A new United Nations report states that rising sea levels could render as many as 60 million toilets inoperable in the United States alone, as traditional septic systems are threatened by increased groundwater.
About 1 in 5 American households rely on septic systems to handle their toilet waste, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. These systems work by draining flushed toilets into an underground tank, where bacteria breaks it down into water and solid sludge. That water moves through an outflow tube into a drainage field.
However, as sea levels rise, those drainage fields are becoming saturated, preventing them from absorbing liquid from septic tanks. In addition, erosion removes the necessary soft earth to filter out pollutants, resulting in public health hazards and groundwater contamination.
Rebeca Sosa, vice chairwoman of the Miami-Dade County Commission, commissioned a report on how climate change would affect her constituents’ septic systems.
“Sea level rise is not a registered voter,” Sosa told KTLA. “It doesn’t have a party. It’s something that is going to affect everyone. Our job right now is to make sure that we make the state and the federal government understand … that we need help, so we can help those who are not going to be able to pay to have sewer lines.”
That report indicated that 64% of the tanks could break within the next 25 years, requiring annual repairs to continue operating.