Miami-Dade County Begins to Address Thousands of Septic Tanks Failing Due to Sea Level Rise

Sea level rise has many negative consequences on coastal communities. One of them is causing septic systems to fail.

How dow this happen? As sea level rises, saltwater migrates inland underground through porous rock, such as limestone. As it moves, the denser saltwater forces the freshwater water table to rise toward the surface. If the water rises high enough, it can saturate soils near the surface.

Septic systems take wastewater from a home and sends it to a concrete box buried underground. From there, the effluent is distributed underground through soils that remove impurities. If the soil is already saturated, however, it can’t absorb the wastewater and remove the impurities. As a result, the untreated wastewater can emerge and pollute the land and streams, rivers, estuaries, bays and other bodies of water.

Miami-Dade County in South Florida has thousands of septic systems that are failing due to rising seas. The problem is so bad experts say some of the the septic systems are sending untreated wastewater into Biscayne Bay, where it’s killing fish and other marine animals.

To fix the problem, county officials broke ground on a project to disconnect thousands of homes from their currently failing or at-risk septic systems and hook them into the municipal wastewater treatment system. The county has $230 million to invest in converting 13,000 of the counties 120,000 septic systems over the next five years. Their immediate goal is to address the 9,000 tanks that they believe are polluting Biscayne Bay.

Miami-Dade has funding to bring sewer lines up to property lines, then it’s up to property owners to cover the cost of new pipes to hook into the municipal wastewater system and to remove the failing septic tank. Estimates are real estate owners will have to spend $10,000 out-of-pocket to do this. The county has state funds available to help low-income residents with the expense.

Oddly enough, the county is still issuing permits for the installation of new septic tanks. County officials told the Miami Herald that it continues to issue permits because some Miami-Dade residents can’t afford to tie into the municipal wastewater system and because developers are building homes in places where municipal sewer lines haven’t been installed.

Aaron Stauber, an environmentalist and board member of Miami Waterkeeper, applauds the county for starting to address the septic system issue. He told the Miami Herald, however, that the county should only allow development in areas that already have sewer service or force the developers to install new sewer lines.

Coastal real estate owners who have properties served by septic systems clearly need to keep abreast of any changes to regulations that govern their septic tanks. Buyers in those areas need to know whether a property of interest is served by municipal wastewater systems or septic tanks. They also need to know if the septic tank is in good working order and if the local government has any intention of forcing homeowners to tie into the municipal system.

Trump’s Busy Rolling Back Environmental Policies, Setting Up Another Global Catastrophe

While the nation focuses its attention on fighting the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump Administration has been working to rollback environmental policies. The result of its efforts will be to accelerate climate change and the sea level rise flooding that threatens millions of lives and billions, if not trillions, of dollar worth of real estate located along the vulnerable U.S. coastline.

In late March, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it would would not fine companies that break the law by failing to monitor their emissions and discharges if they can prove the lack of monitoring was due to the coronavirus epidemic. In response, a coalition of environmental groups signed a petition to the EPA that warned: “EPA’s non-enforcement policy threatens environmental and health protections by inviting regulated entities to pollute and to hide crucial information from the public. It conveys a broad license to quit monitoring and reporting indefinitely, based only on the honor system.”

On another front, the Trump administration boasted that it performed “the largest deregulatory initiative of this administration” when it announced on March 31 that it was replacing Obama-era fuel standards with lower annual increases. According to a CNN report, the rule, which was created by the EPA and Department of Transportation, calls for fuel economy and emissions standards to increase by 1.5% each year instead of the 5% annual increase in the Obama rule.

President Obama criticized the change on Twitter writing: “We’ve seen all too terribly the consequences of those who denied the warnings of a pandemic. We can’t afford any more consequences of climate denial.”

A New York Times analysis estimated that the new rule would lead to nearly a billion more tons of carbon dioxide — a major greenhouse gas that causes global warming — being released into the atmosphere.

Using one global emergency to accelerate another is a dangerous game to play for us all. With the lack of responsible federal leadership, we are as unprepared for the coming crises sure to be posed by global warming and sea level rise as we have been for the coronavirus pandemic. If we don’t get a handle on greenhouse gas emissions, the results will be devastating.

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