DeLeon Springs faces a choice: modern, more expensive septic tanks, or a community water-and-sewage system.
One way or the other, the unincorporated community must comply with federal regulations that mandate antipollution standards for property near designated Outstanding Florida Springs, like the ones in DeLeon Springs State Park.
According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, 22 percent of the nitrogen load to the spring is coming from the 3,938 septic tanks in a priority focus area of about 38 square miles around DeLeon Springs.
Anything over 20 percent triggers a required “septic remediation plan,” so DeLeon Springs must make one.
At a town-hall meeting held by the DeLeon Springs Community Association, representatives from Volusia County Utilities, DeLand Public Services, and an environmental-engineering company called Jones Edmunds were on hand to help community members decide how to move forward.
DeLeon Springs is not alone. By 2036, every septic system around a designated spring, in a priority focus area or not, will need to phase out older, traditional septic systems and either replace them with newer, more expensive anaerobic systems, or hook up to a sewage-treatment plant.
Sewage connections aren’t available in DeLeon Springs. The nearest sewage line is a City of DeLand system at the intersection of State Road 15A and U.S. Highway 17-92.
The cost to connect the community to sewage treatment may be around $2.2 million, according to Volusia County Utilities — but an estimated 50 percent of that sum could be paid by the state through funding designated for springs protection.
Earlier attempts to connect to sewer were torpedoed by the Great Recession, DeLeon Springs Community Association President Amy Munizzi said.
“Everything was going along nicely until the economy tanked,” she told the audience.
Munizzi said DeLeon Springs’ lack of infrastructure isn’t a problem only for the spring, but it impedes economic growth, as well.
DeLeon Springs has a lot of small parcels, and nothing can be built on them, Munizzi said, because there’s not room to meet regulations for separating wells and septic tanks.
Further, the new regulations require septic systems installed on less than 1 acre to be the pricier nitrogen-removing type.
Munizzi recalled a sandwich-shop owner who had to spend $250,000 to build water infrastructure “all before he could sell a sub for $5.”
She added, “Dollar General had to buy a city block in order to put their business in, and then they sold to a conglomerate … Is that the best we can do?”
“We don’t have normal business infrastructure. It was a problem 10 years ago, and it’s just gotten worse,” Munizzi said.
At the community meeting, the utility representatives were immediately put on the spot by residents on subjects like how the nitrogen data was collected, why septic systems are the focus instead of farm fertilizer, which contributes 52 percent of the nitrogen load, and the costs homeowners will have to bear, among many other topics.
Representatives were quick to point out they are acting under mandates from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which collected the data, but that backfired when no representatives from the DEP were present.
The meeting ended with plans for another meeting — this time with officials from DEP in attendance.