Septic System Legislation – What’s Passing & What’s Gone Down the Drain

As the March 18 deadline for bills to cross over from the opposite houses of the Maryland General Assembly approaches, here is a summary of the status of the various septic system bills introduced during the 2019 Session.

While MACo did not take a formal position on all of the bills discussed below, MACo has worked closely with the bill sponsors, advocates, the Maryland Conference of Local Environmental Health Directors (Conference), the Maryland Association of County Health Officers (MACHO), and the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to address county concerns.

House Bill 190 would create a statutory definition for a “failing on-site sewage disposal system.” Currently, a system that is classified as failing is subject to enforcement actions and repair or upgrade requirements but no actual definition existed in statute. MACo supported the bill with amendments developed in conjunction with the Conference, MACHO, and MDE.

As amended, the bill largely codifies existing practices and provides additional clarity for some situations. The amendments also address concerns raised by the Eastern Shore and a couple of other areas in the state on how the definition would address challenges posed by local hydrologic conditions.

STATUS: The bill has passed the House with the consensus amendments and is scheduled to by heard by the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee on March 26. At that time, MACo will seek one additional minor amendment to address an issue regarding cesspools.

Senate Bill 353 would have required MDE to create licensing requirements for septic system installers and inspectors. The bill sponsor accepted amendments offered by the Conference that would exempt government employees who have certain certifications.

STATUS: The Conference amendments were accepted onto the bill but the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee gave the bill an Unfavorable report. 

House Bill 840 would have created a State Board of Onsite-Wastewater Professional to oversee and enforce the licensing requirements created under SB 353. As introduced, the bill was opposed by the Conference due to significant implementation and cost concerns. However, the Conference felt the basic idea behind the bill was reasonable. MACo worked with the bill advocates, the Conference, and MDE to amend the bill, but there was too much work to do within the short timeframe.

STATUS: The bill was withdrawn by its sponsor. MACo, the Conference, and MDE have agreed to work with the bill advocates over the summer to see if both HB 840 and SB 353 can be amended into workable bills.

Senate Bill 851 would have expanded the uses of the septic system account within the Bay Restoration Fund, including the ability for a county to issue bonds based on the monies it would receive from the Fund. The bill also required a one-time mandatory appropriation of $10 million into the Fund for FY 2021.

STATUS: The bill was withdrawn by its sponsor.

House Bill 539 allows for the reuse of certain water diverted from going into septic systems, such as water from ice makers or backwash from an on-site potable water treatment system. The Conference and MDE offered a set of technical amendments to the bill.

STATUS: The bill passed the House unanimously with the technical amendments.