Failing septic tanks are letting human waste in Lee County waterways

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Waterway with algae. (Credit: WINK News)
Waterway with algae. (Credit: WINK News)

It is the water that runs right next to our homes; it is the water that we boat in and the water that some of us swim in and that has a bacteria infestation. But now, Lee County leaders want to take action and clean up our waterways.

A mess is impacting all of us in Lee County. It is the harmful alga blooms and high levels of bacteria in our waterways that was at its worst last year.

A new study shows human waste is part of the problem.

“We found multiple lines of evidence of contamination from septic systems,” said Brian LaPointe, Florida Atlantic University research professor, “we call these failing septic systems.”

FAU research shows septic tanks dating back to the 1950s are not protecting our waters. Instead, it allows sewage to end up in the Chattahoochee River and other waterways.

“The nutrients from this waste can help feed the green monster,” LaPointe said. “The blue-green algae blooms.”

The university studied Handcock and Powell Creek areas where more than 2,000 septic tanks exist.

“Over 90 percent of this area did not meet the minimum separation between the drain field and the seasonally high water table,” LaPointe said. “Meaning, there’s just not enough dry soil beneath the drain field and the top of the water table to properly treat.”

The research professor wants to see the county upgrade its septic systems to sewer, which would connect all septic tanks to a central wastewater system.

Knowing the source is key to success. But Frank Mann, a Lee County commissioner, said we need to take action.

“My frustration is this study, like many other studies, call for additional studies and we don’t have any specific recommendations,” Mann said. “I need to warn the public out there that we can’t say that next year, based on this study and a couple things we might do, you’re not going to see blue-green algae again.”

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