pocket” financing program for all homeowners.  The County should pass along its low borrowing costs, and provide a 30-year repayment term in the form of a property-level non-ad-valorem assessment.  Monthly payments would be collected on the subscriber’s water-sewer bill.   If the property changes hands, the obligation would run with the title to the new owner.
  4. Use of Optional Sales Tax.  CWC favors dedicating 20% of the optional sales tax (OST) earmarked for Lagoon projects to be made available to fund a portion of Septic-to-Sewer projects.
  5. Targeted grants.  CWC favors the targeting of scarce grant awards to lower income geographies where the cost of sewer conversion is highest relative to property values and income.  In many low- and low-moderate income geographies, a sewer connection exceeds annual per capital income.