The Duval County Health Department will receive just over a half million dollars from the state Department of Environmental Protection for its septic tank survey project.
Scott Turner, county director of Environmental Health and Safety, said the grant will be spread out over the next three years "for door-to-door inspections of septic systems to ensure that they are not failing and discharging any type of pollution directly or indirectly into the lower St. Johns River or its tributaries."
The Trout and Ortega rivers are among the tributaries targeted.
According to Turner, the grant will fund around 12,000 labor-intensive septic tank inspections.
“We’ll look at anything ranging from sewage on the ground (to) caved-in septic tanks,” Turner said. “We’ll ask the property owner or tenant if they’ve been having any difficulty with their septic system. We’ll also be checking for any strong sewage odor.”
A property owner with a failing septic tank will be required to hook up to the city’s sewage system. If that’s not possible, the health department will issue a permit for its repair or replacement.
Turner said the city has a fund available to help people who can’t afford to fix what’s wrong.
A septic tank is a large water-tight container buried underground that collects waste water from bathrooms, kitchens and washing machines. Solids sink to the bottom while liquid waste is allowed to leach into the soil where nature removes any bacteria, viruses and nutrients.
When a system fails, untreated or partially treated waste can flood the area around the tank and pollute streams, rivers and lakes.
Turner said as many as 85,000 septic tanks are in use in Duval County. And, he added, around 10 percent of them are probably failing.