Would sewer switch preserve Butler lakes?
I found this article from the Orlando Sentinel. I think its time we all take a good look at our waters, not only here in Florida but everywhere, and start thinking is it really worth it to allow developers to build around lakes. Maybe there needs to be an increased buffer along with no more septic tanks around lakes. Here is the article.
July 29, 2007|By Rich Mckay, Sentinel Staff Writer
Years back, the water in the Butler Chain of Lakes was gin-and-tonic clear.
Sport fishermen could look 15 feet straight down and watch fat bass hunt through eelgrass.
Today the 11-lake chain in southwest Orange County rates among the cleanest in the state, but the water’s clarity has diminished. That has the county’s environmental officials worried.
A recent $250,000 study still under review by Orange County’s Environmental Protection Division found pockets of algae-feeding phosphorus at levels 30 times greater than water scientists recommend.
Leaking septic systems, nutrients from lawn fertilizers and stormwater runoff are cited by county scientists as likely sources of the phosphorus. If too much of it gets into the lakes, then algae will bloom, killing fish and toppling the balanced ecosystem.
Once-clear Lake Apopka was doomed to its rancid fate in large part because of phosphorus and other nutrients from sewage and fertilizers.
No one swims there. Clarity is measured in inches. And its few inhabitants are bottom-feeding fish that can thrive in oxygen-deprived waters, Orange County officials say.
To avoid that fate, the Butler study calls for Windermere’s 2,400 residents to all switch from septic to sanitary sewer.
But if political and financial woes faced by communities in similar situations — the Wekiva River basin, Port Orange in Volusia County and Key West — are an indicator of what lies ahead, Windermere is in for a long fight.
A pivotal point is the price of converting to municipal sewer or a different sort of septic-tank system.
The cost for a homeowner to change from septic to sewer in Orange County is about $2,000 per home, said James Michael, the owner of Patriot Plumbing. County hookup fees would add about $3,000.
But Windermere resident Jim Clark, who heads the town’s ad hoc committee to study the septic issue, said money is not the concern.
“I live right on Lake Butler,” Clark said. “If we need to fix something, we’ll write a check and do it. But the more we look into it, the more we find that septic works pretty darn good.”
Residents point fingers
But a growing body of evidence points to septic as part of the trouble. The Butler study by former University of Florida professor Harvey Harper was designed to measure what elements are in the water, not to trace the origin. Yet Harper said you don’t have to be a detective to see the obvious.
“Septic is the logical source,” he said.
Harper and Orange County environment officials say stormwater runoff is a source, as is development, which can unlock phosphorus naturally present in the ground.
Many residents point their fingers at the large golf courses outside Windermere that border the lake chain.
But Joseph Bow, the greens superintendent for Windermere Country Club, said that’s not true.
“If there’s phosphorus going into the water, it isn’t coming from us,” Bow said.
He said most of the fertilizer they use doesn’t contain phosphorus.
He said the South Florida Water Management District strictly monitors the golf course, and he keeps detailed records of every chemical and fertilizer they use.
Bow puts the blame back on the residents’ use of fertilizer on their lawns.
“A homeowner might just buy anything off the shelf and not be careful,” he said.
Windermere resident Vera Carter doesn’t deny that townsfolk could do more to protect the lakes, including switching to sewer.
She points out that Windermere includes just 16 percent of the shoreline of the Butler Chain.
“Everyone has to do this, or we’ll just be wasting our money,” she said.
A switch from septic to sanitary sewer could burden the town with a tab of $20 million or more. Windermere’s annual budget is $3.5 million. And each household would have to pay about $5,000 to have its septic system properly abandoned and to hook onto sewer.
Clark knows high-tech systems can clean septic discharge very well, but many of those involve multiple filters, electric pumps and many more parts that can break down.
“Septic is simple,” he said.
Windermere resident Lori Bradford is the president of the advocacy group Butler Chain Concerned Citizens Association Inc. She said it might be more than one thing hurting the lakes, but that doesn’t mean everyone shouldn’t do all that can be done.
“We’re all in the same boat,” she said. “We live here.”
But the town isn’t of one mind. Longtime resident Karen Fay, who lives on Windermere’s Wauseon Bay and has just installed a new septic system, said the town is slow to change.
“Well, you know what they say, if it ain’t broke . . . “