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Bay Blog: septic systems


Data sharing arrangement could lead to reduced pollution from onsite wastewater systems

Representatives from states across the Bay region recently signed a cooperative accord that will help reduce the amount of nitrogen flowing from onsite wastewater systems into local waterways.

Representatives from Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia signed a Memorandum of Cooperation at the Chesapeake Bay Program office in Annapolis, Md., on April 16, 2015. Also in attendance were representatives from the Chesapeake Bay Program, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association (NOWRA) and the Horsley Witten Group. (Image courtesy Gemma Kite/Horsley Witten Group)

At the Chesapeake Bay Program office last week, representatives from Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia signed a Memorandum of Cooperation to share data related to the performance of advanced pretreatment technologies for “onsite wastewater treatment systems,” often called septic systems. Pretreatment of wastewater allows for the removal of potentially harmful pollutants such as nitrogen—but these technologies are often costly, and their approval takes time. Under the arrangement, information-sharing across states will help expedite the approval and deployment of these technologies, as well as offer cost savings to manufacturers and consumers.

Onsite septic systems account for less than five percent of the nutrients flowing to the Bay; advanced pretreatment technologies are expected to reduce nitrogen from these systems by at least 50 percent, as compared to conventional systems. Improvements in wastewater treatment will help achieve the clean water goals of the new Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, which encompasses the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL).

Learn more.


Maryland Forms Task Force to Examine Pollution from Septic Systems

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has signed an executive order to study septic system use in the state and find out how much pollution the on-site wastewater systems contribute to the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers.

The executive order forms a task force that includes representatives from science, business, government, agriculture and environmental advocacy communities.

The task force will review, study and make recommendations on a variety of septic and growth-related issues, including:

  • Current and future effects of septic systems on waterways and growth patterns
  • Whether existing growth areas with central sewage could accommodate projected septic system growth
  • Costs and benefits of serving future growth with septic systems versus central sewage
  • Current policies and practices of connecting failed septic systems to wastewater treatment plants and the growth, fiscal and environmental implications

Approximately 411,000 Maryland households are currently on septic systems. During the next 25 years, new developments using septic systems are expected to account for 26 percent of growth in Maryland, but 76 percent of new nitrogen pollution. Maryland must reduce nitrogen pollution by 21 percent by 2020 to comply with the EPA's Bay pollution diet.”

"There's greater recognition now for the societal costs of sprawl development on septic,” said Governor O’Malley. “Continuing down the same path will undercut the progress we’ve made on restoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay and will overburden our farmers and other industries that are making changes to limit pollution in our waterways."

The task force will report its findings by December 1.

For more information about septic systems and pollution, view this presentation given by Gov. O’Malley to the Maryland General Assembly in March.

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