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Safe Septic Systems

Proper installation and maintenance of septic systems is essential to the protection of the aquifer and groundwater supply.

In many areas throughout Leon and Wakulla counties, the aquifer is very shallow and susceptible to contamination from improperly installed or out-of-date septic systems. Proper installation and maintenance of septic systems is essential to the protection of the aquifer and groundwater.

Tens of thousands of homes and businesses throughout Wakulla and Leon counties use on-site septic systems to dispose of sewage and wastewater. This Northwest Florida Water Management District map shows septic systems as red dots clustered around Wakulla Spring and in the most vulnerable area of the aquifer. Drainfields of older, out-of-date systems are sometimes located in the seasonal high water table and may threaten groundwater.

A bulldozer operator creates a mound for a septic system for a new home near Wakulla Spring. In many areas throughout Wakulla County the aquifer is no more than a couple of feet below the land surface. This mound will ensure that the septic drainfield is a minimum of two feet above the seasonal high water table.

Pipes in the septic drainfield are covered by plastic leaching chambers, an alternative to the traditional gravel trenches used in most drainfields. The chamber systems are considered more effective at handling effluent than gravel trench systems and are easier to install and inspect.

Fred Malphurs, owner of CJ Malphurs Septic Tank Service in Tallahassee, confers with Brian Crawford, Wakulla County environmental health director, who permits and inspects septic systems. The oversight of septic systems is a department of health function to ensure that public health is not harmed by groundwater contaminated by failing septic systems.

"The purpose of our established permitting program is to make sure that we design septic systems that do not contaminate the drinking water supply," says Brian Crawford. "There are a large percentage of homes and business in the state of Florida that are served by on-site septic systems. What that means is that if you have, for example, 10 homes in a neighborhood that each generate 300 gallons of sewage a day, that's 3,000 gallons of sewage going into the ground each day. But that's just one day. Over 10 days those 3,000 gallons become 30,000 gallons. So we have to be extremely careful in permitting and installing systems to make sure that they don't contaminate the drinking water supply."

Fred Malphurs has been installing septic systems in Wakulla County for more than 30 years. He says that while current regulations are effective for new systems, standards for older homes are less strict and allow homeowners to replace septic systems that are too close to the groundwater table. He advocates regulations that bring older, failed systems up to current code.

"If I'm looking at an older septic system and it's at or in the seasonal high water table, I recommend the current code requirement. It takes at least 24 inches of clean dry fill beneath the septic drainfield to remove the contaminants before it gets into the water table. I recommend that to my customers and try to explain why and that protecting the environment is essential," says Fred Malphurs. "But it is there option. I can't make them do that. There are some cases that I won't do the job. I price it high enough so that I'm not messing with it because it doesn't make sense to continue polluting the environment when you have the opportunity to correct the situation."

My FloridaFlorida Department of Environmental Protection