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.
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.
Funding is included in the Save Our Indian River Lagoon Project Plan to upgrade septic systems that are not feasible to connect to central sewer. Homeowner grants of up to $18,000 are available for eligible homeowners to upgrade their conventional septic system to an advanced septic system. Eligibility amounts are based on a property’s estimated pollution to the groundwater through its septic drainfield.
The Save Our Indian River Lagoon Plan Project Story Map, shows how much is available for your home. Open the map and click on tab #3 Septic System Upgrades. Zoom in and click on your property to see the grant amount available. You may also email IRLProject@brevardfl.gov with any questions.
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.
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 IRLProject@brevardfl.gov with any questions.
- 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 effects of nutrients and pathogens from septic systems