Maryland Launches Grants for System Upgrades

The Maryland Board of Public Works has announced a program to upgrade onsite sewage disposal systems. The $4.17 million in grants will go to counties to upgrade septic systems to remove nitrogen and keep it from getting into the Chesapeake Bay.

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The Maryland Board of Public Works has announced a program to upgrade onsite sewage disposal systems. The $4.17 million in grants will go to counties to upgrade septic systems to remove nitrogen and keep it from getting into the Chesapeake Bay.

The program is part of $28 million in clean water grants announced in December in the continued multi-state program to clean up the bay. Nearly $3 million in grants were announced by the board in November and another $40 million in October, including more than $94,000 to upgrade failing septic systems in Howard County.

The state’s Chesapeake Bay plan, announced in December, carries a total price tag of about $10 billion through 2017. The bay’s watershed includes six states and the District of Columbia.



The Division of Environmental Health has issued guidelines for replacing existing, licensed overboard discharges from septic systems on offshore islands (discharge of treated wastewater to surface waters).

The guidance says the Subsurface Wastewater Unit recognizes such cases as unique due to “properties and conditions which make installation of a conventional subsurface wastewater disposal system problematic. Chief among them are shallow to non-existent soils, limited site access, limited potable water supplies, and inconsistent electric power.”

There are about 1,300 such systems still licensed in Maine, about half the number in existence in 1987. Many have been replaced as new technologies improve methods for treating domestic wastewater. The guidelines cover such issues as sizing, fill, composting of solids when tank pumping is not possible, and other unique aspects. It encourages the use of non-discharging toilets and professional judgment when recommending septic systems that do not meet minimum criteria.



The state filed a lawsuit against the U.S. EPA over what it calls the agency’s intrusion into Florida’s previously approved clean water program. The lawsuit alleges that the EPA’s action is inconsistent with the intent of Congress when it based the Clean Water Act on the idea of cooperative federalism — the states responsible for water quality and the EPA offering oversight.

Florida’s action is a result of EPA settling a lawsuit filed by the Florida Wildlife Federation in 2008. The settlement forced the EPA to set pollution standards for inland surface waters and coastal waters. Onsite system owners would be affected by rules to achieve nitrogen reduction and compliance monitoring.



A Sunset Advisory Commission staff report recommended that the state abolish the On-Site Wastewater Treatment Research Council and replace it with a stakeholder group. The commission reviews the policies and programs of more than 150 government agencies and makes recommendations that reduce inefficiencies and improve operations.

Most of the council’s $330,000 annual budget funds research grants. In its 20-year history, the council has returned $1.5 million in new system registration fees to the state’s general fund. Although the state benefited from the research, the commission criticized the council for having no formal process to evaluate its effectiveness. The report’s authors acknowledged that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality recently changed some rules as a result of council-funded research, but the application of other research remained unclear.



The Trumbull County Health Department cited a court-ordered consent decree to criminally charge and imprison people who failed to upgrade their onsite systems. The decree requires the county to enforce state EPA compliance.

Spokesman Mike Settles for the Ohio EPA said that it is up to local health departments to determine how to enforce state regulations, and that the consent decree does not stipulate any penalties against the county if it fails to comply. The EPA prefers to resolve violations through negotiated orders or civil actions and to avoid the tactics employed in Trumbull County.

From 1992 to 2002, the county granted onsite permits, or signed off on systems installed without permits, even though they did not meet EPA standards. In many cases, raw sewage dumped into state waterways. In 2007, the local health board estimated that 90 percent of onsite systems (about 30,000) in the county failed to meet the regulations that went into effect that year.


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