Monday, February 7, 2011

MD Governor Proposes Septic System Ban

O'Malley proposes ban on large rural housing projects to aid bay, limit sprawl:
Gov. Martin O'Malley stunned environmentalists and builders alike Thursday by calling for a crackdown on housing developments that use septic systems — a bid to curb suburban sprawl and help restore the Chesapeake Bay.  His proposal, part of the annual State of the State address, set the stage for a fierce debate in Annapolis. Developers warned that it could stifle growth and cost jobs in a real estate industry still struggling to climb from the recession. Speaking to lawmakers, O'Malley said that pollution from homes being built with septic systems is undercutting Maryland's efforts to clean up the bay.
At some level this is certainly true.  Septic systems bleed nutrients into the groundwater, and much of this eventually finds it's way into streams, rivers and ultimately the bay.  However, more than 90% of Maryland population lives in urban urban settings, so that measures to reduce the nutrient input to the Bay need to focus on the urban centers, because, as Willy Sutton is reputed to have said "That's where the money is."

I live in an extended housing area in a predominantly rural area, and we are on septic, with no reasonable hope in the near future of having an up to date sewage system.  Although we'd be grandfathered under such a scheme, it would likely kill the one industry in our county that does not directly involve driving to an urban center, building.  If O'Malley is serious, he has to propose some way for communities to afford the costs of a sewage system.  Say, like giving us something back for our $5 a month that goes to repair Baltimore's aging systems.
Each household with a septic system releases about 10 times as much water-fouling nitrogen into nearby streams and the bay as does a home connected to a wastewater treatment plant, state environmental officials say. And about 7 percent of all the nitrogen getting into the bay from Maryland comes from septic systems, officials say.
I guess 7% is serious, but it's not predominant.  If you succeeded in eliminating all of it, the Bay's nutrient troubles would not be over, you'd simple gain a short breather until increased loadings from current loadings from cities, agriculture and air increased due to increased population.  Unless we manage to lower agricultural, urban and airborne inputs as well.  It's going to be tough.

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