For water’s sake, Villagers must move off of septic systems

For water’s sake, Villagers must move off of septic systems

If you are among the few remaining Key Biscayne residents with septic tanks rather than sanitary sewers, the time to arrange to connect to Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department (WASD) services is now, say representatives of the village and WASD.

The deadline for properties in the last phase for the transition, which began more than a decade ago, is June 2020 and officials say that although that may be months away, such arrangements can take time and so immediate action should be taken.

“(Property owners) need to be aware that they need to convert from septic systems, and we do understand what that may take,” Village Manager Andrea Agha said. “Our folks have been working on this for decades and the time is now.”

The environmental effects of septic systems, particularly aging ones, have been discussed for years, and it is of particular interest in Florida, where one-third of all homes, about 1.6 million households, use septic tanks, according to the Department of Environmental Resources Management (DERM).

In septic systems, wastewater drains from toilets and sinks into underground tanks, from which it flows through porous pipes in a leach or drain field, where sand filters out pathogens. According to scientists from Stanford University, “In conventional septic systems, wastewater treatment tends to be inefficient for certain contaminants. As a result, untreated sewage can end up polluting nearby groundwater."

A study by Michael A. Mallin published in 2013 in Environmental Science magazine said, “Numerous reports from coastal regions in the United States find that these systems discharge excessive levels of nutrients and fecal microbes into coastal waters . . . . In many situations, coastal soils are sandy and porous, allowing rapid transmission of constituents. When this is coupled with a high groundwater table, treatment is insufficient, resulting in septic leachate plumes that can extend . . . into coastal waters.”

Such issues do affect Key Biscayne.

Said Agha: “When you have a king tide (an exceptionally high tide), for example, you also have ground water coming up from the aquifer (and they may mix); if you have fresh water combining with salt water, imagine the overburdening of the system . . . . All that water will either percolate into the earth or go into the stormwater system. If you put a septic tank that is supposed to be resilient – sealed – but may not be, in there, and it goes under the water table, it is possible that any issues with that septic system will cause contamination and it is possible it will end up back in the bay.”

The village’s Water-Sewer-Reuse (WSR) Project, completed June 30, 2010, was divided into three zones – 1, 2/3 and 4 -- in single-family and duplex residential neighborhoods, and new water pipes and sanitary sewer pipes were installed in all zones.

The go-ahead for property owners to connect to the new sewer system came from WASD on Sept. 10, 2009, with 10-year deadlines: Zone 1: Dec. 29, 2019; Zone 2/3: June 30, 2020; Zone 4: Sept. 10, 2019.

Village authorities have worked closely with other municipalities, as well as county and state agencies, to gather data and monitor water, Agha said.

The next step will be to send village staff members “door-by-door, to anyone they believe is still on septic systems,” she added.

“There are about a dozen folks already out of compliance in the village,” she said. “We are aware that much of how DERM and WASD operate is determined by who is paying a water bill; that implies that (a property) is connected to the system.”

They do understand the factors that may cause property owners to be non-compliant.

“In a few cases, it may be a matter of hardship,” she said. “And we know that some folks have had a hard time finding licensed contractors to do the work, as required. We also have properties that are not primary residences (but rental properties) and some folks genuinely don’t know about the requirement. That’s all part of what we’re looking at.”

Thus, the discussion of how to “advance the program,” in Agha’s words, goes on, with case-by-case solutions in mind.

WSR project zones

  1. Zone 1: South of West Heather Drive to (about) north of Curtiswood Road from Allendale Road to Bay Lane-Harbor Point Drive.
  2. Zone 2/3: South of West Heather Drive to, and including, West Mashta Drive from Fernwood Road to Warren Lane (north area) and from Fernwood Road to Harbor Drive (south area); includes Key Biscayne K-8 Center and Key Biscayne Community Church.
  3. Zone 4: South of Sonesta Drive to and including East Heather Drive from Atlantic Road to Caribbean Road (Holiday Colony); includes Key Biscayne Library.

Source: Village of Key Biscayne