Wednesday, July 11, 2012

MD Septic Upgrades Meet Resistance

More than two dozen witnesses testified before a joint legislative committee Tuesday on proposed regulation for upgraded septic systems across the state, most of them opposing the rule change.

State Department of the Environment officials who wrote the regulations –– the only proponents aside from environmentalists –– told the Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review joint committee that applying best available septic technology statewide is the way to reduce nutrient sediment load in the Chesapeake Bay.
 "Nutrient sediment load"?  I think that's a typo and they meant nutrient alone.  Septic tanks don't contribute to sediment pollution, at least after the initial installation.
Environment Secretary Robert Summers based his department’s authority to impose a statewide best practices mandate on the state’s code of regulation. Carroll County Board of Commissioners vice-president Richard Rothschild, R, however, said the Department was overstepping its boundaries and should be called the “Maryland Department of Everything.”

Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin, R-Cecil, blasted the State Environment Department for using its regulatory authority to end-run the legislature and Gov. Martin O’Malley for allowing it.
I can't speak to the legalities here, because I won't pretend to understand them, but it's seems likely that O'Malley is doing an end run around the legislature here, much like the current administration in Washington has stepped around the Congress on such matters as immigration, etc.
Maryland’s estimated 420,000 septic systems each introduce 24 pounds of nitrogen per year into state waters, Summers said. That compares to about 2 pounds per household connected to sewer systems with enhanced nutrient management systems.

If the proposed regulation is approved and the projected 2,200 new septic systems across the state are required to implement the best available technology, the nitrogen output into the Bay would be roughly equivalent to 31,000 pounds of nitrogen, or the amount produced by the city of Cambridge. Summers noted that the number of new homes is a conservative estimate following the housing collapse. If the market picks up, as many as 5,000 new septic systems could come online.
Septic systems currently make up an estimated 7% of the nitrogen entering Chesapeake Bay.  To cut down most of the nutrients from new systems is a relatively small change.  It does prevent the contribution from growing much in the future, though.  But will it prove to be worth the costs, or are there changes that can be made elsewhere (sewage, agriculture, or air pollution), that can get the same or greater impact at lower cost?
Carroll County’s Rothschild said $1,000 to remove 3-4 pounds of nitrogen with less than one-tenth of 1% impact is “a dog that doesn’t hunt and doesn’t get us to where we need to be.”
That is pretty expensive nitrogen...

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