TALLAHASSEE — Florida's 2.6 million septic tanks, half of which are more than 30 years old, will have to undergo regular Health Department inspections for the first time in state history under legislation sent to the governor Thursday.
The measure, part of a water cleanup bill by Sen. Lee Constantine, is designed to gradually reduce the damage that leaking septic tanks are having on Florida's increasingly fragile water supply.
After opposition from home builders, lawmakers wrote the legislation to require inspections only every five years. It also creates a grant program for low-income homeowners whose septic tanks need repairs.
The Florida Department of Health, which regulates septic tanks, now inspects only about 17,000 of Florida's septic tanks each year. Under the program, about 500,000 inspections will occur each year. Because at least one in 10 of the septic tanks are failing, regulators estimate that the program will mean that 260,000 septic tanks will need to be replaced over 10 years.
"Our water is being depleted. Our water is being polluted. If we don't do something, it's going to cost us millions to clean it up," said Constantine, an Altamonte Springs Republican.
Under the program, contractors who do the inspections will charge no more than $30 for the evaluations.
Senate Bill 550 also attempts to pre-empt a move by federal regulators to set water quality standards in Florida. The Environmental Protection Agency determined in January that Florida was not complying with the federal Clean Water Act and said it will impose new standards on Florida by October. Under the bill, the state's Department of Environmental Regulation will write its own rules by Aug. 16 to avoid the federal mandate.