Florida Water: the Well, the Sewer and the Septic Tank


Photo: Kelly Dean

Florida Water: the Well, the Sewer and the Septic Tank

By Kelly Dean

Water is a push-button issue in Florida. During summer rainy season, it is a daily issue in the media as flooding often occurs. For a state almost completely surrounded by water, one would think there’s no need to worry about having enough. Actually, it isn’t the water quantity alone that is at issue: Simply stated, Florida does have an abundance of water, but we can’t seem to find a place to keep what we want and get rid of what we don’t.

Politicians, community planners and environmentalists are frequently at odds about what to do about these two problems. Politicians want to acquire more land to hold the water but don’t want to be on the hook for it from any direction. Communities want cleaner water and plenty of it but don’t want to pay for the actions needed to make it happen.

Environmentalists want all of the above — so long as there’s no impact on Mother Nature. Taking land to hold water takes habitat away from land animals; letting water runoff anywhere causes flooding for people and makes saline levels to go haywire, killing aquatic animals and growing weird Martian algae; slowly releasing reservoirs often sends nasty stuff downstream, including pesticides. You can see the dilemma. As with most things, it’s unlikely all will be happy with the plan, or any, for that matter.

But I’m not here to talk about this big-picture issue. I’m here to talk about something that affects every home in Florida — poop. If you’re thinking of moving here, you need to think about your poop a little, because both it and your water will either be taken care of by a city or yourself. You need to decide and weigh the hassle-quotient appropriate for you.

City Water and Sewer

If you live in the city, you will have your water, and likely your sewer services, delivered by that city. This is a no-brainer because you don’t have any choice. In fact, you might also have irrigation water delivered too, which you’re only allowed to use for certain purposes and at certain times. You have to pay a bill for all three services.

It would be hard to generalize about the quality and how city water tastes. It varies, depending upon the city and its resources. It has been my observation most people drink bottled water in Florida regardless of its source – or alcohol – because it’s Florida and poor water is as good of an excuse as any.

The city water I’ve had is quite drinkable, but just isn’t preferable. However, considering what bottled water creation does to the environment, it is worth taking note. That is yet another issue for yet another article.

By the way, if you drain your pool once a year, this is an excess sewer usage charge. If you refill that pool, you have to pay for the water. Don’t you just love government?

Well Water

If you live in an unincorporated area, you will have the well-water-sewer-vacation-combo package. There are no free drinks or continental breakfasts with this package. These houses are easy to distinguish from city water houses because they have a virtual water treatment plant on the side of the house. One can also see white PVC tubing coming out of the backyard. This is the well water coming out of the ground. It’s easy to find. Just imagine the place you’d love to put a garden or boat pad and that’s where it will be. Therefore, if you’re buying a house, you should be able to spot this right away. This is important because that water treatment plant needs maintenance and your poop will likely be a factor too.

I’m going to stop using the word poop now. You’re welcome.

In Florida, they have a technician for everything. Water treatment is no exception. If you rent, sometimes it’s included in the rent and sometimes it isn’t. If you have a pool guy, this is good because they can frequently be the same company. Anyway, you can pay someone to manage your water treatment or you can do it yourself. Water treatment needs salt, the most common kind of treatment. It comes in 40 pound bags for 3-8 bucks each and last about a month for a family of three.

You can get reverse osmosis for the entire house, but that’s expensive. Most people are not rich and just get that system for the kitchen for drinking, ice cubes and cooking. You see, the stuff outside just softens the water; the stuff inside makes it palatable. So there’s another miniature treatment plant under your kitchen sink. This system has a small tank, a few plug-in filters and a lot of tubing.

You could buy those pitchers and filters from the drugstore, foregoing the under-sink system, but you’d be surprised at what you need filtered water for – pets and coffee come to mind. You can go through it pretty quickly some mornings. Filtered water tastes a bit more “minerally” than bottled water.

Regardless, you wash your clothes, bathe, and flush the regular softened water — unless you can drop serious moolah on reverse osmosis for the entire home.

The Septic Tank

As mentioned, if you buy or rent outside the city limits, you probably have a septic tank to think about. They are somewhat easy to find, although not as easy as the well water. Just think of that place in the front yard where you’d like to plant that Bismarck palm tree and that’s where it will likely be.

I don’t care what kind of magical, super bad-ass microorganisms you have in your septic tank; it will need to be pumped out someday. It’s usually on a holiday weekend or the day your kid is graduating from high school or getting married, something like that, so it’s easy to plan. The good news is, if you rent, it’s generally covered by the landlord, thankfully. Paying someone to pump excrement has to be a low spot (and the word “excrement” isn’t any better either).

On this monumental day a guy in a big truck shows up and asks you where you’d plant a Bismarck palm and proceeds to dig a hole in your yard in that precise spot. Lo and behold, there a concrete door under there. Nope, this isn’t the door to Narnia, it’s the septic tank.

Septic tank smell is unique. Once you smell it, you’ll never forget it. It’s kind of like the first time you smelled the ocean air, or your new baby or lilacs in the spring breeze, but instead, something pooped nearby.

This fragrance is especially enjoyable when you have a few dozen people over for a reception after your kid’s graduation. This is the stuff of unforgettable memories.

A couple of tips: 1) if you have a dishwasher, make sure you buy the kind that heats its own water, just to be safe. Realize that your glasses will have a slightly salty taste when you use them, due to the softener. I just imagine every drink is a Margarita and I’m fine, better yet, make a Margarita. 2) If you have a garbage disposal, understand that those potato peelings and coffee grounds are going to the septic tank for “processing.” That seems kind of silly because you’re never going to get a Christmas card from those little critters thanking you for sending down the “good stuff.” So I’d just dump garbage like this in the trash or compost it. It is biodegradable, after all. Make the critters earn your respect, really.

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