Gov. Larry Hogan's recent announcement that he intends to loosen Maryland's requirements for newly-installed septic systems is a worrisome development. While septic tanks and drainage fields are hardly the primary source of pollution in Maryland waterways, such regulatory backtracking raises an uncomfortable question: If rural homeowners and developers are get a free pass, who will pay in the end?But how important is the degree of cleanup that one will get from the old regulations:
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Four years ago, then-Gov. Martin O'Malley introduced regulations requiring all new septic systems to use the "best available technology" (BAT), meaning they would extract more nitrogen from the effluent (using such devices as pumps or grinders to encourage beneficial bacterial growth).
What Governor Hogan and the state Department of the Environment have proposed is to require BAT technology only in the "critical areas" immediately adjacent to the Chesapeake and the state's coastal bays or in large systems. Why? Because BAT septic systems are costly — as much as $10,000 to $20,000 more than a standard septic system — and rural counties have been complaining for years about how the rules have deterred growth.
Admittedly, such changes won't single-handedly decide the fate of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup, not when septic pollution accounts for perhaps 5 percent of the overall problem. But the danger is that the backsliding will continue. What will local governments whine about next? Sediment controls? The flush tax? Upgrading sewage treatment plants?5%? That's noise and rounding error in the nutrient models for the Bay. Kill all rural growth for a maybe 2.5% reduction? Baltimore, clean up your own shit before you come after ours.