Governor Opts For Septic Task Force

BERLIN — Less than a week after the Maryland General Assembly session ended, Gov. Martin O’Malley this week announced the formation of a task force to study the impact of septic system pollution on the Chesapeake and Coastal Bays.

During the 2011, O’Malley introduced legislation that would ban the use of on-site septic systems in new development in critical areas around the Chesapeake and Coastal Bays watershed. The legislation drew the ire of lawmakers from rural areas all over the Eastern Shore including Worcester and Wicomico, who perceived the bill as a means to wrest land use and management decisions away from the local jurisdictions that best understood their areas and had already implemented their own strict laws on the proliferation of septic systems.

Others claimed the proposed ban on septic systems for new developments diminished property values because of the lack of public sewer systems in many rural areas. The governor’s bill was eventually withdrawn with the promise it would be reintroduced after more careful study. That promise came true this week when O’Malley announced he was establishing a task force to study the septic pollution issue.

The task force will include a broad cross-section of representatives from business, agriculture, science, environmental advocacy and local government to study the impact on septic systems and the extent to which they contribute to the pollution of the Chesapeake and Coastal Bays.

“There’s greater recognition now for the societal costs of sprawl development on septic,” O’Malley said. “Continuing down the same path will undercut the progress we’ve made on restoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay and will overburden our farmers and other industries that are making changes to limit pollution in our waterways.”

According to the governor’s office, during the next 25 years, new Maryland developments relying on septic systems are expected to account for 26 percent of the growth, but 76 percent of new nitrogen pollution. More simply put, a quarter of the state’s future growth will cause three quarters of its future wastewater pollution. Currently, roughly 411,000 Maryland households are on septic systems and if nothing is done, the total nitrogen load from septic systems will increase by 36 percent over the next 25 years, according to the governor.

“I look forward to reviewing the conclusions from this task force as it examines the issue in greater depth, and my hope is that it will serve to inform our efforts next year to successfully ban new, major developments from relying on polluting septics in our state,” O’Malley said.

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