Miami, a coastal metropolis in south Florida with the third-largest US skyline and the country’s third-most prosperous city, has a waste problem.
The city is also famous for attracting residents from other states fleeing rising crime, higher taxes, and cold weather. But its overflowing garbage heaps and septic tanks could deter further residential and business development.
Data from Miami Waterkeeper, a non-profit organization that advocates for South Florida’s watershed and wildlife, shows that Florida has around 2.6 million septic tanks.
There are 120,000 septic systems in Miami for residential and commercial areas. They are widespread in the community. Some are found near waterways, canals, or Miami’s Bayfront area.
According to the advocacy organization, even when functioning correctly, the septic tanks are unsuitable for the area’s bedrock, which is porous limestone.
Their sandy soils also facilitate the septic waste’s draining away too quickly through its natural filters, which could make groundwater highly susceptible to contamination.
Many of Miami’s septic tanks sit under two feet of water aquifers, less than the Florida Department of Health requirement of at least 24 inches during the rainy season.
When groundwater rises, it soaks a layer of dry soil between the drain field and the water table, further narrowing the space between them. Saturated soil is also ineffective in filtering liquid waste, which makes it easier for wastewater to contaminate drinking water in the groundwater aquifer.
In addition to groundwater contamination, nutrient-rich septic waste can pollute stormwater runoff. During heavy rains or high tides, septic tanks can flood and overflow into nearby storm drains or back into residential pipes.
According to Fortune, Miami has failed to address sewage calamity warnings for years despite the Federal government issuing fines and orders to fix them. The city also has a long history of leaky septic tanks that have sickened people with E. coli and killed ocean fish.
The city relies heavily on septic tanks, from the wealthy enclaves of Coral Gables and Miami Beach to its less affluent areas 50 miles southwest. According to a government estimate, getting rid of them would cost at least $4 billion.
The cost will likely be passed on to residents through higher taxes and fees to fund this change, on top of the cost of connecting to a sewer line, estimated at $20,000, which will also be paid for by the homeowner.
In Belle Meade Island, a beachfront neighborhood facing Biscayne Bay, sewer pumps work 16 hours daily to keep up. Further developments have been postponed until the area can increase sewage pumping capacity.
Rising sea levels and heavy precipitation caused by storms also threaten the county’s septic tank problems. Thousands of septic tanks can be compromised due to rising sea levels and heavy rains.
The city has a significant challenge ahead, and its sewage problem has been decades in the making.
The article notes that the complexities governing the mishmash of 34 municipalities that make up greater Miami and the postponement of expensive solutions exacerbate the problem. However, until Miami fixes its woes, it will have to delay further infrastructure developments.
Smith, M. & Bloomberg. (2023, August 1). Miami’s ‘Mount Trashmore,’ overflowing septic tanks pose a $4 billion challenge to its efforts to woo America’s financial elite. Fortune. Retrieved from https://fortune.com/2023/07/31/miami-wealthy-americans-trash-septic-sewage-4-billion-problem/
How do Septic Tanks Pollute? (2018). Miami Waterkeeper. Retrieved from https://www.miamiwaterkeeper.org/how_do_septic_tanks_pollute
Am I on Septic? (n.d.) Miami Waterkeeper. Retrieved from https://www.miamiwaterkeeper.org/am_i_on_septic#:~:text=Septic%20tanks%20in%20Florida,both%20residential%20and%20commercial%20areas.
Septic Tanks and Sea Level Rise. (2018, February 18). Miami Waterkeeper. Retrieved from https://www.miamiwaterkeeper.org/septic_tanks_and_slr