Florida Recommends Bypassing Water Softener Discharge Away from Onsite Systems

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In a memo to county health departments, the Florida Bureau of Environmental Health Onsite Sewage Program said it is now recommending that brine waste from water softeners not be discharged into an onsite wastewater system. This is a reversal of a position first taken in 2003, based on further research since then.

The memo states, “While more recent studies indicate that an ‘efficiently run’ water softener should not impair the OSTDS (onsite sewage treatment and disposal systems) and may enhance treatment, these appear to be the best-case scenarios. In worst-case scenarios, this practice results in the discharge of excessive amounts of salt and/or volume of backwash water into the system, which can affect the ability of the contents of the septic tank to properly settle, leading to increased solids bypassing the outlet filter and improper formation of the scum layer, as well as hydraulic overload of the system. It is also known that the soil structure of fine-textured soils can be affected by high sodium levels (decreasing) soil permeability, which can result in drainage problems. It is also possible to have leaks in the water softener unit, which can result in the discharge of hundreds of gallons per day of excessive water. Any excessive water being discharged over a sustained period will have an adverse effect on the OSTDS.”

The agency is recommending against the practice for the following reasons:

  • The volume from the water treatment system brine recharge has not been calculated into the estimated sewage flow, including using on-demand versus timed-recharge functions
  • The effects of the volume and content of brine on an individual system cannot be predetermined based on regulations
  • Accounting for lack of appropriate maintenance as well as inefficiently operated water softeners is beyond the scope of the permitting, use and maintenance of a septic tank system

A proposal to charge a half-cent sales tax to clean up the Indian River Lagoon passed easily in a November vote in Brevard, Florida. The tax passed with 62.3 percent of the vote. It will provide $340 million over 10 years to clean the body of water, including removal of nitrogen and phosphorus that have been feeding algae blooms over the last five years, resulting in the deaths of manatees, dolphins, pelicans and other marine animals. About 66 percent of the money goes toward dredging muck and silt. Another $10.8 million will go toward stormwater projects, $9.4 million for sewer plant upgrades, and $41.7 million for septic system removal and upgrades.


New construction in Maryland will no longer be required to use the Best Available Technology (BAT) for septic systems statewide. BAT with enhanced nutrient removal has been required across the state since 2012, adding around $10,000 to the cost of building a new home. Gov. Larry Hogan announced the rollback of the regulations by the Department of Environment last fall. BAT is still required in critical areas, defined as within 1,000 feet of tidal water. Such systems also require a service agreement for operations and regular maintenance. Local governments can still require BAT outside of critical areas.

Proponents of the BAT requirement say it helps protect water quality in the sensitive Chesapeake Bay, while opponents have said it harms economic development in the state. According to the DEQ, there are about 420,000 septic systems in Maryland, with 52,000 in critical areas. The Bay Restoration Fund Onsite Sewer Disposal System grant program has upgraded more than 8,000 septic systems to include technology that removes nitrogen from the effluent.

New Jersey

The New Jersey legislature may fight the proposed relaxing of rules governing the number of septic systems allowed in the Highlands region, stretching for 60 miles along the Atlantic Ocean that provides about 70 percent of the state’s drinking water. The current standard is one individual septic system for every 25 acres of non-forested areas and one for every 88 acres of forested land. The new density standard, announced in spring 2016, establishes three zones and would increase the number of allowed septic systems by about 12 percent: developed communities (32,896 acres) — one system per 11-acre lot; agricultural and woodlands (54,555 acres) — one system per 12-acre lot; lands important to water quality protection (327,449 acres) — one septic system per 23 acres.

The state Senate held a hearing to question state and federal officials about the methods used to establish the new limits, and a bill has been introduced in the Assembly to block the new rules.

Rhode Island

A referendum allowing a community septic system loan program in North Kingstown Township passed with 67.4 percent approving (9,454 votes) and 32.5 percent against (4,554 votes). The referendum allows the town to set aside $2 million for loans to residents and homeowners to upgrade their septic systems to rid the town of cesspools. While new cesspools have been banned since 1968, a 2015 law requires all of them to be disconnected within 12 months of the sale of a property.


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