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Hernando County moves to protect Weeki Wachee Springs with 'septic to sewer' project

A map of a portion of Hernando Co., Florida, showing an area between Cortez Blvd. to the north, Elgin Blvd. to the south and US 19 to the west.
Hernando County

With a grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, federal funding from the American Rescue Plan and money from Hernando County, the plan is to move hundreds of homes from septic to the county's sewage system.

Hernando County is embarking on a massive “septic to sewer” project.

It will help the county meet the standards set by Florida’s 2016 The Springs and Aquifer Protection Act, which must be met within 20 years.

That requires the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to gauge the water quality of what state lawmakers identified in 2016 as “Outstanding Florida Springs,” which, according to the FDEP need additional protections to make sure they’re restored and maintained for future generations.

Weeki Wachee Springs in Hernando County is one of them.

The state-mandated Onsite Sewage Treatment & Disposal System Remediation Plan requirement for Weeki Wachee Springs is the driving force for the Septic to Sewer conversion plan.

"We looked at all the contributing factors that cause to the nitrate levels within the spring," said Gordon Onderdonk, Hernando County director of utilities. "One of the major factors is septic tanks. Our county, specially in Spring Hill, has over 30,000 of those within that area. And that's within the spring shed and all that basically goes to Weeki Wachee Springs."

Weeki Wachee Springs is a popular attraction for tourists who come to see manatees during cooler months. For decades, tourists have also flocked there for the underwater mermaid shows, and kayaking along the crystal-clear waters.

Weeki Wachee Springs are the headwaters of the Weeki Wachee River, which flows into the Gulf of Mexico.

In order to keep the water clear from algae fed by excess nitrogen, this phase will hook up more than 400 lots from septic systems to sewage systems. The project is expected to cost some $18 million, with each conversion costing an estimated $36,000.

The first focus area (District A) chosen is closest to the spring and has the most immediate impact.

A grant from FDEP will cover 90% of the project. It will pay about $12 million, along with funding from the American Rescue Plan Act and the county.

Property owners will have to pay the remaining 10%, around $3,600, which must be paid off within 10 years.

The county’s website has answers to Frequently Asked Questions about the project here:

I love telling stories about my home state. And I hope they will help you in some way and maybe even lift your spirits.