Failing septic tanks let human waste into Lee County waterways

Reporter: Taylor Petras Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Utility Extension Project. Photo via WINK News

The City of Cape Coral’s Utilities Extension Project costs homeowners thousands of dollars and causes headaches because of the mess. But the switch from septic to sewer is something experts say needs to happen in all of Lee County to help fight the water crisis.

A recent study by Florida Atlantic University found moderate to high levels of human waste in two North Fort Myers creeks. A creek behind Karen Magart’s home was one of them.

“It’s crazy, but you know everything has an issue to it,” Magart said.

Researchers said failing septic tanks nearby contribute to the chaos happening in the Caloosahatchee River. One suggestion they make is the pricey switch from septic to sewer.

And that is exactly what is happening in Cape Coral with the utility project.

“I don’t want to see all the mess that people go through with the holes, the ruckus and stuff like that,” Magart said.

But ome people directly impacted by the toxic algae last summer said they are willing to pay the price of the project if it protects them from green gunk in our waterways.

“We had a solid blue and green algae,” Daphen Smith said. “We lost the majority of our fish, all of wildlife disappeared.”

Manatees and fish are back in the canal behind Smith’s home in North Fort Myers. But she fears it is only a matter of time before they all disappear and blue-green algae comes back. Smith, who has a septic tank, said it’s a price worth paying for in order to enjoy her water again.

“No one wants to spend the money,” Smith said. “I think they need to get estimates and make sure it’s reasonable, but for each of us to pay a monthly fee, and that’s what it takes, then that’s what we’re going to have to do.”

The Florida Department of health estimates there’s close to 100,000 septic tanks in Lee County. Connecting all of them would cost around $269 million.

“We’re not going to be able to enjoy wildlife, eat fish in Florida if we don’t start doing something,” Smith said.

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