Delmarva Farmer Editorial: No Knockout in BAT Septic Fight

A Delmarva Farmer editorial (2017-06-13) reviewed the 2017 legislative fight over the use of best available nitrogen removal technology (BAT) septic systems outside of the critical areas and argued against efforts over the interim to impose additional requirements on septic systems in rural areas. In 2016, Governor Larry Hogan repealed a regulatory requirement that BAT septic systems had to be used outside of the 1,000 foot critical area buffers for the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays. BAT septics remain mandatory within a critical area and counties can require BAT septics outside of the critical area. In response to Hogan’s repeal, several Baltimore-area legislators sponsored legislation (HB 281/SB 266) to codify the prior BAT requirement in statute. A heavily amended version of the bill passed the Senate but was not voted on in the House of Delegates.

From the editorial’s recap of the 2017 Session debate:

The repeal was hailed as a common-sense move by its supporters as wastewater coming from septics often goes through a battery of natural filtering and may never reach a waterway.

Opponents said it would encourage rampant home building increasing pollution from their septic systems. …

“It makes no sense to put an enhanced nutrient removal system in the middle of a farmland 25 miles from any critical area in the state and require (homeowners) to pay any more than necessary,” said Sen. Edward Reilly, R-Anne Arundel, on the Senate floor during debate. “This focuses the efforts and the money on the most important parts of the state.” …

The BAT septic systems can reduce nitrogen by about 60 percent but as the Maryland Association of Counties pointed out in its testimony on the bill, “the nitrogen reduction that will be generated based on the costs required to install (and maintain) BAT systems is neither efficient nor cost-effective.”

The editorial also argued against new requirements on rural septic systems that are being considered by a House Environment and Transportation Committee summer work group:

“We are eager to develop a plan that will reduce pollution from septic systems including better maintenance of the older systems and protect all waters of Maryland from this contamination,” said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, president of 1000 Friends of Maryland. “Rural development must not be a source of new pollution and everyone must do their fair share to protect Maryland waters.”

Doing their fair and then some are the farmers in rural Maryland employing filter strips, precision agriculture and nutrient management to cut pollution going into tributaries and the Bay.

Requiring an upgraded septic would amount to a “double dip” for farmers. Consider the young farmers that the state and nation yearn for.

Upgrading or building a new house on the farm would tack that much more cost on the debt they take on. Is that a fair share?

Useful Links

HB 281 / SB 266 of 2017

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of BAT Septic Systems