Septic in Brevard

As of 2018, there were an estimated 53,204 septic systems in Brevard County within the Indian River Lagoon watershed. The Save Our Indian River Lagoon Project Plan (SOIRLPP) addresses this (and other) sources of pollution and is committed to reducing the impact of those systems most likely to increase nutrients making their way to the Indian and Banana River Lagoons. Upgrading to advanced treatment septic systems or connecting to local sewer reduces algae bloom-feeding nitrogen and phosphorous pollution in the groundwater that migrates to the lagoon

Septic systems are commonly used where central sewer does not exist. When properly maintained, septic systems are often a safe means of disposing of domestic waste. However, when septic systems are installed over sand or other poor soils close to the groundwater table or open water, they can be a major contributor of nutrients, bacteria and viruses to the system. Leaky tanks and failing drainfields also contribute to water pollution.

Septic System Removal by Sewer Extension

In 2018, Brevard County conducted a detailed evaluation of septic system impacts to local surface waters. This evaluation found that groundwater conductance (how quickly water moves through a particular soil) and soil types (sandy, organic, rocky, etc.) were important for determining nitrogen transport from septic systems to the Indian River Lagoon. This also helped Brevard County narrow down specific properties at high risk of polluting the groundwater. An explanation of this process can be found in Applied Ecology’s analysis.

Funding is allocated to help Brevard County homeowners address the septic systems posing the highest risk of polluting the IRL.  Through a careful selection process, the County identified 2,763 (just 4%) of current septic systems, that when connected to sewer, will reduce over 17% of the nutrient load contribution from septic systems.  Funding is included in the SOIRLPP to convert these properties from septic to sewer.

Septic System Removal by Sewer Connection

The detailed septic analysis also identified 4,496 properties located within 30 feet of existing sewer infrastructure.  Funding is included in the SOIRLPP to connect 876 of these highest loading “quick connect” opportunities to adjacent gravity or force main sewer.

Septic System Upgrades

In locations where providing sewer service is not feasible due to distance from sewer infrastructure, facility capacity, or insufficient density of high-risk systems, there are options to upgrade the highest risk septic systems with higher performing technology to increase the nutrient and pathogen removal efficiency. Funding is included in the SOIRLPP to upgrade 1625 of the most polluting septic systems that are not feasible to connect to central sewer.

This includes converting traditional septic tanks to Advanced Treatment Units (ATUs) which are specialized tanks designed to reduce nitrogen before it enters the drainfield. These are commonly referred to as “aerobic systems” because they incorporate air into the treatment system to help oxygen-hungry bacteria as they “burn off” excess nitrogen.

Research is also being conducted by Brevard County scientists on passive treatment systems. These combine regular septic tanks with specialized drainfield fill materials to remove nitrogen. This eliminates the need for the extra maintenance needs and higher costs of ATUs.

It is important to note that although the County is taking the lead on these projects, the Florida Department of Health is responsible for the regulation and permitting of septic systems. The County will continue to coordinate with the Florida Department of Health on the septic system projects recommended in this plan.

Septic FAQ

How are septic tanks a problem for the Lagoon?

A traditional septic tank can only remove up 30-40% of the nitrogen found in human waste. The remaining nitrogen can flow through the groundwater to the Indian River Lagoon where it can feed algal blooms. Homes with septic systems that are within the watershed of the Lagoon contribute nearly 400,000 lbs. of nitrogen per year to the Indian River Lagoon. Septic systems within 164 feet (50 meters) of the Lagoon or an open water connection to the lagoon (including rivers, creeks, ditches and canals) have the greatest impact, contributing 76% of that nitrogen.

Why are we allowing new septic tanks if we are removing old ones?

Current laws in Florida prevent local governments from creating new regulations that would prohibit a property owner from being able to utilize their property for its intended purpose. This would include a complete ban on septic tanks; however, regulations can be made to specify the types of septic systems that are allowed. On October 9, 2018, Brevard County passed a septic ordinance requiring advanced treatment septic system (65% or greater nitrogen removal) on the barrier islands (both the beaches and on Merritt Island), as well as in mainland areas within 197 feet (60 meters) of the Indian River Lagoon system and its open water tributaries.

Why can drinking water wells be 50 feet from septic tanks?

The CDC has determined that wells located at least 50 feet from a septic system are not prone to contamination from bacteria or other harmful pathogens. However, septic systems are more efficient for removing bacteria than for removing the nitrogen found in human waste. A traditional septic system is only able to remove 30-40% of the nitrogen from the waste water effluent. Nitrogen in drinking water will not cause harm if consumed and is even present in municipal water supplies. Nitrogen flowing from septic tanks does pose a problem in the Lagoon as it is a food source for algal blooms. It is estimated that about 19% of the excess nitrogen coming into the Lagoon each year comes from septic systems.

How do I know if my home is in an area that requires an advance septic system?

If you are looking to put a new septic system on your property or are wondering if you should upgrade to an advanced system, we created a tool, the Septic Overlay Map, to help you find out. Once on the map, open the tab named “Layer” and then check the “Indian River Lagoon” box. If your property falls within the shaded area on the map it may be required to have an advanced system if newly installed. This GIS map is a quick reference tool and not the sole determination for the type of septic that will be required. For properties partially covered by the overlay, they may still need a survey to show that a proposed septic system falls in or outside the boundaries. If you are still uncertain you can email with any questions.

How do I know if my septic system is an area that is slated to have sewer lines installed?

We have created a handy tool for you, the Save Our Indian River Lagoon Plan Project Story Map, showing the location of all our proposed projects. Once it opens you can click on tab #4 Septic to Sewer Conversions to see the areas currently planned to be connected to the sewer system. You may also email with any questions.

Septic Links

Florida Department of Health Onsite Sewage Program for information on permits and finding septic contractors or maintenance entities.

EPA Septic Smart Program for information on proper maintenance of septic systems

UF/IFAS Septic Publications for information on affects of nutrients and pathogens from septic systems