Governor Appoints Task Force to Study Curbing of Septic Systems

On Monday, April 18, Governor Martin O’Malley signed an Executive Order establishing the Task Force on Sustainable Growth and Wastewater Disposal.  The Task Force is charged with studying the impacts of current and future septic systems on water quality and land use patterns and recommending regulatory, statutory, or other actions to address the impact of major developments on septic systems and their effects on nutrient pollution, land preservation, agriculture, and smart growth.  The Task Force must report its findings by December 1, 2011.

The Task Force will consist of 28 members, including legislators; various State agency heads; and representatives of the environment, agriculture, development, smart growth and scientific communities.  There will be four local government representatives, two designated by MACo and two designated by the Maryland Municipal League.

The Task Force is in response to septics legislation introduced during the 2011 session, including a proposal by Governor O’Malley made in his 2011 State of the State address, to ban major developments on septic systems.  The legislation was tabled in anticipation of a summer study.  Conduit Street summary of septics legislation.

From the Governor’s April 18 press release:

Governor Martin O’Malley today joined Delegate Maggie McIntosh, Chair of the House Environmental Matters Committee, Senator Paul Pinsky and Delegate Steve Lafferty, lead sponsors of this year’s septics legislation in the Senate and House of Delegates, and others for the signing of an Executive Order on septics pollution.  …

“There’s greater recognition now for the societal costs of sprawl development on septic.  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,” said Governor O’Malley. “I look forward to reviewing the conclusions from this task force as it examines the issue in greater depth, and my hope is that it will serve to inform our efforts next year to successfully ban new, major developments from relying on polluting septics in our state.”  …

“Creating a new policy for rural septic use is a win-win solution: it retains our rural farm area and reduces both sprawl and nitrogen, and the attendant and enduring harmful effects of both,” said Senator Paul Pinsky.

“I am very pleased that the Governor is announcing this task force so soon after the legislative session ended, said Delegate Lafferty. “It is a clear recognition that we must address Maryland’s future growth and economy without continued reliance on septic systems. We must find new ways to support growth while greatly reducing the pollution septics are causing to our Bay and waterways.”

As reported in an April 18 Baltimore Sun article:

“By introducing the bill, we kicked over the septic ‘soup,’ if you will,” the [Governor O’Malley] said. “It was an issue we’d been tiptoeing around for the last several years as we addressed more obvious problems.”  …

[House Environmental Matters Committee Chair Maggie] McIntosh, a Baltimore City Democrat, said she hoped the study would take a broader look at how septic systems fit into the state’s Smart Growth policies.

“We’ve got all this population coming in. Where do we want to grow, and where do we not want to grow?” she asked.

To overcome opposition, McIntosh suggested, septic curbs would need to be bundled with other measures, such as aid to farmers. Rural communities also may need financial help expanding their sewage treatment plants, she said, so they can handle the growth that could no longer occur on septic.

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