Lehigh Acres Water Management

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					                                       Lehigh Acres Water Management
                                                  A Serial
                                            Topic 2, Waste Water
                                            By Richard Georgian

               This is the second in a series of articles to the citizens of Lehigh Acres

               concerning water management issues written by Richard Georgian, Lehigh

               Acres Community Planning Corporation, Water management sub-committee

               Chairman.      The topics are; drinking water, waste water, and water


       We turn the tap to wash our hands or brush our teeth. We sit upon the porcelain throne and finish

with a flush. We bath, wash the dishes, wash our cloths, and turn the tap on and off, with all the water

going down the drain. Each individual, on average, dumps 70 gallons of water down the drain every day.

The water all magically disappears down a pipe. Waste water in Lehigh Acres either flows into our septic

tanks or the centralized sewers and water treatment plant. We give it no thought.

       The majority of Lehigh Acres citizens use septic tanks. The Environmental Protection Agency

(EPA) in its 1997 report to Congress stated: “adequately managed decentralized wastewater systems (septic

tanks) are a cost-effective and long-term option for meeting public health and water quality goals.” The key

phrase is “adequately managed,” this is where most citizens fall short in their responsibility. We just don’t

think about our septic systems until they fail.

       The Florida State Department of Health in Lee County advises that soil science and present permit

regulations, requiring a two foot unsaturated zone above the water table, are adequate to assure safe water

seepage into the aquifer. Septic tanks and wells have a 75 foot separation requirement and gutter

downspouts are directed away from the septic drain field. Public health officials advise that it is safer to

have septic systems, that are properly maintained, then large waste treatment plants that are prone to

flooding or massive leakage from ruptured pipes. The issue for the citizens of Lehigh Acres is whether or

not we can manage and have a responsible public policy for maintenance of our septic systems. We can

start by following the advice of the Department of Health; do not park or drive over our septic system, and

plant only grass near our drain field. We should flush only human waste, and not pour cleaners, medicines,

oil, grease, paint, pesticides or other toxic products into our septic system. Lehigh Acres septic tanks, on

average, have a capacity of 900 gallons of water and waste. The average American household uses 250

gallons of water a day, which the septic drain field must absorb. What happens if a household decides to

wash six loads of laundry in one day plus all the other water use? Obviously, the septic tank will drain at an

excessive rate and the human waste that needs to settle will not. Excessive use can cause the system to

flood the drain field and over a period of time this could be costly, requiring replacement of the drain field

soil. Heavy water usage should be spread over the week.

       The original core area of Lehigh Acres has housing that was built before the improved regulations

on the installation of septic systems. These homes are either presently on public utility, water and sewer, or

they use public water and private septic tanks. Those homes on private septic tanks may constitute a public

hazard if they are not maintained or fail. The Lee County government has established duplex home

corridors such as: Alabama, Leonard Blvd., West 12th Street, as examples where high occupancy on quarter

lots may in the near future strain the water supply and drain field maintenance. Lehigh Acres citizens will

need to assess this possibility. These areas may require the continued service, or additional service of waste

treatment plants. Commercial use of water generates sewer discharge that is not consistent with septic

systems and the community needs to continue providing waste treatment facilities to handle commercial

business. Our community long range planning must concentrate our commercial development areas and

insure they are supported by sewer lines and services.

       The Lehigh Acres water treatment facilities are managed by Florida Governmental Utility Authority

(FGUA). The FGUA financial statement for 2006 had revenues of $13,214,066.00, expenses of

$27,368,843.00, and a $14,144,776.00 deficit. Twelve million of the FGUA capital expenses are projects

for facility expansion to meet our community’s infrastructure needs, the items include; reclaimed water

pipeline expansion, waste treatment backup disposal, waste treatment expansion, and the section 10 water

booster station. Our commercial, industrial, and fire prevention needs require these infrastructure

investments in the water treatment facilities of Lehigh Acres. FGUA is a temporary manager of our water

facilities, and we, the citizens, need to voice our opinion to our governmental agencies on who should be the

future managers.

       The community is divided by another issue between septic tanks, treatment plants, and aquifer

recharge. There is an argument being made that if the community is built out to capacity, then the excessive

number of septic tanks on quarter acre lots will cause the ground water to become polluted. This argument

also states that if the East County Water Control District and South Florida Water Management District

raise the ground water level, the anticipated increase in the number of septic tanks would interfere with

safety of the water supply because the drain fields would not function properly with higher ground water

levels. The Florida Department of Health and Environmental Protection Agency disagree. Their position

is that properly maintained septic systems with a minimum of two feet of unsaturated drain field will

provide 99% safety of the ground water supply. This position does require that a septic management system

be in place to assure the safety of all citizens. However, Lee County land use permit managers have

allowed a population density problem in those areas previously mentioned. The question becomes, should

Lehigh Acres invest in a community wide sewer and water line system such as Cape Coral’s, require the

Department of Health to institute periodic inspections of septic systems, or do we need a combination of

systems to meet our growing community needs.

       The Florida Senate has a bill, SB-756 proposed by Senator Geller (D – Fort Lauderdale), minority

leader, that would require periodic inspections of onsite treatment and disposal systems (septic tanks) by the

Department of Health. One of the provisions in this bill concerns the filing fees for inspection reports. The

bill states: “a fee of not less than $40 or more than $100. From this fee, $10 shall be used to fund and

administer the grant program established in [Florida Statue] s. 381.00656; up to $5 shall be used to fund

onsite sewage treatment and disposal systems research, demonstration, and training projects; and up to $3

may be used for educating the public, local governments, building officials, and construction professionals

about available onsite sewage disposal and treatment systems and their proper maintenance.”

       The grant program in the proposed bill, above, reads in part as follows: “Grant program for repair of

onsite sewage disposal and treatment systems. The department shall administer a grant program to assist

owners of onsite sewage treatment and disposal systems that are found to be in violation of s. 381.0065 or

the rules adopted thereunder. Such grants may be awarded to an owner for the purpose of repairing and

bringing into compliance a system serving a single-family residence occupied by the owner, but only where

the family occupying the residence has an income of less than or equal to 200 percent of the federal poverty

level at the time of application.”

       Lehigh Acres, a community consisting of various lot densities, population distribution, and

construction methods from the early 1960’s to the present, should consider these various options to our

waste water treatment planning. The Lehigh Acres Community Planning Corporation encourages the

citizens to voice their opinions to their local governmental representatives and to participate in the vision

planning sessions that will start soon in Lehigh Acres.


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