Great, Informative Article By Bay Daily

23 Feb

Gov. O’Malley’s Septic Proposal: Anti-Pollution, Pro-Chesapeake Bay

O'malleybesideriver Here are some facts to consider in the heated debate over whether or not Maryland should discourage major new real estate developments on septic systems. 

Septic systems are essentially individual waste tanks for homes and businesses, and Governor Martin O’Malley highlighted them as an environmental problem in his February 4 “State of the State” speech because, as he put it, “by their very design (they) are intended to leak sewage ultimately into our Bay and into our water tables.” 

The number of homes on septic systems in Maryland is growing, even though they release nitrogen pollution at about five times the rate as developments hooked up to  sewage treatment systems.

O’Malley spoke in favor of his proposal to guide development away from septic tanks and toward sewage systems during a press conference today in the State House in Annapolis, backed by state legislators, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, and 1,000 Friends of Maryland.  State Sen. Paul Pinsky and Del. Stephen Lafferty are the sponsors of bills (House Bill 1107 and Senate Bill 846) that would put O’Malley’s concept into law.

O’Malley’s idea is wise environmental policy for at least two reasons:

Number 1.  The bill, called the “Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2011,” would reduce water pollution.  About 8 percent of the nitrogen pollution flowing into the Bay comes from septic systems.  If you don’t think 8 percent is a big figure, consider this.  People make a big deal about pollution in the Bay from poultry manure.  But animal manure of all kinds –- including poultry waste -– only makes up about 12 percent of the nitrogen pollution seeping into the Chesapeake from Maryland.

That’s a lot –but it is not all that much more than the pollution from septic systems.  If you want to get serious about poultry waste, it would be hypocritical not to look at this other significant source of pollution too (as well as sewage plant pollution, chemical fertilizers, urban runoff, and the other major sources)

Number 2.  Despite the claims of some critics, the legislation would not stop housing construction or prevent an economic recovery.  It would merely encourage construction into towns, cities and other areas with existing sewage systems -– which Maryland should have been doing for a long time.

The bill would not prevent the construction of homes in rural areas away from sewage systems.  It would allow developments to be built outside of cities and towns if the builders simply invest in sensible pollution-control technology–such as building small sewage plants; or constructing shared community waste treatment systems that also remove nitrogen. These can include spray irrigation systems, which spray nitrogen as a fertilizer for crops.

These are not radical proposals.  This is common sense, and it serves the common good by improving water quality, and protecting the Chesapeake Bay.

By Tom Pelton

Chesapeake Bay Foundation

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