Administration Introduces Septics and Bay Restoration Fee Legislation

Governor Martin O’Malley unveiled the bulk of his 2012 legislative agenda on January 23, including bills to restrict the use of septic systems (SB 236) and  increase the Bay Restoration Fee (SB 240).  The Governor’s legislative agenda web page states:

Sustainable Growth and Preservation Act of 2012

Background: At the conclusion of the 2011 regular session the Governor created the Task Force on Sustainable Growth and Wastewater Disposal following a vigorous debate on HB 1107 and the issue of the use of septic systems. Last year’s legislation would have prohibited, with specified exceptions, the State or a local authority from recording or approving a residential major subdivision on septic and required best available technologies (BAT) for all septics. The Governor’s legislation was crafted with the recognition that outdated wastewater technologies—septic systems—are one of the few nitrogen pollutant sources in Maryland that continues to increase and which often supports wasteful land development practices outside of our sewered areas. If left unchecked, such practices could undermine Maryland’s Bay restoration, smart growth, and sustainability efforts. Maryland’s population continues to grow and is expected to increase by 1 million people by 2035. Implementing protective measures now will ensure that the land use and pollution impact of future Marylanders is minimized, giving us the greatest chance of success in restoring the Chesapeake Bay and protecting our rural landscape.

Description: This year’s legislation will address the pollution and land use impacts of septic systems and follows the recommendations made by the Task Force on Sustainable Growth and Wastewater Disposal, a group that consisted of 28 members from across the State of Maryland representing a wide spectrum of stakeholders.  The bill creates four tiers for inclusion in local comprehensive plans to guide growth on central sewer and septic systems.  Instead of banning septic systems, with optional new tiers to aid local, comprehensive planning – it assists local communities in moving septic growth away from areas where it will contribute to sprawl and pollution.


Bay Restoration Fund

Background: The main goal of the Bay Restoration Fund is to provide grants to owners of wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) to reduce nutrient pollution to the Chesapeake Bay by upgrading the systems with enhanced nutrient removal technology.

Description: The legislation restructures an existing fee on users of wastewater facilities, septic systems, and sewage holding tanks. Reflecting some of the recommendations of Task Force on Sustainable Growth and Wastewater Disposal, the Governor’s legislation proposes to double the revenue from the current fee.  This is necessary to address to address the current funding shortfall for upgrading all 67 major WWTPs by 2017 as committed to in Maryland’s Phase 1 Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP), and to provide resources to address two other major components of the Phase 1 WIP Developed Land strategies: septic system upgrades/connections to WWTPs and stormwater retrofits. The bill proposes a progressive fee structure based on consumption that doubles the yield.

The proposed Bay Restoration Fund fee structure is as follows: $0.90 per 1,000 gallons for first 2,000 gallons per month and $1.25 per 1,000 gallons thereafter.  Under this scenario, the average fee will increase from $2.50 per month to $5.00 per month.  Low end users (e.g. 2000 gallons per month) will see a lower fee ($1.80/mos) and higher end users (e.g. 8,000 gallons per month) will see an increase ($9.30/ mos).  Since septic systems are not metered for water use, the current fee of $2.50/month will double to $5.00/month.  However, those residents who qualify for an exemption from the fee because of income will be encouraged to apply to the local jurisdiction for this exemption.

January 23 press release by the Governor’s office on his 2012 legislative initiatives

MACo will provide more information on the bills as it becomes available but remains concerned, particularly regarding the four tier system for septic systems.

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