Septics Task Force Adopts First Round of Recommendations

The Task Force on Sustainable Growth and Wastewater Treatment Disposal met on November 8 and adopted recommendations from two of its four workgroups – Funding and Infrastructure.  The recommendations relate to the use of best available technology (BAT) for septic systems and increasing the fee for the Bay Restoration Fund (BRF).  The Task Force did not consider the recommendation of its Agriculture and Growth workgroups.  Their recommendations will be discussed at the Task Force’s next meeting on November 22.  At the end of the meeting, the Task Force also debated a proposal by the Task Force’s Chair, Delegate Maggie McIntosh, to consider whether to allow some septic development in locally defined growth areas that do not have available wastewater treatment plant (WTTP) capacity.

INFRASTRUCTURE WORKGROUP RECOMMENDATIONS

The Task Force adopted five recommendations of the Infrastructure Workgroup:

Recommendations # 1 – 3:  All new septic systems and replacement systems that expand capacity that are located in the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Coastal Bay Watersheds must utilize BAT.  Replacement systems that do not expand capacity and are located outside of a critical area will not have to upgrade to BAT.  All replacement systems located inside a critical area must upgrade to BAT (this is current law).  This recommendation applies to all areas of the State except for a part of Garrett County which is located outside of the Bay Watershed.

Recommendation #4:  Implement regulations requiring the operation and maintenance of BAT septic systems.  Monitoring for compliance with the requirements can be accomplished through three methods:  (1) oversight by the appropriate county (although only if the county voluntarily assumes the duty); (2) oversight by a certified BAT service provider; or (3) oversight by the homeowner if the homeowner has been certified to maintain his or her own system.

Recommendation #5:  Allow the use of shared systems for developments provided that there is a controlling authority (permittee) approved by the Maryland Department of the Environment.  A controlling authority can include a local government, a sanitary district, or the Maryland Environmental Service (MES).

The Task Force held two Workgroup recommendations until its next meeting.  The first would require 100 percent nutrient offsets for new subdivisions with individual septic systems or shared or community systems.  The second would provide a bonus or incentive for clustered small lot development on community or shared systems.

FUNDING WORKGROUP RECOMMENDATIONS

The Task Force adopted ten recommendations of the Funding Workgroup:

Recommendation #1:  Extend Maryland’s timeframe for meeting its Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) obligations from 2020 to 2025 but make sure accountability measure are in place to ensure compliance.

Recommendation #2: Increase the current $30 residential BRF  fee to $60 for FY 2013 and to $90 for FY 2015.  Starting in FY 2016, the fee would be subject to an annual consumer price index (CPI) adjustment of 1-3%.  Non-residential user rates would also be adjusted accordingly.  If all of the State’s TMDL and bonding obligations have been met, then the fee should sunset back to $30 in 2030.

Recommendation #3:  Amend the BRF enabling statute to permit funding of stormwater retrofits as an authorized use of the BRF.

Recommendation #4:  Provide guaranteed grants to local governments to implement stormwater best management practices (BMPs).  Beginning in FY 2013, local governments will annually receive 15% of the gross BRF revenue generated in their jurisdiction for implementation of approved stormwater BMPs.  The share increases to 25% beginning in FY 2018.  The stormwater BMPs  must help meet the Phase II Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) requirements, be targeted to realize the greatest nutrient and sediment benefits to the Bay per dollar spent, and include not more than 1.5% administrative overhead.  There is no match requirement.

The remaining gross BRF revenue retained by the State will be allocated in the following priority:  (1) completion of ENR upgrades to the remaining six major WWTPs and retirement of associated debt obligation; and (2) to local jurisdictions through a competitive and targeted grant process. MACo and the Maryland Municipal League will develop and recommend by mutual agreement how the grants for stormwater retrofits shall be distributed to municipalities.

Recommendation #5: For the portion of the BRF not dedicated to upgrading the remaining 6 major WWTPs to ENR and paying off the associated debt obligation, allow local governments to competitively bid for BRF funding  to major/minor WWTP upgrades, septic system upgrades to BAT, septic system connections to WWTPs, and stormwater BMPs.  All projects must go towards meeting the Phase II WIP requirements.  Awards should primarily be based on the number of pounds of nitrogen reduced per state dollar expended.  Pounds of nitrogen reduced for septic systems and stormwater projects should be based on scientifically defensible analysis of watershed areas with the highest septic or stormwater nitrogen loads and immediacy of delivery of nutrients to the Bay.  This information should be provided to grant applicants.  Competitive grants for the 10 major/minor WWTP upgrades to ENR should be prioritized based first on those areas of the State in which growth is projected to occur without the availability of public sewer, and secondarily on resulting nutrient reduction benefits.

Recommendation #6:  The BRF can currently be used to upgrade failing septic systems outside of a critical area to BAT, but the amount of funding provided is based on the income of the homeowner.  Inside the critical area, the BRF will provide 100% of the cost.  The same sliding income scale should be used for failing systems inside the critical area.  The State should provide up to 50% cost share for stormwater retrofit projects based on the competitive ranking system discussed in Recommendation #4.  Use of BRF revenue for ENR WWTP operations and maintenance should be capped at $5 million per year.

Recommendation #7:  The Maryland Departments of the Environment and Planning should develop an exception process to allow the use of BRF funds for septic hookups in areas outside a PFA to existing ENR WTTPs where it is consistent with Smart Growth and Bay goals and will not result in sprawl development. 

Recommendation #8:  Allow billing authorities the option to base the BRF fee structure on the amount of water used rather than a flat rate.

Recommendation #9:  Statutory changes should be to clarify the authority of MES to assist local governments in implementing the recommendations of the Funding Workgroup.

Recommendation #10:  Expand BRF funding to include the state’s 50% share of BNR upgrade costs for 10 major-minor plants (but no earlier than FY 2018).

The Task Force held two of the Workgroup’s recommendations until the next meeting.  The first would shift funding for cover crops from the BRF into the Chesapeake and Coastal Bays Trust Fund.  The second would create an incentive program where property owners could lower their BRF fee if they implement BMPs beyond what they are already required to do.

GROWTH AREAS WITH NO AVAILABLE WWTP CAPACITY

At the end of the meeting, Chairman McIntosh raised the issue of limiting development on septics to minor subdivisions, which the 2011 septics legislation defined as 4 units or less.  She called this provision the “elephant in the room” and asked the Task Force to consider a proposal that would allow some development on septics in county designated growth areas that do not have available WWTP capacity.  “We need to address the divide between urban, suburban, and rural counties,” she stated.  As part of this approach, she said that the Task Force would need to:  (1) recognize local comprehensive plans as the documents which guide growth; (2) examine incentives for growth in established communities; and (3) examine incentives for agricultural preservation.  She also expressed the need to examine Adequate Public Facilities Ordinances (APFOs) and their impact on driving growth outside of growth areas.

Reaction from the Task Force members was mixed and the decision was made to convene a stakeholder group, including MACo, to discuss the proposal further prior to the November 22 meeting.  The Task Force’s recommendations are due December 1.

 

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