Breathing room for septics

Nitrogen pollution: New clean-up rules for state's septic systems need thorough study by legislature.

March 30, 2000

WITH FEWER THAN two weeks remaining in this year's legislative session, the General Assembly is well advised to hold for summer study any bill requiring costly upgrades of septic systems.

Legislative attention comes late in the 90-day session; the governor made it an early priority, then focused on other contentious matters, such as gun-safety laws.

With so many questions about the nitrogen-removal cleanup measure, including whether it is a truly cost-effective way to reduce water pollution, there's no need to act under a tight deadline.

The technology is proven in other states. But the cost can be formidable -- an extra $3,000 to $7,000 to install the improved equipment. Therefore, homebuilders and the real estate industry strongly oppose any requirement for new or existing homes.

Septic systems are used by nearly one-third of homes in Maryland, mostly where municipal sewer lines don't reach. About 30,000 of these private systems are failing, the state says. They need replacement or connection to municipal systems.

The 400,000 Maryland septic systems seep 6 percent of the nitrogen entering the watershed. Municipal sewage plants effectively reduce nitrogen but could likely be made even more efficient. That's another factor that deserves close legislative study over the summer.

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