- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Thereís been a lot of talk about septic tanks lately.
Well, probably not among friends and neighbors. But there has been plenty by people who make state laws and by people who donít like the laws that have been made.
New rules will severely limit the number of septic tanks that can be built in rural St. Maryís County. And new rules starting Jan. 1 will make it far more expensive to build a new septic system — about $12,000 to $14,000 more.
Thatís because all new septic systems will have to include nitrogen-reduction technology, part of the continuing efforts to reverse the declining health of the Chesapeake Bay.
All this, St. Maryís County officials complain, is unwelcome and expensive interference in local affairs — another unfunded state government mandate.
But hereís the thing. There is state money available to pay for these septic tank upgrades in St. Maryís County, and itís not being used.
Thereís not enough state money to upgrade all 37,000 household septic systems in St. Maryís County — not even close. But there is $1.7 million available to individual homeowners this fiscal year who apply for it.
Depending on family income, the money might cover the complete cost of replacing a failing septic system, or even a new one for a new home.
The money comes from a state bay restoration fund, and is collected from every household in Maryland — $60 a year. People on public sewer lines have it tacked onto their utility bills. Homes served by septic tanks have it tacked onto the annual property tax bill.
The money is intended to pay for upgrades to sewer plants and to replace failing septic systems, all intended to reduce the amount of nitrogen flowing into the bay. Excess nitrogen promotes unnatural blooms of algae, which as they decay rob the water of oxygen need to sustain marine life.
These funds have been collected since 2004. Two years ago, St. Maryís received $843,000 to upgrade septic systems and gave back $136,000. Last fiscal year, the county health department got $907,000 and returned $240,000.
Typically, there are 30 to 40 failing septic systems a year in St. Maryís, according to the county health department. These must be replaced, and get priority for the state funds, particularly systems that must be replaced within 1,000 feet of tidal waters. But if it is not claimed by these property owners, the money can be used for new construction or a voluntary upgrade. Again, those near the water get first dibs. A married couple making up to $139,350 of taxable income can get 100 percent funding for a new system, including maintenance costs for five years.
The new law requiring more expensive septic systems that goes into effect Jan. 1 will end up costing people money, no doubt. But it doesnít mean a new expense for all 37,000 existing septic systems. They donít have to be upgraded unless they fail. And there is money available to help; money that will go elsewhere if people in St. Maryís donít apply for it.