Plans for new houses dry up

Drought forces officials to postpone ground water tests for septic systems

Required before construction

Builders must delay plans for 200 homes until next year

April 17, 2002|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

The construction of hundreds of houses in Anne Arundel County and other areas of Central Maryland could be delayed until next year because of drought conditions that have affected ground water levels.

In Anne Arundel County, where the dry weather has left wells at record-low levels, health officials said yesterday that they have canceled the spring "wet season" testing required for planned houses that are to be served by septic systems.

The decision means that 200 planned houses apparently will not be built until after testing resumes early next year, said Kerry Topovski, a program manager who oversees sanitary engineering for the Health Department.

"We are in the process of notifying homebuilders and individuals now," Topovski said yesterday.

She said the testing is required to determine what kind of septic system a new house needs.

Septic systems must be at least 4 feet above the ground water level even during rainy months, when water tables generally rise.

Rainy season percolation testing usually is performed from February to April, but because of an unusually dry winter, testing in some jurisdictions has been canceled.

Carroll County officials tested several sites during a four-day period earlier this month but won't do any more tests this year.

Houses planned for sites that weren't tested can't be built until next year, a Carroll official said.

Howard County has not suspended tests for new septic systems, but some developments could be delayed by the drought anyway, an official there said.

If a subdivision is planned on soil types known for higher ground water levels and data from previous years are unavailable, builders might have to wait until next year's wet season, said Howard environmental health director Frank Skinner.

But, he added, developers could sidestep the testing issue by redesigning their subdivisions to stay away from those types of soils or by using shared septic fields, he said.

"We've tried to come to grips with this, and I think we have," Skinner said. "This year, however, we're either at or very close to record-low water levels."

Harford and Cecil counties recently announced they would delay wet season testing until February, said Susan Davies, co-director of government affairs for the Homebuilders Association of Maryland. She said that as Maryland's drought worsened, builders anticipated the cancellation of this year's rainy season testing.

"We were not surprised," she said, adding that she expects other Maryland counties to follow suit.

The testing ban shouldn't significantly affect large homebuilders because subdivisions usually aren't built with septic systems, Davies said. The bans are more likely to affect individuals who want to build homes on rural lots.

Homebuilders are hopeful that government officials will reconsider the ban should drought conditions lessen.

"I just keep telling them to pray to God," Davies said. "I mean, that is about all you can do."

Sun staff writers Jamie Smith Hopkins and Childs Walker contributed to this article.

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