The Hernando County Commission is poised to show the same disregard for the environment as their elected brethren in Tallahassee. Commissioner David Russell wants the board to opt out of a new state law calling for septic tank inspections in areas that are home to major springs like Weeki Wachee. It mirrors the logic in Tallahassee where legislators, in 2010, approved mandatory statewide septic tank inspections, then retreated amid criticism from rural residents griping about the cost and any sense of shared environmental responsibility.
As part of the repeal, the Legislature included a feeble compromise focusing inspections on the areas surrounding springs discharging an average of at least 100 cubic feet of water per second. There are 33 of these so-called first-magnitude springs in Florida that are recognized by the Department of Environmental Protection as among the state's most important natural resources.
Not important enough, apparently. The Legislature allowed city and county governments the ability to bail on the inspection requirement and that is what Russell is now advocating. A four-fifths vote of the commission is needed, and commissioners on Tuesday offered no rebuttal to Russell's contention the inspections would be a financial hardship on local residents.
It's a short-term view. The intent of the now abandoned 2010 law was to catch leaks sending nitrogen and nitrates into the water table, ultimately polluting the state's waterways. To offset the once-every-five-year inspection costs, estimated at $150 to $500 depending on location, the state planned a grant program for low-income residents. Instead, legislators, under the often-stated, but rarely followed mantra of "local control,'' delayed, then killed the mandatory inspections. And, allowing cities and counties to opt out of a more localized program for major springs undermines any stated attempt to protect Florida's water resources.
Even Russell's cost analysis is problematic. The price to tank owners, spread over five years, is still cheaper than what others pay to safeguard the environment through central sewer services.
Florida has an 2.6 million septic tanks, about half of which are at least 30 years old. The Department of Health has said as many as 20 percent could be polluting the water table. Extrapolating that data for Hernando County means as many as 11,000 of the 55,000 septic tanks here could be faulty.
Turning a blind eye to a legitimate environmental concern is no way to ensure the long-term health of Weeki Wachee Springs.