The Maryland General Assembly has considered several bills related to septic systems and the use of best available technology for nitrogen removal (BAT) during the 2018 Session. Currently, one septic bill is on track for passage while the rest have been given unfavorable reports.
The bill that is moving is HB 1765 (sponsored by Delegate Stephen Lafferty). The bill has passed the House of Delegates and will be heard by the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee (the hearing date is not yet scheduled). HB 1765 provides that a county may use up to 10% of its Bay Restoration Fund (BRF) septic system allocation to assist homeowners for the reasonable cost of having an operation and maintenance contract on a septic system, including conducting pump outs. The financial assistance is only available in a local jurisdiction that has created a septic stewardship plan. The bill specifies the contents of the plan and allows BRF monies to be used for the development of the plan during FY 2020 and 2021. The financial assistance may be provided through grants, rebates, or low- or no-interest loans, with priority given to low-income homeowners. The bill also clarifies that a county may only take credit under its Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) for nitrogen reductions from BAT upgrades if the operation and maintenance for the BAT system is current.
MACo supported the bill as providing an optional local tool to address nitrogen loading but did work with stakeholders on some clarifying amendments, including: (1) that it is the local governing body that would adopt the septic stewardship program; (2) that the Maryland Department of the Environment will work with counties to ensure access to its BAT septic system maintenance database for easy determination of who is in compliance; and (3) that counties with septic stewardship programs may also receive WIP credit for nitrogen reductions from septic pump outs.
The other three septic bills introduced during the Session are dead.
HB 361/SB 314 (sponsored by the Administration of Governor Larry Hogan) had three components. First, the bill would have exempted a septic system owner from paying the Bay Restoration Fund (BRF) if: (1) the owner has a BAT septic system; and (2) the owner did not receive a state or federal grant or income tax subtraction modification for installing the BAT septic system. Second, the bill would have allowed BRF septic system account money to be used by eligible homeowners for the reasonable cost of pumping out a septic system once every 5 years. In order to be eligible, the homeowner must reside in a local jurisdiction that has developed a “septic stewardship plan.” Third, the bill would have altered the funding distribution ratios between septic systems and cover crops from the current 60/40 split to a 50/50 split. MACo offered an amendment striking the 50/50 split change. The House Environment and Transportation Committee and the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs gave the bill unfavorable reports.
HB 458 (also sponsored Delegate Lafferty) would have required a homeowner of a home located within Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Critical Area to ensure the home’s septic system is BAT before the home is sold or transferred. MACo did not take a position on this bill. The bill was withdrawn by its sponsor.
HB 719 (also sponsored by Delegate Lafferty) would have required a property owner to install a BAT septic system that uses BAT or replace an existing septic system with a BAT system if: (1) the system is within 1,000 feet of a “blue-line stream” that is located in the watershed of a nitrogen-impaired body of water. “Blue-line stream” meant a stream that appears as a broken or solid blue line or purple line on a U.S. Geological Survey topographic map. MACo opposed the bill, characterizing it as a costly and overbroad mandate that is an inefficient method for reducing nitrogen generated by septic systems. The House Environment and Transportation Committee gave the bill an unfavorable report.
HB 458 of 2018 (BAT upgrades for home transfers in Critical Areas)
HB 719 of 2018 (BAT upgrades within 1000 feet of streams)
HB 1765 of 2018 (BRF uses and local septic stewardship programs)